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this blog collective has consistently pursued the open question of how we might think of a post-nihilist praxis, a problem amenable to torsions activating new kinds of “resolutions” to such an open problem.

with that, i want to depart from an idea popularized by the anti-psychiatry movement from the 60s and 70s–“ontological precarity” (definition coming soon, below) is imbricated in a social field, a general economy of flows, political events, economic surges and downturns, and ecological stirrings.  a paranoiac’s relation to the world, just as a psychotic’s or a neurotic’s, they might argue, includes communication with elements that go far beyond the borders of one’s skin.  feelings of persecution, mania, depression are not dependent upon a hermetically sealed “meatbag,” but rather, involve the human being’s status as an “open system” in continuous communication and exchange with the world.  breathe-in air, perceive objects enmeshed with social meaning (or deviating from it, interestingly), letting out words and always indicating one’s posture facing the world, for a few examples.  but this open communication can be a rather risky operation, especially when you nor anyone else has total control over time, the cosmos, space, other people, and all those things that constitute us and the world we individually and collectively navigate.

who among us, for a more quotidian but pervasive example, does not feel anxiety today?  emerging ecological crises w/ the momentum of hundreds of years of capitalist economic activity releasing CO2 into the air, the continuing austerity and uncertainty of the future produced by neoliberalism (“the god that failed”) and the global financial crisis of last decade, their consequent spawning of a cohort of new fascisms springing up with Trump et al., severe political crisis and instability globally, and horrifying violence signaling both swaths of people (e.g. ISIS) and individuals (e.g. the Orlando shooter; the knife attack in Sagamihara, Japan; etc.)…i’m sure there’s plenty that could be added, things that i’m missing, but i think we have the general picture forming before us.  i’d be surprised if it didn’t–it’s nothing new.  “business-as-usual.”

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there’s plenty, in short, of reasons for anxiety today.  a general sense of insecurity, of precarity, regarding the present and future conditions of existence for oneself, loved ones, and the rest of those less proximate individuals involved in this experiment called “civilization.”  it is very easy to deduce or incur the debilitating sense that “the future has been cancelled,” and that the present isn’t worth living.  it is this precarity that binds us, an affect or comportment that we all share to differing extents.  we are all precarious about our existences today in an era of ecological, economic, political, and social crises: “ontological precarity.”

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the dank meme attests

this ontological precarity is, i want to claim, one way of understanding the nihilism that we at SZ would like to position ourselves as “post-” to.  nihilism as premised upon precarity…upon scarcity.  a real scarcity just as much as an organized and engineered scarcity:

“terminal resource depletion, especially in water and energy reserves, offers the prospect of mass starvation, collapsing economic paradigms, and new hot and cold wars.  continued financial crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death spiral policies of austerity, privatisation of social welfare services, mass unemployment, and stagnating wages.” (Srnicek + Williams, Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics)

The challenge, then, for any praxis with the ambition to be “post-nihil(ist)” lies in part with taking up the problem of scarcity as both real and as in need of “overcoming” ethically and politically, individually and collectively.  in today’s climate (see above), this bears the ring of a heresy, something which our situation’s closing horizons today permit no “belief” for.  and yet, that seems to be precisely what any progressive political project worth its salt requires today, a belief that we are indeed not at “the end of history” (is there an uglier phrase, one dripping more with venomous inhibition?)…but not a belief for its own sake.  instead, a “belief” that un-rivets us from our learned helplessness writ large.  an opening up of a future that could motivate its own construction, like a time-loop of positive feedback.  an un-riveting that enables alternative ways of thinking and acting than those over-coded by the logic of scarcity.

one that lets us interact with each other on kinder terms, in more humane and error-tolerant ways striving to reject the primacy of counter-productive aggressive behaviors and the defensive complexes they arise from.  less “homo homini lupus / man is a wolf to man” (hobbes) and more “hominem homini Deus esse / man is a god to man” (spinoza).  not as if precarity and scarcity do not exist, but b/c none of us have scarcity as an “idea of the good” that would sustain us throughout our lives.  i mean, yes, we come to “desire servitude as if it were our freedom,” (spinoza) but if we could somehow be given the option “deep down” between scarcity and “post-scarcity,” we would pick the option that involved less fear, less screaming, less explosions, less self-destructive death drives, less exhaustion, and more good encounters with other people, more of a sense of agency, more control over living lives that we actually enjoy, more space for care ethics and enjoying vulnerability, more free time to use as we see fit.  in other words, we would opt for the post-scarcity and its less disabling, more enabling conditions for human freedom.  (the more universal we define these as, the more people can envision themselves as a part of such a project)

this un-riveting, both practiced and desired, also modifies our space and vision of possibilities.  if one thinks that there is no future remaining, or finds the present endlessly horrifying, then it becomes more difficult to think of ethico-political activity that would not only not be futile, but worth the effort.  why work towards a future that isn’t going to be there?  it’s hard to motivate one’s desire for post-scarcity anything if it’s disavowed as a fact of life, left to rot without any experience of post-scarcity to suggest and impel otherwise.  in so far as drugs, for example, can be found in these moments of spinning in the void, they appear friendly precisely b/c of the way that they satisfy that need of ours to feel that something else is possible, even if only for a fleeting time.  however, if one can experience post-scarcity, or understand it as a good-in-itself given its effects for us, then there is a perceptual opening up of the future-horizon allowing one to project such post-scarcity into the future as a good that is on the table again.  this in turn propels behavior, organizational planning, and thinking that can take such post-scarcity as an (complex) object to be materialized through individual and collective effort.  now, as always, political (and ethical too, for that matter) success for such a demanding project is not guaranteed beforehand, and this one is no different.  but to respond to today’s problems and crises, nothing less will do for any humanism with universalist ambitions.

if the philosopher nick land got anything right, it is the recognition of the force of our desire for libidinal dis-inhibition.  such dis-inhibition is incredibly effective as a motivator, something that we desire in so far as we can be freed from something oppressive towards the hope of something else better than what is currently given (whether situational present or anticipated future).  an interlinking of a dynamic between negative freedom (“freedom from”) and positive freedom (“freedom to”).  freedom fromthe limits and violence and fear of scarcity, and freedom to the ease and abundance and flourishing of post-scarcity.  (an aside: critique does an excellent job of the former, but can’t quite do the job of the latter as, say invention can.)  it is both, but especially the latter, that progressive, universalist humanist projects today need to become better at formulating.

take back control.”  “make america great again.”

inscribed in both of these cynical injunctives are both kinds of freedom.  there are insinuations that control has been lost, or that america is not / no longer great.  these are the perceived inhibited conditions that boris johnson and donald trump target for their discontent, for their fear, for what people desire deliverance from.  but there are also glimmers of promised effects tucked away as well in these slogans.  one can enjoy agency again, one can have one’s voice heard and participate in and directly affect the collective and the nation.  one can not only be delivered from scarcity, but also delivered towards what scarcity inhibits, to the post-scarcity goods of a sense of agency over one’s life (rather than subjected to vicissitudes) and lending one’s agency for the desirable-in-itself project of greater collective freedom.  the broad brushstrokes of these slogans can be ambiguous as to what specific policies are put forward, but it is clear that they are utilizing not only mechanisms of negative freedom–about anyone today has a list of things they’d like to be free from!–but also positively articulating the intrinsic good of a sense of agency related to augmenting individual and collective autonomy / freedom.

has *anyone* ever given you that woman’s look before? have you inspired that in another person?

trump’s supporters enjoy him perhaps not so much b/c they think his policies can really be carried out, but b/c he offers what bernie sanders offers and what neither hillary nor any of the republican candidates offer/ed: a “collective hallucination” or collective fantasy that they are indeed part of the formation of alternatives in a time when america is certainly not “great.”  the feeling of moving somewhere and enjoying the wind under one’s feet, whether at one of their rallies or even extending to the internet phenomenon of bernie sanders’ dank meme stash (deserving an analysis all on its own) and its own surprising success at creating a culture of support not enjoyed by any of the other candidates.

it’s not about picking one  kind of freedom over the other, but recognizing the necessity to mobilize both for ethico-political projects of post-scarcity.  the popularity of the leftist-tending phenomena of bernie sanders and jeremy corbyn, in the same countries, speaks to not only their ability to articulate the problems to be delivered from, but also what goods conducive to humanist agency that could be concretely moved towards (e.g. free college, re-nationalize social institutions like the NHS)…effectively implying that not only can there indeed can be a future, but it can be a desirable one that doesn’t have to be “scarcity-business-as-usual.”

