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Category Archives: Writings in English

Here is Dark Chemistry’s rather generous and no less rigorous reading of my doctoral dissertation The Life Death Drives…

“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there.”
      – Italo Calvino

“We shall defend the complications of our theory so long as we find that they meet the results of observation, and we shall not abandon our expectations of being led in the end by those very complications to the discovery of a state of affairs which, while simple in itself, can account for all the complications of reality.”
     – Sigmund Freud

“Visibility is a trap.”
     – Michael Foucault

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According to Melanie Klein we all oscillate between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout our lives. This means that none is normal since the world is a place in which all kinds of abnormalities take place all the time and nobody can be a normal person independently of all these abnormalities. One may choose withdrawal and indifference in a Stoic fashion, but who can claim that this is normal? The only thing that is normal is that nothing is normal.

Klein used the word ‘position’ as she was creating her concepts to designate moods which one finds oneself in throughout life. It is necessary to underline the word ‘position’ because the word ‘position’ is especially chosen to signify psychic conditions rather than stages of a linear course of development. The paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position are complementary situations  of the subject in a non-linear course of development which attaches to the death drive, as much important a role as it does to the life drive in the course of development. It is obvious that for Klein the relationship between regress and progress is not in the form of a symmetrical binary opposition.[1]

If we keep in mind that creativity means creating a meaning out of the meaningless chaos we can see how Klein’s theory can be used in the service of a critical theory aiming at destroying the static unities and recreating non-static formations. Influenced by Klein, Wilfred Bion developed a theory of thinking concentrating on what Keats called negative capability. Negative capability is the ability to remain intact in the face of not-knowing throughout the thinking process. While Klein emphasized the negative aspects of the paranoid-schizoid position and gave a more important role to the depressive position in the developmental process, Bion argued that fragmentation of previous theories is as important as the reintegration process for the emergence of new thought. For Bion the subject’s oscillation between the paranoid-schizoid position(splitting) and the depressive position(synthesizing) is necessary for a healthy creative process to take place giving birth to new thought.[2]

Counter to the reparative and reconciliatory tendencies towards reconstructing the pre-dominant symbolic order, the poststructuralist subject of the death drive aims at explicating the problems inherent in the structure of the existing symbolic order. It is a response to the loss of an imagined future and involves a negation of the existing order which is based on negation and in which the subject finds/loses itself. The subject as the death drive is simultaneously the effect and the cause of splitting. The subject as the death drive occupies the other pole of faith. Its domain begins where belief ends. Its domain is a realm where silence and non-being confront the daily banalities of symbolic societies. In this realm nothingness and substance confront each other.

As the subject’s intensity of self-consciousness increases, so does its pain and anxiety in the face of death. This causes hopelessness and despair which may or may not lead to a total devastation of the project of inverting and putting into the spotlight the nothingness at the centre of the subject. Heidegger repeatedly puts all this down in Being and Time when he says that “being-towards-death is angst.” One cure for expelling anxiety has been to believe in god, any other metaphysical construct, or in some cases it has even taken the form of a materialist system of thought; in all these cases, however, an escape is seen as a solution when in fact it is the problem itself. For our concerns, an escapist attitude, and especially one that tries to go beyond the physical, does not work at all, for what we are looking for is a way of learning to make use of the reality of the death drive as an interior exteriority constitutive of the subject as a creative agent. 

The self-conscious subject questions itself. With the thought of death the subject gets in touch with the death drive and pushes itself further towards the periphery of the symbolic order and becomes its own persecutor in the service of a critique of the status quo. The subject of the death drive shakes the foundations upon which is built its own mode of being. Its mode of being becomes its movement towards non-being. It is the perceiver and the perceived of its own, the subject and the object of its actions, the persecutor and the persecuted at the same time. Through the death drive one can go beyond one’s symbolic role and become conscious of its time and place in the world. The use of the death drive requires recognition of death as the absolute master. That way one can become reconciled to life as it is. 

In critical theory we usually have to read the text at hand in an unorthodox way so as to create a new meaning out of it. The critical theorist breaks-down the meaning of the text and out of the pieces recreates a new meaning, which is to say that creativity bears within itself destructivity and inversely. It may not be necessary to destroy something intentionally to create something new, but to have destroyed something is usually a consequence of having created something new.  Jacques Derrida’s reading strategy called deconstruction exposes how a text writes and unwrites itself against its dominant meaning and in contrast to common sense perception. I see Derrida’s corpus as an intense meditation on the meaning of meaning itself. First Derrida shows the dominant meaning of the text as perceived by the majority and then he exposes the other within of the text, the minor meaning which contradicts the major meaning. By doing this Derrida makes not only the absolute meaning of the text collapse in on itself but also causes the concept of absolute meaning itself to explode from within. In Kleinian terms what Derrida does is to start from the depressive position and then move to the paranoid-schizoid position and there apply the splitting process peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid position to the text. It can be said that in a way Derrida exposes the paranoid-schizoid position within the depressive position. By doing this Derrida shows that the life drive and the death drive are within and without one another at the same time. This means that for Derrida creation and destruction are one. It is for this reason that I find deconstruction insufficient for effective critique to take place. For without the affirmative recreation of the destroyed text there remains nothing outside the ruins of the past. But that the new is inconceivable from within the pre-dominant context does not mean that it is impossible. What Derrida’s deconstructive practice lacks is the active intervention in the predominant order which would create the conditions of possibility for change, out of the conditions of impossibility. Derrida remains paralyzed in the face of the infinity of possibilities for change by declaring that the chain of signifiers is infinite and therefore nothing is outside the text when in fact nothing is this infinity itself since when there is infinity then everything disappears and nothing conceivable remains within the text. It is true that deconstruction dissolves the transcendental signified but the question remains: What is the price paid when the transcendental signified is deconstructed rather than affirmatively recreated and turned into an immanent sign here and now. In Derrida there is the waiting for the new to arrive but no action is taken in the way of making this arrival possible now. We shall ask why not recreate oneself as the new, why not do it now and give birth to the new here and now, why not be the new in action? In a fashion similar to Hamlet, Derrida perpetually postpones the action by playing with language and ends up locking himself up in an endlessly deferred self-perpetuating, self-consuming, and self-reflexive endgame with no beginning and no end, making it impossible for conscious desire to engage in effective action.


[1] Melanie Klein, Our adult world and other essays (London: Heinemann, 1975)

[2]Wilfred Bion. “A Theory of Thinking,” Second Thoughts: Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac, 1967)

Derridagate

  

What we witness in this time is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World turning into Rave New World. A world in which the well known and the so called lines between mind and body, fantasy and reality, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, life and death, are not just blurred, but have completely disappeared. And yet, at the same time, these lines are in the process of reappearance.

Here’s another ENCHANTING POST from D.C., referring to a bit of my stuff, and a bit of Badiou, Žižek, and Brassier. … Read More

via Object-Oriented Philosophy

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Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this saying it’s me? Answer simply. It’s the same old stranger as ever, for existence, of his, of ours, there’s a simple answer. It’s not with thinking he will find me, but what is he to do, living and bewildered, yes, living, say what he may.[1]

Yes, there are moments, like this moment, when I seem almost restored to the feasible. Then it goes, all goes, and I’m far again. With a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That’s where I would go, if I could go, that’s who I would be, if I could be.[2]

In Texts For Nothing the narrative voice subverts its subject’s resentment in the face of having no-identity, that is, for being incapable of changing the course of events in the way of having an identity, and prefers not to will at all, to will nothing, rather than will nothingness. Beckett reverses Nietzsche’s famous saying about man and nihilism: “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” This is not an impoverishment of the will, rather, it is itself a will to nothing which turns Beckett’s writing into a motionless flight, a static genesis, and at the same time a movement of thought which spirals around and within nothing, in the process turning the absence of something conceivable into a neutral voice through which silence eternally speaks and engages in a non-identical relation with the world surrounding it.

In Waiting for Godot there is nothing at the centre of the subject; no one comes, no one goes, nothing takes place. That place is the side of a road where there is a barren tree, and there Vladimir and Estragon share an aloneness, an intimacy. They give the impression that they have been there for hundreds, or even thousands of years, associating by their clothes with Charlie Chaplin’s persona, “the universal vagabond.”

Vladimir: […] To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us. […] But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come–[3]

In Waiting for Godot Beckett continues his project of purgation, or purification through reduction of life to its bare bones. According to Alain Badiou, as he puts it in his book On Beckett, to achieve this reduction of life and truth to their most naked forms, in his novels Beckett had to write thousands of pages in the way of wiping the slate clean and getting rid of the non-generic details of daily social life. To open up a space within the existing order Beckett had to unwrite the symbolic order in the way of subtracting the Symbolic from the Real. By situating Vladimir and Estragon in the middle of now-here, which he shows to be nothingness, Beckett gives voice to the Real of being, which is non-being. Beckett shows that at the centre of the subject there is a hole. The split introduced by Beckett in-between the subject and the signifier shows the subject and the signifier as constituted by a lack of a third party outside them. There is the absence of something in-between the fantasy and the social reality and the subject is this non-being constituted through and as the gap separating them. The subject is an effect of language, and yet this effect manifests itself only in the form of gaps, absences, cuts. That is, the subject manifests itself only in the form of a negativity from the perspective of the big Other. For the big Other excludes nothingness and death. The big Other wants subjects that are something within the symbolic order.

 What Alain Badiou has written about Beckett’s writing at the time of Texts for Nothing becomes relevant here.

With extraordinary lucidity, they tell us of the nothingness of the attempt in progress. They come to the realisation, not that there is nothing (Beckett will never be a nihilist), but that writing has nothing more to show for itself. These texts tell us the truth of a situation, that of Beckett at the end of the fifties: what he has written up to that point can’t go on. It is impossible to go on alternating, without any mediation whatsoever, between the neutrality of the grey black of being and the endless torture of the solipsistic cogito. Writing can no longer sustain itself by means of this alternation.[4]

It is in this context that Beckett’s Texts For Nothing, Waiting for Godot and Lacan’s theory of the subject coincide. At the root of this coincidence is a shared way of being in relation to the unconscious and death.

