Saturday, 26 December 2015

Chasm by Nick Land: Review

Chasm is Nick Land's latest offering to the world of (e-)letters, and it's certainly a welcome addition to my Kindle library. Although, it's very, very odd (but then again, if you know the first thing about Land you knew to expect, and, indeed, welcome that).

The writing is a lot tighter than in Phyl-Undhu, his previous work of fiction, released last year. His focus is much sharper, the narrative strays less (don't get me wrong, as I've already attested to, Phyl-Undhu is brilliant), and yet it's much more difficult to say what the hell Chasm is about. P-U remained in conceptual territory I have a fairly good familiarity with (The Great Filter, Fermi, the simulation hypothesis), while everything here is much more abstract, which is entirely the point: it contains an appendix called 'Manifesto for an Abstract Literature' after all. Land's inner maths (Qabalah) nerd was obviously having a lot of fun here, and my comparative numerical illiteracy blunted my enjoyment a little.

The story follows five men in a boat ('Oh, is he doing Heart of Darkness?' I asked myself early on. Well, sort of.), sent out into the Pacific by the mysterious QASM corporation to dispose of something by dropping it into the Mariana Trench. The object in question is described as more of an absence than a presence, a block of unrelfective material which presumably contains something. This is pure MacGuffin of course, which Land more-or-less explicitly admits, but by Cthulhu it's creepy all the same. As the journey continues, the crew enter into a state of total insomnia...and yet, the lack of sleep doesn't keep them from dreaming...

This is pure Nick Land. There's much Lovecraft in the crew's decaying sanity, and the horror from the sea vibe, with delicious passages discussing the life that lives around deep-sea volcanic vents so far, far down that the sun's rays never reach down to them except in the form of the faintest of particle rays; the preoccupation with numbers; broken causality and linearity; suggestions of an alignment between corporate and 'deep state' interests. Like Phyl-Undhu, there's some interesting stuff in the appendices, which I don't think I've ever seen on Xenosystems so it may very well be unique to this publication. And again like Phyl-Undhu, this feels a lot like a puzzle that Land is expecting us to try and solve, though, for reasons that will become obvious when you read it, I'm not sure how willing I am to let this stuff too far into my head.

In terms of sheer construction, Chasm is better than Phyl-Undhu, though I must confess I enjoyed the latter slightly more. It gives you a taste of the wider world of its setting, without giving you too much to chew on, leaving you wanting more, which is always a good move for speculative fiction. I think Chasm is best approached as an experiment, rather than just the cleverer kind of weird story. It's an experiment in constructing a literature composed of hints and suggestions at the abstract, perhaps even the thing-in-itself, rather than giving us anything definite.

To quote the appendix:

Abstract literature writes in clues, with clue words, but without hope. It is the detective fiction of the insoluble crime, the science fiction of an inconceivable future, the mystery fiction of the impregnable unknown, proceeding through cryptic names of evocation, and rigid designators without significance. The weirdness it explores does not pass, unless to withdraw more completely into itself. There is no answer, or even - for long- the place for an answer. Where the solution might have been found waits something else. Description is damage.

The best monster is one you never see. Everyone knows that. The only disappointing moment in Alien is when you actually see the bloody thing at the end. A perfect horror story would be one where you never see anything, or hear anything, or even really know anything. It's one where you detect hints, notice clues, but can never quite correlate all of the knowledge in your mind together sufficiently to guess at the shape of the monster. That is what Land is doing, and he does it well.

There's not much more I can say, which is due to the nature of the beast in question, so I'll leave you here.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Phyl-Undhu by Nick Land: Review

The good Mr Land has a new e-book out, Chasm. Buy it at once. I've not read it yet, but its publication gave me the well-needed nudge to do what I kept meaning to do, and go back and read Land's last offering, Phyl-Undhu, released about this time last year. Buy it at once also.

Phyl-Undhu (a friend has observed that this can be read as 'File Under') is a...I don't really know how to describe it. It's a work of experimental, conceptual horror with science fiction elements. In other words: it is pure Lovecraft. The characters, although substantially more fleshed out than HPL ever felt the need to do so, are largely secondary to the story and the ideas it's built around, and that's no bad thing. Horror often works best in the form of vignettes, I feel, by offering you fleeting glimpses of the Absolute Other. This isn't always the case, and character driven horror can work wonders, but there's still a certain unique chill to the short horror story, or at most horror novella. Land is using a style like that here, not taking much time to build the world, hurrying the reader into the location where he wants them, relying on hints and suggestions to create the impression of the greater substance of the story's setting. He does this very well indeed.

It follows Alison and Jack Turner's attempts to fathom the depths of their young daughter's mind and world-view, which have become so disturbing that her fellow children at school are becoming increasingly traumatised by her presence, to the extent that one student attempts suicide. They realise that Suzy, their daughter, has dramatically changed since becoming involved in a deeply immersive video game. By 'deeply' I really mean 'totally'. Land doesn't tell us anything about the tech involved (the story is clearly set in a nondescript near-future), but it seems to involve a kind of Gibson-esque VR.

The game, of which we learn reasonably little, seems to be a kind of accelerated reality simulation. Suzy's character now lives in a very, very, very old world, and the only glimpse we get of the scale of this simulated world is the deeply ancient conurbation that's grown around the ruins of a space elevator, 'Ashenzohn' ('Ascension', surely?). The horror of Phyl-Undhu really lies in this. The game is heavily implied to be a solution to science non-fiction's most frightening monster: The Great Filter.

The Great Filter is a proposed solution to the Fermi Paradox, which can be summarised as follows - the Universe is very big and very old, thus life should be common enough to be noticeable throughout: so, where are the aliens? Why haven't we spotted evidence of at least one interstellar civilisation yet? The Great Filter may be the answer to that question. The Great Filter is an unknown force that radically reduces the probability of life creating an interstellar civilisation. It may apply at an early stage (i.e. whatever the Filter is, it may simply reduce the chance of life occurring in the first place, or of multi-cellular life occurring, or of intelligence occurring, and so on) or it may apply later (reducing the chance of agricultural civilisation, or of technological civilisation, or of space-faring civilisation, and so on). If the Filter is early, then we're probably ok: we passed it long ago. If it's late, then there's a greater chance that we still have it ahead of us. Maybe technological civilisations just don't tend to last long enough to become space-faring...

So what might the late-Filter be? Phyl-Undhu suggest a possibility. Technological civilisations may tend to become lost in their own simulated realities, finding them preferable to actual reality. There's any number of reasons this might be, including just standard 'decadence' or, more curiously, the notion that simulated reality contains more potential for discovery and ultimately value than 'natural' reality, especially if it turns out that interstellar travel is prohibitively difficult (i.e. no warp drives. Ever.). Land has speculated about time in many places, especially the idea that advanced technology can radically alter our perception of time: cyber-time making mockery of mere 'meat-time'. A simulated reality where a second of outside time can be minutes, or more, of internal time. The further down this rabbit hole we go, the less likely it is we can emerge...potential lifetime-upon-lifetime of rich, unpredictable experiences lying within the Matrix...why bother going somewhere as dull as Mars when you can enjoy oceans and oceans of simulated worlds?

I'm not going to describe the content of the simulation in too much detail, simply because you really ought to read this for yourself, but suffice to say that if you know what you're looking for in it, there's certain a shroud of Dark Enlightenment cast over it, giving it all a deliciously gloomy sheen.

Although, as it often the case with Land's fiction, it falls into the trap at points of being a little too cryptic, for the vast majority of the time the strangeness of it all feels more like a puzzle than something that's simply opaque for it's own sake, and it rewards a second reading. It also contains some cool articles previously published on Xenosystems, and perhaps most bizarrely, an oddly loving, unauthorised cameo from Scott Alexander (Scott didn't know about this until after the fact, though wasn't exactly displeased).

All in all, as ever, Nick Land is worth your time reading, regardless of what you may think about his views. It makes me wish he'd spend more time on this kind of cool, clever, experimental fiction than he does, and I'm very much looking forward to digging into Chasm over the Christmas holiday.

Land's publisher is Time Spiral Press, and if you want something even more esoteric than this, check out Ccru: Writings 1997-2003, which I've been thumbing through for the last few months.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Chasm in the (hopefully near) future.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Markets, Regulation and Phages

Note: there's some disagreement about whether or not '(bacterio)phage' is an invariable noun or not. I'm going with this article on the matter.

Also, I'm very much a scientific layman, so please correct me if I misuse any terminology. 