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“and in that moment i swear we were infinite”

this is also the draw of the (in)famous #FullyAutomatedLuxuryCommunism (#FALC…can that make us #FALCons???  god, plz, yes).  rather than restrict progressive desire to critique alone, some cheeky marxists wanted to play around with the idea that, “so, yeah, shouldn’t we all have all the luxury items we want and just have a blast together?”  re-purposing the capitalist desires we all develop or incur simply by living inside capitalist society, #FALC gestures towards a program of libidinal engineering meant to siphon this capitalist desire towards the support of leftist political approaches.  (memes are great for this, btw)

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come on people, even those in the early 60s knew that #FALC was the way to go!

if projects of the emancipatory / progressive / leftist / humanist variety leave the articulation and demonstration of the plausibility of post-scarcity to the neo-fascists, the alt-right, the conservatives, chauvinists, and traditionalists, then we should not be surprised that people will be more likely to vote for the latter.  and doubtless, the right’s visions of post-scarcity will not be universalist in their ambition, meaning post-scarcity for some, scarcity-as-usual for those excluded from whatever they define their in-group as.  no doubt that real constrictions resulting from scarcity exist:–but so do tendencies angling at post-scarcity, like robotic automation of labor, renewable energy sources, and universal basic income (UBI), that need to be elaborated as existing and plausible.  “objects” for positive projects that can motivate their own materialization, which is perhaps one way to differentiate (-) and (+) freedoms in the face of some of their shared features.

so in short, the “post-” of post-scarcity needs to imply both the “negative” relation of departure from scarcity, and the temporal sense of articulating a future that isn’t premised upon scarcity alone to mark its desirability:–“i’m sorry, [gender neutral title for robot elementary teachers] X87B9, but are you saying that past humans actually worked for more than 10 hours each week?  would even die from not having enough food?” ***horrified***.

 

__/ post-nihilist praxis \__

so i’m thinking about some of the arguments from a text on the role of the american state in the 20th c., esp w/ respect to US’ informal empire.  part of the argument that i see from my readings on the times of wilson and roosevelt and in btwn is how the US state didn’t have the complexity and organizational capacities to take on the british mantle for geopolitical hegemony in the wake of WW1.  it took unprecedented financial crisis–and capitalists’ desperation for the state to “do something!”–to motivate the american state to modify and expand its organizational structure and capacities, creating new departments, increasing its “man-power”, and being given more extensive powers and passing policies meant to successfully intervene on the great depression. while it took WW2 to get the US out of its depression–as well as the rest of the world it dragged in, by one form or another given the global connectivity that had emerged at the time–the US state had developed during the new deal the needed powers to later take up global hegemony post-WW2 by forming key new relationships with american (and therefore, global) financial institutions and capitalist production.

and then i thought of nick land.  land tends to leave the state out of the equation in most of his stuff i’ve read (his pre-NRx stuff), focusing instead upon the emerging (for his time) global neoliberal market and its completing ascendancy of inhuman capitalists operations of surplus valorization, in contrast to or deviously absorbing a global human population.  for land, “politics” is dead, and the market becomes the only “revolutionary” force, or at the very least, the one that liquefies all the other systems used to prop it up, including ecological ones supportive of biological life.  there is no elegy nor eulogy for such an “end” of politics: land is tired of human limitations and takes the otherwise threatening capitalist “intelligence” emerging that continuously produces and absorbs systemic crises as a superior force worth affirming, even against our own and our desire and practical abilities that seek to counter the strains and limitations on human freedom that it produces.  it is a ghastly nietzschean-hegelian combo, one that recognizes the absurdity of a geist taking “the human” as its ultimate conclusion or summit, mixed with the affirmation of supposedly greater potencies that humans are subject to in a machinic enslavement.  with capital as the “true” subject of history–or at the very least, the more “powerful” in a socio-technical inorganic darwinism–, human politics becomes a hopeless gesture that is overrun by a stronger force.

what power do social movements, land might ask, have to actually produce not only alternatives to capitalist economics–and all that brings–but ones that are more humanistic as well?  esp since they have failed since the late 60s to actually curb or decelerate capitalism’s anti-humanist putrefaction?  incidentally, this is where the left accelerationist critique of “folk politics” comes in–folk politics must be included in larger projects of counter-hegemony that can effectively understand and navigate complexity, abstraction, and technological infrastructure.  their call for “organizational ecologies” that can together tackle the problems needed to actuate any humanist “post-capitalist” project.

but it’s curious why the role of the state seems to be lacking in land’s analysis, unless, of course, i haven’t read enough of him to see what he thinks about it.  but given his silence i’m familiar with, something in my reading on the american state made a helpful conceptual connection for me.  although the state mediates class antagonism, or the antagonism btwn labor and capital more broadly (and perhaps metaphysically), it depends upon capitalist production of surplus value for it to not only sustain itself, but to also fund its cost-intensive ways of maintaining governance.  although the state mediates labor and capital, it seems to asymmetrically rely less upon the humans that compose its functioning and interests and sociality, and more upon the capital that can corrupt its politicians and make them in many ways more beholden to business interests–including transnational capitalist corporations’ interests.

at least this fatalism and cynicism about the possibility of conducting politics in land *makes sense.*  it comes from a deep mistrust about the state and its capacity to opt for something else than its own interests created through a financial reliance upon capital.  even its taxation of citizens garnering it revenue requires that sufficient wages be paid to laborers to achieve greater wealth.  and the rivalries and competition of geopolitical actors benefits greatly from such wealth as a strength, making it particularly attractive and seemingly non-negotiable for stronger states…except in exceptional times, like w/ the UK abandoning its imperial power over decades, or the beginning of the end of unipolar american hegemony.

but even more distinguishing for land, i take it, is the way in which the state might simply not be complex enough to uphold even the neoliberal capitalism which it takes as its best or only option.  that is to say, it might not have the organizational knowledge and capacities to divert the practical anti-humanism of capital, even in some cases becoming fascist regimes that promise to change things for the better but w/o being able to solve the problems it proffers solutions for.  like trump saying that he’s got all the answers, and then his eventual failure to deliver on what he says but creating conditions and perhaps even policies for overt racism and creeping fascism that recall that of the 30s.  and that this can both stem from and lead to popular discontent that destabilizes the state is astonishing, as it would diagnose a state model that can at its best only manage and govern perpetual crises but not deliver outcomes proper to a humanist institution–one by humans and for humans–but instead those proper to transnational capital.  the ttip and other trade pacts seem to indicate this willingness of the state to accept and facilitate economic policies that would set the people in an antagonism w/ the state, distancing it from the take that views the state as an essential organon to carry out a politics that can lead to humanist directions for post-capitalism.

so for land, politics is “dead” b/c you can neither count on social movements, nor on state actors and institutions:–capital reigns supreme over both forms, even if it extinguishes even itself in the process.  whether it does so would, land might argue, be dependent upon its ability to completely substitute the humanity it is annihilating with a machinic or technological intelligence that can continue the production of surplus value.

no wonder there is a resurgence of the question of the party for those desiring alternatives to capitalism (and especially *for* humanist “post-capitalism), aided in large part by varying degrees of success of leftists parties like syriza, corbyn, podemos, bernie sanders, the ndp.  and many others globally that are struggling to come onto their national scenes as a way to reject both the radical right’s fascism and the economic hegemony of neoliberal capital.  it is seen as necessary–if not sufficient, and it is perhaps here where different leftists diverge w/ regard to the state’s desirable role and actual capacities–for being able to navigate us into post-capitalism on issues like climate change and how to deal w/ the coming waves of automation of labor.  having seen syriza’s failure to follow through on its promises, bernie sanders’ campaign’s collapse, podemos’ mediocre results in the 2nd round of voting, and corbyn under threat post-brexit, one can imagine nick land smiling w/ the air of a knowing “i told you so.”

some pressing concerns then appear: what roles, organizations, and functions might social movements in the 21st century incur, and how might they have a political efficacy for desirable post-capitalist outcomes?  how to make sure leftist parties not only come into power over neoliberal and fascist ones, but are able to counteract their influence and to form mutually supportive links w/ said popular social movements?  what coming techno-economic developments can be seen as opportunities for enabling such successful experiments to navigate these crises?  how is counter-hegemony to be constructed, especially in terms of funding and the object of financial investment–easy for the mont perlin society’s taking the neoliberal path out of the economic blockages of the 70s but not for the vast majority without accessible liquidity and the like?  how is counter-hegemony able to purposively or instrumentally relate to material infrastructures in ways to support its aims for post-capitalism?  it seems clear that we have none of this as of yet, and that it is a practical imperative more than anything fleshed out right now…although that is essential for the actual thinking and acting constructive of counter-hegemonic projects.  but not to despair either, as such projects have long time scales, and we’ve only witnessed neoliberalism as “the god that failed” less than a decade ago when the 2007 global financial crisis galvanized our collective understanding that something other than capitalism is needed if we are going to survive as a species (esp w/ ecological crisis whose causes show no sign of slowing down).

nick land’s fears might end up not to be the fatalistic case he concludes them to be, but they reveal the anxiety and paranoia of knowing of capitalism’s inhumanity and its real subsumption…and what that means for our freedom, the enjoyment of our agency.  it’s pessimistic to say the least, and what becomes his theologization of this inhuman capital becomes problematic and indicative of an unnecessary metaphysicalization naturalizing an apocalyptic fatalism and despair–but his diagnosis of our crisis-ridden conjuncture is apt in many ways, and helps us to understand much of today’s craziness and the difficulty of attempting successful politics that are more than being feeble, “conservative” efforts to stymie an ineluctable capitalist “geist.”  de-potentiating his passive affect whereby he learns to desire his own servitude as if it were his freedom and reconnecting to the promethean imperative to see what a “techno-social body can do,” we can recover the needed sense of agency to involve our libidinal and informational resources in carrying out such projects.  that as summum bonum and task.

but that is very much the difficult problem now: how to take a logical and ethical imperative to drive a desirable political imperative to reformulate the economic axiom or imperative we face in its immensely global, abstract, and complex character?