After being subjected to purgatory in his novels, Murphy, Watt, Moran, Molloy, Malone and Mahood are finally shown to be the embodiments of a split subject constituted by two clowns who have no role to play, their selves separate from their consciousnesses, talking to but not with one another. Vladimir and Estragon are both no one and everyone, none of the existing things and yet all that there is left.

The relationship between Vladimir and Estragon is in the form of a conversation with no centre, for both of the subjects of this conversation are constitutive of one another. The gap that separates them is the constitutive non-relation between them.  Beckett has taken almost all the measures required to concretely present the journey of being in time as being outside time. It is from Vladimir and Estragon’s perspectives that we see the nothingness outside the frozen image of two vagabonds in their immobility. It is from this gap that new thought emerges; out of this nothingness arises a generic multiplicity. Beckett stages this generic multiplicity by employing the asymmetrically dialectical encounter with the other. To do this he had to remove the character configuration and logical plot development, if not the pattern, from the scene of theatre. Reduced to their minimal needs the Beckettian characters confront the symbolic order and challenge the immutability of Cartesian discourse. Of the One, there is almost nothing left in Beckett’s work.

Man has nothing left to say and yet if he stops saying this nothingness the sublime objects will fill the unconscious and occupy a space that should remain empty. Vladimir and Estragon know that although they are not integral parts of each other they nevertheless cannot do without one another. They are doomed to share this irreconcilable and endless movement against themselves. As they speak they are moving further away from their intended meaning, and yet if they ever stopped saying words they would be immediately in touch with the Real which would be inordinately painful.

The Real of desire is a mystery even to the subject which can only be spoken around and yet never about; this nothingness at the centre of the subject should remain unoccupied for the subject to survive trauma and get free of the past. Freedom cannot be freedom if it is not experienced as a forced-choice. For freedom is the right not to choose to do something; saying, “This is not it!” And yet what is there to do but choose the least worse of all the alternatives. And rather than not will, for that would be total destruction for them, Vladimir and Estragon choose to will nothingness; as empty shells they shall remain free of the symbolic order by introducing a split between one another, within themselves, and between themselves and the social reality.

What’s at stake in Beckett’s project is finding the ways and the means of presenting a time outside time, another space, something unnamable outside the existing symbolic order. Beckett’s meaning is very fragile and it is precisely this fragility that makes a new beginning possible. Governed by the death drive the subject splits the given unities and continuities, introduces splits between the past and the present, and out of this tireless and yet exhausted activity of splitting new signs, signs of other signs, emerge.

Vladimir: […] Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. [He listens.] But habit is a great deadener. [He looks again at estragon.] At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. [Pause.] I can’t go on! [Pause.] What have I said?[5]

Pozzo: [Suddenly furious.] Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day like any other day, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day he’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, in the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? [Calmer.] They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. [He jerks the rope.] On![6]

Only in one single instant all is lived and died. But this single instant takes a lifetime to pass. For Beckett its end comes when one confronts death. The characters in his Trilogy, Molloy, Malone, and finally the Unnamable, are all narrating their processes of deterioration, they are trying to give a voice to that time-space where it all ends and yet something other than the all of life in the symbolic order begins. Beckett writes how subject and the death-drive overlap. But he writes this event in such a way that this overlapping of the subject and the death-drive turns into a life force and splits the given unities including the Cogito. After all is said and done away with there emerges the not-all, that which remains after all is said. To say this not-all one has to expose the void within the symbolic order, to show that this void is constitutive of the symbolic order, and that without it all meaning would collapse. What happens in Beckett, therefore, is the process of self-deconstruction which shows the inconsistencies within the text and uses these inconsistencies against the intended meaning of the text. In Beckett we see that in the place of the transcendental signifier there is nothing. The subject is portrayed empty and the subject becomes a signified itself, an empty signifier, a signifier that signifies nothing but is itself signified. So where there was the transcendental signifier now there is nothing, as itself a signifier. We can see how it becomes possible to say the unconscious is a signifier, or as Lacan would say, “the unconscious is structured like language.”


[1] Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing (London: John Calder, 1999), 22

[2] Beckett, 24-25

[3] Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot,” The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), 74

[4] Alain Badiou, On Beckett, ed. and trans. Alberto Toscano and Nina Power (Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2003) 15

[5] Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot,” The Complete Dramatic Works, (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 84-5

[6] Beckett, Waiting For Godot, 83

Harold Pinter as Krapp, in Krapp's Last Tape, ...

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It is a characteristic of Beckett’s plays to give the impression that there is nothing outside the stage. In Beckett’s plays God is never allowed to die altogether, but rather God is made to be felt by the audience as his absence, as the nothingness outside the stage. Krapp’s Last Tape is a good example of this recurring presence of God as an absence in Beckett’s plays. It is very rare not to have a couple, or more than one couple in Beckett’s plays, and Krapp’s Last Tape comes especially handy as a Beckett play with a single individual in it; locked in the past and trying to figure out not only how he has become what he is, but also why he is in general. There is no concern at all with the future in Krapp’s Last Tape, unlike Endgame for instance, where Hamm and Clov, although they don’t seek salvation from misery, they at least, just like in Waiting for Godot, expect a message from without, from some unknown external source about which they know nothing as to its relation to their future. They do strive for the unattainable knowledge of the nothingness outside. It is as though all their thoughts, actions, and speeches are governed by the nothingness off the stage. Whereas in Krapp’s Last Tape there is no sign of will, rather than willing nothingness, Krapp prefers not to will at all.

The tape recorder is the projection-introjection machine in Krapp’s Last Tape. Krapp is now introjecting what he had projected over the years, likewise the tape recorder is projecting what it had introjected over the years. This change of roles between machine and man reflects a perhaps often-neglected aspect of Beckett’s work, that aspect being the ambivalence of Beckett’s relation to projection-introjection mechanisms as exemplified by the tape recorder in Krapp’s Last Tape. Krapp oscillates between rejecting the past and affirming it.

During the sixties we see Beckett’s plays getting shorter and shorter, and the subject deprived of the unity of mind and body, the conscious self and the unconscious. Beckett progressively shortens the text and moves towards theatrical, or visual expression. The characters’ experience on the stage is limited to people once able to live dramas and capable of remembering those dramas. Dispersal of the subject, disappearance of the body, the subjects reduced to bodies in jars, to a mouth, or merely a voice, are some of the characteristics of Beckett’s final period of writing. Now his characters are no more capable of doing anything other than trying to remember those days in which they could still express their thoughts and feelings on stage.[1]

At the beginning of Krapp’s Last Tape Beckett announces that it is “a late evening in the future. Krapp’s Den. Front centre a small table, facing front, i.e. across from the drawers, a wearish old man: Krapp.”[2]

Krapp is an old and lonely man. He is shown on his 69th birthday listening to tapes he had recorded on his previous birthdays. As usual he will listen to the tapes and then record his voice telling what happened throughout last year. Krapp is the analyst and the analysand at the same time. He listens to his past from his own mouth through the speakers.  The play opens with Krapp who has always lived alone, reducing his life to a few physical actions carried out in a ritualistic way. This is Krapp’s daily routine; a few meaningless actions. Sometimes Krapp goes inside and drinks, eats a few bananas, takes a few steps in his “den,” and as he says, he sleeps with the old bitch who comes around once in a while.

Krapp lives his life neither by writing his mind games as Molloy and Malone do, nor talks as Hamm and Clov do. Krapp has no memory at all. Besides, he does not construct stories for himself. His tapes are his memory. But like all the other Beckett characters engaged in a play of consciousness Krapp deconstructs his story by using the rewind, play, and f.forward buttons. All that remains is a mass of misery pieces of which are not even imperfectly remembered, a multitude of unrelated and disconnected thoughts and impressions about the past.

Throughout the play we watch the three stages of Krapp’s life. The most important stage is the one narrated by the voice of Krapp at 39. The tape he recorded at the age of 39 contemplates the tape that he had recorded at 29, and Krapp at the age of 29 contemplates the period corresponding to his youth. And all the past periods of his life are judged by Krapp at the age of 69, which is “the present.”

Krapp at the age of 29 looks down on his youth and at times mocks himself for being the way he was. He is very happy to have done with that earlier period of his life. That Krapp at the age of 39 does not remember that he used to sing shows that he does not want to remember those unhappy days of childhood and adolescence. Krapp at the age of 29 is at a stage in his life where he has to make choices and decide what to do with his life. (This is matter of laughter for Krapp at the ages of 39 and 69).

One of the most important decisions Krapp has to make is the one concerning breaking his habit of drinking and giving up alcohol. At this stage we see young Hamm from Endgame meeting Krapp. Krapp tells his story using numbers and statistical information. A numerical exactitude in his narration is clearly discernible. One other important decision that Krapp has made at 29 is about reducing the intensity of his sexual life. Perhaps that is why he broke up with Bianca. (However, Bianca’s loving gaze is remembered by Krapp even when he is 39). Krapp’s 29th year passes in search of happiness and eventual frustrations. 29 years old Krapp’s tape ends with a call to God to show himself? To this call to God Krapp at 39 (on the tape) and 69 (on the stage) laugh. According to Krapp at 39, from that miserable year there is nothing left apart from that lost lover.

In Endgame Hamm and Clov are the father and son repelled and yet attracted by one another at the same time. They can do nothing with or without one another, or they can neither do, nor not do anything with and without one another.

