Dead Subjects: On Heretical Defiance and Fabricated Philosophy


What seems clear, especially with the election of Trump and the ongoing Brexit saga, is that the old rivalries conditioned on a struggle for market share by classes subsumed under the nation state was never seriously undermined by transnational corporate interests, even if their predominance in the liberal era has given rise to new left theories of a transnational class to rival forms of national class power. The establishment of legal frameworks and agreements facilitating the free flow of labour and capital in the form of complex trade agreements, economic unions and special areas of development were, after all, sanctioned by national governments and implemented by politicians constrained by an established ideology of national interest and by the bureaucratic and techno-managerial expertise of corporations acting under nation-state tutelage. The reigning in of online media platforms is a good example of the way contradictions between the actual interests of transnational companies and the ideological interests of states work themselves out- now favouring the big corporation, now curtailing it’s power.
Despite the predominance of the mediated, the computational and the digital, capitalism is still joined at the hip to the nation state. The existence of the “virtual” is dependent on the extraction of massive amounts of raw material from the ground, a factor that ensures that the digital revolution necessarily involves imperialist appropriation of raw materials almost always the property of other sovereign powers, by fair means or foul. War is capitalism by other means. Globalisation is imperialism in a new and more aggressive ideological guise, variously tailored to fit the aspirations of particular forms of national class interest. The provision of the massive infrastructural and raw material needs of the burgeoning digital sector, was facilitated, regulated and controlled by states acting in the interests of a national developmental agenda driven by neo-liberal ideology. The era was inaugurated by Thatcher and Reagan as an extension of the reach of imperial power; the international economy was globalised (and digitalised) in the interests of the strong and at the expense of the weak. That trump, May, Orban, Conte, and Bolsonaro have openly re-established the primacy of national interest and unity over transnational corporate interests is no surprise.
Russia and China are already openly partisan when it comes to their interests. Germany France and England will soon follow suit.
If the emergence of a transnational class wedded directly to a tecno-materiality unmediated by a nation-state ideology (or any ideology at all) is one of the cornerstones of contemporary left thinking it has more to do with positions coalescing around new left theories than any empirical evidence that a transnational entity is actively pursuing its interests independently of the existing geo-political centres of power, their ideologies and the politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and media apologists who implement their interests and aspirations. This new left thinking is not so much a theory of an object or process, as an assemblage of theories contemplating a hazily defined, obscure and shape-shifting processual object, something called general intelligence (a particular interpretation of one snippet from the Grundrisse) or immanent material drive, or multitudinous desire, or immaterial labour, or immanent teleology, or informational capital, or virtual networks of big data, all of which are seen to act as extra-human agental forces and incipient forms of intelligence conditioning the life-world of humans from below.
At the centre of this new thinking (not so new any more though) is the idea that, with the emergence of the computational, the mediated, and the networked labour process, a crisis of measurability occurred at the heart of the capitalist critique in which the labour theory of value could no longer be defended. This was because the actual bodily presence of the worker was becoming more and more unnecessary as robotic and automated systems of production became the norm, an unstoppable proliferation in which machines would soon be able to think and self replicate, replacing both the worker and the thinker.
At that point it would be the union of “general intelligence” or techno-science and market driven flows of labour and capital ( often reified as immanental multitudinous desire) which would replace the human as the nexus wherein the creative, innovative and evolutionary impulse expressed itself. It was only one step in thought from there to a work free world, or fully automated luxury communism, and only a hop and a skip to the “Landian” negation of the human subject and the eulogising of the post or trans-human future as one in which we, the existing humans (and presumably the eco system of all living creatures) would be dispensed with as capital became the agent of its own realisation via machine intelligence, minus the conscious and aware human subject.
As for the human species it would either merge with the machines or wither away as an outmoded source of psychical energy and cognitive potential. Thus, for Land, capital itself was a form of ontologising materiality which made the worker, his labour and the philosophical thinker superfluous. One’s attitude therefore should be to applaud the predominance of extra human material networks and accelerate their already semi-independent self replication to a point where the intelligent network of machine systems rendered the human as we know her redundant.
