attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: catastrophe

The sixth extinction

Somehow the Guardian’s series entitled The Sixth Extinction has managed to escape my attention. With the strap line ‘How humans are driving animals and plants to extinction’, it certainly bills itself as sad, but provocative reading.

It features a visually arresting ‘interactive map of the world’s extinct and endangered species’, which introduces itself with the intro-blurble ‘Over the past 500 years, human activity is known to have decimated 869 species. Habitat destruction, hunting, alien species, disease and climate change are among the forces responsible for the vulnerability and loss of the 12,000 species on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. With a total of 16,928 plant and animal species at risk, life on Earth is populated by creatures poised at the brink of extinction. Today, one in eight birds, one in four mammals, one in five invertebrates, one in three amphibians, and half of all turtles face extinction’. It isn’t pussy footing around.

The series also features an interview with musician and naturalist Bernie Krause and includes samples of audio he has recorded from habitats before and after extinction- and produced some haunting silences therein, as well as the deploying the immediately appealing term ‘bioacoustics’. Ocularcentrism has a tendency to make us forget that life is an acoustic phenomena as much as it is visual. Krause writes that ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening’- although I can’t say I’m too happy with hierarchising or playing off industrial or commercial noise with against that produced by more organic beings- after all, I doubt Krause is talking about the sound of talking.

There is also a report on the conservation model of Ecuador, which hosts the most biodiverse area in the world and is the only country in the world to have included nature in its constitutional rights…and the claim that ‘Pharmaceutical companies have based countless patents on results from the forest, where the chemical mix and match is immeasurably more dynamic than that of any science lab’, is interesting if ultimately anthropocentric.

Yet this blog considers that cosmological extinction is a real but not yet actually accomplished fact, that human extinction is not a distant possibility, and agrees with Timothy Morton’s reminder that climate science knows that the disaster has ‘already occurred and that we are now living in its aftermath’. For Morton the Krause recordings are ‘fragile sonic worlds’ that are ‘objects of sadistic pleasure and Schadenfreude’. The entire Sixth Extinction, with its desire to watch the extinction events, to be a kind of panoptic overseer of the processes of extinction, and to situate itself within a classificatory system (Extinction VI, rather like DSM-V?) speak of a kind of mania for the whole thing. It

This might sound like it would be part of Catastrophia’s remit (‘love of collapse’, after all)…but Catastrophic ethics are an ethics of compassion, and they want to be nonanthropocentric. Sadism is incompatible with Catastrophia. The end of all things is precisely the immanent fact of creation that Catastrophia names in the term Catastrophy. It is in this sense that its pessimism is still one that is attached to what is, even if stubbornly and ambivalently. Death and extinction are not problems we can solve, either through evasion or mastery. The Guardian’s Sixth Extinction series may be interesting but it remains afraid of destiny, of cosmic fate, and for this reason it is a good example of the domestication of thought, specifically the domestication of the thought of the end of though, life, and perhaps being itself. Catastrophia orients us to the intimate precariousness of everything that catastrophically exists. Everything is a fellow traveller towards the last moment. Everything, is heading at every moment to extinction. Everything living, indeed everything that exists (in my terms, ‘Cosmos’) is attempting to cope with that, to survive it’s own death a little longer. In this way, perhaps we are melancholic- perhaps this is why we are so confused and stupid when it comes to ecological politics- melancholic in Freud’s sense… we can’t let go of a lost object.

There might be little to separate Catastrophia from Tim Morton’s own dark ecology in the end, save his greater depth of thinking.

Extinction, again

Whatever pretension to a philosophy of time that Catastrophia has it is one that is thoroughly linear. There is only one moment in the catastrophic thought and it is the moment in which all other moments take place. All temporalities, all spacetimes, exist within that spacetime of beginning and end. It is axiomatic for the catastrophic thought that the original catastrophe is the coming into existence of anything whatsoever. In theological language it is Creation that is catastrophic, a singular disaster that- given the absence of a transcendental divinity to have created it- is without any justification. This time, this time inaugurated by the ontological explosion, that truly original accident that was generative of substance, is the time that is also bound to entropy, to that third law of thermodynamics, to the process that will eventual dissolve reality. The universe, that most large scale of hyperobjects, is inextricably headed towards the dark era, the future period in which matter has thoroughly disintegrated and the last beings will exist as isolated monads incapable of even colliding with one another and eventually…the universe itself may cease. Or, given that here all that remains is the quantum level, anything may happen. But the dark and the cold will have vanquished the vibrant, the vital, the existing. From the moment of the explosion to the moment of the last positrons slowing down and the last electron going out (as it were) we find the entire history of that aberration of existence. This cosmological extinction is the extinction par excellence, and the arguments of philosophers as to whether it cripples or motivates us is already to bring this last extinction under the domesticating influence of a comforting thought. Catastrophic time is the temporality within which all other times play out. There is no possible subject who can experience this moment, no possible way to tame this time which is properly nothing but the happening of an event, the only ontological event worthy of attention. It is therefore a time that neither occurs in the blink of an eye or that extends itself into an infinite. Explosion and evaporation.

I have argued before that all our tasks for the future consist in little else than a self-managed extinction. There is no way out. OR, there is only choosing our way out. The inelegant concept of ‘existential catastrophe’ [1] (brought to my attention by a post at misanthropology) is one that elides the fundamental point that we are because of, inside of, part of the original catastrophe. We are catastrophic, always already. The idea that we can escape from precariousness, as the authors of the same paper that coins ‘existential catastrophe’, propagate is one that is fundamentally stupid. This comes as no surprise though. It is the same stupidity that is the motor of human success, that forms part of the coalition against death into which each of us is inaugurated through the development of consciousness.