The stage decoration is such that considering the on-stage activity as taking place within a head is easy and helps to understand what Beckett and we with him are dealing with here. The portrait hanging on the wall is turned towards the wall and the two windows facing the external world are sufficient signs to associate the stage as the inside of a man’s head, with the spectators watching the play from behind the split open head. This is signified by the portrait of the father on the wall looking towards the wall with the nothing behind the picture turned towards the stage and the spectators. At some point in the play Clov even attempts to communicate with the spectators, he turns towards and addresses the spectators, which shows us that Beckett was trying to make this point clearer by making the audience aware of the inverted projection-introjection mechanism that they are caught in. In all his plays and novels, one way or another, Beckett achieves inverting the projection-introjection mechanism into the spotlight. And he achieves this precisely by putting under a magnifying glass the failures within the projection-introjection mechanism.

What Beckett wants to say by employing these unorthodox techniques in theatre is simple and yet sophisticated. He wants to say that to escape from the Cartesian mind-body dualism and the mechanistic view of the world associated with it one has to create an imbalance between the projecting side and the introjecting side, between apprehension and comprehension.

The creation of imbalance can take the form of either an excessive projection of the imaginary and the symbolic onto the real, or a lack of projection resulting in total introjection. In the first case the subject loses touch with the real and becomes a totally imaginary and symbolic construction, and in the second case the subject loses himself in the chaos of the real. In both cases there is a loss of gap between the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. And when the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real become one, the uncorrelation in-between them becomes impossible to be in touch with.  In Dissymetries Badiou repeatedly and recreatively points out that Beckett is not divided into two, but into three. To use Derrida’s words, “one plus one makes at least three.”


[1] Linel Abel, Metatheatre (New York: Hill and Wang), 82

[2] Samuel Beckett, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 215

The recent developments in electronic music present us with a good example of how the inorganic has become, at least in sound, more organic than the organic. With the rapid development of sound-producing machines it has become possible to create such sounds that while listening to it one feels like there is a living organism from a strangely familiar realm making noises in the room, or worse still, that the noises are coming from within one’s mind and body. Listening to this kind of music makes the mutual exclusiveness of the somatic and the psychic irrelevant. Especially after the three dimensional medium presented by CDs and DVDs it has become possible to present the sound to masses in a form that sounds more real than the original, live recording. 

I will return to the relevance of electronic music in a little while, but first let me revisit Herbert Marcuse’s theory of how capitalism keeps itself alive by feeding on the death of the counter-subjectivities and the life of the dominant consuming subject governed by the life drive which is itself externally constituted within the subject. In a nutshell, Marcuse’s theory in One-Dimensional Man was that the one dimensional market society absorbs and turns the counter-cultural products into its own agents, reducing the two-dimensional to the one-dimensional, hence making the forces of resistance serve the purpose of strengthening what they are counter to. Marcuse’s problem was the dissolution of the two-dimensional sphere of counter-cultural production and its domination by one-dimensional relations. He suggested using mythological imagery  not only to make sense of the pre-dominant social reality, but also to create a counter-social reality which would at the same time be a critique of the existing social reality. What Marcuse said is still relevant to a certain extent, but to be able to use this theory one has to adapt it to the demands of the present situation. What I will attempt to do, therefore, is to ignore the irrelevant parts of Marcuse’s theory and try to find out those parts of it that matter for my concerns. It is true that Marcuse’s theory is no more sufficient in understanding and solving the problems of our Superpanoptic societies. And yet in it there are lots of insights with high potential for development in the service of psychosomatic and sociopolitical progress today.

Today even Madonna’s latest release, Confessions on the Dance Floor, is produced in a DJ’s room in London. The electronic dance music products are mostly produced in people’s bedrooms on a personal computer donated with software especially produced for making electronic music. The recent shift in the gears of electronic dance music, of course, is a cause of the amazing possibilities the digital sound machines present. These machines have no material existence; they are loaded on the computer in the form of digital data. One can have a studio loaded into one’s computer by pressing a few buttons on the keyboard. In this context, making music requires technical knowledge of the tools of production more than the knowledge of the rules of what is called making music. With electronic music the sounds are already there, loaded into the computer; all one needs to do to become a music producer has become putting these sounds together, making them overlap with one another in a positively disordered way and produce something that is neither the one nor the other.

If we imagine for a moment Beethoven making his music after the orchestra plays it, composing the piece after it is materialized, we can see how paradoxical the situation the producer is caught up in inherent in the production process of electronic music is. It is as if Beethoven wrote the notes of his music as he listened to the orchestra play it. We can see that this is in fact exactly the opposite of what Beethoven did. For in the case of Beethoven, unlike the electronic music producer, it is the internal orchestra in the psyche that plays the piece as Beethoven writes it, not an actual orchestra in its material existence. With electronic music that internal orchestra is not in the creator’s mind, but in the computer. 

Some of the more creative and experimentalist logics in this field record the noises coming from within their bodies, or from within other animals’ bodies, load them into the computer, and with the aid of synthesizers and effects units, turn these noises into the basic rhythms and melodies of their music. Heartbeat, for instance, can be used as drum and bass at the same time in some electronic music recordings. It is possible to dub-out, echo, delay, deepen, darken, lighten, slow down, or fasten up the sound of heartbeat with the computer. And after a proper mastering process you get something that sounds neither totally organic, nor totally inorganic.  These products are not only digitally bought and sold on the internet, but also exchanged with similar other products.

The affective qualities of these products are extremely high. The producers of the five most developed forms of electronic music, which are Techno, House, Electro, Trance, and Breakbeat, claim that they are the beholders of the threshold between the soma and the psyche, that with their walls of sound they keep them separate and yet contiguous to one another. 

It would be wrong to assume, as many have done, that this kind of music is in touch with only a few listeners. On the contrary, since not only the listeners but also the producers of this kind of music have started to occupy dominant positions in the advertisement production business, it is not surprising that electronic music, and especially the underground minimal techno, is increasingly being used as the background music surrounding the object advertised in many advertisements on radio and T.V. Based on the erasure of the boundary between the psychic and the somatic, or between the inorganic and organic, the use of minimalist electronic music in the advertisements of today’s hectic life-styles is a very good example of the exploitation of the life/death drives inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture driving and driven by what has almost become transglobal capitalism.  The LG U880 ultra-slim mobile phone advert on T.V. is precisely the hard-core of how this exploitation of the life/death drives takes place. In the advert there is heart beating in the phone. Or, the heart is shown to have a transparent phone surrounding it. And with the minimalist techno at the back, that is, sounds that are neither organic nor inorganic but both at the same time. The beating heart in the phone creates the deep and dark bass sound with extremely electronic and yet organic sounding noises coming from within the phone.  It’s as though it is one’s own heart beating in the phone; this phone is you, so it’s yours… If we keep in mind that the transparency of the phone is fleshy, for there are capillaries of the phone, the overall impression created is one of ultra minimalist life reduced to its bare bones when in reality the LG U880 mobile phone is itself the product of exactly the opposite of an ultra minimalist attitude. The message is that this mobile phone is what attaches you to life, when in fact it detaches you from life as it is. The finishing words, “Life is Good,” only confirms my critique of this advertisement, of this marvellous sound-image which is an inorganic object disguised as a living organism. It is obvious that what’s at work here is the exploitation/oppression of the life/death drives, as the inorganic replaces the organic, and the real of death in the midst of life is expelled. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, in this perilous time the three dimensional sounds created by the contemporary electronic music are non-representational to such an extent that it is as though there is a living organism from a completely other dimension making organic noises in the room. And in this room and at this very moment  in which I found myself Marcuse’s theories are unfortunately insufficient in that they do not realize that it is precisely the reversing of the roles policy, that is, presentation of something as its opposite, of an inorganic entity as an organic entity for instance, or of that which is inside as if it is outside, that has to be left behind. As we know from Foucault and Hobbes, Panopticon and Leviathan are within and without the subject at the same time, and a reverse of the roles of the inside and the outside means nothing in this perilous time. 

For the solution of problems posed by the advanced projection-introjection mechanisms of what have become Superpanoptic societies, I shall attempt to show that post-structuralism and critical theory have never been as mutually exclusive as many suggest, especially in terms of the wrong and right questions that they have left unanswered. If we look at Adorno’s and Foucault’s writings we can see that most of their thoughts are directed towards finding out how to reconcile theory and practice. Just as theory and practice, post-structuralism and critical theory, too, are always already reconciled, because they come from Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. They may be always already reconciled but the only way to actualize this reconciliation is to realize their common goal; to put theory in the service of ordinary life, to develop the conditions of existence, and to practise freedom. 

 It will almost sound offensive to say that the new emerges only if some people become traitors and shake the foundations of their own mode of being, or at least undertake opening up spaces so that light can shine among all, or death can manifest itself. But one must take the risk of offending some others, for every situation requires its expression, every problem bears within itself at least half of its own solution. It is all a matter of putting theory and practice in the service of one another. Theory that does not match the truth of its time is for nothing. It is important to theorize practical ways of dealing with the banal accidents of an ordinary life. I think what I have just said is one of the things that both Foucault and Adorno would have agreed on.

What we witness in this time is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World turning into Rave New World.  A world in which the well known and the so called lines between mind and body, fantasy and reality, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, life and death, are not just blurred, but have completely disappeared. And yet, at the same time, these lines are in the process of reappearance.