I woke up this morning to the news that scientists in China have discovered a bacterial mutation, in both livestock and humans, that is resistant to colistin, the 'last line of defence' antibiotic. Resistance to colistin has happened before, but this time the resistant gene is easily shared between bacteria. This is very bad. Somehow, this has not induced mass panic and calls from the leaders of the world to declare a War on Pan-resistant Bacteria. That is also very bad.

A lot of our current trouble comes not so much from the absence of new antibiotics (though this is a problem: we've not had a new antibiotic class since the late 80s), but from the misuse of the ones we currently have. To quote The Master Himself, back in 1945:
...I would like to sound one note of warning. Penicillin is to all intents and purposes non-poisonous so there is no need to worry about giving an overdose and poisoning the patient. There may be a danger, though, in underdosage. It is not difficult to make microbes resistant to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them, and the same thing has occasionally happened in the body. The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration. Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X’s death? Why Mr. X whose negligent use of penicillin changed the nature of the microbe. Moral: If you use penicillin, use enough.
What we have seen is the overuse of antibiotics worldwide. By making them too readily available, particularly for agricultural usage (this gene appears to have originated from treating pigs with colistin), as well as offering them for conditions antibiotics do nothing for such as the common cold, their effectiveness has been reduced over the last few decades. This an incredibly good example of the kind of multipolar problems Scott Alexander has described. The lack of suitable central co-ordination in the use of antibiotics, permitting individuals to pursue their own perceived rational self-interest has resulted in a potential catastrophe that could leave millions dying of previously treatable illnesses. And doesn't that perfectly illustrate the limitations of markets? Markets are fantastic at co-ordinating in many ways...but not in every way, and it's failure modes can be pretty dramatic.

There is hope, however, as there often is. New antibiotics are in development, but more importantly, in my utterly unqualified opinion, there is phage therapy.
For decades, patients behind the Iron Curtain were denied access to some of the best antibiotics developed in the West. To make do, the Soviet Union invested heavily in the use of bacteriophages — viruses that kill bacteria — to treat infections. Phage therapy is still widely used in Russia, Georgia and Poland, but never took off elsewhere. [source]
Phage therapy never took off in the West largely because of the successes of antibiotic treatments. Phage therapy involves deploying specific bacteriophages (a form of virus that attacks bacteria), which then destroy the specific bacteria they are targeting. Unlike antibiotics, that will also damage the body's 'friendly' bacteria, the phage can be specific enough to only attack the pathogen. What is holding back research and development is, ironically considering my comments above, regulation. Laws in the US preventing the patenting of living things is a major barrier for pharmaceutical companies to invest in phage therapy: how will they make their money back if they can't patent the phages they've developed?

What is thus demonstrated is how damn complicated the relationship between the market, regulations and incentives actually is. A lack of proper, responsible regulation contributed to this situation in a big way, and now overly-strict regulations are holding us back from being able to fix this, or at least making it more difficult. Obviously, one thing that needs to happen is an increase in government spending on pure science. Creating more opportunities for scientific enquiry outside the structure of capital would be a fantastic step in the right direction, but so would properly calibrating market incentives. The plain fact of the matter is that the market is a fantastic mechanism for production and innovation, but the very nature of the profit motive limits it as well. It can be very difficult to convince anyone to spend on something purely speculative if they stand little obvious chance of making good on their investment.

I'm not one for moralising. The failures of capitalism are, as far as I'm concerned, no more 'evil' than the failure of a screwdriver to turn an egg into an omelette. This is just about the proper application of tools. Capitalism is a fantastic tool if directed appropriately, and so is state regulation. It's easier to think in extremes than in nuanced moderations, but there's a reason Aristotle locates virtue (understood more as 'skill' than anything pious) in the centre ground between excess and deficiency. It's not as if our only choice is between Murray Rothbard and Joseph Stalin.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu

Spoilers

This is, quite simply, one of the best SF novels I've ever read. It's that rarest of beasts, a hard SF novel that's actually readable.

The story provides an interesting spin on the alien invasion scenario. A response to a signal sent out by a SETI equivalent in Culture Revolution era China is detected by scientist Ye Wenjie. The message she receives warns her not to respond, as the sender's civilisation is seeking to escape its homeworld for a more hospitable planet, and if she responds they'll be able to pin-point the origin of the signal and send their invasion fleet.

Reasoning that a sufficiently scientifically advanced civilisation must also have arrived at a high level of moral sophistication, Ye responds, hoping that the invading 'Trisolarans' will conquer the Earth and, being completely outside human history and thus far more objective about our state of affairs, will be able to offer solutions to humanity's problems.

The book initially spends a lot of time familiarising us with the insanity of the Cultural Revolution (don't think that this necessarily marks this book out as anti-establishment: the official Party line in China is that the Cultural Revolution was a disastrous error of judgement on Mao's part), as well as the possible consequences of extraterrestrial contact. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is the author's defence of reason and rationality. Indeed, there's so much scientific-Promethean sentiment in this book that I almost got an accelerationist contact high.

Early on, we learn that there's a growing movement claiming that our ability to understand the universe is far more restricted than had previously been supposed. Seeking to apply the scientific method to science itself, the Frontiers of Science movement hold that fundamental science has reached its limit. The particle accelerators around the world have stopped generating identical results, suggesting that at a certain basic level, the universe is utterly random and cannot be comprehended.

Furthermore, one character notes that there's a growing cultural hostility towards scientific and technological progress, a burgeoning strain of primitivism that pushes for the abandonment of the projects of techno-science in favour of a return to nature. What we learn, though, is that this movement is a product of the Trisolarans attempt to undermine our ability to offer resistance when they arrive. Shocked by how rapid human technological development has been in the last century, they work with their collaborators on Earth to frustrate scientific research, in particular fundamental theory. Indeed, even the lack of identical results from the particle accelerators is revealed to be part of their plot.

There's something quite classically SF about that, this strong feeling that it's only scientific rationality that will bring humanity triumph, almost clich├ęd in fact. Indeed, some of their human collaborators even view the Trisolarans in religious terms. Perhaps it's a little on-the-nose, but there's still something really quite pleasing, from an accelerationist perspective at least, about how the efforts to undermine technological and scientific enterprise is painted as a betrayal of humanity.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Accelerationism talk at the Catalyst Club: 08/10/2015

The following is the talk I gave on Accelerationism at the Catalyst Club on Thursday, 8th October, 2015. If anyone involved with the Club is reading this, thanks again for having me. 

To what I am certain will be the heartbreaking disappointment of my Neoreactionary readers, this is of a Left Accelerationist tendency. 

Now, given the restraints of only having about 15 minutes to speak, I had to summarise what would have been worth taking my time explaining, simplify what is properly approached as complex, skip over points it would have been worth dwelling on, and miss out some stuff completely (most notably, I only name check the CCRU et al). So you'll notice that the focus is on broad themes, rather than fine details. 

Any outright inaccuracies are just down to me not doing enough research.  

My plan is to use this skeleton as the jumping off point for a later, longer and more detailed piece on the subject. This being said, I'm not sure a single promise I've made about where I'm going to take this blog has actually come about, so don't hold your breath.

I'll include a list of sources I used when researching this at the end of the text.

Finally, thanks to my good friend Rob for the constructive criticism throughout the writing of this. 

***
Capitalism is an extraordinary thing. There has never been a force as productive, innovative or as liberating as capitalism, a fact well recognised by Marx. Capitalism has chewed up the old world and transformed the life of humanity: at least, for the most part. The release of productive energy, both physical and mental, accomplished by capitalism has unleashed the potential for scientific and technological development, as well as radical social change, on a global scale. That has never before been possible. 

However, many insist that capitalism needs to be overthrown, dismantled, fought against and, in a word, destroyed. Of course, even with the huge gains it has made taken into account, only a fool would claim that capitalism is by any means perfect. But it would be equally foolish, if not dishonest, to claim that any of the alternatives we have attempted have worked better. What if the standard critique of capitalism has been going in the wrong direction by trying to curtail, diminish, and do away with it? Perhaps we do not need deceleration, but instead the opposite: that is what accelerationism is all about.

Accelerationism emerged out of the often esoteric works of Gilles Deleuze, Feliz Guattari and Jaques Lyotard, as collated, synthesised and remixed by Nick Land, Sadie Plant and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit in the 1990s. This peculiar fusion of thinkers, methods and styles produced a strange and sometimes frightening reinterpretation of capitalism and its potential to change the world. It held that the task at hand was not the revolutionary destruction of the market, but instead its acceleration and evolution. In Deleuze and Guattari’s much quoted words: ‘Which is the revolutionary path? ... Is there one? To withdraw from the world market…? Or might it not be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further…in the movements of the market…not to withdraw from the process, but to accelerate the process…’

What is this process? For Deleuze and Guattari, it is the process whereby capitalism decodes and deterritorialises the flows of production. Now, I’m not sure anyone actually quite knows what that means (it isn’t exactly uncommon for Continental philosophers to just make up words and never feel the need to include a glossary), so we will have to take a moment to unpack these expressions.