Any post-nihilistic pragmatics will require that we operate consciously within catastrophic time and that we surrender the impossible task of removing precariousness from the human condition. These are the same project in fact, given that the former reveals to us the anthropocentrism of the latter…the benign revelation that precariousness is the condition of all things. IF this garners the accusation of privelging the perspective of extinction and heat death then this is a necessary part of the pragmatic ethics of a self-management of extinction. As I have said before, the task now is to think the ethics of palliative care for the species. The dream of species-being is realised at last.

[1]/ Here.

Undoing one’s belt

Precariousness, Catastrophe and Challenging the Blackmail of the Imagination

Franco BIFO Berardi

Abstract

In the forthcoming future I do not see any predictable form of subjectivation, of resurrection of consciousness and emancipation: the social civilization is over, the Neoliberal precarization of labor and the media dictatorship have destroyed the cultural antibodies that in the past made resistance possible. As far as I know. But what I know is only what I can see from my limited point of observation. The limitations of knowledge present the only potential for ethical imagination in the present age of catastrophe.

In the forthcoming future I do not see any predictable form of subjectivation, of resurrection of consciousness and emancipation: the social civilization is over, the Neoliberal precarization of labor and the media dictatorship have destroyed the cultural antibodies that in the past made resistance possible. As far as I know. But what I know is only what I can see from my limited point of observation, of course.

In the 20th century the moral revolt against exploitation was based on the realistic prospect of winning the autonomy of society from the cultural and economic domination of capitalism. This was a realistic approach based on the analysis of actual lived and material conditions.
But during the last decades I have witnessed a mutation of possibility induced by the shifts in capitalist economy, and I have come to think that this mutation is irreversible: not only has it affected the social sphere but also the semiotic, biological and psychic spheres.
Therefore, my knowledge and my understanding cause me to disown the possibility of an alternative society.

The dissociation of capitalism and modernity is accomplished: capitalist rule is liquidating modern civilization. Humanism, enlightenment, socialism and the cultural regulators of modern democracy have been swept away by the forms of cultural, economic and social deregulation that is implied in capitals final assault. The privatization of every living space and activity and the spread of competition and economic brutality through the social sphere have deeply affected the self-perception of the social body. In my knowledge and my understanding this process seems now inevitable and irreversible. Not only has it destroyed the structures of social civilization that modernity created, it has also jeopardized the affective fabric of the social environment and reprogrammed the cultural expectations of the new generation.

My knowledge and my understanding do not show the possibility of any acceptable development out of the present catastrophe. But catastrophe, a word whose etymology stems from the Greek Kata (for moving) and Strophein, (for beyond), is exactly the point where we move beyond the present and a new landscape is revealed. I do not see that landscape because my knowledge and my understanding are limited, and the limits of my language are the limits of my world.
My knowledge and understanding are missing the event, the singularity that might open onto that new landscape

So I must act as if.

As if the forces of labor and knowledge may overcome the forces of greed. As if the cognitive workers may overcome the fractalization of their life and intelligence. I must resist simply because I cannot know what is happening after the future, and I must preserve the consciousness and sensibility of social solidarity, of human empathy, of gratuitous activity, of freedom, equality and fraternity. Just in case, right?

We dont know what is going to happen next, in the empty space that comes after the future of modernity. I must continue to resist because this is the only way to be in peace with myself. In the name of self-love, we must resist. And self-love (by which I mean loving myself (and by extension others) as a social, cooperating, laboring, loving body) is the basic ethical rule that I prize, and which capitalism does not.

Our present ignorance of what might come has to be seen as the space of a possibility. We have to start from the ignorance of the general intellect. The force of our collective intelligence in boundless. Theoretically. But it lacks any consciousness of itself. Intelligence without self-consciousness. I am talking of the self-consciousness of the general intellect, millions and millions of people worldwide producing the info-flow that makes the planet go around.

Creating a form of self-consciousness of the general intellect is the political task of the future. And it is not only political, but philosophical, epistemological, and, in the end, therapeutic. Poetry and therapy (thera-poetry) will be the forces leading to the creation of a cognitarian self-consciousness: not a political party, not the organization of interests, but the reactivation of the cognitarian sensibility. The ignorance of the general intellect is the starting point.

Why are the cognitarians weak, disunited and unable to assert their rights as laborers, and their knowledge as researchers? Because they live in a dimidiated form: their collective brain is detached from their collective body; their communication is less and less a conjunction of minds and bodies and more and more a connection of frozen digitalized fragments. The new space of activism is here, in the meeting point of poetry and theory and creation of new paradigms.

Our knowledge and understanding are unable to grasp the singularity which is around the corner. Only radical imagination can do it. What is imagination? I would say that imagination is the cognitive faculty which recombines the contents of our memory and of our experience in a creative way. Radical imagination today essentially means imagination free from the blackmail of the economy, free from the epistemological domination of economics.

The global collapse of September 2008 marks the impossibility of a new start inside the frame of economic thought. Throughout the history of civilization perception has been molded by artificial regimes of images and techniques of representation. Through digital technology the image begins to proliferate vertiginously and our faculty of imagination undergoes rapid acceleration. The image is not the mere perception of empirical data brought to our visual attention by material reality: it is rather the effect of a semi-conscious elaboration within our minds as the image mingles with our previous experiences, our hopes, fears and desires. As a result the social, historical and technical mode in which we receive and elaborate images acts upon the formation of the imaginary. The imaginary in turn shapes the imagination, the activity whereby we produce images and imaginary worlds, which precedes us being able to bring those into being in real life. The repertoire of images at our disposal limits, exalts, amplifies or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build and inhabit. Techno-communicative and psycho-cognitive mutations are as interdependent as organisms and their ecosystems. The conscious organism is also a sensuous organism, a bundle of sensitive receptors. We become thinking, imagining, social and cooperative beings not only through thought but also through sensing and feeling.