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The following link is for the series of talks given at the Radical Future & Accelerationism 2016 Conference in Krakow, Poland on June 18 & 19.

If you’re up for checking out my talk on alienation as a systems-theoretical and information processing problem, check out 15:16 – 35:10 here.  Make sure to check out the program to see other topics related to post-nihilist praxis and other themes that SZ is allll about.

Highly recommend Nick Srnicek’s talk on the future of automation, full of updated stats and how the Left can think progressively about offering alternatives for the future given what patterns are emerging.

First, I think it’s appropriate to begin w/ a quote from Hegel, as Debord himself does, albeit a different selection, one from Hegel’s Jena lectures 1805-6:

The human being is this Night, this empty nothing which contains everything in its simplicity–a wealth of infinitely many representations, images, none of which occur to it directly and none of which are not present…We see this Night when we look a human being in the eye, looking into a Night which turns terrifying. [For from his eyes] the night of the world hangs out toward us.

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Why begin this way?  What does Hegel’s anthropological metaphysics have to do with Debord’s punchy book?  I think in large part it is Hegel’s treatment of identity and non-identity that Debord finds useful, and how they play into processes of identity-formation.  For Hegel, the human being (nor the “Spirit” which encompasses humans individually and collectively) is never exhaustively identical to the representations that it picks up and takes itself to be in experience.

In his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel describes how the sense-certainty of consciousness leads one to affirm an existing reality or structuration of phenomena as it is currently presented to consciousness at a moment in time such that it is taken to be what is most real…but all of this is washed away very quickly as a new moment (and then another moment, and then another, ad infinitum, til death) comes along that is the transformation of the order of the preceding moment.  So while I sit here at this wooden desk in a 3rd story room looking out at the sunny Niemetzstraße while I type, it becomes quite natural when one has the question of what is most real, or most true, put to oneself to assume that it is the this that is what is really true, most real.  The reality of my current experience is the most certain I can be regarding what is by the sheer force of its presence.  But by the passing of time, I come to identify with–to take as most real, most what is–other phenomena that become salient, like the drinking of water and how that feels, or the hearing construction start outside, or the movement of my eyes towards the indoors of my room.  All of which begs the question: what am I, really?  For as soon as I seem to have an answer to that question, one forged in the certainty of a moment of presence, it seems to mutate into something else, another identity or set of identities.

What Hegel will later develop is a sort of negativity that is at work in these transformations, not only at the “level” of the sense-experience w/ which he starts, but also conceptually and regarding self-consciousness.  This negativity is the “Night” that he describes in the quote we start with–a “space” or “time” of non-identity that persists through any formation of identity, anything that we take ourselves to be.  In fact, non-identity is ø–as I explore in another post–, the zero that can only be conceptually understood as that which differs from itself, that which doesn’t take identity to be metaphysically primary to understand what is real or true, that which is real or true even as identities arise and crumble away.  The injection of (temporal/izing) process that will answer to the question “what am I?”: neither this, nor that, nor that, nor that, etc.  A continual non-self-coincidence that will never provide a sufficient answer to that question, since it is not an identity that can be expressed or pointed to or represented that has primacy, but that pure difference which always differs from itself, which is non-identical to itself: ø as the all-encompassing Night.  (Although I take an immunological Spinoza to be key here in showing how we regardless have individuality as third person reflexive pronouns, via his conatus doctrine, even if we cannot fix identity as such against zero’s process–in other words, something other than Hegel’s idealism is needed for the problem of individuation.)

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Shifting to Debord:–why or how does this Hegelian metaphysical anthropology provide him w/ the conceptual tools he needs for his work?   In part, I take it to be b/c what Debord calls the spectacle strategically takes advantage of this process by which identity-formation necessarily occurs, and how its relationship to a self-differentiating processual ø churns out “a wealth of infinitely many representations, images,” and identities, but in a manner that limits this process in order to congeal it for long enough to commodify it, and to re-produce its own operations.  We as humans can’t help but identify with our experience or cognition or what is given to us, even if it is done negatively such that we say we are not like what we see, or whether a thing given as experience repels us.  And we never stop doing so.  Not only can this life-long process be successfully commodified b/c it is incessant, providing continuous opportunities for colonization by capital’s self-valorization, but also b/c we desire identity, we need it, we cannot do w/o it–no one lives the “empty nothing” of non-identity.  Our desire for identity is so strong that we can even be willing to identify with things of happenings that cut us off from greater capacities of activity, from more successfully developing the projects of freedom naturally sought out by our desires.  This is how it can be possible that there are women and Latino voters in the US choosing Trump as their candidate of choice, despite his xenophobic and misogynistic discourse.  (Spinoza’s why do people desire their servitude as if it were their freedom?)  Humans as renewable resources for the reproduction of the forces and relations of spectacular society.

But what is this spectacle, then?  I will start by making a list of the many definitions that Debord gives (referring to aphorism numbers, since my copy doesn’t have page numbers)…feel free to skip to the writing picking up at the end of the list:

2: The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.

4: The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

6: The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification [the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals], since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.

10: Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmationof appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance.

11: But the spectacle is nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social-economic formation, its use of time.  It is the historical movement in which we are caught.

20: The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion…The spectacle is the technical realization of the exile of human powers into a beyond; it is separation perfected within the interior of man.

23: The spectacle is thus a specialized activity which speaks for all the others.  It is the diplomatic representation of hierarchic society to itself, where all other expression is banned.

24: The spectacle is the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.  It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence.

25: The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of the conditions of existence.  It is its own product, and it has made its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity.  it shows what it is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of labor into a parcellization of gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market.

34: The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.

42: The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.

49: The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities…The spectacle is the developed modern complement of money where the totality of the commodity world appears as a whole, as a general equivalence for what the entire society can be and can do.  The spectacle is the money which one only looks at, b/c in the spectacle the totality of use is already exchanged for the totality of abstract representation.  The spectacle is not only the servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life.

158: The spectacle, as the present social organization of the paralysis of history and memory, of the abandonment of history built on the foundation of historical time, is the false consciousness of time.

Whew!  So we can already see how complex the concept is in Debord’s work, despite its relatively short length and aphoristic form.  So perhaps we can reconstruct some of his argument and see where we go from there.  Following WWII, Western economies faced the beginning of what was to be something like a 30 year “golden era” of capitalism (Debord’s SotS, written in 1967, is w/in this timeframe), driven not only by a grand compromise between labor and capital (e.g. Keynesianism), but also by the destruction of capital in both world wars (Piketty’s thesis in Capital in the 21st Century).  There was an acceleration of rates of production and consumption (remember, this is for Western economies, specifically) facilitated by the increasing operational importance of technology and machines, higher wages to buy extra-survival goods, and new media to effectuate the continued expansion of capital’s self-valorization into newly created industries.  I take this to be what Debord means by the explosion of abundance, the commodity (although I’d think it more accurate to specify as value) accumulated to such a point via a historical-economic anomaly that it undergoes something like an (metaphoric?) “overflow” into new territories for the extraction of value.  So when we think of new technologies like television becoming commercialized and mass produced from the 40s and esp 50s onwards, what we see w/ Debord’s eyes is not merely the explosion of new forms of communication, manipulation, and experience, but also a commodity form so saturated that it “becomes an image.”  Capitalist economic development, aided by particular technologies, crosses a threshold that allows it to mass produce images much more quickly than newspaper before it, or the mass influence of sound and radio before it.  Capital colonizes the field of representations in conscious or targeted ways, sucking them into its machinery for its own reproduction–“the spectacle does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes reality.”  Rather than “have concern” (it’s problematic discussing capital in anthropomorphic terms, but let’s leave that aside for now) for the content of said representational images–sunny Hawaiian beaches, billboard advertisement for perfume, memezzzzz–what is most important is that they lubricate the processes of production, circulation, and consumption necessary for increasing profits and the production of unbounded capital.  Our desire for and our consumption of the images and representations is what counts, b/c that is what materially reproduces the capitalist system we live in, accompanying our movement and labor involved in these processes.