I think they mean exactly what they sound like. They mean the undoing of codes, the disruption of territories. A code is the form of something, the way something occurs, a set of instructions (for example, a code of honour). To ‘decode’ means to undo a code, to abolish or deconstruct a set of instructions. The act of decoding allows something to take another form, to occur in a different way. A territory is the location upon which something occurs or by which something is bound. It is both a limit and a plane of actualisation. Deterritorialisation is the act by which a plane is undermined and demolished, thus displacing limits and allowing new potentials for actualisation. In other words: to decode and deterritorialise simply means to create opportunities for new things to happen, or for old things to happen in new ways.

Decoding and deterritorialising. When have these things happened? They happened in this country. We saw it during the industrial revolution, we saw it during and after the World Wars, when new realities were forced upon an old society. We saw it when the edifice of the Soviet state was collapsed by its inability to properly direct productive forces. We are seeing something similar in China and India. We see it every time an underdeveloped country is acted upon by the forces of the world market. We are, globally, on average, freer and with a better chance of not dying prematurely than we have ever been before: that is a disruption of the prior order. 2015 has far less in common with 1915 than 1915 had with 1815, and although we must not try to reduce all of this change down to a single factor, it is supremely foolish to not recognise the positive impact the breakthrough of market forces has had upon our world. You might say: it was the utopian ideals of the Enlightenment that made us freer! It was the downfall of religious superstition that gave us science! And you are right…but it is only a general increase of wealth, individual self-determination and opportunities for voluntary association that allowed us to have those things in the first place.

This is where we must start to consider accelerationism as a critique of the mainstream Left. Lyotard makes the claim in his work Libidinal Economy that ‘…the English unemployed did not become workers to survive, they…enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic…exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories…they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them…’ Cultural theorist Mark Fisher helps us extract something tangible from this bizarre flurry of prose: which of us, he asks in his essay Terminator vs Avatar, wants to go back to our existence before the mines, the factories, the foundries? Who really wants to trade in all our technology and science and security and liberty for a nostalgic existence moralised and spiritualised as more ‘authentic’, and a community more ‘organic’? What do these words even mean?

For an accelerationist, there is only one word for the call to return to an existence untouched by capitalism, technology and market forces: ‘reactionary’. We are capitalized. We are part of the market. Do we really want to live off of the land again? Although some of us might say yes, most of us would not. Capitalism was an escape for our ancestors. Yes, they lost the cosy, ‘authentic organicism’ of rural life, but wasn’t that a sacrifice worth making? Didn’t it liberate them, and us, from the tyranny of living by the seasons, fearing the next bad harvest? The Russian futurist Nikolai Federov, who called for the complete mastery of nature by man, considered nostalgia for nature a mark of someone who lives comfortably outside of its vindictiveness: indeed, for Federov, the love of nature is tantamount to the love of death. Capitalism broke us out of nature.

Deleuze and Guattari consider the origins of capitalism, and wonder why it was that capitalism happened here, in Europe, and not in China or the Islamic world. Not because they lacked technical skill: rather, they suggest, because these were societies that were still too caught up in themselves. This is perhaps especially true of Imperial China, with its emphasis on harmony, hierarchy and serenity. The despotic state was too well developed, too far extended, for the initial conditions that capitalism appears to need. Capitalism needs a thousand, thousand things to occur, but perhaps it especially needs disorder and a desire to push forwards and outwards. Capitalism creates an explosion of individual and group desires that are not caught up in the apparatus of the social order. The market grows to satisfy these desires, and to create new ones. The result of this is a new way of doing things that no other socio-economic arrangement has seemed capable of outcompeting. The world was opened up by capitalism, decoded and deterritorialised by capitalism, but in the end closed up again by capitalism, recoded and reterritorialised by capitalism too.

There’s the rub.

Although produce no longer goes to the manor house, and fealty is no longer owed to the lord of the land, new institutions, new codes and territories, have arisen out of the machinery of the market. The new code is capital itself. The new territory is the nation state. Production is almost universally routed through capital. Desire follows the same path, being so caught up in the productive system that, short of a complete and violent rejection of it (which I maintain is a primitivist gesture par excellence), the two are almost identical. This has had the effect of blinding us to the sheer possibilities of what is already at hand. We seem peculiarly incapable of recognising the potential of the technology that capitalism has given us. Consider Facebook: doesn’t it in many ways fulfil the utopian ambition of being able to converse with other, like-minded people instantaneously, irrespective of borders or geography? And yet, even though this could be a powerful tool for collaborating on projects in a way that is international, almost post-national, our use of it presently is best described as ‘uninspired.’

I feel that this is true of all our technology. The feminist Shulamith Firestone summed up our lack of imagination well when she imagines a scientist saying: ‘Dear, I discovered how to clone people at the lab today. Now we can go skiing in Aspen.’ Our energy, our productivity and our imagination is primarily directed towards the narrow aims of the market, curtailing the possibility of exploring new forms of innovation, new projects, new ways of being.

It is here where we must distinguish between left-and right-accelerationism. Right-accelerationism, which is closely aligned with the techno-commercialist wing of Neoreaction, calls for the acceleration of capitalism itself, for the indefinite expansion of the marketplace, replacing even the functions of government itself. It holds that the productive potential within capitalism can only occur in the capitalist form, and that this form will continue to outcompete all opposition, consuming whatever is left of the commons. Left-accelerationism instead seeks something different: it seeks to rediscover those decoding and deterritorialising tendencies that tore apart feudalism, and to turn them against capitalism itself.

This must not be the same as previously attempted forms of revolutionary socialism. The revolutionary event, if it is to take firm hold of a society, must rely on political Terror, in either an extreme and sudden form, or else in the form of a persistent feeling of dread: the history of the Soviet Union and China give us ready examples of both methods. The result of these centrally planned alternatives to the market were only ever variations of what Nick Land described as ‘Platonic-Fascist top down solutions that always screw up viciously.’ The work of rediscovering what was and is innovative, transformative and liberating within capitalism must occur within capitalism. We must build upon what is here now, and not in the form of piecemeal, socially democratic reformism- this project must be radical, it must be different. But it cannot be as dramatically divorced from reality as past attempts have been. The task at hand is to work with the already existing forces of production and desire, not against them, to push production and desire beyond capitalism’s boundaries, to rediscover the urge to go forwards and outwards.

If the Left wants to be a real force for change, it needs to upgrade.

To quote the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek: ‘The habitual tactics of marching, holding signs, and establishing temporary autonomous zones risk becoming comforting substitutions for effective success. “At least we’re doing something” is the rallying cry of those who privilege self-esteem rather than effective action. The only criterion of a good tactic is whether it enables significant success or not.’ Williams and Srnicek, perhaps deliberately, recall the moto the Chinese Communist Party deployed during the shift from top-down central planning to their current market economy: ‘Practice is the Sole Criterion for Testing Truth.’

The accelerationist Benedict Singleton describes the mechanism of a trap: a trap is something that turns the characteristics of something against it - the rabbits struggle to escape only tightens the snare. That is a model for us to explore. We must learn to set traps for desire, for self-interest, for competition, production, and capital, to turn them to different ends. Reorientation is as important as acceleration. 

Experiment. Communicate. Network. Above all: learn. Learn how to analyse the movements and fluctuations of the market. Learn how to make use of the technology already available to us in new ways, ways its creators did not intend or even envisage. Learn new ways of being together with both your allies and your opponents. Learn what capitalism does right, what it does wrong, and where the possible schizes between these things lie. Learn where the Left has failed, and why. Learn, and prepare for a future that will not resemble the past. Acceleration is inevitable, the question is can we avoid crashing and reach escape velocity? In the words of Deleuze and Guattari: ‘in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.’


References

  • Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (Bloomsbury Acedemic, 2013, London & New York)
  • The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Federov and his Followers by George Young (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012)
  • 'Libidinal Economy (extract)' by Jaques Lyotard; 'Terminator vs Avatar' by Mark Fisher; 'The Two Modes of Cultural History' by Shulamith Firestone; 'Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics' by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek; 'Maximum Jailbreak' by Benedict Singleton are all collected in #Accelerate: the accelerationist reader edited by Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014, Falmouth)
  • 'Meltdown' by Nick Land is collected in Fanged Noumena, Collected Writings 1987-2007 by Nick Land, ed. by Robin Mackay & Ray Brassier (Urbanomic & Sequence Press, Falmouth & New York, 2014)
  • http://deontologistics.tumblr.com/post/91953882443/so-accelerationism-whats-all-that-about

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Accelerationism and Pragmatism

Leafing through #Accelerate: the accelerationist reader for some inspiration for an upcoming talk on the subject, I came across some great imagery in Benedict Singleton's Maximum Jailbreak.