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MANTIS 076 + BLACKMASS PLASTICS
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hour 1 / DVNT

Photek – Ni-Ten-Ichi-Rhy [Science]
Solar Chrome – Malevil [Maschinen Musik]
Petar Alargic – EeR NR1 [petaralargic.com]
Octave Mouret – Good News Everyone! I’ve Taught the Toaster to Feel Love [octavemouret.bandcamp.com]
Foul Shape – A Monster Has Created [Entity]
Loefah – Twisup VIP [DMZ]
Adam X – Downbursts [Prologue]
Plastikman – Ask Yourself (Dead Sound remix) [dub]
Intra:mental – Love Arp [Semantica Records]
Mothboy – Medusa feat. Sezrah Sylvan [Drawn Recordings]
Mothboy – Others [Drawn Recordings]
Drugstore – Razor [Offaudio]
Steve Bicknell – Track 5 [Cosmic Records]
Scanone – Angels [Syndetic Recordings]
Laserfire – Wires of Love (Encrypter remix) [dub]
Bruce Stallion – OK U Cunts [Off Me Nut Records]
Perforated Cerebal Party – Mystery Train [Russian-Techno.com]
Concrete DJz – Hadron Collider [Subsequent]
Pillpopper – Jewelry Box (Threnody remix) [Furioso] forthcoming
BEATure – Follow the Line [Sens Inverse Label]
ECHO PARK – After Burner [All City Records]

hour 2 / BLACKMASS PLASTICS showcase

Blackmass Plastics – Plasixsixsix
Blackmass Plastics – Bad Reflection
Blackmass Plastics – Step Up or Get…
Blackmass Plastics – Ouija Board
Blackmass Plastics – Arpexone
Blackmass Plastics – Biomega
Blackmass Plastics – Klonk Kreator
Blackmass Plastics – Visions of Plastic
Blackmass Plastics – OK Ozzy
Blackmass Plastics – Dial M.
Blackmass Plastics – D for Danger
Blackmass Plastics – Red and Black Rush
Blackmass Plastics – Known Space
Blackmass Plastics – Paranoid Agent
Blackmass Plastics – Selecta Infecta
Blackmass Plastics – Give Me Da Data
Blackmass Plastics – Scope Dog
Blackmass Plastics – T-Rex Powerdrill
Blackmass Plastics – Zargon
Blackmass Plastics – Nothing Nice
Blackmass Plastics – Get Destroyed
Blackmass Plastics – Get Bigga
Blackmass Plastics – Down Periscope
Blackmass Plastics – Get Jacked
Blackmass Plastics – Tek Tek v3
Blackmass Plastics – Ice and Slice
Blackmass Plastics – Future Past (original mix)
Blackmass Plastics – Trauma Centre
Blackmass Plastics – Blindsider
Blackmass Plastics – No Escape
Blackmass Plastics – Get Spooked

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In Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel attempts to write a mythology of creation and a creation of mythology in one simultaneous movement in two opposite directions at once. Intimately implicating the process of creation in error and misrecognition, Phenomenology of Spirit is a narrative of the subject’s endless process of negotiating with the world and with itself; in this context the subject is a process of settling accounts without end.

Hegel’s first object of thought is the thought of the object itself. For the negotiation of thought with the self and the world to begin taking its course, the subject has to take its own thought as that which is the other within itself, that is, as its own object. Through this separation between the subject and the object the subject becomes capable of seeing itself through its own thought and its own thought through itself. The thought of the subject is at the same time the object of thought. Thought as the subject and the object at the same time journeys through consciousness towards the unconscious. As soon as the subject becomes conscious of its own division within itself it becomes the Unhappy Consciousness. The Unhappy Consciousness is a consciousness that is conscious of its own unconsciousness. It is not only conscious of itself as the unconscious inherent in consciousness, but is itself that consciousness in which it inheres as the unconscious. It is a consciousness that knows itself to be other than what it thinks itself to be and yet being conscious of itself as always already other than itself it is never present to itself. It is a (w)hole in its own consciousness.  

But although the Unhappy Consciousness does not have the enjoyment of this presence, it has at the same time advanced beyond pure thinking in so far as this is the abstract thinking of Stoicism which turns its back on individuality altogether, and beyond the merely unsettled thinking of Scepticism—which is in fact only individuality in the form of an unconscious contradiction and ceaseless movement. It has advanced beyond both of these; it brings and holds together pure thinking and particular individuality, but has not yet risen to that thinking where consciousness as a particular individuality is reconciled with pure thought itself. It occupies rather this intermediate position where abstract thinking is in contact with the individuality of consciousness qua individuality. The Unhappy Consciousness is this contact; it is the unity of pure thinking and individuality; also it knows itself to be this thinking individuality or pure thinking, and knows the Unchangeable itself essentially as an individuality. But what it does not know is that this its object, the Unchangeable, which it knows essentially in the form of individuality, is its own self, is itself the individuality of consciousness.[1]

The Unhappy Consciousness consists in and of two separate but contiguous parts: Stoicism and Scepticism. Knowing itself to be both and none of these at the same time, the Unhappy Consciousness turns towards the Unchangeable, of which Hegel identifies a particular manifestation appropriate to the stage of the Unhappy Consciousness. What the Unhappy Consciousness wants is to see itself as part of the Unchangeable, to realize that there is something unchangeable for itself and in itself. But the only unchangeable is the perpetually changing way of change itself and so the Unhappy Consciousness, to become the Unchangeable itself, turns against itself and changes; it becomes for and against itself, which it always already was, thus actualizing the Unchangeable which is its state of being divided against itself. Perpetually changing, it is unchangeable, and again changes itself and becomes changeable to remain unchangeable.

The middle term is self-consciousness which splits into the extremes; and each extreme is this exchanging of its own determinateness and an absolute transition into its opposite.[2]

Each self-consciousness is divided within itself. It is divided within itself, against itself and the other self-consciousness. For it to be able to actualise its self-consciousness it has to be recognized by the other self-consciousness. But the other self-consciousness is itself in the same situation. Without one another none is self-consciousness. To proceed from consciousness to self-consciousness they need the other which is always already within themselves. What they need to do is to recognize the other within themselves for them to be recognized as they are to themselves. For the self to be what it is for itself it first has to become what it is for the other, that is, one loses itself in the other within itself in order to find oneself dismembered.

Such minds, when they give themselves up to the uncontrolled ferment of {the divine} substance, imagine that, by drawing a veil over self-consciousness and surrendering understanding they become the beloved of God to whom He gives wisdom in sleep; and hence what they in fact receive, and bring to birth in their sleep, is nothing but dreams.[3]

Hegel’s is a way of writing that proceeds through sustaining the conditions for the possibility of a productive interaction between the conscious and the unconscious. His narrative process is driven by forces that Hegel himself produces out of an activity creating and sustaining a tension between the conscious and the unconscious forces within himself. Hegel never stops writing against himself. And yet this writing against himself of Hegel is at the same time his writing for himself. By writing not for the other but before the other he becomes capable of keeping an eye on himself through the eye of the other within himself. The eye of the other that keeps an eye on the eye of the self is simultaneously interior and exterior to Hegel. By being addressed to himself in such a way as to be addressed to the other Hegel’s writing becomes the fragile contact and a simultaneous separation between the self and the other.

As he puts it in his On the Genealogy of Morality, for Nietzsche, too, there are masters and slaves, which he calls active and reactive forces, but those who play the role of the masters are in fact the slaves and the slaves the masters. So what Nietzsche wants to say is that the slaves dominate the masters because of the false values upon which human life is built. Reactive forces are the slaves who occupy the master position and active forces are the masters who occupy the slave position. It is always the reactive forces who win because their reactions are contagious and it is extremely easy for them to multiply themselves and degenerate the others. The active forces, however, although they are the strong ones, are always crushed under the false value system created by the reactive forces. If Hegel is saying that everything eventually turns into its opposite and the roles are reversed only after a struggle to death, Nietzsche is saying that the roles are always already reversed and the way to set things right, rather than passing through reversing the roles, passes through a revaluation of all values on the way to a new game.

Now I will attempt to think through the separation between Hegel and Nietzsche by imagining the way in which Nietzsche could have possibly read Hegel now. These words by Nietzsche are addressed directly to Hegel:

“Will to truth,” you who are wisest call that which impels you and fills you with lust?

A will to the thinkability of all beings: this I call your will. You want to make all being thinkable, for you doubt with well-founded suspicion that it is already thinkable. But it shall yield and bend for you. Thus your will wants it. It shall become smooth and serve the spirit as its mirror and reflection. That is your whole will, you who are wisest: a will to power—when you speak of good and evil too, and of valuations. You still want to create the world before which you can kneel: that is your ultimate hope and intoxication.[4]

Nietzsche reads Hegel in terms of the disintegration between Hegel’s actions and intentions. In a way Nietzsche implies that Hegel is the very unhappy consciousness he is trying to overcome. Hegel himself is interpreting the unhappy consciousness as a split subject whose actions and intentions do not form a coherent unity. This means that Nietzsche is trying to criticize Hegel with Hegel’s very own logic of conceptualization of the subject as split.

In both Hegel and Nietzsche the relationship between the subject and the object is problematized. In both cases the resistance to contamination by the object of thought through its introjection is not only hand in hand but also drives and is driven by the fear of being contaminated by the object. There is, however, no fear of contaminating the object through projecting onto it that which is always already introjected from it, namely that it is a narrative of the processes of projection-introjection mechanism.

As the narrative of the relationship between the subject and the object, Phenomenolgy of Spirit, against which, according to Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche in Nietzsche and Philosophy, Nietzsche was writing, is itself written for and against itself, and is indeed a narrative of the unhappy consciousness’s difference from itself.

For Nietzsche, the subject’s creations with and through the objects surrounding him/her is driven by a movement towards self-destruction in that the subject relates to the objects it creates in a way that is against itself. An example of that at present would be in terms of the relationship between humanity and technology. If the subject is being governed by fear he/she will see technology as bad in itself, hence taking on a paranoid attitude towards technology, ignore its good uses, reject it completely, and eventually actualize what he/she was not even afraid of; death. But the opposite is equally true in that if the subject has no trace of fear within, then he/she will lose himself/herself in what he/she creates and actualize what he had no fear of.