AlienationAveI-ToyStoreandButcherShop

Here’s where we see Debord’s critical edge start sticking out.  B/c the spectacle is being used as the means and end for its own reproduction, and therefore the reproduction of the capitalist economic system that it is indissociably enmeshed within, it doesn’t concern itself with anything except the continuing self-valorization of capital.  Human emancipation, improving quality of life, the capacities to develop “species-being”…none of these are attended to b/c they don’t have to be attended to.  In fact, they can prove to be counter to the tendency of the spectacle (although as we’ll see as the time of the spectacle goes on, films like Mad Max with ostensibly revolutionary and feminist affect and progressive representations can still be used as a means towards the ends of successful expansion of value).

This, in part, accounts for the autonomy that Debord accords to it.  The image gains a character of sovereignty that it didn’t have before.  To understand this, we need to understand how Debord “upgrades” (at least for 1967) Marx’s concepts of alienationand commodity fetishism.  Although the image lords over us w/ its seductive power inviting us to join its fantasies, its magical transformations, its vacations from quotidian life, it is actually much closer to us than we originally imagine.  For what produces the spectacle and its representations, if not in large part our human labor?  We work to produce the spectacle as a particular configuration of materiality.  Specific metals and minerals for the tech and communication apparatuses, “creative” teams working to give it the allure needed to stoke our desires for it, and new forms of labor like technicians and designers…these all are instrumental for the creation and reproduction of the spectacle.  But what is so strange is that we could labor for a product that would be afterwards held against us in some way, vampirically incapacitating us.  Just as Marx describes laborers producing surplus value for capitalists, value which in turn gets re-purposed and ends up re-enforcing the economic status quo and facing laborers as obstacles to their freedom from the wage relationship and towards species-being, so we have a laboring humanity creating images that then, in turn, come to become stifling, oppressive, or perhaps least malignantly, like a “pseudo-life” that has much more to do w/ the pre-packaged configurations of desire that the images contain than the movements of our own desire as it wants greater activity and power.

This is alienation.  Mis-recognizing our desire, and taking other identities less helpful for our tasks that an imposing freedom demands.  Buying too much into circulated identities and mis-recognizing ourselves in the process, becoming alien to ourselves and unconscious of what it is our desire really wants, which would be a necessary (if, in itself, insufficient) step in strategizing on how to get it, and how other humans are part of that process.  Semi-voluntarily–and sometimes, quite enthusiastically–participating in a ritualized consumption of spectacular identities that ends up modifying our self-conceptions, our relationships with each other, our understanding of suffering, justice, truth, beauty, and values.  Experiencing the plethora, when desire is so much more specific in its desiring.

We are beholden to these images, seek to be like them, to identify as and with them b/c of what they seem to promise us.  All of these representations, these images, these identities…they all come with their own expectations, implicit and explicit norms (including norms opting for the elaboration of normative minimalism), bits of secure territory upon which to operate and to enjoy ourselves (esp if we follow Marx and D&G in understanding that even suffering is a kind of enjoyment).  When Debord says that the spectacle is the philosophizing of reality, we can understand this as its commodification of the domain of Kantian and post-Kantian thought as the synthesis and production of experience and representations.  Transcendental philosophy, concerned w/ the conditions of possible or real experience, becomes transformed so that the spectacular image can condition experience by commodifying it and its desire to want in particular ways (something which can become even clearer when we see that Kant describes desire as a power or “faculty which, by means of its representations, is the cause of the actuality of the objects of those  representations”).  Our desire has thus, to varying degrees, been co-opted from the outside in, whereby it becomes a conscious site for contestation, a fragmentation of ourselves into multiplicities of identities that each seek some kind of representation in the activity of our life…and we have to deal w/ the clean-up.

This strategic activating of sought-after effects through the spectacle commodity transforms the way we understand causal relations and reality.  Debord, at the very end of his text, brings up schizophrenia and dissociation as responses that seem to share a correspondence w/ the spectacle in so far as we “lose touch with reality.”  I must say though: this language–as well as the truth/false distinction–seems to be highly problematic.  There seems to be a privileging of idealism at work, one that confuses the normative for the descriptive.  But it is clear that Marx’s commodity fetishism has been transformed once more: now we have the spectacular image that mystifies our understanding of how we as humans relate to each other, and how it is our labor that produces (and then is alienated from) these images in the first place.  What we lose is the ability to apply the principle of sufficient reason, such that we could see how we are alienated together, and pooling our desire not in any (human) collective that could work for alternatives, but for the sheer power of the spectacular images themselves and the enjoyment of identities that they bring.  We lose the ability to form “more adequate ideas,” a la Spinoza, that could investigate causality more extensively, and not only in its effects.  What we have is the affirmation of appearance, of these end-result effects, and the affirmation of human life as appearance, as being wholly contained within the consumption of images.  What is unseen is lost, out of sight, and apparently not valuable.  Curation of images, of appearances, a myriad of perspectives each seemingly just as true as the other.  The interpersonal human relationships one kind amongst many.  But as Debord notes, the society of the spectacle with all of its images is still too much like a “monologue.”  It still creates the parameters for what is acceptable for consumption, and will not tolerate what threatens its hegemonic staying power.  Its message advocating passive acceptance and obedience-through-consumption is this: “what appears is good, and what is good appears.”  Alternative appearances and greater goods remain out of the question.  The spectacle merely congratulates itself, and urges us to do the same.

There’s so much more that can be said, and I find myself incredibly frustrated that it took me hours to pump this out, hours that were so slow and non-productive.  For future stuff, I’d like to be able to think more about how Debord clings to the human and resists what will later be named by Nick Land as machinic desire.  This in turn will have us wondering whether Debord’s view of the human is salvageable, or if we require a conceptual and affective upgrading of a sort to happen so that the human as spinozistic “common notion” isn’t simply arrested in its development along an idealist hegelian understanding of what it is.  Is debordian resistance possible or desirable today?  only in bits and pieces?  What does he have to contribute to the continuation of the tradition’s thinking of non-identity?  What of the project should be carried forward, and what do we leave as belonging to a by-gone era, one almost 50 years ago and in such different contexts, requiring such different focuses and strategies?

[following from my previous post on the positive ontological status of zero]

so as i get closer to the end of guy debord’s the society of the spectacle and see him moving away from a description of the spectacle towards his taking on marxist orthodoxy (economism, leninism-stalinism and its bureaucratic betrayal of the proletariat, etc.) and getting into philosophical, marxist-hegelian conceptions of time, i want to flesh out something of the text’s earlier bits and their relation to d&g’s anti-oedipus before i forget.

debord’s text, although it came out a year before ’68 and 5 years before A-O, can usefully be seen as a corrective to some of the problems w/ the d&g soixante-huitard text.  debord critiques the reification of lived experience involved in the consumption of the spectacle’s representations.  he does this for our benefit:–our inability to get to self-conceptualizations that are grounded in lack–the alienation that is part and parcel of the spectacle culture itself, no matter the joys that may come w/ it for better and worse–prevents the re-purposing of alienation as a crucial universal fit for taking the concerted elaboration of “the human” as its commitment, its collectivity as what is most deserving of the full efforts of a practical reasoning.  in other words, debord wants us to reclaim a kind of territory from which we can be informed about the spectacle, form an ethical-political navigation in relation to it, and from which we can learn to critique and refuse the plethora of produced identities for consumption.  he would say to d&g something like: “you fools!  you got so carried away by the extreme ideological affect of the machinic desire of your machinic ontology that you didn’t see how problematic the schizo could be, as the contemporary production of subjectivities moves from the formation of individuals to dividuals.  the way you both valorize a schizo process that has actually already been co-opted, such that it continues intra-personal alienation and the cynicism that refuses the freedom of the humanist project, the taking the inhumanist elaboration of the human seriously.  running away from the desire to form more powerful human collectives with others so we have better qualities of life as we become less alienated.”

ok, a bit long, but i think you get the idea.  perhaps we can say that it’s debord’s hegelian-marxist negativity that provides this impetus to refuse the present distribution of things, the dissatisfaction that rises with it as our collective alienation–being unified in our consumption that separates us–becomes increasingly intensified under capitalist productive development.  one has a negativity that can say “i am not this, nor that, nor that”…all which means to say, it desires the space of non-identity.  the ability to abstract from what rivets us to particular self-models in ways counterproductive to the sorts of ethics and humanist politics that we would like…one that includes a greater intimacy and relation w/ the human as a way to even more successfully conduct ethics and politics that take the problem of the freedom of the human in present times into account as a non-negotiable imperative.  a norm that is not derived, a la kant, from a sort of theological duty, but instead a more spinozistic conative imperative (as elaborated in my thesis) that knows the benefits that comes from unifying w/ the human in ways that alleviate alienation and engender our capacities to live more ethical and politically invested lives.  engineering ethical encounters for the production of machinic results needed for a leftist or progressive political subject today (e.g. increased trans-individual oxytocin levels producing inter-human bonding that conditions more successful fidelity to humanist projects).  this is what debord makes so imperative, so non-negotiable from his hegelian-marxism: the human cannot be renounced.  not only as a negative formulation, however.  but it is also the subversive power of love that raoul vanegeim names later that is so key.  we want intimacy and non-alienated being, for the reproduction of our lives in ways that are not only fulfilling and capacitating, but also key for the political struggles which aim to lessen alienation, lessen living lives that can too easily become “inauthentic” or “spectral”…the non-negotiable imperative to refuse dissatisfactioncynicismbare life.  taking seriously spinoza’s political question of “why do people desire their servitude as if it were their freedom?” and finding ways to continually unlearn our learned helplessness (e.g. negarestani’s take on committing to freedom in his “labor of the inhuman” essay).