'The association of design and the trap runs deep... Hunting traps are, as Gell writes, 'lethal parodies' of their prey's behaviour. A human would be lucky to catch most other mammals unaided, but this can be redressed by an indirect strategy that makes use of their observed disposition: their inclination to eat certain kinds of food, in the example of bait; or a translation of their attempts to escape into the means of their demise, as in the snare. Understood in these terms, the maker of the trap mobilises and organises an ensemble of forces into new conjunctions...twist[ing] trajectories already at play in the environment in unexpected directions.' [Singleton, Benedict; 'Maximum Jailbreak' in #Accelerate: the accelerationist reader; Urbanonmic, Falmouth, 2014; p. 499]

Now, isn't that just what makes accelerationism interesting? What differentiates it from the standard Leftist critique, and, more importantly, from the pathological dreadfulness of 20th Century experiments in socialism? Look closely at what's being said: the mechanism of the trap functions by redirecting already existing energies and qualities in the prey. The trap can only function if it is designed with the actually existing qualities of the prey in mind: not based on an 'if', but on an 'is'. This is a lesson that needs to be learned by the Left, one of an absolute Realpolitik. The world and humanity are both constituted in particular ways. Human beings have certain characteristics and incentives that need to be recognised and worked with rather than against.

The deeper point Singleton is making here by drawing particular attention to the nature of the trap is one about good design in itself. Good, effective artifice is only that if it is grounded in reality, making use of materials as they really are, making use of the environment as it actually is, building these facts into its design from the moment of its conception.

The typical refrain from the Left is one of wishful thinking, of beginning by saying 'if only we could see through the fiction of nationhood!' or 'if only we could work for the common good rather than only for ourselves!' Ideals are all very well, more than that, useful in fact, but one cannot wish reality away. Any Promethean project that has as its aim post-capitalism, or a sufficiently transformed capitalism to barely resemble the present one, must seek to work with the actually existing energies and forces that shape the world, and with the human incentives that generate them.

You simply cannot dismantle the desiring-machines that produced the world market. What we can at least try to do is redirect their productive flows to different ends.

To consider Moldbug, discussing his theory of world-peace via way of corporate governance: 'So our theory of peace is a little different. It is reactionary rather than progressive, which means that it is designed to work with hominids not as they should be, angels without wings, but as they are: bipedal land apes.' Moldbug is supposing a false dichotomy here: there is nothing inherently reactionary about seeking to improve the world by reference to its actually existent characteristics, rather than idealised ones. This is simply pragmatism.

Accelerationism appeals to me because it seeks to work with these actually existent conditions, and to push them in new directions. Capitalism happened for a reason, because human beings are both competitive and co-operative, both selfish and altruistic. Any political or economic movement that does not seek to work with these qualities, but instead condemns them and tries to engineer them out of us, will arrive at nothing except catastrophe.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Transmission

I've been playing around with this idea for a while, and it eventually cohered into this. I'm quite pleased with it, as I don't write fiction very often (hopefully none of you will get to the end of this and say 'I can see why!'). So, here it is, my first real crack at weird fiction. Enjoy.

*

The house was dark and cold. It was haunted by the smell of damp and cigarettes. The old soldier, wearing a thick jacket and wrapped in a heavy blanket, explained that he was behind on most of his bills, and had never really bothered to maintain the place anyway. The curtains were drawn, blotting out the grey late-evening sky. I shivered, and gratefully accepted the offered cigarette.

‘Mark told me you have an interesting story for me,’ I said. ‘I’m a collector of interesting stories.’

Mark was our mutual acquaintance. A conspiracy freak and self-described ‘guerrilla occultist’, he made a living from pulling together diverse threads of weirdness, tying them together into something interesting and selling them on. I made a point of sitting down with him every couple of months to see if he’d anything new for me. He could be easily plied with drink, money and a little flirting, and he never seemed to hold back much information. Two nights ago, in an authentically grim pub, he told me that he’d met someone who, he said, had been involved with the 70s-80s incarnation of a certain military unit, one that has a tendency of cropping up in conspiracy circles.

‘How the hell did you manage that?’ I asked.

He tapped his nose and grinned. ‘Can’t be sharing trade secrets with you, now can I?  I’ve mentioned to him that I’ve got this friend who’s very keen on meeting people who’ve had certain experiences. And he’s keen on relating those experiences to someone. If you’re interested, and I’m sure you are, I can let you know what his address is.’

Two-hundred pounds later, there I was, sitting in the living room of a man out of modern myth.

His drawn face, coated with several days’ growth of stubble, was briefly illuminated as he lit his cigarette, drawing from it deeply. He might have been handsome once. He looked at me intently, like he was examining me. There was a coldness in his eyes that frightened me a little.

‘Yeah. I’ve got a story.’ His voice was almost without accent, but I thought I detected a trace of the North in it. ‘What’s Mark told you?’

‘That you were in the special forces a long time ago.’

‘He say when?’

‘Late 70s, early 80s.’

‘That’s right. What else?’

‘Not much, just that you wanted to tell someone your story.’

‘He mention I’m dying?’

I drew on my cigarette for a moment. ‘No. Is that why you’re telling me this? A confession?’

‘Partly. Yeah. I guess.’

I put the digital recorder on the table between us. Mark had assured me that this guy was comfortable with me using it, though he regarded it with suspicion.

‘What are you going to do with that afterwards?’ he asked.

‘I’ll write up a transcript of this to store in my private archives. It won’t be published elsewhere, if you don’t want it to be.’

‘Not much fussed really, but wait until they’ve stuck me in the oven until you print it, if you’re going to.’

‘How do you want to do this?’ I asked. He shifted in his seat a moment, pulled the blanket a little tighter around him.

‘I’ll talk. You want to know something in particular, you ask.’

I nodded.

‘I dunno when this happened exactly. They gave us all a drug, you see, so it’s difficult to remember. My theory is, they didn’t kill us in case they needed us again. Me and the boys, we were a special unit. Not SAS or SBS or Royal Marines, but drawn from all three, as well as the regulars. Idea was that we were reliable, tough bastards. That wasn’t all of it though, we’d all…we’d all seen something, or been involved with something we weren’t meant to talk about. Difficult to remember any of it with much detail, but…yeah.’

‘Tell me about the drug.’

‘I think they gave it to us after this last one, the one I wanna talk about. They must have dissolved the unit afterwards, or kept it going with other people… I only started remembering this stuff in the last few years.’

‘How did that happen?’

He lit another cigarette. He didn’t offer me one this time.

‘I was out on a walk, in the countryside, out there,’ he nodded towards the window. ‘And I lost track of time, it got dark and I realised I didn’t know where I was. Still, wasn’t exactly the first time I’d slept rough, so I was looking for somewhere to kip, and I noticed a light in the distance, miles away it was, on one of them big hills. I’ve no idea what it was, but I knew there wasn’t anything on that hill, no antennas or nothing. Suddenly, things  started to jolt out of place in my head. That’s when it started.’ He was quiet for nearly a minute.

‘I started getting these dreams, but not just when I was asleep. About a light in the sky, something…something coming down out of the light…and then one day, I was in fucking Tesco’s getting my shopping when it happened, it just all came crashing down into my head again. They thought I was having a fit, called the ambulance, but I managed to get out and get home.’

‘How much had you forgotten?’

‘What do you mean?’ He seemed annoyed.

‘Did you remember being in the military at all?’

He nodded vigorously. ‘Of course I did, yeah. Thing is, they told me that I’d had a head injury and that I’d lost a couple of years of memory. Not likely to come back.’

‘How did you get involved in this unit?’

‘Sorry love, I need to take a piss before we carry on.’ He pulled away the blanket and dragged himself up out of the chair, stumbling out of the room. While I was on my own, I had a quick look around. He wasn’t a quiet man, so I was confident I wouldn’t be taken by surprise. There were piles of old newspapers, mostly tabloids, littered around the room, along with conspiracy and paranormal magazines, and notebooks. Dozens of notebooks. I picked one at random and leafed through it. It was full of scrawled writing, impossible to decipher in the light, and drawings, little sketches: flying saucers, stars, churches, symbols from some occult alphabet I didn’t recognise. I slipped it into my coat pocket as I heard the toilet flush.

I was sitting down again as he came in. He sat down heavily.