Negativity gives birth to negativity. Negativities form an infinite chain chaining the subject to an infinite process of regress. Aggression is negative and as it multiplies itself it destroys both the object and the subject. Reactive attitudes are produced by and produce aggression. It is very easy for aggression to dominate the world and/but it is very difficult to sustain the conditions for the possibility of channelling aggression towards healthy conflict without antagonism.

In Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel presents Stoics and Sceptics as the two constitutive parts of the unhappy consciousness. Now let us try and imagine a subject as defined in the subtitle. Situated in the present context, a subject as the two sides of the same coin that contained a sceptic and a stoic side at the same time would be the Nietzschean/Hegelian subject par excellence in that it would see everything in terms of a dualism, or a struggle between the forces of good and evil. In fact he would himself become the stage on which a confrontation between good and evil takes place. He would read every sign in the external world in terms of this struggle to the point of replacing the external reality with his internally constituted reality. What he introjects would be always already his own creation, which he would still consider to be what’s really going on outside, and consequently would himself become the nodal point of the conflict between the internal and the external, the psychic and the somatic.

 The sceptic exhausts the projection-introjection mechanism to the point of turning against all claims to know the truth, whereas the stoic refuses to take part in the projection-introjection mechanism. It is not that the sceptic sees evil everywhere but that he projects the evil within and onto the evil without that he has introjected from the external world in the first place. As for the stoic, he is so indifferent that he thinks there is no gap between the internal and the external worlds and so there can be no such thing as a projection-introjection mechanism that would simultaneously be the cause and the effect of a struggle between good and evil.

On one pole of this interactivity which constitutes contemporary nihilism is the reactive sceptic and on the other the indifferent stoic. Neither of these are satisfying for themselves nor satisfying in-themselves to produce reconciliation which would be called an intersubjectivity. A reactive force sees everything against itself and an indifferent force sees no point in engaging in an intercourse in the way of an interaction with a reactive sceptic who sees stoics as nihilists.  

Sceptics and stoics are, by being against one another, feeding neither themselves nor the other, but contributing to the production of otherness as negativity, hence taking part in the setting of the very vicious trap in which they find themselves against each other and out of which they both come dismembered. They are both finding themselves locked in an agonizing process, which is destroying both of them. It is impossible for one to survive without the other. Although the problem is the projection-introjection mechanism inherent in them, they are looking for the source of their maladies outside themselves. We are projecting all our bad qualities onto the others and then accusing them of being negative towards us. In turn they are giving birth to the negativity of the other, or otherness as negativity. The source of the negative within and without us is being created by us since we introject what we have projected and inversely.                                                       


[1] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: OUP, 1977), 130-1

[2] Hegel, 112

[3] Hegel, 6

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from The portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Viking Press, 1954), 225 

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Sceptic:  For me Nietzsche is one of those who do philosophy departing from a wound, from a deep-seated internal problem… The wound is internal to Nietzsche but the source of this wound is external, so you see, he is in-between. He attacks both sides at the same time, there is a profound neither/nor relationship, an endless struggle between the life drive and the death drive in Nietzsche’s books. As for Hegel, I’m not so sure what kind of a man he was. His philosophy doesn’t seem to give me “the kicks” as you say. But to me Hegel is sobering, and that is what I require. In Kant’s books you see everything divided and subdivided into sections and subsections. And you see Kant’s idea is there in three books. I find the life philosophy-academic philosophy distinction ridiculous and luxurious for our times. It deprives us of many great philosophers. Nietzsche’s is neither academic nor life, but a kind of open philosophy; philosophy without the final judgment. Nietzsche has never said and will never have said his last word.

Stoic: Never?

Sceptic: And that there is no such last word or final judgment is itself Nietzsche’s last word and final judgment. It is with Nietzsche that we come to realize this paradoxical situation, this vicious cycle, within which we have come to be entrapped.

Stoic: But Nietzsche also makes us ask, what would be the price paid to escape from this vicious cycle?

Sceptic: That’s indeed another thing that he does. It is precisely because of these endless questions leading to one another, each question the answer of another, and this incompleteness of his philosophy is only one of the reasons that make Nietzsche attractive for many. The second is this: Nietzsche has four-five teachings, the first one is, which for me is the most important, that “knowledge is perspectival by nature.” As soon as he says this, his philosophy becomes an opening up to a new field for thought and life. Everyone can enter Nietzsche’s new space and take what they want, it is like a toolbox. There is something for Hitler in that work, something else for Bataille, for Heidegger, Freud, so you see how clear it all becomes in this context, what he means when he says on the title-page of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “A book for no one and everyone.” You can translate this as a book for everyone who will understand but at the same time for no one, since no one can completely understand what exactly Nietzsche means. This formula is applicable to his philosophy as a (w)hole, a philosophy for none and all at the same time. And there is no (w)hole of Nietzsche’s philosophy to be comprehended as a (w)hole anyway. This attitude would reduce “Nietzsche” to its bare bones when in fact it is a very fleshy writing. It wouldn’t be fair on Nietzsche. Mine is a stance from which I try to justify Nietzsche, save him. It is the tendency of most readers of Nietzsche to be his advocate. And yet I now realize that this attitude, too, is not so true to the spirit of Nietzsche. And this is the reason why I distanced myself from Nietzsche, after witnessing what has been happening in the world for the last one hundred years, since Nietzsche’s death. You might as well read “there can be no poetry after Auschwitz,” as “there can be no philosophy after Auschwitz.” Or you at least become compelled to admit, “after Auschwitz it becomes very difficult, almost impossible to unconditionally affirm Nietzsche’s philosophy.” You might, and you should, feel the need to introduce a distance between yourself and Nietzsche.

Stoic: Another paradoxical situation emerges here, for Nietzsche is himself against himself in this respect and on this subject.

Sceptic: Yes, he is indeed.

Stoic: And this indicates a self-deconstructive reading at work, that is, you are already deconstructing your own reading as you read Nietzsche.

Sceptic: But isn’t this a natural outcome of philosophical thinking? I think Nietzsche’s grandest illusion was his excessive self-assurance, a pathological self-confidence which led him not to use his critical eye in relation to himself as much as he did in relation to others. He perspectivizes truth but he never situates himself in the nineteenth century as a priest who had been influenced by the likes of Wagner and Schopenhauer; he never comes to terms with his finitude, and so he never manages to reconcile himself to life.

Stoic: In 1889, when his passage to the other side is semi-complete he is about forty-five.

Sceptic: Yes.

Stoic: The most interesting aspect of his work is its posthumousness. He left behind a multiplicity of texts in complete silence and yet all his work, this multiplicity of texts, is itself an unceasing and singular voice at times causing nausea. When one is looking at this oeuvre one wonders what kind of a will to power is Nietzsche’s, it’s not clear, some say it should be translated as will towards power. I think will to power and will to nothingness are one and the same thing. Will towards power and being towards death are the two constituent parts of becoming what one always already is. And what use of a will to truth if it is not in the service of becoming true to one’s being. Perhaps if his work had not been interrupted by illness, he, and we with him, would have been better able to make sense of these circular movements of thought.

Sceptic: Nietzsche’s working method involves taking notes as he walked… And then revising those notes…

Stoic: …Organize those thoughts, put them in order? But it’s different when Zarathustra speaks. He wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra locked in a room, sitting in a chair in front of a table on the mountains after his devastating Lou Andreas-Salomé experience. There is a close relation between aphorisms and steps, fragmentary writing and walking. It is the same in the case of other aphorism writers, there are flashes of insight involved, always fragmentary, little thoughts complete in themselves and yet to be formulated in relation to one another. Nietzsche’s process of thinking is itself discontinuous, fragmentary; it’s an attempt to give birth to partial objects without relation to an external idea of wholeness. As soon as something strikes him he feels as though if he doesn’t put it down immediately he never will. And since he thinks about the same thing from different perspectives through a period of time, the result is a plurality of partial objects all somehow linked to one another rather than to a whole outside them. He didn’t have time to make sense of all he thought. His thought was larger than his life. He used to write so rapidly but still his infinite speed of thought always left his writing behind.

Sceptic: If only he had lived longer and thought with less speed.

Stoic: Perhaps he could have finished the work of his life in a much more precise way. If he were able to write a second Ecce Homo at sixty years old, he could have survived his thought. But of course I’m assuming too much here.

Sceptic: Actually it is good to throw some light on where Nietzsche is coming from and where he is heading towards. It makes visible the great potential of Nietzsche’s thought; explicates the possibilities of new ways of thinking and living it has to offer.

Stoic: In a new light everything becomes other than itself.

Sceptic: Plato criticized his own concept of the Idea later in life. Perhaps if Nietzsche had lived longer he would have had a critical look at his earlier work.

Stoic: The other day I had a look at On The Genealogy of Morality as a preparation for our conversation. In it I saw Nietzsche thinking about two hundred years ahead of his time. And this prophetic stance is not very common among philosophers. Usually poets tend to tell of the future.

Sceptic: Poets do tend to have messianic expectations.

Stoic: Yes, poets too operate at messianic levels but Nietzsche is assured that what he thinks will take place in the future will actually take place; he believes in the truth of what he assumes. And worst of all, we now see that what he thought would happen is really happening. Have a look at what he says:              

What meaning would our entire being have if not this, that in us this will to truth has come to a consciousness of itself as a problem? … It is from the will to truth’s becoming conscious of itself that from now on—there is no doubt about it—morality will gradually perish: that great spectacle in a hundred acts that is reserved for Europe’s next two centuries, the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also most hopeful of all spectacles…[1]

He sees the rise of Nihilism. And we see him say this in Genealogy published in November 1887. It has been 117 years and we can say that his prophecy has proved to be true for the first 117 years out of 200. On this account we can bet that this truth will increasingly maintain its truth status in the remaining 83 years. Looking backwards he tells of the future. With a messianic force he writes Ecce Homo in which he proclaims himself Christ and Dionysus. What he means by that self-fashioning is that he has passed across the Nihilism, went through the will to nothingness and reached the point after the fantasy is traversed where Christ and Dionysus confront one another. But Nietzsche never says that he is the overman. Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo, fashions himself as the one who remains the man who wants to die. In Gay Science we see the theme of God’s death merging with the story of a madman wandering around with his lamp, looking for God. He distinguishes two forms of Nihilism: one is an active nihilism he associates with destruction, the other is an exhausted and passive nihilism he identifies as Buddhism.