debord gives an ethical perspective–if we understand a spinozist ethics to be that which aims at personal and collective human freedom as its highest goods–that is not given in d&g.  and this is why i find a key distinction btwn an ethics of freedom and an inhumanist agency.  debord adds the former to the latter that A-O is concerned with via its machinic ontology.  the intimacy (in their section on desire and the critique of psychoanalysis and lack) and the inhuman agency involved in a “general economy” of production.  especially re: inhuman agency, we see from the POV of their conceptual framework applying a transcendental empiricism that universalizes the principle of sufficient reason so as to better emphasize the non-human processes occurring that we are immanently enmeshed in–“desire is part of the infrastructure”–and traversed through by.  the conjoining of the more idealist account of desire with the more materialist machinic agency attempts something like what sellars called the stereoscopic view.  the machinic ontology, as a way of modelling reality conceptually–which includes the inscription of subjectivity within such models–helps provide heuristics and a familiarity w/ the non-human and the pure multiplicities when needed.  while it may not give the account of normativity that debord seems to be suggesting w/ his critique of the spectacle, it seems that the toolbox afforded by machinic ontologies is so far peerless in being able to think nature as production as well as the knowledge and learning taken from such a conceptualization.  superior empiricism indeed.  only when the machinic ontology fails to account for the exceptionality of the problem of the human–collectivity of alienated species-being that can be developed and elaborated to improve quality of life and move away from forms of bare life, the desire for recognition, the joys of human connection possible, etc.–does it risk becoming alienated once more, unconnected to humanist projects of freedom.  although this doesn’t mean that posthumanist or antihumanist ontologies cannot produce their own truths in exploration.  or more helpful models.  like how desire itself is never exempt from a generalized, productivist principle of sufficient reason.  yet, these things can be re-purposed to aid humanist projects.  the trickiness of empiricism w/ normativity.  i think it’s too quick to just condemn the empiricism of d&g–it can be quite helpful.  but to say that it has an explicitly humanist political program–like debord, and his negativity towards the spectacle–is not quite hitting the money either.  a generalized production of lack for all finite things that have affectivity, ok, but not really the sense of the importance of a transindividual or transversal human collectivity to be the collective leftist political subject–an anti-oedipus.  by focusing on a kantian take of experience and its production–philosophizing from the idealist side of a desiring subjectivity involved in the process of a general economy of production–they are unable to think the strategic import and value of such a transindividual collective subject.  that requires an embracing of alienation that they would at times like to move away from through the schizo process.  they take the approach that is already alienated:–they already see the human as a problem that is too restrictive, too oedipal, laying too many expectations w/ all the madness that causally ensues from such harmful exposure.  in this way, they are still perhaps too individualist at times, bordering on a leftist libertarianism that compromises w/ the spectacle a bit too much.  the glorification of alienation from the side of the difficulties of alienation, difficulties which, at the best of times or w/ the best of encounters, can provide a rebirth, a detachment from what places us in the sad passions and even what places us in activity.  but there is also the threat of the catatonic schizo that they come up w/ 8 years later in ATP as a way of suggesting: “by no means is the schizo process intrinsically liberatoryand can actually continue one’s status as an alienated dividual, against oneself.  a move is required–one from the valorization of the dissolution of selves through injections of the schizo process (which capital has so successfully co-opted, w/ its creation of “false needs,” its economic exploitation of our desire to communicate and to have identities to be through consumption, requiring another element…) towards the ability to think the non-identity of subjectivity in alternative ways other than by excess.

kenotic technique of non-identity

this is where badiouvian subtraction comes in, a subtraction that not only goes back to the lacanian subject (which either d&g implicitly presupposed knowledge of or simply tossed away) that has a relation of negativity to the identities its consumes, but also that seeks a reduction of the valorization of identities that take us away from the struggle against alienation and bare life that we have w/ the project of human freedom as part of a generic humanity.  a space for abstraction, for exploring the lacanian subject’s desire that we must not give up on.  and the ability to elaborate the formulation of this desire as the formulation of human freedom, including its desire for collectivity, its distaste for the violences that maim or impoverish life and make us content w/ the multiplication of cults of death and the hyena-ish laughter that finds fecundity in the salves of the sad passions.  a desire that does not give up on itself, on what it wants.  and being able to include processes of reasoning to aid the development of our individual autonomy in humanist collectives so that we can more effectively stay w/ what our desire demand.  the emptiness of the lacanian subject not as an impoverishment, but as a space to achieve desire and engage w/ freedom in.  and the potential of forming a generic humanity–generic b/c of sharing their negativity of not really being any of their identities regardless of degree of reification, sharing the non-identity that desires in a way much more minimally than the desire overloaded on the consumption of the spectacle.  a desire of the zero that seeks not the nomadism of moving btwn identities overloaded with the reification of representation–the commodification of “all the names of history” that is part of the nietzschean bomb w/in A-O–but the nomadism that finds itself more capable of achieving the dynamics of a desire unburdened by the excess of selves-as-models and the economic-psychoanalytical imperative to consume them.  zero not by overwhelming, but by subtraction–the positivity that negativity is capable of–towards the abstract minimalism of non-identity. interestingly enough, we see a flash of this in A-O when d&g quote henry miller: “From the little reading I had done I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were moulding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing.”  a non-identity that is not so easily ensnared by the illusions of reified identities such that it becomes better positioned to do what it must for freedom, and a freedom that provides a space for thinking a generic humanity as the end result of operations of subtraction.  a method to refuse subjectivity as a positive process–the positivity of negativity, as badiou says, that which is not a destruction.  and important, a positive result as well, when the minimization of the dramatization of the consumption of multiplicities of identities can think of and desire and opt for and imagine other than the spectacle and “communicative capitalism” (jodi dean) today, and the “there is no alternative” put forth by globally integrated capitalism / post-cold war neoliberalism / capitalism as necropolitical “thanaticism” at our historical conjuncture of problems.  subtraction as a useful (and thereby, also ethical and political) operation that can think the dissatisfaction of the spectacle–always w/in a narrow set of parameters, always producing the unity of separate consumption…the falsity of an ideological “end of history”–and desire to construct otherwise.  the dissatisfaction w/ the spectacle as it fails to aid humanist processes and collectives of freedom and autonomy.  i think this is why debord comes down so hard on what he calls “the autonomy of the image,” since he sees it as sapping us away into an alienation that finds great difficulty w/ desiring the reduction of the suffering that comes w/ such alienation.  the operation of subtraction as something that enables a fidelity to a truly nomadic desire to emerge (badiou’s subjective necessity as the quantification of the infinite into finitude), while also making the space for a generic and inhumanist humanity more likely (although i’m not yet familiar w/ how he makes that argument).  a different conceptualization of non-identity from the energetics involved in dissolution of selves:–a more abstractive non-identity which finds itself closer to the infinite zero by thinking of zero as necessarily irreducible to a zero thought of as excess, as energetic degree “= 0”.  a zero that can take the affective conceptualization of thermodynamics and hydraulic desire as yet another model–and quite a useful one–, and in no way equal to what is infinite zero.  only infinite zero is infinite zero, and even that deceives in so far as it encounters all the problems of A = A that zero cannot be subsumed under as it is that which differs from itself.  subtraction as the operation that can better deliver the non-identity of zero than the ethical praxis of an energetic excess, since it allows for the abstractive space whereby desire can be understand as a quantification of the infinite, as something that can be rationally elaborated in a co-development w/ a more truly nomadic desire.

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two things that i forgot to add during my writing last night.  (1) one is making explicit the concept of a subject that is abstract, that navigates through abductive reasoning, that minimizes quantitative multiplicities so as to allow for qualitative intensive shifts that allow a more robust desire to issue forth:–this all depends upon the exploration of aneurophilosophical individual that can be expressed well w/ thomas metzinger’s phrase of “being no one.”  this also works w/ the mode-individual as immunological agential system from my thesis, the thinking that would conceptualize the human mode as third person reflexive pronoun.  the movement towards articulating non-identity, which includes also articulating non-identity from the side closest to a non-identity that is closest to the anonymity of infinite zero…a zero of which “excess” is only a moment or a modality, and one that can become dogmatically obstructive when taken to be exhaustive.  so how to articulate the ontological zero of a modal “being no one,” such that we can understand why there is a desire for consumption of identities, how we interact w/ identities as capacities that are essentially modelling processes, and how the positive capacities of subtractive operations towards anonymity can allow for a productive negativity that can desire otherwise.  this will require looking at some of badiou, the elements of deleuze and d&g’s thought that explores the anonymity of becoming-indiscernible and the counter-actualization of qualitative intensity that provides a greater nomadic movement than the positivity of the distribution of actual quantitative multiplicities, but especially the brassier and negarestani and metzinger (for starters) that seek more explicit developments of the problems of non-identity as it relates to subjectivity, agency, resistance, rational activity, and processes of freedom.