If all of this sounds familiar it is because we have been here before. Take away the noise and speed aesthetic of accelerationism ( a noise and speed already eulogised in the futurist manifestos of the twentieth century) and we are left with a familiar philosophical stance, one in which the thinker negates herself into a form of thinking that, as Brassier would have it, does not have to be in the interests of the thinker, but which, in much of post-humanist thought, she continues to articulate as the thinker/subject, despite the  “objective”negation of her interests, desires, intentions,  affects and effects.
It is no accident that this form of post-humanist thinking followed on from and aspired to replace structuralism. They are bifurcated bedfellows, after all, each occupying opposite sides of the philosophical materialist bed. Whereas Althussur’s structuralism liquidated the human subject into it’s social, ideological and linguistic components, post-humanism liquidates her into a complex of material drives, multitudinous desires, proto-machine-system intelligences and immanental flows and assemblages. This stance is inspired, of course, by the rebellion against essentialist or absolute concepts of substantial entities or ideal essences, which, concreted as patterns of social relation, subjugate, alienate and harass the human as classism, sexism, racism and colonialism. But the negation of an outmoded anthropocentric humanism and it’s political consequences is possible without an equally oppressive subsumption of the individual under material drives of one sort or another. As Kolozova has demonstrated in relation to Marxism and Feminism, one can escape essentialism by a radicalisation of the concept of the subject rather than it’s abolition.
Certain forms of post-humanism, on the other hand, seek to subsume the human under a concept of automated machine processes which are conceived as identical with capital reified as an unmediated material sub-stratum. By these means Land, for example, theorises a subterranean dis-assembling of human subjecthood in which material drives, mechanisms and complexes prevail over human agency; from this perspective the forms of social relations act as a containment on the forces of technology and auto-replication. Modernity is, essentially, the failure of this cultural/social containment process in which capital overcomes collective attempts at control. The end result is that, literally as well as ideally, the subject vacates the social, the social vacates the human, the human vacates the biological and the biological bleeds out of the material by way a necrophilic assault on redundant flesh and blood. Fanged Nouméa etc. etc.
If, again, this seems familiar it is because the ground for the destruction of the subject had already been established by Marx. By a not so strange coincidence two stray remarks by him laid the ground for the Althusserian and Landian assault-one a reference to the subject as being no more than an assemblage of social relations and the other a speculation on the emergence of a general intelligence conditioned on the increased role of the machine in production.
But it was Marx too who laid the ground for an alternate understanding that insisted on the subjects self-constitution as the actuality of historically evolved and differentiated networks of sensuous human practices, (succinctly explicated in the thesis of Feuerbach) and especially those philosophical practices out of which our theoretical understanding of the human emerges as this or that historically differentiated concept of the subject. It is the human herself who co-creates human subjecthood in a complex of social and linguistic acts of differentiation, an intellectual task using philosophical material ready to hand. This socially constructed subjecthood is conditioned, as Marx said, on the biological individual, an entity that, at another level, co-creates itself by the ingestion, processing and expulsion of parts of its environment by way of a metabolic system of mutual sustenance.
If this seems somewhat tautologous to the philosopher this is because she requires an outside from which she can oversee the process, one provided not by an actual outside but by a bare conceptual structure, common to materialism and idealism, which allows one to posit a subject which can enact in thought it’s own disappearance from the moment of thought as such, while remaining in place as an historically determinate subject able to articulate the rightness of its insight. It is, of course, an act of human thought split off from it’s social and biological ground that performs this transcendent feat, (what is, in actuality, a transcendental feat) taking up god or science or logic into itself. Thus armed it wields it’s “golden compass” circumscribing thought within the limits of it’s foundational concepts – being, becoming, substance, duration etc. It is this foundational philosophical grammology which conditions the reification of techno-social processes as objective determinants independent of the network of human practices through which they are mediated as, in the last instance, historically differentiated thought.