Sceptic: Perhaps it’s true; today we know the West is turning towards the East.

Stoic: He sees not one, but two distinct futures of a Nihilist Europe. But I don’t really get what he means when he says he has himself overcome nihilism. Has he really overcome nihilism or is it just wishful thinking?

Sceptic: I don’t know whether he has or he has not overcome nihilism, but what I can say concerning why he thinks in that way is this: In a nut-shell nihilism is the absence of “where” and “why,” or “direction” and “intention.” Nietzsche is convinced that he is showing humanity a new direction towards which to head. His project of revaluing the values is itself an attempt at overcoming nihilism, but this attempt only partially overcomes nihilism, for even after all the values are devalued there remains the new values to be created out of the ruins of the old. Revaluation cannot be completed unless destruction is left behind and creation takes its course.

Stoic: Absolutely. Nihilism is necessary for the devaluation of values, but should be left behind before revaluing the values. So nihilism is a useful tool in turning the existing order against itself but when it comes to creating the new it is nothing other than an enemy. Nietzsche’s discourse is almost a Marxist discourse without Marxist terminology. To see this aspect of Nietzsche more clearly let me give you a brief account of the master-slave relationship in Hegel and Nietzsche. For Hegel everyone is a slave and some slaves, out of a dissatisfaction with slavery, fight to death for mastery, win the fight, and through recognition by the slaves as the masters, become masters, and dominate the slaves. Dialectical process, however, does not end there and in the next stage, and “as history has shown us” in Marx’s words, since in time everything turns into its opposite, slaves eventually become masters. Whereas for Nietzsche from the beginning there are masters and slaves, which he calls active and reactive forces, but the ones who play the role of masters are in fact the slaves and the slaves the masters. So what Nietzsche wants to say is that slaves dominate the masters because of the false values upon which human life is built. Reactive forces are the slaves who occupy the master position and active forces are the masters who occupy the slave position. It is always the reactive forces who win because their reactions are contagious and it is extremely easy for them to multiply themselves and degenerate the others. The active forces, however, although they are the strong ones, are always crushed under the false value system created by the reactive forces. If Hegel is saying that everything eventually turns into its opposite and the roles are reversed only after a struggle to death, Nietzsche is saying that the roles are always already reversed and the way to set things right, rather than passing through reversing the roles, passes through a revaluation of all values on the way to a new game. How would you respond to that?

Sceptic: Well, Nietzsche looks at things otherwise. Through eternal recurrence everything is continually inverted into the spotlight and everything turns into something other than itself in time. So he comes to the conclusion that everything is so reversed that the weak wins. That’s what he sees as the outcome of nihilism. In Nietzsche’s world what everyone understands from improvement is in fact the opposite of the real meaning of improvement. Look what he says, 

One should at least be clear about the expression “be of use.” If by this one intends to express that such a system of treatment has improved man, then I will not contradict: I only add what “improve” means for me—the same as “tamed,” “weakened,” “discouraged,” “sophisticated,” “pampered,” “emasculated” (hence almost the same as injured…)[2]

Stoic: I admire him for what he achieved but at times doesn’t he become more than self-confident. I occasionally feel that he saw himself as a prophet.

Sceptic: Well, it is obvious that he suffered from a certain megalomania. No doubt he lacked self-critical eyes.

Stoic: Does he give you the feeling that he regarded himself a prophet from time to time? Could he have thought he was revealing the word of God?

Sceptic: The thinker talking through Zarathustra’s mouth has that prophetic quality. Zarathustra is himself a prophet. There are various speculations concerning Nietzsche’s entry into the realm of madness. When it occured and so on. Some say when his books are read with a clinical intent there is no trace of madness in his work. I don’t agree with this. Already in Zarathustra there is a deterioration of his thought processes. An exaggerated self-confidence appears in Ecce Homo. But to be considered a prophet is what Nietzsche dreaded most. He says it in Ecce Homo: “I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy.”

Stoic: One still wonders whether he is the first prophet without a God, if he thought himself to be the first prophet without a God, and with this thought he went off the rails?  

Sceptic: Are you listening to what I’m saying? 

Stoic: He also sees himself as the disciple of Dionysus.

Sceptic: Have you heard what I’ve just said?

Stoic: He signed Dionysus the last letter he wrote to Strindberg.

Sceptic: And Crucified at the same time. Nietzsche’s thought is full of paradoxes. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it is a philosophy for everyone. On any topic, on this or that subject, there is this perspective and there is that. You can choose whatever works for you and ignore the others. But that’s not what I’m really concerned with. The contradiction at the heart of Nietzsche is that his theory of eternal return and the becoming of overman cancel each other out. There are two distinct layers of time at which Nietzsche’s teaching operates. First is the linear time of history, the time in which animals live, it is a measurable time. Birth, reproduction, internalisation, metabolism, dissolution all take place in this time; it is the time of life and death. The exact opposite of this time is the circular time of the spirit. It is a time that transcends the linear time and the physical world. It is a product of man’s dissatisfaction with the physical world; a will to go beyond the physical and/or outside time. He conceived of both of these forms of time (Aeon and Chronos) and he existed in both at the same time. He was a man who knew that there is nothing outside physical time and/but who still strived to go beyond this time.

Stoic: How agonizing is that? I think it is none other than himself he is talking about when he says,

Precisely this is what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that an enormous void surrounded man—he did not know how to justify, to explain, to affirm himself: he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He suffered otherwise as well, he was for the most part a diseased animal: but the suffering itself was not his problem, rather that the answer was missing to the scream of his question: “to what end suffering?”[3]                 

All his life he tried to make sense of the inordinate measure of suffering and privation he had to endure. In vain he looked for a way of exposing “the vanity of all human wishes.” He was dissatisfied with his life and he hated himself for that. He kept resisting the Stoic within himself. But his Sceptic side was incapable of putting something other than the teachings of Socrates in the place left empty by the demolition of his Stoic side. He equally resented having remained under the shadow of Socrates. To escape from Socrates he attacked Plato’s metaphysics of presence and did this with the tools he borrowed from Heraclitus; a pre-Stoic philosopher who has deeply influenced both the Zeno of Citium, who was the founder of Stoicism, and the Zeno of Elea, who explained how it could be possible for a tortoise to pass Achilles in a race. If you look at the latter Zeno’s paradox carefully you see that what he wants to say with all his arrow business is that there can be no motion out of immobility. Yes, the arrow is at rest at every instant and the mind unites those individual instants each a picture in itself. What the eye receives is already what the mind’s synthesizing force creates. We see the arrow in motion when in fact it is, at every instant of its existence, at rest. You see where Zeno is coming from there. He is coming from Heraclitus’ idea that “one cannot step into the same river twice.” The river which is stepped into is a different river at each instant of its flow. You can see that Heraclitus is making a distinction between the flowing water and the bed in which it flows. It is Heraclitus who first splits time. So Zeno finds himself in a split time and can say that before rational thought unites time there is no movement to be perceived.

Sceptic: But this means that Zeno thinks reason creates something out of nothing, or movement out of immobility.

Stoic: And this is very similar to the foundational truth upon which Epictetus builds his therapeutic philosophy. Epictetus says that we create our history, our past, present, and future. It is up to us to change the way we perceive things, put them in a new light, see ourselves differently, and act in way which would be in harmony with nature, in accordance with reason, and for the benefit of all. Epictetus doesn’t see the care of the self as other than the care for the other, he reconciles the interior and the exterior of the subject. So knowledge is a construct of the synthesis of the internal and the external; we project what we have introjected. Between projection and introjection there is a synthetic activity that unites the internal and the external, or the psychic and the material. And a balance between the truth of what’s really going on outside and how the subject perceives this truth is a sign of health. An internally constituted external authority, the truth of universal humanist rationalism, governs the subject in harmony with nature. Listen to what nature says to you and you will know the right thing to do, truth is of nature, say the Stoics. But Plato says: “I, the truth, am speaking.” How megalomaniac is that?

Sceptic: It is quite megalomaniac indeed. And that is the Platonic side of Nietzsche, an exaggerated self-confidence.

Stoic: But with the thought of eternal return Nietzsche is shattered. He realizes how random and chaotic life is and I think his thought of eternal return is a response to his fragmentation at the time he was in Turin. The contingency of all things led him to formulate the eternal return, a circular time with no beginning or an end. In this circular time “a throw of the dice will never abolish the chance,” as Mallarmé put it. So after the nihilistic fantasies and Dionysian hallucinations are traversed the new age of bliss begins for the ones who have learned to learn from what happens to them in this life and rather than fall into the wound pass across it and affirm life as it is. Amor fati is both the driving force and the outcome of the eternal return. Everyone is born free. One who loves one’s fate whatever happens is free. It is a very Stoic thought; as long as the mind is free who cares about the body in chains. But this is not to despise the body, on the contrary, Stoics do care about their bodies; cleanliness, appetite, health, good behaviour, humour, kindness, affirmative attitude; it is a very naturalist social philosophy.