‘Me and some boys, we were out on patrol. Peacekeeping thing in Africa. We saw this light shining, deep in the jungle. We advanced towards it, and…I don’t know what happened next. I…I remember being able to remember it but I don’t…I don’t know, now, it was too long ago.’ His voice was becoming pained, sounding almost as if he was going to weep with sheer frustration. I kept quiet. He smoked another cigarette silently. I was about to speak when he began to talk again.

‘After that, I remember training in this camp somewhere cold, I think it was on an island off the north coast somewhere, Scotland way. Then there’s bits of memory. Missions all over. Middle East, Australia, Eastern Bloc, America. Can’t remember too much about any of it. Just fragments. Little snapshots. Something getting washed up on a beach somewhere, that did…did something to the town near. A mine, somewhere, where they’d found a skeleton that was too old, too far down. No details. More like when you half-remember a dream from the night-before. There’s one though, one I remember more than the others. I think it was probably my last one. It’s that one I want to talk to you about.

‘It happened here, in the UK. I know that. I have a feeling it was in the South East somewhere. We were on guard duty, on a base. Had this big warehouse thing in it off to one side, to try and make it look a little out of the way. But that was where it was really happening. They brought us in rather than having the usual boys there, that night. I mean, the usual boys they had on the base, on guard. I don’t think they really knew what was going on, and the high-ups knew they could rely on us not to freak out. We’d…some of the things we’d seen, that I remember…no one should see that kind of stuff. Violence, killing, that’s one thing, I saw plenty of that before Africa, but…some of the things, out there, that they know about…’ I could see tears in his eyes. I stayed silent for a while.

‘Do you want to stop?’ I ventured.

‘No! Just…just be a bit patient, alright?’

I nodded. He didn’t smoke this time. He just sat and stared at the curtained window. He got up suddenly, walked over to it and opened the curtain. There was only a suggestion of light now. He sat down again without drawing it.

‘In this warehouse, they’d been digging.’ His voice was perfectly steady now. ‘There was a circle of stones, about ten metres down. They’d only half-dug them out, they stuck up out of the soil. Looked a little like teeth. There was this big antenna tower in the middle of it, like one of those big TV or phone antennas you see. Really tall, came out of the pit. All covered in gadgets and stuff, and big cables running all over the place, to machines around the pit, to bits of metal looped around the stones. There were two dishes. Satellite dishes, one on the top, pointing straight up, the other underneath it, pointing down.

‘I was stationed on the top edge of the pit when it happened. They didn’t tell us what to expect, just to be ready. They opened the roof of the warehouse, it slid open and you could see the stars. It looked wrong, really wrong, but I couldn’t tell why at first. Then I realised the sky was too bright. There wasn’t a full moon, and it was nearly midnight, but it looked too bright, like it was only just past sunset. There were too many stars. It was like someone had taken a picture of the night sky and scattered salt on it. A humming sound started. It was coming from everywhere, all at once. The stars I was familiar with started to fade out and then there were just these other stars, different stars, and they were shinning bright, so bright.

‘That’s when they brought this kid out. He looked about sixteen. He was dressed all in white, clinical like. His head was shaved. He wasn’t struggling or anything, they just took him down this little metal staircase they had going down the side of the pit.’

‘They?’ I asked.

‘Two men. Not soldiers, just wearing suits. They held his arms and lead him directly under the antenna, beneath the dishes, in the middle of the stone circle, and left him there. He just stood still.

‘The humming was getting louder, it was more like the roar a machine would make. The sky was very bright now, and one of the stars in particular was glowing like a spotlight. Right above the satellite dish. Then the humming just stopped. It was silent for a moment, and then there was this shrieking sound, not like anything I’d ever heard before. I looked down at the kid in the pit and he stood rigid, his head tilted back slightly. It was too bright to look at the star anymore, it was as bright as the sun. But…then I saw something, it was like a heat haze, and it just rushed down, out of the sky, down the antenna and onto the kid, and it was gone. And that was that.’

When he didn’t speak for a moment, I asked: ‘That was that?’

‘The sky was normal again. No lights, no funny stars, no noise, no nothing. It was over. The kid was standing there, the two men came back from above the pit to collect him. And then I heard one of them say something about “the transmission.”’

‘What happened next?’

‘I dunno really. My memory fades out again there. Guess that must have been around when they decided to get rid of us, give us the drugs and retire us. See, I think that maybe they’ve got another drug or a hypnotising machine or something that could snap us out of it, make us remember again. In case they need us, you see?’

He didn’t speak for nearly five minutes. I was about to thank him and head on my way when he spoke again. ‘You see, I think I know what was happening that night. Not all of it, but what I think is, they called something down, but it wasn’t a demon or something, like you read in those horror stories, a star-demon. What they got, and I don’t know where from, or from who, but what it was: I think it was information. Knowledge. Buggered if I know what it was knowledge of, or why it took a kid who looked comatose to receive it. I think they’d scrubbed all his memories out, see? Like how they’ve played around with mine.’ He tapped his head.

I didn’t know what to say for a moment. Then, on immediately regretted impulse, I asked: ‘How do I know you’re telling the truth?’

He smiled. ‘I don’t even know if I’m telling the truth. All I know is that these things,’ he waved at the cigarettes on the table, ‘have caught up with me, and I’ll be gone before the year’s out. And I’m ok with that.’

I turned off the recorder, thanked him, and left.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Russian Cosmism: A (brief) Summary

I finished George Young's superb little book on the Russian Cosmists a couple of days ago. The Cosmists will be the subject matter of the first episode of a podcast a friend and I are working on, so I thought I'd get the ball rolling and present a summary of them here.

Only known portrait of Nikolai Federov
Cosmism is the name given to a broad intellectual tradition in Russia that was initiated by Nikolai Fedorov in the 19th century. Understood at its broadest, Cosmism is the belief that humanity can and should actively take control of its evolution. The eccentric librarian Nikolai Federov is present in the background of virtually every development of Cosmist thought. Fedorov was a philosopher and Orthodox theologian who advocated the use of advanced science and technology to subjugate and direct the forces of nature to be in the service of humanity, and in so doing perfect the Fallen world. This is to occur in the context of a grander project, the 'common task': the resurrection of the dead. Federov advocated the progressive revitalisation of all previous human generations, going all the way back to Adam and Eve (who he believed where buried in the Pamir mountains). The subjugation of nature and, indeed, the very literal conquest of the universe was a necessary step on the path to completing the common task, in order to deal with both the increase in population size as the dead return to us, and to spread life throughout the lifeless cosmos.

Federov's techno-utopianism also carries within it a distinctively reactionary and authoritarian quality. The common task can only be initiated after the unification of the nations of the world under the benevolent autocracy of the Tsar and the leadership of Orthodox Russia (Russian Orthodoxy has often been noted to have a peculiar messianic concept of nationalism- the Russian Empire as the only legitimate successor to the authority of Rome and Constantinople, and thus the last imperial bastion of the true Christian religion). Indeed, a major theme in his conception of the resurrection of our ancestors is that this would involve a return of true, patriarchal authority. Humanity would collectively rediscover its roles as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, in the true human family with the return of each lost generation, and find freedom in obedience to proper authority.

Pavel Florensky (in white) and Sergei Bulgakov
For Federov, this is the fulfilment of God's mission for His Church and for mankind. What is offered in the liturgy of the Church is of vital importance, but it is not sufficient to bring about of God's Kingdom. The symbols of resurrection used in liturgy should motivate us to action outside of the walls of the church. There is no conflict between 'science' and 'religion' for Federov, though he is extremely wary of the risks of scientific developments that do not go alongside religious/spiritual developments (and vice versa). A strange fusion of spirituality and high technology runs through the entirety of the Cosmist project: notable Cosmists Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov were both ordained priests of the Orthodox Church (though Bulgakov had to dodge accusations of heresy); Vladimir Solovyov was a Christian mystic devoted to Divine Sophia; although the secular Cosmists were often hostile to established religion, many, especially Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, may be not-unjustly characterised as Gnostics.

Cosmism after Federov branches in many directions, but always maintains the broad theme of perfecting the world through spiritually enlightened science. Emphasis does shift at many points though: Solovyov had little interest in science and was more concerned with utilising the occult to create a new form of androgynous human, and Bulgakov writes not of conquering nature but of developing a spiritual 'economy' of all things, understood more in the sense of husbandry than ownership and control. The overtly religious characteristics of Cosmism were essentially dismissed or actively down-played during the Soviet era, with more focus being put on the idea of engineering a new form of socialist human and perfecting the environment through central control and mass labour projects. Florensky's religious convictions were tolerated largely due to his technical brilliance, playing an important role in the electrification of Russia, though he'd ultimately be executed.