At a purely political level the idea of the subservience of the individual human to extra individual or collective processes does not require that material processes somehow magically acquire agental potential; rather materiality is mediated in and as human relation reified in a distorted or mistaken form: as a naturalised or given relation expressed in the language of contracts, property relations, general economy and the philosophical/ideological postulates which offer ideal explanations of the concrete relations between individuals, reified as “given” or “naturalised”.
Even where the human subject is philosophically displaced– upward into a transcendent realm of idealised mental or spiritual powers or downward into an immanent sub-realm of idealised material powers – it is the human subsumed under particular historical forms of social relation who performs in thought and practice the complex of social and linguistic acts out of which the consciousness of those very conditions arise. It is out of this ground of practices that explanations of the genesis of the human subject and its existential condition arise as particular instances of the philosophical subject, an auto-generated and self-reflexive doubling in thought of the actual  concretely situated individual who performs a transcendentally structured linguistic act.
Thus Trump, for example, that infuriatingly human instance of a cohort of ideas, impulses and biases expressing the perceived interests of a simplistic but particularly American version of capitalist empire. Or land, that prodigious academic learning put to the service of an anti-academic philo-political vision in which occult forces go about their business under cover of the material; chief among them Bitcoin, an extra- human agental force destined to ontologise it’s deluded subjects out of existence. In Land’s thought it becomes the subterranean bad angel concocting it’s conspiracy against the human race, an agental force who’s effects are, incoherently, only made present to discourse by way of Land’s uniquely individuated exercise of subjecthood.
Out of Land’s (intentional) incoherence arises a “Landian” style eulogising a sort of ontological incoherence, assembling in language a corollary of that chaotic force  reigned in by social/political forms but never quite; an excess expressed as unconscious drives, forces and flows, that very phenomenon which resists congealment into objects and entities at an ontological level (actual things like rocks, subjects, states etc.-) and into conceptual/linguistic objects at a virtual level (actual idealisms, materialisms, empiricisms etc.)
Despite this, states still ruthlessly pursue their interests, rocks resist erosion, and subjects create and expound discourses, including the discourse of immanental flows, forces and drives, trajectories, lines of flight, proto-material grounds and ontologising material assemblages. The subject/creators of these discourses- Deleuze or Land, for example, – are readily identifiable as concretely existing individuals owning their own unique and particular perspectives and exercising a  particular subjecthood, under particular conditions and at a precise historical juncture, in Land’s case, for example,  during his period at Warwick and his involvement with CCRU. The paradoxical nature of Land’s rejection of subjecthood vis an extreme anti-anthropomorphism is expressed in his equally radical rejection of academic philosophical method and his preference for concepts imported into philosophy from psychoanalysis and schizo-analysis via Freud and Deleuze. Such non-conformism is , after all, a unique complex of dispositions and inclinations marked by stylistic experimentation, departure from academic norms and (finally) rejection of the concept of academic philosophy as such.  So much so that Land would later deny the existence of the person who had earlier produced the “Landian” corpus, a paradoxical claim worthy of a Zen master and one as determinedly iconoclastic. There is, surely, no exercise of subjecthood as forceful and driven as that of the Zen master, precisely because he fearlessly disavows the fundamental non-substantiality and impermanence of his own complex of forces, flows and personal proclivities. Hence his paradoxical smile (or in Land’s case, dismissive grin,) at  established powers,  philosophical or otherwise.