The world we inhabit today looks like the projection of fragments, images of various origin that we combine in various sequences. Therefore, the nucleus of personal identity is fleeing and dissolving in all directions. Radical imagination is the ability to recombine the contents of our experience of exploitation, of suffering, of exhaustion, in a way that Felix Guattari would label creation of a new retournelle, Chaosmose, calling forth of a new relationship between the environment and the human organism.

The full catastrophe

Perhaps catastrophe is the natural human environment, and even though we spend a good deal of energy trying to get away from it, we are programmed for survival amid catastrophe.

– Germaine Greer.

On the importance of water

Guardian Global Development

Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists

Water scarcity’s effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach 9bn by 2050

Historic Drought Cripples Farms And Ranches In American West

A bull grazes on dry wheat husks in Logan, Kansas, one of the regions hit by the record drought that has affected more than half of the US and is expected to drive up food prices. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.

“There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations,” the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

“There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade.”

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than 18 million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

“Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” they said. “With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”

The report is being released at the start of the annual world water conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where 2,500 politicians, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and researchers from 120 countries meet to address global water supply problems.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. “The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand – which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years – and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it,” said the report.

Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise and increased food production may face future constraints from water scarcity.

“We will need a new recipe to feed the world in the future,” said the report’s editor, Anders Jägerskog.

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

“We’ve witnessed again and again what happens to the world’s poor – the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity – when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system,” said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

“Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.”

Further notes on becoming-noncorporeal

Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism– H.P Lovecraft, The Tomb.

1.

For Deleuze becoming-animal is also the becoming of a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between man and animal’ [1]. This undecidability means that one cannot isolate and fix the separation between man and animal. The spectator, who might be the living reversal of the image subject to such spectatorship, is unable to separate the low from the high, the dirty from the clean, the brute from the humane, the instinctive from the rational. In becoming-animal all dualism that extracts the human from the animal or subtracts the animal from the human collapses whilst remaining in fraught operation. I cannot say that I am this or that; I am both and neither, the point at which I cannot speak through the logic of identification. This undoing of molar surfaces is the undoing of the engine of meaning-production [2] that Giorgio Agamben has termed the anthropocentric machine [3].

2.

The anthropocentric machines carves out human from animal and as such serves as the motor for those political philosophies that seek to delineate regimes of humanity. A regime of humanity is at once this system of meaning-production, or anchoring* in Zapffe’s nihilistic formula, that separates man from his other and elevates him ‘above nature’ and is also what allows for the creation of an aesthetic regime of degrees of humanity. As such the Jew is conceivable as nonhuman animal, the woman is conceivable as something to be tamed and domesticated- turning her wild sexuality into the regulated affection of the pet-, and the slave before both is conceivable as just within humanity. This anthropocentric machine is properly engine of meaning-production that gives humans the sense that they are other than nature and which serves as a self-reproducing system of domination that paints itself as nondomination. Anarchism responds to the effects of this system without always having the balls to attack it’s basis. For the mythological ‘classical anarchist’ this wasn’t a problem because the world had not yet been revealed as catastrophic.

3.

Becoming-noncorporeal operates based on an engine of meaning-production that takes the body as it’s site of operation. As Deleuze writes ‘The body is the Figure, or rather the material of the Figure’ which must not be conflated with the ‘material structure in space’. For Deleuze the body is not reducible to the biological matter of physiology and anatomy. The body remains material without suffering from this reduction. How? Elsewhere Deleuze is engaged in a discussion on the body in Spinoza when he remarks that the latter’s God, which is a substance to which all attributes belong (a pure virtuality of which all actualisation is an expression), is ‘the speculative figure of immanence’ [4]. If the body is not identical or reducible to biological matter but remains material then this materiality is the materiality of the virtual.The actual body that we talk about when we talk about embodiment, about corporeality, about conditions of health and sickness, is dependent upon but never coincides with the virtual body. Zizek understands this as the ‘incorporeal/immaterial’ real of the body but this does Deleuze a disservice [5].

4.

The materialism here is the materialism of affect, of affection, of the virtual’s potency to condition, to alter, to perturb, to disrupt, to delimit or delineate the actual in any number of given ways. Deleuze goes on to state that For Spinoza ‘the individuality of a body is defined by the following: it’s when a certain composite or complex relation (I insist on that point, quite composite, very complex) of movement and rest is preserved through all the changes which affect the parts of the body ‘ [6]. A body then is virtual and all actualisations of this virtual are expressions of the that virtual. A body also only appears through relations of movement and rest- we might say of being moved and of resisting being moved- by other bodies**. There are ‘all sorts of relations which will be combined with one another to form an individuality of such and such degree’ so that ‘the body’ is not the material structure at all but the Figure. How to understand the Figure? As the combinatory relations that solidify into distinct objects that can then appear to the spectator. As such it is not an immaterialism but an immanent materialism under which organisation is the self-organising performances of the engines of matter. The human body of anatomy and physiology is the actualised dynamic encrustation of the powers of the virtual body to act and be acted upon. The Figure is the name of this virtual-actualising body that differs from itself without being separable from itself (no physicalism without virtuality). This is what I mean by the skin of the world; it is an encrustation, a dead form, that is nonetheless dynamic and constantly in performance.

5.