Contemporary Cosmism is still substantially more secular than it was in the past, but there has been a revived interest in the spiritual and occult writings of the Cosmists; this is perhaps because so much of their scientific thought can now be falsified (for example, Federov calls for us to build great cones that would allow us to direct the Earth's electro-magnetism and pilot the planet around the universe in pursuit of the dust of our ancestors), while the esoteric dimensions of Cosmism are something that can be taken as being 'beyond reason', and thus outside the clutches of positivist science.

The sheer optimism and vitality of Cosmism, and the surprising ease with which it combines ancient tradition with futurism, science with spirituality, is deeply appealing. It is difficult to not be thrilled by Cosmist thought, even if this is only in an aesthetic sense. In particular, the utopian (though often totalitarian) ideal of taking complete control of our own destiny and environment is intoxicating, even if it is misguided in many ways. Ultimately, the foundational ideal of Cosmism is that life can conquer death, and even if that isn't an ideal we can ever accomplish, it is very difficult to resist the urge to try.
  

Sunday, 5 July 2015

True Detective: Some Thoughts

Caution, spoilers

Although its most direct references to weird fiction are, of course, to Robert W. Chambers and Ambrose Bierce (namely 'Carcosa' and 'The King in Yellow'), it is the spirit of H. P. Lovecraft that most pervasively haunts True Detective. Now, Lovecraft of course appropriates the names 'Carcosa' and 'The King in Yellow' for himself and his own cosmo-mythology, but that's not what I'm talking about here. True Detective is the most purely Lovecraftian thing I've ever seen on television.

The Lovecraftian elements are not arrived at through simple name-dropping, though that certainly helps. Something much more subtle and clever happens in True Detective. It hardly needs to be said that much of Lovecraft's legacy is derived from the new pantheon of monstrosities he gives us, but it should also be remembered that he was far more than a simply pedlar of novel beasts and terrors: what Lovecraft does with great skill is endow the familiar with an otherworldly atmosphere. The very soil beneath our feet becomes infested with entities of unspeakable age and power. Lovecraft is able to warp the world we take for granted into something profoundly different and disturbing. He can twist things, take what you know and turn it inside out, force you to recognise how limited and illusory your understanding of the world is.

On a level of sheer aesthetics, True Detective is certainly able to achieve something like that. It implants the idea in the viewer's mind that behind the ordinary is something abnormal and threatening. As well as that, there is just something about the way TD is shot that makes the landscape, the endless swamps and always-in-the-distance industrial edifices unsettling, and I'm not sure what. It feels as if there is a quintessential element within the environment that just makes it wrong somehow, an element that cannot be easily defined. It's just there

The show's cosmic pessimism and nihilism is very much worth mentioning here (the ending not withstanding). Cohle does more-or-less literally quote Thomas Ligotti (imagine a more disturbed H. P. Lovecraft, and you've got an idea of what Ligotti is like), who is possibly the most pessimistic writer I've ever come across. One of Lovecraft's most important characteristics is that his monsters are not 'evil' as such, they generally don't hold any direct malice towards humanity: they're just indifferent towards us, utterly so. To them, we're prey, or a nuisance, or occasionally entertaining playthings- but they are so far beyond us, so different, so purely alien that their motives cannot be grasped, and using words like 'good' and 'evil' to describe them is as absurd as calling the sun 'cruel' for giving you skin cancer. Cohle is a character who has grasped the uncaring nature of the universe, the absence of purpose, of grand narratives, of moral absolutes. That is where much of Lovecraft's horror lies: Cthulhu doesn't want to drive you mad, he just will. 

These broad thematic strokes aside, the two most direct nods towards Lovecraft are somewhat blended together: the heavy hints at degenerate heredity and atavism, and the presence of a cult. The show is littered with references to Devil worship in the woods, of peculiar blends of Voodoo and folk-religion (and the use of mainstream religion to mask dark esotericism), culminating in Cohle's encounter with the bizarre and never-explained idol of The King in Yellow in the equally bizarre and unexplained Carcosa. Exactly what is it that motivates the killings? How does Childress have such a powerful affect on people? Why is any of this happening? At the end of the show, all we have are a few culprits, a few bad people who were doing bad things: but their motivations are never explained, not even remotely. It is obvious that a substantial conspiracy, going all the way up to high-office, is involved throughout the State, perpetrating and covering up murder, abduction and child abuse, and although sexual perversity is certainly part of the motivation... that just doesn't feel like the whole story, does it? Something more was going on there, in that house, in those tunnels. Something that cannot be grasped except at the expense of sanity. Cohle certainly glimpses it with his vision of a great vortex in outer space, and the thought of it disturbs Marty sufficiently that he has no desire for the details of what was found there, what that family had been doing there for so long.

It was absolutely the right decision for the show to not tell us why any of this was happening, what these people sort to accomplish with their deeds, if anything. The feeling it leaves behind is that we, the viewers, have been shown a glimpse at a hidden world, one just behind the veil of convention and assumption, containing a presence we simply can't believe exists, and yet is sharpening its claws and eyeing us intently.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Don't Worry, Still Here- Apologies and News

As it's been an embarrassingly long time since I last posted anything on here, and I'm still getting at least a few hits every day, it feels worthwhile to at least twitch and moan a little to prove I'm still alive. 

I haven't written anything new because I haven't thought of anything interesting to say. Most of my spare time has been going on trying to learn German and, for no real reason other than curiosity, reading up on Buddhism. I'm also still working on stuff for the ever-enjoyable Project Praeterlimina (we have Things You Can Buy). I've also been working my way through a nice fat collection of essays on Accelerationism in preparation for a talk I'll be giving in September at The Catalyst Club. I'll post my notes on here too, and I'll try to get something I feel worth sharing on here together in the next few weeks. I'm also half-considering trying to *takes deep breath* reading Being and Time all the way through, and trying to keep notes on it as I go. If I do manage to do this, I will try and post things up here relating to that.

In other news, for those of you who wonder what my voice sounds like, rejoice! A friend and I are planning on starting a podcast later this year, hopefully around November time. The general plan is that we'll pick a topic and try to talk about it in as interesting and entertaining a way that we can. Whether not not we'll succeed at it- I have no idea, but it will give me something to do.

Topics we've decided upon in advance include: Anti-Oedipus, Accelerationism and Heidegger. Feel free to make other suggestions in the comments, if you are so inclined.

Finally, some of my friends and I are vaguely planning a new writing project in which we'll explore the now mostly dead genre of, as we are provisionally calling it, British Science Weird. This should be an exploration of the peculiar mix of the provincial and cosmic in British SF, fantasy and horror over the last century, for example in the works of John Wyndham. There's literally no time scale for this at all, but when something does happen, I'll let you all know.

That's essentially it right now. As ever, stay tuned.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Amateur Applications of Anti-Oedipal Thinking


After a long and difficult journey, I finished Anti-Oedipus the other day. I might, might write a kind of book review of it in a while, but I thought it worth throwing a few thoughts out there (partly because I'm desperately trying to blog more often) following reading an essay of Nick Land's: 'Making It With Death: Remarks on Thanatos and Desiring Production', about Deleuze & Guattari. I decided to have a crack at it as I made the obvious mistake before of trying to read an essay about Deleuze & (to a lesser extent) Guattari without having actually read any Deleuze & Guattari. And, although it will require some closer reading at some point, the most potent remarks came towards the end, in which Land looks at the shift in emphasis in DeleuzoGuattarian thought away from the absolute, raw deterritorialisation of Anti-Oedipus in its follow-up: A Thousand Plateaus. In a word, Deleuze & Guattari fear that ripping up all the strata of moralising repression may result in the release of the sheer suicidal horror that is Nazism (which is contrasted with, one might say, in borrowing D & G's terminology [which is borrowed from Marx in this case, I believe] the relative Asiatic coolness of the Fascist State). Speaking purely for myself, I would certainly sympathise with that line of thinking, but at present that is neither here nor there.

This is perhaps all a little difficult to follow. From what I understand, the fear grows in D & G's hearts and minds that the call for a radical, radical freedom of identity and discovery that decoding and deterritorialisation issues forth, one that would rid of us what Nietzsche calls 'moralic acid', has the awful potential of becoming the shrieking nightmare of civilisation. That is, there is nothing to restrain the decoded flows from recombining into the racialist, paranoiac-reactionary mechanisms of an Nth Reich. This tendency, this possibility of pushing deterritorialisation too far, is something that needs to be routed, and justifies the rigorous policing of thought.

Some further background for all this.