In the end, though, it all amounts to a form of philosophising using materials ready to hand, but in new ways and from unique perspectives, fashioning a discursive language adequate to its intentions and biases. A certain sort of writing has emerged on the fringes of philosophy, inspired by Land; one that delights in invention out of Landian and Deleuzian materials. Such philosophical meanderings, shorn of transcendence, are best read as attempts at rethinking the material by way of subterranean flows, forces and trajectories virtualised as free flow of language; as  an abandonment of a strictly scientific empiricism in favour of a poetry of the fractal image, or an imaginative mergence of both. ( See “Patchwork as Real World Vectors” for  a good example of the sort of writing I am talking about )
Such a language is biased against substantial entities precisely because they seem to freeze movement and arrest flow. It is, despite it’s empirical gloss, a form of philosophical writing, a dynamic and multi-levelled vision of a real that undermines the boundaries of the words meant to contain it by way of description and analysis. Such an impulse is poetic rather than scientific. Something more needs to happen, though,  before philosophical enquiry overflows, exceeds or, better still, precedes given formulations  and the boundaries of the thought-world-system. Land put his faith in an outside of philosophy reified as a sort of machinic drive, a force that inundates the human from a subterranean material underground of gargantuan in-human forces and flows. That underground, though, imported from Freudian psychoanalysis into philosophy and mediated by Deleuze’s radical empiricism, only renders the unconscious outside philosophisable, as conceded in practice by Land’s abandonment of philosophy in favour of a rightist anti-philosophy rooted in economy reified as machinic drive.
Land, long an anti-Kantian, tried to negate the transcendental in Deleuze’s “Transcendental Empiricism”, which rendered philosophical discourse as, first and foremost, a rearrangement of given transcendental material and the philosopher as a maker of concepts. Philosophy, according to Deleuze, does not contain or represent the Real, or attempt to contain the Real as an ontological ground of forces, vectors and drives inundating and overcoming it’s fortress of concepts (a fanged noumenea) It is itself a manifestation of the outside, of the ground, of the ontological by the very fact of being virtual/conceptual or philosophical.
Academic philosophy will always try to produce a synthesis, either upward into an idealised realm or downward into a materialised sub-stratum. In doing so it tries to escape it’s transcendental condition by way of  a transcendent move -a pure negation producing a radical empiricism; or a pure synthesis producing a dialectical elevation to an idealised higher plane (a negation of the negation), either materialist or idealist  but always philosophical. Either way it cannot succeed in escaping into an outside of it’s own fabrication. It will always remain the philosophical subject contemplating it’s philosophical objects, even where those objects are articulated in the language of immanental flows, infinitely reducible entities or pure vectors of force.
The word immanental is a representation of the immanental – a transcendental truth -but that representation is immanental in its own right – a truth of immanence or the immanent plane. This is the paradox that forecloses the real to philosophical capture, necessitating a non-philosophical axiom presupposing immanence as the always already given state of the subject and its transcendental objects. Only in this way can the human – that axiomatically given presupposed immunity from philosophical capture – actually engender philo-fictional envisionings of states of communal freedom and well-being as an antidote to the World. From that non-philosophical perspective, philosophical postulates and systems of postulates, shorn of their transcendence, are rendered usable as given transcendental materials out of which we might fabricate our philo-fictions. This is a necessary abasement of Philosophy and an elevation of a philo-art to a status as a truth procedure equal to Science. In this Laruelle agrees with Badiou.
The World stands over us as the actual alienated concretion of philosophical postulates or transcendental materials into which the individual is interpellated and subsumed. What is the difference between a subsumed individual and the human-in-person? Only an axiomatic gesture of heretical defiance, but one rigorously insisted upon in thought by a transcendental subject who will always be free to imagine something new by grace of that very transcendental condition. Is this a solipsism? Only to a philosopher already caught in the bind of a bifurcated relation- at one end pure subjective idealism at the other unadulterated philosophical materialism. The human has never once entered into such a bind but is the transcendental condition for that bind. That is the axiomatic non-philosophical heresy, philosophically outrageous and without a shred of empirical proof!
Meanwhile the human Subject concocts and goes on concocting her fictions – Landian, Deluezian , Badiouian, Laruellian etc etc. This poetry of the philosophical might or might not be the salvation of the World but it always already was the salvation of the human only apparently subsumed into the World, a salvation also waiting for us in the already accomplished future tense. The human-in-person cannot be touched by the World precisely because the Real presents her as the transcendental Subject/Philosopher/Poet of the World. Her productions are fictive truths presupposing a subject who will be taken up into them, appearing in the World as that always unexpected event and as a practice of the truth of that event.

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