The materialism of the virtual implies a virtuosity of the body. To return to the sense of the lived body of embodiment- the dancing body, the fucking body, the eating body- this tells us that what a body does is to constantly make itself actual in such and such a way. The Figure is constantly Structuring. From moment to moment the substance of my body only continues to exist due to the immanent performances of each degree of individuality. This is revealed in the body of the clown. The clown’s is that body which purposely refuses its own virtuosity- it is the body in deliberate failure to perform and constantly catching itself before that refusal becomes total. The dancer also perfectly puts in motion this virtuosity; the dancer’s relation to choreographic space is always one that is modified, adapted and corrupted by degrees of physical inability to perform such and such a motion just so but also by way of her body’s idiosyncrasies and her own improvised insertions. Choreographed space becomes corrupted space and the priority given to one over the other is no longer maintained. At the same time the hierarchy of the choreographer, the choreography and the choreographed (the dancer) breaks down into a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between’ the dancing and the danced. Becoming-dancer and becoming-clown are modes of immanence being put on display, and of the strategic assembling and disassembling, of positions in space and spaces in position of being obviated. The dancer and the clown are privileged Figures for me. I watch them move and I watch the entire skin of the world; the surface that is its own depth.

6.

In social media the body is lost. The temptation is to experience the body as lost. The hyppereality of social media obliterates the body leaving nothing behind. The body as structure, as organisation of organs, is what is lost in this. The hyperreal of social media stimulates the production of a hyperreal identity- an identity that increasingly comes to precede my IRL identity and which does not rely on my IRL identity for its truth. This is the point of critiques of social media activism, of critiques of social media as digital dividuation, as the disorienting proliferation of plastic identities, of ‘trolling’ and of the use of the use of social media as a predictor of human political behaviours. All of these phenomena, really epiphenomena of the internet itself, are coming to be seen as the real of our society. It forms the core of critiques of media technology such as those launched by Sherry Tuckle that are based on a dualism between the physical universe and the digital universe. As Tuckle has it

‘texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right. [7]

Tuckle’s major text, Alone Together, has a string of dualist claims. She states that “If Facebook were deleted, I’d be deleted…’ and ‘Second Life gives me a better relationship that I have in real life’. These two short quotes show that Tuckle is involved in another dualist machine such that Deleuze’s becoming-animal wanted to undo. This is a dualism for which facebook deletes the body, edits the flesh, in which Second Life- the online world- is literally a second life detached from the physical realm. There is the physical and the digital and while they may interact they are fundamentally different. Indeed, the thrust of Tuckle’s criticisms of media technology is that the digital and the physical are incompatible, antagonistic towards each other, and that they compete against each other for us- (why they would do this and where the agency comes from, I don’t know).

7.

Tuckle thinks I edit myself online. That this online persona is an obliteration of my authentic fleshly self. I am nothing but body but that body is gone and all that remains is the simulation of a self on the shimmering desolate whiteness of the screen. The body edited, deleted, I am nothing. But this is to fundamentally miss the point of the ontological virtuosity of immanence. As I have hopefully shown to some degree of competence, the body is not identical to its physical organisation. Materiality does not depend on flesh and blood and if it did then anything that was not subject to the law of evolution, any nonorganic matter, would not be real. If this seems a hyperbolic claim and one that is unfair to Tuckle then let me illustrate further. If her problem is that I can edit my appearance online then she misses the point that I can edit my appearance in flesh and blood as well, and in more or less extreme forms; I can have my haircut, change my style, tattoo permanent cosmetic improvements onto my face, I can ‘delete’ parts of my body through extreme elective surgical procedures or other interventions, such as the incredibly common removal of fatty tissue. I can also add to myself, making myself excessive of my ‘authentic self’ and therefore destroying myself in the opposite direction. All that Turkle has discovered is that there is a good degree of negotiation surrounding identity and that such identity appears as the metastable resultant of a combinatory logic of identification and disidentification (of movement and rest) that makes identities more or less malleable, more or less fixed, more or less corrupt, multiple or singular. Indeed, Turkle has discovered that we engage in interpersonal strategies through which we perform our personhood through both our bodies and our ability to present ourselves in digital spaces. There are practices of the self which are practices of embodiment and those which do not seem to be practices of embodiment.

8.

This kind of digital dualism is hung up on the moment where practices ‘do not seem to be’ those of embodiment. This seeming is the seeming of the separation between the physical and the digital. It is the distribution of the sensible of the new social that social media are generative of; the spectral electronic social that disavows and dreams of a liberation from matter. Turkle’s analysis is in fact part of this social insofar as it is part of this dream: it is the dream in its wish-fulfilment function. The social of noncorporeality. [8].

9.

The practices of the body that do not seem to be of the body are nevertheless only playing at not being of the body. I mean this in both the sense of the being of the virtual body and the actualisation of that body as it is experienced as embodiment. First of all, the body is affected by and affects the digital. The digital sphere is not one in which I am passively caught up as a victim and it is not one in which we are necessarily ‘alone together’. Banal examples proliferate: last night I was at a birthday party that had been organised entirely through Facebook, I met new people I would not have otherwise met because of the digital. In my previous post I focussed on agitation. The problem that Turkle talks about when she talks about techniques of communication having supplanted the art of conversation (the eternal conservatism of this is ringing) is really that of a diminution of social relations. This can only be a problem for Turkle if the techniques of communication and the art of conversation, the former belonging to the digital and that latter to the physical, are mediations of some plane of immanence. To phrase this differently, there can only arise a concern that two modes of interaction that exist on two separate and separable ontological domains are relating with each other in such a way that one does harm to the other if they are not finally separate or separable at all. The digital dualist’s critique can only make sense if it fails to make sense.