I have a piece vaguely planned, the working title of which is 'Is Nietzsche's Hammer Left-Handed?' Emphasis on 'working title' there. Anyway, it will be a probably quite superficial discussion about the loss of vitality in the Left, but it's a hell of a long way away as I want to actually try and put some real effort into it. But the thought that accompanies it is, essentially, that there is a puritanical streak in a lot of Leftist thinking, the example par excellence being Social Justice, that strikes me as being not-at-all-dissimilar to the anti-life that Nietzsche diagnosis in Christianity (not a position I entirely agree with, though he certainly latched onto something of enormous importance which I don't believe Christianity has ever made a wholly successful rebuttal to). It is possessed of an obsession with moral purity, in contrast with the evil false-morality of its opponents on the right, typically as exemplified in the nebulous notion of 'privilege'. 'Privilege' implies preference, bias, difference, hierarchy, as opposed to equality and fairness. As has been well-documented, this often includes fanatical attempts at self-policing, at attempts at expunging all trace of 'privilege' from its ranks, including from the souls of its constituent members.

From the above mentioned essay of the good Mr Land's, I present the following observations:

'[Leftist m]orality has become the complacent whisper of a triumphant priest: you'd better keep the lid pressed down on desire, because what you really want is genocide. Once this is accepted there is no limit to the resurrection of prescriptive neoarchaisms that come creeping back as a bulwark against the jack-booted unconscious: liberal humanism, watered-down paganism, and even stinking relics of Judaeo-Christian moralism. Anything is welcome, as long as it hates desire and shores up the cop in everyone's head.' [Fanged Noumena, Urbanomic, 2014, p. 280]

And...

'Trying not to be a Nazi approximates one to Nazism far more radically than any irresponsible impatience in destratification.' [p. 285]

And...

'...Nazism is morality itself, heir to Europe's respectable history: that of witch-burnings, inquisitions, and pogroms. To want to be in the right is the common substratum of morality and genocidal reaction...' [Ibid.]

That is, if I've read this correctly: the Left's obsession with ideologico-spiritual-moral purity is of course NOT identifiable with the Nazi obsession with racial purity, but its attempts at policing itself and expunging all tendency that can be classed as a manifestation of 'privilege' is a suicidal tendency, one that will transform the liberating, revolutionary potential of the Left into nothing more than a paranoiac-reactionary mechanism that will do nothing but replace one system of domination and control with another. The pseudo-Christian theology of Original Sin that SJ seems to deploy against itself, as well as vicious processes of public-shaming and condemnation, all stink of these resurrected 'prescriptive neoarchaisms.' Love and equality and fairness are all very well for us, but as for them...

It is, of course, lazy and inaccurate reasoning to compare the Left with the Nazis, but that is not the point Land is making (if he is, well, it's not the point that I'm making). It should be clear from the fact that Land identifies his 'Nazis' (who are, of course, not the historical Nazis, or at least not entirely) with the 'moralic acid' that the DeulezoGuattarian revolutionary motion is attempting to rid itself of, that the Left's attempts at purifying itself are and will be futile. Its desire to rid itself of impurity (preference, hierarchy, control) makes it little different from what it combats. To paraphrase Nietzsche, it has become what it is battling. Attempting to purge 'Nazi' elements makes nothing but 'Nazis'.

This is an old, old song that I'm singing. It's not an original insight (Land called this in the 90s), but it's one that's worth making. D & G make several passing remarks at how, when one attempts to determine where the Russian Revolution or psychoanalysis went 'bad,' that is, became about control and not liberation, one always ends up going back further and further and further... When did the Left end up like this? When did it become about making us all more afraid, more poor, less happy, less free?

I'm reminded of the old joke:

The Communist Party Central Committee are having a meeting. The General Secretary stands up and says 'Comrades, when the revolution comes, there will be strawberries and cream for everyone!' All his comrades cheer, except for one who says 'But, comrade, I don't like strawberries and cream.'

'Ah,' says the General Secretary, 'that's the beauty of it. When the revolution comes, you will like strawberries and cream.'

*

For the sake of fairness, it should be observed that this is obviously present in Neoreaction. Putting aside the 'Darkside Deleuzianism' of the techno-commercialist current of Neoreaction, with its rampant desire to overthrow regulation of the capital flows and all that can limit the processes of the market, we find something very puritanical and controlling. A lot of Neoreaction is terrified of entryism, and disgusted at the thought of being co-opted by disaffected Cathedral loyalists (the most obvious example being the almost comical response some have at the popularity of Justine Tunney, a transwoman, who is sometimes taken as a kind of unofficial spokesperson for post-Moldbug thought). How about monarchism, neofeudalism, ethno-nationalism and traditionalist Catholicism as 'neoarchaisms' that are terrified at what has been unleashed by the deterritorialising tendencies of modernity?

Deleuze and Guattari's most important observation has already been mentioned above: when one fights, one resembles one's opponent. I'm not a Neoreactionary, but I certainly sympathise with the desire for Exit a lot these days. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

In Defence of Moderation and Reasonableness

ADDED: the link to The Federalist below contains a transphobic remark. I don't endorse this remotely, as I'm not a transphobe (and I don't mean that in a wish-washy libertarian way either, I actively endorse gender-transition as a legitimate response to one's socially determined gender identity). Just wanted to make that clear.

With the general election only a few days away now, I think it prudent to talk a little about the value of talking. A friend of mine is a Catholic, and at university we often talked about our conflicting opinions on religion, the Church, spirituality and so on. Well, I say 'talked'. Often he'd be irritatingly moderate and reasonable (title drop!) while I'd try and turn him into a kind of socially-conservative straw-man I could then try and rip apart. Try, and usually fail. Again: damn moderate, damn reasonable.

In particular, when same-sex marriage was being debated in Parliament a couple of years ago I was somewhat insistent that it probably wasn't something that we could really discuss, on grounds (call it lazy Wittgenstein-ism) that we inhabited two very different worlds and our definitions of marriage would basically just pass one another by. He, however, would have none of that, and held that there was no good reason at all to try and shut down discussion of the matter just because we came from different religions traditions (I was brought up in a mainline Protestant church and now attend an Anglo-Catholic church, somewhat ironically). And, of course, he was right and I was wrong. There was never any reason to avoid having a serious, moderate and reasonable discussion about what legal redefinition of marriage might entail, for good or ill. 

But there is a worryingly noticeable trend in politics these days that seems hostile towards discussion, towards dialogue. This often feels particularly true of the Left. Indeed, it almost feels as if the Left considers having to explain itself to be an imposition. One sometimes observes almost religious horror when the Left encounters different opinions, as if only monsters could posses them. None of this is exclusive to the Left, of course, there has been much character assassination courtesy of the right too. But I do definitely feel that the single greatest failing of the modern Left is its refusal to feel uncomfortable, its refusal to consider potential flaws in its own arguments. The title of this article from The Federalist says it all- The Paradox of Dogma: How the Left is Crippling Itself. 

Of course, the tone of both the pieces I've linked to suffers from the same problem- they both are, to a greater or lesser extent, attempts to rubbish the Left by accusing it of profound irrationality and intellectual cowardice. They are, of course, wrong to suggest that this is a universal quality of Leftism, but they are right to acknowledge that the tendency is present and, in my experience, the Left is not doing enough to combat this plea for silence rather than conversation. All attempting to avoid dialogue does is miss the opportunity to examine how water-tight one's principles are. If one's principles do not survive their encounter with an opponent in debate, how do you expect them to survive their first brush with reality?

I am picking on the Left here, though. What I am talking about is true of of the Right as well. I just tend to notice it more on the Left, probably because I'm looking out for it and, frankly, because I don't know many conservatives. It does worry me, though, that many people I know who are around my age and come from the same background as I do are Left-wing almost as a matter of course. Another friend of mine, when I was telling him once about Neoreaction, asked me how I could tolerate 'those people'...

Accepting dogmatic Left-wing principles simply because they are in opposition to conservative thought is an act of un-thinking, and nothing more. And, again, this does obviously apply to the Right as well. One wonders if this would have happened if the Right had been more willing to reflect upon its own received wisdom, rather than merely shaking its fist at modernity because it is different.

*

Some final, hopefully both moderate and reasonable points. 

None of the following should ever be considered synonymous with 'Left-wing', 'Right-wing', 'conservative' or 'progressive':

  • Stupid
  • Intelligent
  • Good
  • Evil
  • Always correct
  • Always incorrect
  • So obviously correct we don't need to discuss it
  • So obviously wrong we don't need to discuss it

To refuse to enter into dialogue with your opponent is rarely a sign of intellectual virtue. 