(2) making explicit how the spectacle–especially the “spectacle of disintegration” of today’s “over-developed” world, a la the wark-SI fusion–engenders the dissolution of attention, of humanist identification, the production of sociopathologies and psychopathologies, the production of a machinic desire that can go overboard through the hyper-connectivity of contemporary network culture by which capital commodifies our desire for intimacy and communication.  the compulsion to identify, which is always promoted from within the “acceptable” parameters of the spectacle, becomes a prison of multiplicity, of mutilated half-desires that struggle to muster the activity and desire for freedom.  becoming-dividual:–the informational person of the age of metadata and pattern recognition of our control society that quantifies our fragmentation and intensifies our self-divided alienation, making it more difficult to think of the transindividuality required for a collective human subject elaborating itself by opting for greater freedom.  united in our alienated consumption of merely empirical differences, both inter-personally as well as intra-personally.  becoming yet again alienated from our labor, and the way it stands against us to sap our creative energies.  this is schizophrenic desire as malady, as what cuts us off from our capacity to act.  the over-exposure relating to economic relations of production, circulation, and consumption that demand our total and complete subsumption into the identitarian fantasies of the spectacle, of becoming the representations of “all the names of history.”  this is what i would like to call a transindivudal neuro-toxicity that is the contemporary trap of getting stuck in the passions, esp if we take the passions to be the passivity of a receptive sensitivity that precludes an ethical process of judgment and selection for the activity of freedom.  the persistent insistence that counters the spectacle’s logic that says “that which appears is good, [and] that which is good appears.”  we see the affective elaboration of this problem in albums like sufjan stevens 2010 the age of adzand st. vincent’s 2014 eponymous album.  the post hoc coming to terms w/ the schizophrenic subjectivity proper to the dividuals we find ourselves becoming more and more of as the consumption of identities is increasingly commodified and encouraged by contemporary capital relations.  a new form of alienation that deceives us by positing the sufficiency of a schizophrenic intimacy w/ what exists…and how such non-human intimacy can cut us off from the transhuman intimacy that we would like to formulate with others in meaningful ways.  holly herndon’s 2015 platform makes this recuperative dynamic explicit, and insists that we do not give up on the subversive capacities of love even against the over-developed hyper-connectivity of contemporary network culture and advanced machinic capitalism.  making explicit how the commitment to the human–which becomes an inhumanist elaboration of the human as a (spinozist) “common idea” that we transindividually share together while being fully immersed and conscious of the non-, in-, and un-human elements of a “substance” that is not intrinsically in favor of “subject”–is desirable for a more free life, as that which combats the deceptive alienations of schizo-rhizomatic culture.  what is particularly noticeable about holly herndon’s platform is the way that she nonetheless retains elements of a machinic desire and wants to engage w/ the complexity of elaborating the human by re-purposing the elements of our machinic naturalist conceptualizations for the human.  rejecting the sterile mechanical-vital dualism in favor of a desire that can select the elements it needs for the success of humanist projects.

the ethics of a zero moving towards the anonymity of a “zero-space” produced by the positivity of subtractive operations is therefore not something to be seen as a luxury, one possible capacity appearing among other capacities to choose–the “market” approach to ethical subjectivity’s auto-modulation opting for the activity of personal and collective human freedom.  such an anonymous ethics is crucial for the ability to withdraw from the production of one contemporary avatar of incapacitating lack, that of becoming overwhelmingly paralyzed by the neuro-toxicity of network culture and its inhuman expansion of platforms of communication that nonetheless still prove to be too constricting for the kinds of communication conducive towards the activity of freedom.

or to use two quotations, one from spinoza and the other from deleuze:

spinoza: “I submit that the world would be much happier, if men were as fully able to keep silence as they are able to speak.”

deleuze: “We sometimes go on as though people can’t express themselves. In fact they’re always expressing themselves. The sorriest couples are those where the woman can’t be preoccupied or tired without the man saying “What’s wrong? Say something…,” or the man, without the woman saying … and so on. Radio and television have spread this spirit everywhere, and we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity’s never blind or mute. So it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves; What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, thing that might be worth saying. What we’re plagued by these days isn’t any blocking of communication, but pointless statements. But what we call the meaning of a statement is its point. That’s the only definition of meaning, and it comes to the same thing as a statement’s novelty. You can listen to people for hours, but what’s the point? . . . That’s why arguments are such a strain, why there’s never any point arguing. You can’t just tell someone what they’re saying is pointless. So you tell them it’s wrong. But what someone says is never wrong, the problem isn’t that some things are wrong, but that they’re stupid or irrelevant. That they’ve already been said a thousand times. The notions of relevance, necessity, the point of something, are a thousand times more significant than the notion of truth. Not as substitutes for truth, but as the measure of the truth of what I’m saying. It’s the same in mathematics: Poincaré used to say that many mathematical theories are completely irrelevant, pointless; He didn’t say they were wrong – that wouldn’t have been so bad.”

the focus on the ability to desire other than through the repressive forces demanding our forced identification, demanding our compliance w/ the spectacle and staying w/in the vast (but truly restricted and restrictive) parameters of the spectacle that have become sanitized, have become prepped and available for acceptable consumption.  the valorization of and the call to “self-expression” as a trap that rivets us to an economic process of consumption that reproduces the relations of capital as it seeks to continually accumulate value…an end that is explicitly anti-humanist and anathemic to humanist projects of freedom.  self-expression that is actually not an “expression” of the self, but the consumption of identity of a self-as-modelling-process (from the POV of anonymous, indiscernable “zero-space”) that overladens desire w/ the norms, expectations, and activation of conflicting desires proper to such “packages” of identities that produce a schizophrenic ambivalence robbing us of our ability to be faithful to the exigencies of our desire…including our desire for alleviating and replacing the hegemony of alienation w/ a constructive counter-hegemonic transindividual humanism.  when d&g critique forms of desire bound up to duty, to expectation, to becoming subject to the reified representations that so easily ensnare us, i find the charitable way of taking such injunctions to be less about a “childish” refusal of commitment, of the work of elaborating the commitments involved in activities of (in)humanist freedom, and more about the refusal to become subjected to processes of identity-consumption that divide us from our capacities for activity, for seeing “what a body can do.”

Tonight, I want to talk about zero (big props to Petra for the music).  To be honest, I’ve resisted the exploration of zero for some time, despite it being part of the name of this blog collective, a collective which agrees so much on the challenges of thinking through a post-nihil praxis from the side of philosophy or conceptualization (albeit in different ways).

There always seemed to be something quite off-putting about zero…perhaps it was the way it came off as a nihilistic impulse, a desire for the minimization of “the human” or of “life,” for wearily evacuating the ontological “fullness” of substance via a contractive immunological shrinking of subjects in bewildering pain.  Plus, there were all these terms and concepts more or less proximately attached to zero that I struggled to take seriously: non-beingvoid, holeemptinesslackkenosisnothingnessnegation negativity…you get the idea.  With my spinozist training, it made absolutely no sense to use these words and concepts to talk about actually extant individuals / things / beings / objects / relations (pick your poison), etc.  With a reality immanent only to itself, fuelled by a principle of sufficient reason that emphasizes causality for the existence of things, Spinoza’s substance–and its philosophical heirs, like Deleuze’s “pure difference”–allows for no vacuum, no place or space devoid of the necessity of communicative relation, since everything that can exist, does exist, and only exists by its relations with other existing things–the abolishment of ciphers of non-being (including “possibility” as mere phantasmic projection of the present).

From the psychotic standpoint of substance, none of these terms could have legitimate meaning, with the subsequent corollary that if we were to talk about these things or concepts, it could only be as spinozistic “inadequate ideas.”  By inadequate ideas, I mean ideas (could be “minds,” “cognition,” “mental states,” “experience,” etc.) that express some degree of existence, some degree of power, by which all things come to be and strive to continue being until acted upon destructively by its relations with other things–and in this sense, they are “true” by the sheer force of their positive existence–, but simultaneously ideas that inadequately know the causal relations involved in producing said positivity, said “is-ness” of their existence.  Inadequate representational mapping of “what is the case,” attempts to conceptualize the excess of infinitude with strange theological themes.  [Example: thinking that human sacrifice will produce the continuation of the sun or cosmos rather than the gravitational orbiting of the heliocentric model; thinking that the market is a natural process rather than an historic episode of economic production that is by no means essentially “natural”]  In other words, a language of negativity that is constitutively unable to see how its referents could only be things that exist, and not what is not, not some exceptional spinozistic “kingdom within a kingdom” that would be exempt from the deterministic necessity of natural or physical laws that all things share and abide by.  No naturalist “being” here and then a non-naturalist puncture “hole” or dash of “non-being” over there.