Another example: my eye. Deleuze uses the eye as an example of a body in his lecture on Spinoza and states that the eye is a born out of the complex relations between it’s own parts and the parts of other objects that surround it, which it is affected by and which it in turn affects. The eye is set in the orbit which is a structural feature of the skull which sits on top of a spine which forms a part of a skeletal and nervous system that are protected and moved by a muscular system which is coated by a dermal system which is a threshold traversed by bacteria, food, air, blood, itself, and that touches and is touched, and that sits in front of a computer which is itself a body formed microchips, plastic molds, wires, nickle atoms, light and so on and so on. In order that my eye see the computer there must be a light source- thus the sun or some artificial means of lighting are brought into the equation of my sitting on Facebook or Twitter and being able to be disembodied. But my eye also relies on other eyes for its existence. My eye is not ex nihilo but is the eye I have inherited from the genetic information of my parents and all less immediate evolutionary ancestors. The computer had to be built by men and women in factories and laboratories, which had to be built with tools and by people who had received training, and the computers themselves had to be built with tools and by people who had to be trained in how to do build computers and so that I could post this post on my WordPress blog there has to be telephone lines and streets and engineers and and and and and and

a vast material network of bodies.

10.

This is the what I am saying when I say that the social of social media is ‘the spectral obliteration of materiality through the simulacrum which leaves the material in place’ [9]. The ontosclerosis of the social generated by social media is one in which we leave the body without leaving the body behind; a disembodied embodiment. Noncorporeality is never achieved. It is neither a utopian nor dystopian condition although it has the potential to be either of these. Noncorporeality is neither actual nor virtual but the demand that we shed our physicality and dive headlong into the digital. It is the demand that we do something impossible. Yet it is at the same time precisely what exposes and undoes the digilogical machine. Becoming-noncorporeal is a becoming precisely because it is a zone of indistinction, undecidability. It is also a becoming because it is this impossibility of its own completion.

11.

All this points to the notion that bodies have always been products of simulation. The simulacrum never engaged in any procession but was always already. Bodies, objects; these are always already simulations.

As soon as behavior is focused on certain operational screens or terminals, the rest appears only as some vast, useless body, which has been both abandoned and condemned. The real itself appears as a large, futile body [10]’.

And bodies, or their actualised portions, are these operational screens and terminals. The inexhaustibleness of bodies and, for humans, the potentially inexhaustible ways of being a body means nothing. The nostalgia for the body which has has not been lost, the nostalgia for a unitary solely physical body belies the nostalgia for the soul. It is not the body that is in question in becoming-noncorporeal if the question is a loss of materiality. I have emphasised throughout that this loss of the material, this destruction of the real, is an effort that is incomplete and impossible. That every time we deny the real that is precisely when it is resurgent; this is what makes radical denial a strategy of realism, and why one can state as fact that reality itself is speculative [11].

12.

The real is a large and futile body. This is a nihilistic truth. That the body/real is futile means that it is without purpose, without telos, without justification. This is perfectly in keeping with a naturalism that takes Darwin seriously. There is no point or purpose to anything in nature and nature, via selection, mutation, heredity and all its other materialist magic tricks, has always been a process of artifice, of recomposition, of experimentation, of the production of doubles without origins, the generation of bodies that are not copies of some original: that nature has always been simulation. If being a body means nothing then the Spinozo-Deleuzian question of what a body can do becomes the question of a post-nihilistic pragmatism***. It is not what bodies mean but what they do that concerns us. In the breakdown of the anthropological machine, the digilogical machine and all the other machines of meaning-production we are left with transparent meanings that although real have lost the sufficiency to motivate us. Meaning now suffers a failure. We built it up and it was there but now that we know that we built it it appears as a ruin. The body itself, our body, can no longer be identified and held in place by being fixed in an image of itself… not its physical image or its digital one.

13.

There are massive problems with social media, with electronic culture being plugged into our nervous systems…it produces anxieties, agitation, unrest, insomnia, an inability to concentrate, a kind of traumatisation and so on… but these are problems of immanence and not dualism. They are problems of ‘the advent of hyperstimulated man’ [12], changes in speed and quantity rather than ontological quality of being. They are problems that can only be problems, dangers that can only be dangerous, if the physical and the digital are not antagonistic categories of being that we must choose between. The choice is not between brains and clouds but to see where brains are situated within clouds. This is not the place to go into those problems or to trace the braincloud machinery.

14.

In all of this there are competing images of the body and of embodiment. The image is what fixes the body in place. Ontology is an aesthetics; actualisations are the surfaces of a depth; the skin of the world; the self-organised displays of matter. Becoming-noncorporeal is indifferent to binary distinctions and forces us to think of a spectral kind of embodiment and the possibility of such a disembodiment that we might adopt instead of react against. If becoming-noncorporeal obliterates materiality and leaves it in place, if it is a simulation that teaches us that everything is simulated, then it is also an invitation to address the Image afresh. What is at stake in these notes on becoming-noncorporeal is the body and its images; the withdrawn depths and the ways we access those depths. What is at stake is the prospect of leaving the mirror stage behind us without mourning the unitary body and finding instead that we have always been bodies without images capable of life after and inside of the catastrophe.

15.

Dancers and clowns are of the debris of the catastrophe, the seducers and satirists of things falling apart- artists in love with catastrophe. The body without image represents only that there is nothing to represent, that the only ethic is one falling, faltering, tumbling.

References and apologies

[1]. Deleuze, G. The body, the meat, the spirit: becoming animal. Here.

[2]. Meaning-production is my own term. I discuss it here, here, and here.

[3]. Agemben, G. 2004. The open. Man and animal. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[4]. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza. Here.