Sceptic: I didn’t know that you were so off the rails. If I understood you correctly, in eternal return there is no room for Darwinist linear evolution. Evolution is peculiar to linear time. Nietzsche is after finding a new form of progressive movement in complicity with the circular movement of time. The idea of eternal return is a very vague formulation of what he was really after. It is Bergson who came closer to saying what Nietzsche wanted to say. In his Creative Evolution Bergson investigates Zeno’s paradox and comes to the conclusion that Zeno’s idea that there can be no movement in-itself because time is infinitely divided within itself is not sufficient to theorize a practical and creative evolutionary process other than a linear progress. Bergson says that cinema achieves what Zeno thought was impossible. By creating motion pictures out of pictures at rest at every instant he introduces mind as a projection-introjection mechanism just like a camera. “But while our consciousness thus introduces succession into external things, inversely these things themselves externalise the successive moments of our inner duration in relation to one another.”[4] Bergson doesn’t differ from Zeno as much as he thinks he does, in that, it was Zeno who said mind projects what it had introjected. And this projection-introjection mechanism is a binding-splitting force at the same time. It binds the subject to the social as it splits the subject within itself, right?

Stoic: Well, almost. It is a matter of working through ways of dealing with history, with the contingency of every event and the randomness of what happens to us in time. Stoics look down on death and suffering. They say that which has happened cannot be changed in linear time, but in circular time everything can be changed in perception and then projected onto the present so as to leave behind the traumatic incident and move on towards becoming present. So, you see, you are always already present and yet this presence is always changing in relation to your past and future, and hence while you are always present you are never present, you are always a non-presence becoming present. So the way in which you relate to your past, the way in which you read your history, determines your actions at present, so why don’t you read your past in such a way as to enable yourself to become self-present. It is about creating the self so as to create itself as a perpetually renewed self-presence. It is not out of nothing that something is created, there never is nothing for the self. You can see that it is all very closely related to the thought of death in Stoics. “Let death and exile and everything that is terrible appear before your eyes every day, especially death; and you will never have anything contemptible in your thoughts or crave anything excessively.”[5] It is one of his principal doctrines always to start from sense-experience. Life is a process of breaking down and remaking the sense of experience. 

Sceptic: And after his intense sense-experiences Nietzsche dies, leaving behind words that have long ago ceased to be his. Writing is a process of transforming the sense-experience to make it visible for the others. But at the same time writing is itself a sense-experience. And in Nietzsche we very occasionally see writing about the experience of writing. There is an intense meditation on the affective quality of language in Nietzsche.   

Sceptic: But he is partly blind to what’s going on not only inside him but also outside him.

Stoic: He gets too excited about the affect of language. And together with the will to experience more of it he falls on the side of total dissolution. He pushes his thought to its limit after which there is nothing, but he goes on and in utter dismemberment he finds himself. But when he finds himself he is already dismembered and so finds that there is no self outside the social. To find that out he had to push his thought to its limit and pay the price with the loss of his mental health. Perhaps he was a bit too aggressive towards the Stoics who could have shown him a way out of his dilemma: “Remember that what is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but the judgement about them that they are insulting. So when someone irritates you be aware that what irritates you is your own belief. Most importantly, therefore, try not to be carried away by appearance, since if you once gain time and delay you will control yourself more easily.”[6] But Nietzsche was busy with struggling with Stoics for their rationality and universality.

Sceptic: Well, Nietzsche’s aim has never been to write therapeutic prescriptions for the ill. He sees this as taming. And yet this is what he is doing. With Nietzsche therapy and critical theory confront each other. “With priests everything simply becomes more dangerous, not only curatives and healing arts, but also arrogance, revenge, acuity, excess, love, lust to rule, virtue, disease; though with some fairness one could also add that it was on the soil of this essentially dangerous form of human existence, the priestly form, that man first became an interesting animal, that only here did the human soul acquire depth in a higher sense and become evil—and these are, after all, the two basic forms of the superiority of man over other creatures!…”[7]  Here he is talking about Christianity and Buddhism, but you can imagine the same criticism directed against not only Plato but also the Stoics. Nietzsche’s sees the Jews as the beginners of “the slave revolt in morality.”[8] You see, he is after an attitude to life that would be neither Jewish nor Greek. And the common ground on which both the Greek and the Jewish civilizations are built is an assumption that man is superior to other animals. It is not difficult to see where he is coming from if you remember that Christians thought Jews to be as inferior as animals. As for Buddhism, it is passive nihilism, a will to nothingness, for what is Nirvana if not a mystical union with God, with nothingness. After dissolving all these belief systems in a universal cesspool Nietzsche moves on to a revaluation of all values in the light of the Genesis in The Old Testament: “At the beginning was the word.” But what God is, for Nietzsche, is precisely this: nothingness. It doesn’t start from nothingness, it starts with language, and everything comes from language which has neither a beginning nor an end.

Stoic: But I think you are missing Nietzsche’s point there. For there is a pre-linguistic domain which is not nothingness, but something in between nothingness and everything that there is, that space between is the realm of partial objects which serve the purpose of relating to the world even before the language is acquired. And with this he comes back to what Zeno was saying. At the beginning there is no-motion, but that state of the being of things is not perceivable, for the mind unites partial-objects to form a sequence of events, before which there is nothing perceivable. Zeno says, movement in-itself and for itself is impossible because there can be no movement prior to the synthesis of the individual states of being at rest. But with cinema we see that motionless pictures are put one after the other in a particular sequence and when the film revolves a continuity of images, a flow of pictures is created. There is the illusion of one continuous motion of events when in fact each event is a motionless picture in itself.

Sceptic: But if it cannot be perceived how can you say that at the beginning there is nothing and immobility?

Stoic: Well, that’s not what I’m saying. There is nothing at the beginning precisely because nothing can be perceived before the beginning. You see, there is the absence of something, there is nothing as the object of perception. You have to assume that beginning itself has no beginning so that you can begin living, acting, and doing things. Otherwise how can you live with the thought of being surrounded by nothingness and death at all times? Death is where you cannot be. It is absolutely other to you, its presence signifies your absence and inversely. Perhaps we should have said there is nothing before the beginning and after the end. That fits in better with everything.

Sceptic: Yes, and with this sentence the riddle is solved to some extent; it is not a matter of beginning or ending; everything is in the middle, and nothing is before the beginning and after the end. The eternal return has neither a beginning nor an end.

Stoic: Even when you die your body is still in the process of dissolving; you dissolve into other things and become something else. It is not resurrection I’m talking about here. Nor is resurrection what Nietzsche attempted to theorize with the thought of eternal return, but a very materialist understanding of nature and its relation to man. Nietzsche never says what exactly the eternal return means but from what he says we come to a grasp of what it might mean. Let me quote Nietzsche at length. In this one of the best descriptions of what the eternal return might mean we see Zarathustra talking with a dwarf about time, the moment as a gateway to possibilities, and the passage of time.

 ‘Everything straight lies,’ murmured the dwarf disdainfully. ‘All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.’

‘Spirit of Gravity!’ I said angrily, ‘do not treat this too lightly! Or I shall leave you squatting where you are, Lamefoot—and I have carried you high!

‘Behold this moment!’ I went on. ‘From this gateway Moment a long, eternal lane runs back: an eternity lies behind us.

‘Must not all things that can run have already run along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened, been done, run past?

‘And if all things have been here before: what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must not this gateway, too, have been here—before?

‘And are not all things bound fast together in such a way that this moment draws after it all future things? Therefore—draws itself too?

‘For all things that can run must also run once again forward along this long lane.

‘And this slow spider that creeps along in the moonlight, and this moonlight itself, and I and you at this gateway whispering together, whispering of eternal things—must we not all have been here before?

‘—and must we not return and run down that other lane out before us, down that long, terrible lane—must we not return eternally?’[9] 

You see, what renders the eternal return possible is saying yes to difference in repetition. The eternal return is Nietzsche’s grand conception which excludes all binary opposition and defies the binary logic of being and non-being. You can see that it is far away from what Diogenes Laertius was saying concerning the relationship between absence and presence. For Laertius where there is absence there can be no presence and inversely. But Nietzsche thinks that being and non-being, presence and absence are intermingled, are the two constitutive parts of becoming. One side of becoming accomplishes its movement while the other fails to accomplish its movement. So the persistence of being can only take the form of becoming. It is the becoming of being that counts as the immaculate conception of the eternal return. The eternal return is not a metaphysical concept, rather it renders possible attachment to the material world, the world as it is before turning into a fable in and through a linear narrative of history. The eternal return is a tool for interpreting the world in its infinity and finitude at the same time, and its legacy lies in its rejection of both a purely transcendental and a purely immanent interpretation of the world. When Nietzsche makes the dwarf say “everything straight lies[…] all truth is crooked, time itself is a circle,” he is pointing towards an ethical imperative, namely, that one must give free rein to the unconscious drives so that in time, as these drives are let to manifest themselves in and through language, it becomes apparent that it is ridiculous to repress them for it is repression itself that produces them; so the more one represses them the more one contributes to their strengthening. As you see what at stake here is a way of governing the self in relation to others. Eternal return is will to power and will to nothingness at the same time, it is the name of the process of becoming through which the subject becomes other than itself. This becoming other than itself of the subject is in the form of an emergence of the new out of the old, that is, realization of an already existing possibility and will towards its actualisation through this realization. So the subject assumes what it was in the past and upon this assumption builds its present as already past and yet to come. It is in this context that Foucault says genealogy is “a history of the present.”