Wednesday, 8 April 2015

In Review: Putin vs Putin by Alexander Dugin

In a rather strange twist of fate, it turns out I went to university with someone who now works at Arktos Media. A while ago, I got a message from her asking if I'd be interested in reviewing the new Dugin book, Putin vs Putin. Alexander Dugin is someone I was, of course, very much aware of, and I approached the opportunity to delve a little into his world with curiosity and, to be honest, trepidation.

What an odd, odd book this was to read. It is constructed from several years of work assembled thematically (I assume). As these individual papers were often written years apart, the experience of reading the book is a very disjointed one. Further to that, Dugin has written much of it with the (understandable as these were all originally published in Russian) assumption that the reader will already be largely aware of most of the events and individuals he's discussing. To the credit of the fine folk responsible for editing and translation, the copious footnotes are able to resolve this, but having to work through long lists of Russian names at the bottom of almost every page to figure out who Dugin is attacking or praising is a laborious task.

It was not a fun read. Indeed, considering its short length, it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to read it, with many pauses in which I fled to read more accessible books, or made serious in roads into equally strange but somewhat more palatable books. A serious problem was that it was consistently substantially more interesting when it wasn't actually talking about Vladimir Putin. The digressions Dugin takes to discuss the various competing schools of radical conservatism, his geopolitcal theories, his defence of Russian Christian nationalism and, of course, his robust assertions of Tradition and the Fourth Political Theory are all compelling and fascinating (though I think it a good idea to state at this point, just to avoid any ambiguity, I do not agree with him), while his long discussions on what Putin's actions mean, what the people around the President want, and so on, and so on, became rather tedious. This tedium was likely more to do with, as I've said above, the unfamiliarity the reader is likely to have with many of the individuals that Dugin devotes his attention to. Only a student of contemporary Russian politics is likely to be able to follow the paths that Dugin takes around these people and events.

However, the single biggest problem with the book is that it simply shouldn't exist in the format it does. Like I said, this is put together from over a decades worth of separately written pieces of work. As such, this book should have been compiled in one of two ways, either as an anthology of these pieces with notes on the context of the writing of each one (perhaps with Dugin's comments on whether or not he still agrees with the position presented in each piece), arranged chronologically, or thematically maybe; or, these original texts should have been taken as the substance for a new, original work, in which Dugin would chart how his opinions on Putin and the Russian situation have shifted over the years. In so writing, the repetitions and contradictions could have been easily resolved through simple editorship and contextualisation. It seems that (I imagine this is the fault of the editors or publishers of the original Russian edition) the book is attempting to be the latter, but this wasn't properly or fully executed.

As to whether or not it's worth reading: with hesitation, I would say 'yes'. How much the reader's life is likely to be enriched by the experience, I cannot say. Probably reasonably little. This being said, the book is a valuable reminder that the liberal order is not as secure as many of us, myself included, would like to believe. A substantial number of very powerful people consider our paradise to be their hell. That is the hard lesson of the 21st Century for the West, and Dugin seems to almost delight in it.

Some final words. Dugin's shifting portraits of Putin are confounding, as the picture blurs frequently into something new, but that is indeed exactly the point. Putin, Dugin concludes, is a sheer pragmatist. He is the ultimate postmodern politician, he is a liberal and reformer and a moderniser and an imperialist and a patriot and defender of Christendom, all at once, depending on the time of day. This pseudo (super?) position is emphasised by the apparent lack of personality of the man. What can we say about Putin's character? Nothing. All we can speak of are his deeds, which are rarely enough to satisfy Dugin's vision of a new, masculine and sacred Russia, a vision it is by no means clear Putin shares any more than it is politically expedient for him to share. Because of this emptiness, Putin can become Dugin's almost-messiah and the West's monster without necessarily really being either.

Despite all this, I could not ever quite shake the thought from my head that Dugin failed to entertain one important possibility: is Putin maybe simply in it for himself?

For some, power is an ends in itself.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Not a Hiatus, Just Laziness

Hello. I'm still here. Busy being a lackey of capitalism, and I've not thought of anything particularly interesting to write since...well, my last post on here.

I'll pull my finger out and try and scribble something down sooner rather than later, hopefully. Though, be warned, I might just end up 'analysing' a Nine Inch Nails music video or something just to get back in to the habit of writing (i.e. it'll be superficial crap dressed up as if it were profound).

But, hopefully, it'll be entertaining.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Lovecraft Country, UK

A few years ago now, I introduce a friend to a couple of films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist. The latter is...perhaps not best described as one of my 'favourite' films, but it is a film that I admire enormously. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on the other hand, is a film that I appreciate somewhat less. Very good, of course, especially in its build up of atmosphere, its creation of an otherworldly-ness without appeal to the supernatural, but...I don't know. It leaves me a little cold.

My friend shared this view, along with an interesting observation: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not as scary as The Exorcist because it happens in, well, Texas, a very specific and localised zone. It has to happen there and not here. Its horror, its monsters, are rooted in a particular geography, a particular context. The Exorcist, on the other hand, could occur here. The monster, the demon, is not tied down to a particular locale. The preamble suggests its origins in the Middle East, out of very distant history. It manifests itself in the United States, in the possession of a young girl far, far removed from where the force emerges from. It doesn't matter where it happens, it can happen anywhere.

It could happen here, in our home.

I heard somewhere that, back in the 80s during the 'Video Nasty' panic, one of the arguments made for strict regulation of home videos went along these lines: it is one thing to go to a cinema to see a violent movie, but quite another to experience that in your own home. Going to the cinema removes the film from the homestead, but bringing it into the home, into the place where one is meant to be safe, that has potential for great danger. The danger is that experiencing something horrific in one's own home undermines its feeling of security, its safety, its very homeliness.

However, I want to discuss another kind of horror. The realisation that the homely was, in fact, never homely at all.

*

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm fond of my walks. Last weekend, I departed from my usual route and found this:




I knew that this monument existed but I wasn't expecting something so...cinematic. Things only got better, however:









This was spooky. Very spooky. This is what I want to explore in this post, a feeling of horror in the home that is not that of the intruder. It is, rather, the recognition of the unhomeliness of the homely. That is, discovering that one's home, the familiar, contains and always has contained an unfamiliar, unsafe dimension. Not that something foreign has entered and changed things, but rather discovering that home was always foreign. This is the feeling so well expressed in David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet. The hidden-yet-always-present wrongness of the homely.

That was the feeling I had when I came across this site. This wasn't Texas, this was home. And in home, my home, there was something scary, something wrong, something unfamiliar. You might think that that's a lot to read into a disused farming structure, but the atmosphere, the setting sun, the cold, the silence, the remoteness, the strangeness of it made for a powerful experience.

I live on the outskirts of the city, and as such I'm treated to an unusual environment where, on one side, there is the city and modernity, and on the other side I can walk for miles and meet less than a dozen people. I can simply venture out and walk, and see where I end up. As such, there has always been a feeling of living on a border, that beyond there lies...the outside. There is the rational realisation that this is not the case, that there lie suburbs and towns and villages and roads and pylons, but that isn't how it feels.

I digress.

This is the feeling that Lovecraft is able to conjure. That the horror does not reside far away, it is close, it is near, it is here and always has been. The Old Ones are not a foreign element, they have been here far longer than we have. Our homes where never our homes, they were always unhomely. To notice something that has always been unnoticed, and yet always present, that is so deeply uncomfortable that it is difficult to articulate the sensation.

I think that this is part of the special frisson that the conspiracy theory is able to produce. I treat conspiracy theories as a kind of myth-making, an elaborate, world-structuring fiction whose fictitiousness is not known to those who possess them. Perhaps the appeal is the same appeal as that of a Lovecraft or a Ligotti: beneath the surface of the familiar is something utterly unfamiliar. Familiar things that, nominally, guarantee our security and freedom are, in fact, undermining and robbing us of both these things. Worse than that: these are things we never possessed. The familiar was always other. The government is not and has never been corrupt, it has always been the Illuminati and that is that.

The planes overhead are leaving something in the air...

The schools, the universities, they're brainwashing the youth...

President Kennedy wasn't assassinated, he was sacrificed...

The successful conspiracy theory functions on the same level as a successful horror story.


*
I had a dream recently.

I dreamt that near where I live, there was an installation, scientific-military. It was an array of large satellite dishes, angled skywards. Everyone knew, and had always known, that these were not innocent, that they were there for a reason that was not being admitted publicly. That they weren't right. 

It wasn't a dark night. The sky was a pale blue, as if it were lit up by a full moon. A kind of not-night. And I am there, near this array which is there for a reason we can only guess at, and there is a man with me. He points to the sky, the clear not-night sky, and I can see around the stars a rippling, like a heat haze. The man says: 'You see that? If you look closely, you can see HAARP at work!'