[5]. Zizek, S. 2007. Deleuze’s Platonism: ideas as real. Here.

[6] Op. cit. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza.

[7]. Turkle, S. 2012. The flight from conversation. In the New York Times. Here.

[8]. See my notes on becoming-noncorporeal. Here. The current work forms a second part to this set of much shorter notes.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Baudrillard, J. 1983. The ecstasy of communication. NonPDF. PDF.

[11]. This is my idea of the Radical Denial which is taken from a more sustained engagement with Baudrillard and object-oriented philosophy. Essay 1. Essay 2. Aphorism.

[12]. Virilio, P. Future war: a discussion with Paul Virilio. Here.

* Anchoring is the “fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness”. The anchoring mechanism provides individuals with a value or an ideal that allows them to focus their attentions in a consistent manner. Zapffe also applied the anchoring principle to society, and stated “God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future” are all examples of collective primary anchoring firmaments. (text taken from wikipedia).

** In this connection, it is a shame that the dromology of Paul Virilio isn’t read in an ontological light. Deleuze is framing his assemblage theory materialism as a materialism of movement and rest that is dispersed, as all Deleuze’s antibinaries are, on planes of intensity. The language for measuring these intensities that exist in the interstitial space between movement and rest is speed or temporality. It should be recalled that Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of deterritorialisation is inspired by Virilio’s use of the same term.

*** I owe Michael of ArchiveFire entirely for this phrase which I liked so much I’ve stolen it.

Notes on becoming-noncorporeal

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.
-[1].

The concept of society is transforming. The social, endlessly mourned by postmodernism, is becoming the product of a work of generation, of electronic ghostly simulation. Society, that super-subject nonsense that has never existed, returns again, but this iteration marks the redistribution of sensible differences into commensurable units of code. Online, the sociologist’s dream is manifest in digital vibrancy. It is a dream the sociologist didn’t know he was dreaming, that he denied dreaming, and that his theories and models were trying to express. The latency of what was manifest is now come to pass: the spectral obliteration of materiality through the simulacrum which leaves the material in place [2].

Yet social researchers are dazzled by the data logged by social media sites and are apparently eager to use that information as uncomplicated proxies for social choices in general. At this point, enough people have made Facebook use a part of their everyday life that social researchers are treating Facebook as an empirical model of society itself.

[3].

What could we call such a tendency? The only term adequate is ‘trend’. We are speaking the language of social media- the prism through which the social is compositionally refracted. As organisms we pass into the new media, our nervous systems extending into that placeless time in denial of physicalist certainty, and are agitated. Agitation today comes to be more than the distressing or nonfunctional arousal of the nervous system by the environment and is no longer always simply treatable by mantras, by the breath, or by psychopharmacology. Today agitation is the agitation of Exhaustion, that sense of spent possibility that forms the mood of the time after the future wherein we realise that we never had any such future. Agitation is the psychoaffective outcome of being unable to unplug from this new social space, and of the ceaselessness of prompts to speak, to declare, to choose. The problem with this new social that eclipses the material is that it is infinitely refracting, plastic, without necessarily fixed axes: to speak of the space of social media is to illegitimately delimit its multiple indifferentiations.

This new social, the newness of which we have to continually stress to keep in place, isn’t just about technology directly inserting itself into our neurotransmission system. The novelty isn’t novel, we have always externalised our minds and we have always existed by prosthesis, the cyborg-image is as old as an ape using a nut as a hammer. The point is rather that this agitation is the result of the proliferation of multiplications of injunctions to participation that first of all demand that we participate in nonactual space. The new social produces agitation because it is this rampant nonactuality. This nonactuality is not identical to a virtuality. The claim isn’t that the social of social media is composing a society that is withdrawn from itself and the operants that condition it as this would only be to claim that the essence of the object ‘society’ does not exhaust itself in its becoming manifest. Instead, the claim is that nonactuality is neither actual nor virtual but exists as a kind of tidal movement between the two. Nonactuality is the non-physicality of the code made into an objective system of space and time that occupies and is occupied by the physical system of the object body. Otherwise put, every demand of the new social that is generated by social media and media sociology is always already a demand that we participate in something genuinely impossible: incorporeality. It is a pathological becoming-incorporeal; of becoming a body without a body by way of the acceleration of those organic systems that are stimulated when a prosumer of social media sits in front of their screen and subjects themselves to Facebook, Twitter, WordPress.

The new social, the hyperreal social, is a side-step of materiality that confirms what it disavows and retains under the effort of its obliteration. The new social is also a distribution of the insensible, in the sense of the flattened and blunted affect of the overexposed patient (for example, the depressive who loses the potency of the body; the restrictive anorexic who recodifies and/or loses the social materiality of space and relation; a whole ontosclerotic regime. Urge upon urge upon urge upon urge. ‘Desire’; ‘Take part’; this is the democracy of depleted serotonin and oversaturated dopaminergic receptor sites. A million clear and cogent signals are sent into the semiotic ecology becoming lost among one another, becoming indecipherable white noise.

We are inside a pathological ‘relation between statements and the incorporeal transformation or noncorporeal attributes they express’ [4]. Deleuze and Guattari meant something like performative speech acts wherein words affect bodies to alter the state space that those bodies occupy. I pronounce you man and wife does something to the man and woman. What happens when the man and woman are abandoned, when all that is left is the noncoporeal attributes? Exhausted at the end of the future, always in the heart of the catastrophe and anticipating its completion, we even begin to shed our bodies. The prophets of the technological singularity have always missed the point; one doesn’t need to flee the body to leave it behind. Social media is disembodied and without a future, it’s only future being the impossible instant that the body can’t cope with, that it can never manage to keep apace with. ‘We have been cheated out of the future, yet the future’s ruins lie about us, hidden or ostentatiously rotting’ [5].