Given this logic of the impossibility of a “kingdom within a kingdom”–which I continue to commit to for this elaboration, as it remains a necessary part of a conceptualization that is committed to naturalism and materialism–I take these terms to be indicative or expressive of conceptual territories or “intensities,” “mental” effects that have undergone some sort of codification as subjective experience.  They name modalities of what it is possible to think, regardless of whether they are fit for a rigorous naturalist-materialist metaphysics or aiding thought’s capacities for more adequate representation or not.  They are concepts related to other concepts and semantic usages, providing a resonance or support by which certain possibilities of thought are explored.  Or perhaps they are more like Negarestanian elements of unfolding programs, philosophy as space of conceptual functions, operational effects, specific sets of realizabilities, and experimentations–the practice of philosophy as elaboration itself not an immune “kingdom within a kingdom,” but always inserted and realized in media res with its time, its ecologies, and their problems.

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But zero is different.  Zero is not just another conceptualization that overdoses on the symbolic register of subjective experience, although we admit that it can have a metaphorical dimension too.  Nor is zero its clumsy cousins groping around awkwardly for the metaphysical light switch.  Instead, zero has a mathematical rigor to it that exceeds the others, a reality proper that would be real regardless of whether there were beings to know it such that it would then become real.  Zero is not dependent on experience, although experience involves “it” and (as I later hope to show) implicates it, and explicates it.  We see that there must be a positivity to zero as something that is real, as something that belongs to the ineliminable mathematical structuration of our universe–“absence” or “non-being” won’t do.

But how are we to think zero in its positivity, its is-ness, when it is so commonly used to denote empirical absence or nothing?  If “Being is said in a single and same sense of everything of which it is said,” (univocity from Deleuze’s D&R, 36) and zero as real cannot be the “opting” out of reality that its associations with nothingness would take it to be, then what can we say about zero’s actuality?  Here we will look to the mathematician Gottlob Frege to give us a boost.  As Levi points out in a somewhat recent blog post on zero, Frege in his Foundations of Arithmetic says that “Zero is the number non-identical to itself.”  Frege recognizes the is-ness of the positivity that is zero.  Yet how are we to understand zero given the instability of its being non-identical to itself?  How does zero not suddenly transform into another number, a non-zero numeral?

Zero

Zero

To enter the space of the problem of reflexive non-identity, or a self-non-coincidence, I think that certain elements of Deleuze’s conceptualizations of a non-empirical (i.e. not a difference between things) difference can help.  For the basis of his ontology, Deleuze puts forth a Bergsonian concept of difference that is not subordinated to identity, analogy, opposition, or resemblance.  Such difference is the fullness of reality not as the collectivity of things that exist to compose a super-thing or super-object (an object having a discernible identity), but as a process which overwhelms the specificity of any given identity or thing used to nominate or demarcate the entirety of reality.  Following Heidegger, Deleuze is working under the framework that Being is not a being (“ontological difference”), that a sort of “pure” difference that produces such identities or objects is not reducible to them or to what is proper to them.  Given the spatio-temporal (and perhaps other, unknown dimensions) complexity and scale of the universe, and our (relatively speaking) paucity of knowledge and experience of it, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

What is key to this concept of difference that I would like to tease out is the way that it is a difference that differs from itself as a temporal–or perhaps better, temporalizing–process.  Instead of being self-identical such that A = A, Deleuze conceives of difference as time itself, what he calls the “pure and empty form of time” (following Kant’s phrasing).  Just as the second law of thermodynamics stipulates that there is a time-asymmetry of entropy such that time is irreversible, so we can understand Deleuze’s temporalizing difference as incapable of “returning” to a particular “distribution” of reality.  Deleuze’s difference can never “coincide” with what it “was” at some point, it can never be equal or commensurable to itself as A = A suggests.  The transformations of such difference irrevocably changes what it is, as time “goes on” and entropy increases.  These transformations require that difference be a process (e.g. time) irreducible to the simplicity of a logical identity, to being a logical term that could be equated to another.  If we are to take seriously this concept of difference, one that resists exhaustive identities that attempt to circumscribe its novelties and capacities and possibilities, then we can make the skip and a hop to see how such difference is non-identical to itself…not because it shares no relationship with identities, but because identities (and the analogies, resemblances, and oppositions that are premised on them) are inadequate for thinking the “fullness” of such difference as the unfolding production of time.

By placing such difference as the genetic element whereby all is and was and comes to be (the fullness of time), we enter into a conceptual space that can think this processual difference as a process of production that is its becoming non-identical to itself.  And here’s where we explicitly return to zero.  Although we don’t want to limit zero to the side of subjectivity, to experience, this path can be helpful for elucidating how we could more adequately understand zero.  In Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, we find an interesting conceptualization of zero, specifically in their “How do you make yourself a body without organs?” chapter / plateau.  Their concept of the Body without Organs (BwO) is a reformulation of certain elements of Kant’s theory of subjectivity as found in his critical project.  Like Kant, D&G focus upon an experiential subjectivity, both from and on the side of experience.  Specifically, they target desire: “The BwO is desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires.”  This echoes Kant, who suggests that the faculty (or capacity or power) of desire is the “faculty which, by means of its representations, is the cause of the actuality of the objects of those  representations.”  Both concepts of desire are crucial for evincing the productive activity constitutively involved in experience, thought as a dynamic process; furthermore, production in both cases refers to the intensive dimension of experience, an intensive dimension that is foundationally related to what both authors term “= 0.”

As D&G helpfully suggest, this intensive quantity can be understood better if we conceptualize the BwO as “matter that occupies space to a given degree–to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced” by desire.  All of experience in its pure positivity of being is a modulating occupation of space such that all features of experience and experience-as-process are to be indexed “between 0 and a” (Kant).  The qualitative intensities [gradiations of color, of emotions or moods, of all sorts of specific identities that we can recognize as such within experience] populating the BwO/s, or one’s desire/s, correspond to quantitative “degrees” of reality, to fullnesses of “occupation” of matter.  Kant’s suggestive degree “a” is a placeholder or variable for any possible degree, any sort of qualitative-quantitative intensity.  The intensive degrees of consciousness are in flux, never remaining the exact same, undergoing continual metamorphoses along a quantitative gradient as continuous becoming…but what it cannot ever be is the = 0 that it is always positively in relation to.

But what is this degree zero, and why is it specifically zero?  D&G give us hints: “Matter equals energy.  Production of the real as an intensive magnitude starting at zero”–“zero intensities as matrices of production”–“infinite zero” (borrowing from Artaud)–and “zero intensity as principle of production.”  From the Kantian-Deleuzoguattarian perspective of consciousness, it is impossible to experience this degree zero, since experience constitutively depends upon quantitative degrees corresponding to the positivity of experiential qualitative intensities.  That’s just what experience is, and it couldn’t be otherwise for them.  Clearly, degree zero is other than cognition, and cannot be experienced as such.  Nick Land follows this logic all the way by interlacing = 0 with death, the obliteration of experience and the cohesion it relies upon, the being “returned” to the inhuman thermodynamic flows “from whence we came”: “pure” process.

But we can take another approach.  The movement towards = 0 is a movement towards the effacement of the operational primacy of identity (which includes resemblance, opposition, and analogy) we depend upon for living, the erasure of discrete or particular differences that help constitute (recognizable or nominable) elements of our identity such that we can navigate and traverse the world.  For D&G, the rush towards degree zero is the experiencing of the increasing incoherence of non-identity as subjectivity dissolves under the pressures of an excess which it cannot absorb without radical destabilization.  Far from being “non-being,” the hybrid Kant-D&G monster takes zero as the plenum w/o remainder, what the excess overwhelming subjectivity can only intuit by undergoing the same destabilization shared by all beings (or objects or identities) as they are produced by a “pure” difference differing from itself.  Meltdown or de-nuding as philosophical method.  The horror or joy or pain or numbness–depends upon the day of the week, really–associated with finding oneself non-coinciding with…oneself.  Or better put: experiencing the inadequacy of one’s self-conceptions or modelling processes (“ego/s”) or identities to know one’s own ontological status as teeming multiplicity, or what I called in my thesis one’s alienicity or alien constitution resulting from the “wild physics” of spinozistic substance.

Zero comes to be conceptualized as the process of reflexive non-identity, the logically anterior matrix “prior” to the actual production of empirical differences between produced identities (including other numbers).  Zero is that which produces the transformative production (e.g. change) that we are acquainted with and see every day, and such production throughly depends upon zero.  Here we have come full circle: zero as that which differs from itself, as that which produces identity (and is thus related to it) without being reducible to identity (including sets or distributions of identities).  Zero as no-thing, yet related to all things.