Inside of becoming-noncorporeal there can be no memories of the near future and there can be no history, only the consensual linearity of a time-line. Becoming-noncoporeals don’t regret but ceaselessly construct,reconstruct and edit an autobiography that can never articulate what language can’t grasp, what language skirts around and illuminates only by dint of revealing shadows. And all these dreams of liberations. The dream of a liberation from matter that can be enacted by means of matter; the dream of a liberation from the social being enacted by an intensification of a perverse sociality; the dream of a liberation from unitary personhood only being enacted by an intense scrutiny of the self’s narratives. Soon a nostalgia will doubtless appear, and it will have the body as it’s object.

[1]. Baurillard, J. The procession of simulacra. Here.

[2]. For example see: Hart, W. 2011. Mind, self, facbook: towards a postmodern sociology. Here.

[3]. Horning, R. 2012. Facebook as experiment. Here. [Note the connection of facebook as an experiment in social form and various anarchist and Marxist ideas of praxis as experimentalism].

[4]. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

[5]. Hatherly, O. 2009. Militant Modernism.. London; Zero Books. Pg. 2.

London riots; a year on

For defective consumers, those contemporary have-nots, non-shopping is the jarring and festering stigma of a life un-fulfilled – and of own nonentity and good-for-nothingness. Not just the absence of pleasure: absence of human dignity. Of life meaning. Ultimately, of humanity and any other ground for self-respect and respect of the others around.

– Baumann, On Consumerism coming home to roost.

It is there in the glee of the looter who, when asked how
she felt about stealing, replied, “Nobody’s stealing. It’s all free today”.

Wilful disobedience, The fullness of a life without measure.

A year on the police order enjoys full vigour, appearing vivaciously in the management of London during these Olympic games. As the engines of meaning-production fall apart they must be propped up by domesticating strategies that take the nakedness of rage, From riot to the Games.

Thesis: economic precarity, ghettoisation/gentrification, and the police order, especially the killing of Mark Duggan and dispersal zones, were not alone in providing general motivations for the riots that broke out last year. The inculcation of consumer desire in the poor and its simultaneous exclusion from purchasing power to attain consumer goods was, likewise, necessary but insufficient for the looting that broke out while London burned. Zizek [1] spoke of a revolt without revolution. An impotent fury. The transition from peaceful protest to riot mirrored affectively by that from rational anger to pathological rage.

Hypothesis: the material threat of extinction, and the psycho-affective sense of this extinction, returns consciousness to the objective nihilism of the Earth. The realm of meaning-production falls apart and those who are denied it’s material comforts (by economic precarity and the police order) are left to face this nihilism head-on. It is not that the rioters were nihilistic, but neither were they working-class heroes moving necessarily ‘from riot to insurrection’ [2]. No, they were those who pragmatically, materially, enacted the condition of the human world, and of the planet itself. They performed the material nihilism of the world by pulling away the stage-setting and showing what was left underneath; a smouldering wreckage, a virulent violence… a debris ontology.

The rioters occupied the declaration ‘No Future‘, re-activating it as a statement of material truth. Evan Calder Williams writes that

The situation to come is a different no future, the slow entropic loss of energy and profit, coupled with the state’s brutal refusals – and ways of demanding the same of its citizens and subjects – to acknowledge that the eternal present has become an eternal past.

[3]

And while he is right this is also to miss the point and to operate in the services of a Marxian form of domestication- of rendering safe the real of extinction. Just before this he invokes fears of ‘fears of global warming, flu pandemic, or peak oil’ but sees these fears as stand-ins or mere prompts for capital and the state’s actions- his brilliant book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse being a reading of various ways of imaging the ‘post-apocalyptic’. The problem here and in the book is that the Catastrophic is outstripped by the Apocalyptic. Whereas the former is a dead-end the latter is a re-fit, a re-combinatory revealing of some enigmatic meaning; a meaning that was always visible but which we couldn’t see; a meaning, in other words, that was occluded by the police order, which although within the realm of appearing was not legitimised to appear and therefore, as in the visual practice of the inhabitants of China Meiville’s The city and the city, had to be ‘Unseen’.

Evan Calder Williams’s analysis is fertile and rewarding but I take issue with the idea of the post-Apocalyptic. I do so on the grounds that the Catastrophe has already occurred. The Catastrophe was Creation. On this I remain unapologetically gnostic. Between the Creation and the end of life on earth, or omnicide, there is only the time of a countdown. The Catastrophe has already occurred but must await completion. Nothing is revealed by this except tjhat beneath the engines of meaning-production and behind every strategy of domestication there is a void, a potent nothingness, which is identical itself with matter, and with the material composition of all assemblages/objects- of Cosmos.

This seems a long way from the London riots. Except that my hypothesis is that it is the literally felt No Future of objective nihilism that resulted in the riot of 2011 being a revolt without revolution. Zizek misses the point. Zizek wanted there to be a meaning behind the agency of the rioters, wanted their to be something more than the seduction of violence and anger, of their hatred.

One of the rioters recently stated that he rioted because ‘”some [police officers] will talk to you like you’re a dog.’ Doesn’t this recall K.’s death at the hands of arbitrary authority in Kafka’s novel The Trial ? The function of the simile is to render a relationship between animality and the law. And what is the essential relation between animality and the law? It is the relation of sacrifice. To be sacrificed is to be excluded from the order of meaning-production. Yet it is precisely this exclusion which ensures the rioter’s centrality to it. The refusal to be ‘like a dog’ is the refusal to occupy the figurative space of sacrificial animality- the refusal to be a material technology for holding meaning-production in place. It is the absolute refusal of culture.* It is the refusal to Unsee what has never been hidden, not even in plain sight, what we have always Unseen:

the meaninglessness of everything.

I want to end by stating that the rioters don’t exist. They existed in a flash and were gone. They aren’t to be vilified or mourned and they have nothing to teach us. Speculation on ghosts is hardly political discourse. Baumann’s analysis of the riots was the one that reached closest to the Catastrophic core in that it was the only one that recognised that meaning was at issue… that the rioters knew just how defective and disqualified they and everybody else are.

References.

[1] Zizek, S. 2011. Shoplifters of the world unite. LRB. Here.

[2] Bonnano, A. 1988. From riot to insurrection. Here.

[3] Williams, EC. 2010. An end without end: catastrophic cinema in the age of crisis. Here.

*In this regard it is also interesting that so many of those involved in covering the riots, when they happened and now, are interested in critiquing the right’s apparent ‘scapegoating’ of urban youth. There is a desire to draw the refusal of sacrificial animality into the very narratives of domestication (ie: if kids had more after school clubs the riots would never have happened). The youth are refusing the status being ‘like a dog’ and thereby also refusing the apparently civilised status of the police-order….of which the journalists in question are an essential component.

Catastrophia’s time

To be clear: cosmological time, which subsumes geological, evolutionary and historical temporalities within its manifold, is nothing but the working out of the original Catastrophe of Creation. The something that followed the nothing is only a symptom of the disturbance of nothing and its (anthropocentrically) slow return to itself.

Ethics: to make friends with death

Knowledge Ecology has posted a  rich, dense , and frankly fantastic audio interview with Timothy Morton that introduces the idea of dark ecology, an ecology coated in ‘shame, and horror, and disgust’. If you haven’t already, I urge you listen to it here.

The collision between human history and geological time began the ecological emergency- where we ‘directly intervened with the earth’s crust- occurs at the same time that philosophy is denying material reality and establishing human exceptionalism. Human beings remain in a state of denial; the denial that follows a grief. This ecological emergency is one of what I call situated catastrophes that follow the original catastrophe of creation, of things becoming manifest as cosmos.

What I especially like is the idea that the world has already ended. Morton states that we have this ‘uncanny sensation of angst’, of the meaninglessness of our junkward world which is already over, as the ecological emergency is already underway, has already happened.

I would be more hyperbolic than Morton. The ecological age, the ecological catastrophe, is merely the proximate situation. We are actually inside a cosmological age; cosmos itself is a catastrophe which is headed towards it’s inevitable conclusion. That is not to say that the ecological catastrophe is of no importance (or no more non-importance than anything else); we are coping-beings that by and large can’t help but go on. If it is the case, as Morton says, that the ecological catastrophe has already happened then here we have a way to make sense of my question of a politics that is a question of the self-management of extinction.

Morton doesn’t talk about pessimism in this interview but I think that his outlining of a dark or black ecology is precisely part of a pessimism. I haven’t read a great deal of Morton’s work but from this interview I feel as though I ought to.

Finally, the most important part of this interview for me, Morton states that we have already given up and that we must ‘make friends with death’. This is the essence of my idea of the coalition in favour of death. 

Crucially, Tim’s continued returns throughout the interview to ideas of fragility (I have, in the past, written about humans as ‘fragile systems’), coexistence and so on also form the kind of ethics that I am beginning to think through constantly, even if I am not writing about it. This is the idea that I first found in Judith Butler’s Frames of War where she writes about the precariousness of life as the founding moment of any ethics or politics worth its name. This is vitally important to me in my clinical practice as a psychiatric/mental health nurse and in the role I play in helping my partner to raise her child in a non-authoritarian way.

Yet Butler remains caught within the anthropocentric image of thought wherein the interdependence that reveals precariousness remains that which exists between human beings. What projects like Morton’s, and he is by no means alone in this, is illustrating and calling attention to the ways in which such an interdependence is simply not reducible to anthropic relationships. Interdependence is what all flat ontologies show us as the condition of all objects/entities in existence.

All of this leads us to the point where we can speak about pessimist ethics. The dark knowledge of extinction leads us to what I have ironically called an ‘autopsy vitalism’; a perspective from which all living things are already dead but continue to live. They still live because their death, although an accomplished fact, has not yet occurred. Isn’t this akin to Morton’s view that the ecological emergency has already befallen us? All that remains is the dying dead existing among one another. An interdependent community of dying. Beyond this, pushing it further in the realisation of life as a negative concept  (a la Schopenhauer or Thomas Ligotti) we are really a community of interdependent beings on the road to destruction, or disappearance. And this is the key to pessimistic ethics because for the pessimist the question is the alleviation of suffering. To speak in the discourse of my profession for a moment, we are the first patients in the hospital to realise that all that remains to us is the self-administration of palliative care.  I think this leads us towards the kind of sentiment based ethics of Schopenhauer. I will end on a quote that will serve merely to illustrate this connection- I have to return to the banal world of housework- a quote that comes from the latter German miserablist and pessimist but which, I feel, wouldn’t have been out of place in Morton’s interview:

 

 

The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instill in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? … this … reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes.

 

Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, p.50.

 

That things ought not to exist. There is no hierarchy or preference here. All things that exist deserve compassion, indulgence. I would venture the uncontroversial claim that we can’t help but feel this all the more forcefully for other beings like us; sentient, conscious, living. An equality of being, but still an inequality of feeling. In this regard Morton’s is the ethical dictum that follows undecidability (the ethical situation as that in which there is no manual, no technique to unconsciously deploy); the cultivation of a mindful relationship with death itself.