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But I find myself dissatisfied with the deleuzoguattarian conceptualization of zero, specifically with its particular anchoring within subjective experience–a residual idealism still haunts their work, which can be seen by their love of (bergsonian?) intuitive intensity as philosophical method.  They still cannot think zero more widely beyond such an experiential method.  They truncate zero, effecting an attempted taming of zero precisely at the point where they would like to re-connect with its expanse via zero’s univocity thought as self-differentiating time.  They mis-take the intensive intuition of self-non-identity–a particular, finite effect within their “general economy” of temporal difference–as more “truly” indicative of what is supposedly authentically universal:–they take the subjective experience of a destabilizing overwhelming of one’s identity as intimate entry or approximation to the “authentic” destabilization of temporal difference that is present everywhere (univocity).  The experiential knowledge proper to one’s “ongoing non-coincidence with itself” (from my thesis, as “becoming-x“) becomes a privileged indication of the process of the processual “whole,” of what transversally traverses the “One-All” of pure difference differing from itself.

But as Brassier makes clear (quoting Badiou) in his “Stellar Void or Cosmic Animal?: Badiou and Deleuze on the Dice Throw,” we have to interrogate “the possibility that Being be thought as All.”  What D&G (unwittingly?) end up doing by correlating = 0 and intensity (from the perspective of a schizophrenic phenomenology) is buying into the logic of analogy or resemblance that Deleuze in D&R suggests is wholly inadequate for more adequately thinking pure difference totally “anterior” to any identity.  By suggesting that one most faithfully approximates non-identity by moving in the direction of an intensive and destabilizing = 0–towards the wilderness of the incoherence of excess–, D&G end up becoming ensnared in a logic that projects the experienced incoherence of destabilization of identity as what is shared by all else–a heft claim that they more presume than explain.  We get here a form of pan-psychism that illegitimately extrapolates the intensive feature of human cognition–a consciousness which is only a spinozistic finite mode–as that which is necessarily shared by all…all things participating in intensive “occupations” of matter such that our experience is taken as the model from which to move around.  D&G suppose that the degree zero “underlying” all such intensities is a “deterritorializing” incoherence universally proper to ALL that is, to all that share in zero’s process of non-identity with itself.  There is a gnostic element here that supposedly “gets at” a “secret truth” of reality, effectuated by an illegitimate operation of hypostatization of one modality of experience to gain the effect of a religious intimacy with what is “sub-personal,” of what is humming “below” all forms of identity.  This amounts to a projection of finitude upon the infinite, a suggestion that what is infinite (the “infinite zero”) is more like what happens in schizophrenic phenomenology, only to the nth degree and much more chaotically.

By exporting a feature of consciousness’ finitude, D&G fail to account, ironically enough, for the fullness of the non-identity of zero, for how zero is just as much at work in coherence as it is in incoherence, in “stratification” as well as “deterritorialization.”  For D&G, process is processed by consciousness through the imprisoning prism of the lived image of the “flow.”  Although the flow indicates something about the process of zero’s non-identity, it is part of a rationally unjustifiable “philosophical decision” that is still tied to an image of things-as-processes and the dynamics proper to them.  The “flow” becomes the model for thinking process.  But as we’ve said, zero “is” the self-differentiation of non-identity–it is not a thing, even if a supermassive collection of things.  We must take the image of the flow to be something like a heuristic, and not what can then be adequate to think infinite difference (although it is still quite useful to think actual production).  I take this to be what Brassier-Badiou are pushing when they suggest that Being cannot be thought of as All, since such an All is still dependent upon operations of shared resemblance or analogy for D&G.  To state it otherwise, there is a confusion between identity as essentially processual (the becoming-x of each extant thing) and process as non-identity, as resistant or indifferent to whatever concepts or affects we use to “approximate” it (which is really, then, not an approximation).  While D&G investigate how identity incorporates zero’s processual self-differentiation, they can only do so by correlating such difference to their schizophrenic phenomenology–but the problem is that even in the experience of such an excess of the process of zero’s self-differentiation, such an excess cannot be said to “have” or “be” the character as it is sometimes experienced as one modality of thought amongst many.  For the excess is always already there, regardless of whether one is moving “towards” or “away” from degree zero.  By privileging a particular phenomenological knowledge of zero, D&G narrow zero’s process and what it is capable of other than as finite experienced excess.  Any experience of All only winds up being a fantasy.  D&G can’t deliver on the kind of difference that Deleuze was carefully trying to construct earlier in his career.

I think this is why Badiou is so often presented as something of an ontological corrective to Deleuze’s (or D&G’s) thought.  Although I have only read his Ethics (which I find to be excellent), from what I understand about his attempt to make ontology mathematics, we have an attempt to untangle the correlation between thought and being that D&G can’t quite get out of.  Badiou’s set-theoretical conceptualization of the infinite zero as “void” aims to preserve the dimension of zero that is concretely quantifiable, but not amenable to the unjustifiable intuitive or intensive methods that imprison zero within the conceptual expansiveness of the “All,” or the “One-All.”  It’s like Badiou is saying: “Alright Deleuze, you can have univocity…but you cannot accomplish it with your all-too-phenomenological, all-too-human explorations.  You narrow the infinite.  Your Kantian-Bergsonian idealist residue betrays the infinite.  You really cannot think more adequately what you earlier called the empty form of time.  You cannot truly think the inhuman.”  It is why he focuses upon the discontinuity or disruption that zero brings about…an excess not of overwhelming intuitive experience, but of that which unpredictably strikes to problematize what we take to be All or Being.  The puncture of the state of our knowledge that indicates its incompleteness, its incompleteness for truly thinking any kind of “All.”  The injection of the non-conceptualizable zero that avoids the complacency of intimacy via the method of intense or intensive experience as sufficient for one’s relation to the infinite.  Not to “know” the zero only in intensive intimacy, but in other possibilities.

In posts that will follow in the near-future, I will focus on the ethical dimensions of zero, and how to think the ethical response to zero differently from the deleuzoguattarian ethic of inhabiting the excess of zero…how to produce a different set of ethical effects by re-conceptualizing zero, while taking my ontological critique of deleuzoguattarian excessive zero seriously.

so this is my first post as one of SZ’s contributors–now that i’m done with my MA program and thesis, i hope to be able to do many more of these!  the link below shows the PDF version of my MA submitted last friday, “alien alliances: becoming-subject in spinoza’s ethics”

metaphysical inhumanism and alien constitution (or: chapter 1)

the first chapter deals with my development of an implicit metaphysical inhumanism in spinoza’s ethics and what that means for the individuation or constitution of individuals-aliens-modes-systems

immunological ethics (or: ch 2)

the second deals with the immunological ethics responding to this general inhumanism, specifically from the “human” perspective

immunology of the commons and prometheanism (or: ch 3)

the third deals with how this immunology spreads to the commons to extend the range of processual freedom for humans, and how this translates into a promethean political project (also: iconoclasm + immunography)

i’d love to hear comments, critiques, challenges, and all other sorts of things–i finished this one rather last minute, and am sure many spinozists, naturalists, marxists, accelerationists/xenofeminists/neo-rationalists, etc. could help me strengthen it…esp for the last part, and how this could lend itself towards conceptualizing agency in posthuman times, or anything dealing with its concrete application, as “post-nihil praxis”… or anything else, really.

cheers!!

-felix navarrete, kingston uni crmep

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4QnBzW9ZWn7bkNKYVNDeWJYRTA/preview

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ABSTRACT:

This thesis concerns the problem of a human agency facing the dissolution of “the human” resulting from the sciences and hegemonic neoliberalism, as well as the perils of ecological crisis for the human species. Following Spinoza’s insistence that the human results from a process of development, we find the human has always been alien to us at the same time that we have always been subject to its composition. Spinoza exploits this production to shift the problem of what the human is away from any pre-given foundation or pre-determined goal, and towards how its open identity can better enhance ethico-political projects of freedom. To effectuate this transition, this thesis begins exploring the implicit inhumanism of Spinoza’s Ethics revealing the unexceptional, precarious status of the human within reality. Humans lack unconditioned freedom or transcendence, and submit to the necessity of God’s activity that produces all that is without purpose or will. This activity constitutes humans as inhuman aliens through myriad causal relations with each other that actuate their continual transformations. We explore how humans ethically respond to these situations without any intrinsic identity or pre-determined ends to guide them. The characteristics of immune systems reveal an immunological ethics, consistent with inhumanism, which reformulates freedom for third person reflexive pronouns. Certain encounters with other natures prove to beget greater agency for the human, enabling it to realize its true advantage as the adequate cause of itself. Active humans seek to empower others and to join for greater true advantage, forming collectives that rationally act for maximal collective human freedom. Prometheans’ collective agency more capably faces contemporary challenges.