Sceptic: Very interesting. You seem to have figured out the ways of passing across the avenues Gilles Deleuze opened in the way of explicating the meaning of eternal return and its use. Look at what he says in a passage, perhaps the most lucid articulation of Deleuze’s conception of time and its passage in Nietzsche and Philosophy:

What is the being of that which becomes, of that which neither starts nor finishes becoming? Returning is the being of that which becomes. “That everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to world of being—high point of the meditation.” [Will to Power, 617] This problem for the meditation must be formulated in yet another way; how can the past be constituted in time? How can the present pass? The passing moment could never pass if it were not already past and yet to come—at the same time as being present. If the present did not pass of its own accord, if it had to wait for a new present in order to become past, the past in general would never be constituted in time, and this particular present would not pass. We cannot wait, the moment must be simultaneously present and past, present and yet to come, in order for it to pass (and to pass for the sake of other moments). The present must coexist with itself as past and yet to come. The synthetic relation of the moment to itself as present, past and future grounds its relation to other moments. The eternal return is thus an answer to the problem of passage. And in this sense it must not be interpreted as the return of something that is, that is “one” or the “same.” We misinterpret the expression “eternal return” if we understand it as “return of the same.”[10]

Stoic: It is true. Let me explain. With the big-bang a substance of infinite intensity begins its still ongoing process of expansion-contraction. And this process must always already be complete for it to even begin taking its course of becoming; everything happens at present and for that reason there is neither a beginning nor an end of time. The force combinations are infinitely repeated but because of its previous repetition the quality of the forces themselves change and give birth to its becoming different from itself through repetition of what it assumes itself to be in relation to time. So the subject always already is what it strives to become and yet the only way to actualise this becoming what one is is this: one has to realize that what one is striving to become is already what one is. All the configurations have to repeat themselves eternally for the return of the same to take place. But when this same returns one sees that it has never been the same but always already different from itself. When the future comes it becomes present, the subject is always at present and can never know what it would be like to exist in another present. There is nothing and the present.

Sceptic: Eternal return is the first conceptualisation of the death drive. It is not death drive but it operates the way death-drive operates, and since none of these have any existence outside their operations they are the two different forms the same content takes. The subject of the eternal return wills nothingness and this willing nothingness always returns as a will to power. You can see that Nietzsche uses this grand conception of the relationship between creation and destruction to invert destructive and reactive Nihilism into the spotlight; he turns Nihilism against itself through the thought of eternal return as the thought of becoming other than what one thinks one is. What was repressed and locked into the unconscious once turns into its opposite and becomes the order of the day in a new light and in another time. In this light time is itself the fourth dimension of space. That is how Nietzsche can see the rise of Nihilism in its material, historical conditions. We all come and keep coming from inorganic substance and will end up there. Nietzsche’s confrontation with truth was the confrontation of brain with chaos. And out of this confrontation emerges the truth of the death drive, the will to nothingness disguised as the will to truth, the internally constituted external governor of a Nihilistic Europe.

Stoic: Yes. They are in our midst and yet exterior to us. We are surrounded and governed by nothingness and death which have neither a beginning nor an end. Well, at least not for us, who are those governed by them. For when we die we are nowhere to see our dead bodies or experience death as our own. Death occurs where there is the absence of my self’s sense-experience, all the rest is a process of being towards death, dying, becoming-dead. When death finally arrives even my name ceases to be mine, or rather, it is realized that even my name has never been mine. There remains no one to carry out my life in my name once death is here.

Sceptic: Death and nothingness are interior and exterior to us at the same time. Most of us, however, keep the thought of death at bay at all times; those of us are the ones who live their lives without thinking about death, for they think, in a Spinozan fashion, that “he who is free thinks of nothing less than of death and his meditation is a wisdom not of death but of life.” This is the time of good-sense where everything is identical and everything can be substituted by something else.

Stoic: The will to power and the will to nothingness reverse the roles. We break down as we go along the way towards the completion of passing across the field of partial objects.

Sceptic: Precisely. You told me what I was trying to tell you.  And what is thought worth if it is not in the service of the present? Sacrificing the present by scarfacing yourself for the sake of a better future face is itself the worst thing that can be done to your face at all times. In vain is he/she who strives for immortality.

Stoic: Let us move on to the subjects of finitude and infinity, then. Here is a question for you: Are we finite becomings or infinite beings?

Sceptic: We might as well be neither or both of these. It’s a matter of taste depending on whether you see being alive as a process of dying or a process of living.

Stoic: I think we who are alive, or at least think we are, are infinite beings by nature, but turn into finite becomings in and through our cultures. I say we are infinite beings because infinity has no beginning or end, so it’s impossible for an infinite entity to be a becoming, only a being can be infinite, whereas a finite entity has a beginning from which its becoming starts taking its course and comes to a halt at the end. Since the concept of time is a cultural construct imposed on nature by human beings, because we see other people die, we have come to imagine that we are limited by finitude and surrounded by infinity, when in fact it is the other way around; that is, we are infinite beings and death constitutes an internal limit to our being in the world, giving birth to our idea of ourselves as finite becomings. Do you understand?

Sceptic: Yes I do. We don’t have to strive for immortality, for we are always already immortals who are incapable of realising their immortalities.

Stoic: Shall we leave it at that, then?

Sceptic: Let’s do so.

Stoic: No last words?

Sceptic: None at all.

Stoic: No worst of all words.

Sceptic: None worse than last words.

Stoic: Well then, the end to which we are all devoted shall be to raise our glasses to this worsening suffering!

Sceptic: To what end last words?

Stoic: To what end suffering?

Stoic and Sceptic: Oh, dear!  


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 117

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 103

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 117

[4] Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will, 228

[5] Epictetus, The Encheiridion: The Handbook, trans. Nicholas P. White (Cambridge: Hackett, 1983), 16

[6] Epictetus, 16

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genalogy of Morality, 15-6

[8] Nietzsche, 17

[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 178-9

[10] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 48

 

1848 edition of American Phrenological Journal...

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Cognitive neuroscience proposes that the quality of an external object is always already projected onto that object by the neuronal activity of the brain. What cognitive neuroscience lacks is a historical context, likewise what cultural studies lacks is an organic basis. An interaction between psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and cognitive neuroscience can break out of the closure of the humanities and give birth to the link which has come to be considered missing, between nature and nurture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendental and immanent, the objective and the subjective.  

Because of the dynamic and parallel nature of re-entry and because it is a process of higher-order selection, it is not easy to provide a metaphor that captures all the properties of re-entry. Try this: Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.[1]

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it. If we keep in mind that cinema, literature, art, and music show how the mind works at a particular moment in history, as well as the emotional state of that particular moment, it becomes clear why a mode of enquiry rather than a specific method is required for the analysis and critique of human consciousness and its relation to the environment surrounding it. In this context, the plot driven critique of the literary and filmic texts aims at distinguishing between the world of consciousness and the world of appearances. My claim is that it is only through looking at the mortal world of appearances with the eyes of an immortal consciousness that we can see that which is present as an absence in the predominant symbolic order. By looking at “what happens when” in a movie or a book as well as “how that thing happens,” I sustain the conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility for cont(r)action to take place and give birth to an immortal subject. Needless to say, this subject is also an object encountering and encountered by the unknown within the known, the chaos inherent in the order itself, that calls forth he who has died so many times and is yet to die again and be reborn many more times so as to live as dead again.


[1] Gerald Edelman, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49

Let us imagine a subject who finds himself in a certain situation which appears to have no escape route; a situation which nails him to a painful existence and brings him closer to extinction with every move he makes. What he needs is Bion’s theory of creative process and the emergence of new thought from within the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. In his Theory of Thinking Bion says that dismantling is as important in creative process as integration, that is, introjection and splitting are as necessary as projective identification and unification. Bion pays special attention to the process of introjection and projective identification and recreates Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position as a way of showing that it has two forms; one is healthy and the other is pathological. For Klein it was only with the attainment of the depressive position that the formless experience was given a form, the thoughts were invested with symbolic meanings. Bion sees introjection and projective identification as the two separate but contiguous halves and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as the complementary parts of one another in the creative process. Now, if, following Bion, we think about Klein’s introjection and projective identification in the context of Derrida’s technique of deconstructive reading, we see that deconstruction is a mobile and dynamic mode of critique which moves between fragmentation and integration of the meaning of a text. Although deconstruction, as practised by Derrida himself, adapts itself to the internal dynamics of the text as the object of critique, it still lacks the affirmative and immanent fluidity which is necessary to open up holes, or passages, through which a new truth in touch with the requirements of the present situation can slip. This is because Derrida’s practice of deconstruction is still a negating activity and a transcendence oriented practice, which remains within the confines of the antagonistic relationship between the life drive and the death drive. To become affirmative, deconstructive practice needs to produce and incorporate its own difference from itself, that is, it has to become immanent to itself and the text it interprets.

As a mode of thinking, deconstruction attempts to erase the gap between the life drive and the death drive, but always fails, and this failure eternally confines deconstructive practice to the domain of antagonism between the life drive and the death drive. And if we keep in mind that deconstruction as a mode of thinking has become the dominant way of being creative we can understand why a critique of deconstruction is a critique of contemporary culture.

 

When the phone rang restlessly, whatever this means, Dr. Lawgiverz was sipping his dry red wine and smoking his hand rolled Havana cigar as if everything in the world was absolutely normal and nothing extraordinary was in progress concerning the workings of the universe. It wasn’t his wife calling out of love to propose reunification, it wasn’t the Japanese scientist calling out of friendship to share his latest invention in the field of astrophysics which might have led to a ground breaking new discovery of an uncharted territory, a new dimension of being even, it wasn’t Genesis calling out of urgency to lay the foundation of their new pattern of action, their new strategy against the forces of evil, it was, rather, a subject we have hitherto neglected to mention due to unncessity, a subject who was capable of radically changing the course of events and open new fields in and through which our uncanny narrative could unfold. “Hello?” said Dr. Lawgiverz with an inquisitive tone of voice, and received an equally inquisitive “hello?” from the other end of the line. It all seemed as though something quite surprising, if not altogether shattering, was about to happen to say the least. Now, we may or may not opt for delaying the soon to be made public conversation between Dr. Lawgiverz and the mysterious character who has just been introduced into our narrative, but as we are aware of the demanding readers, who, even god doesn’t know in which circumstances are reading this book, we will not even consider choosing the negative option, which is that of opting for delaying the truth. Quite the contrary, we shall reveal all in no more than a few sentences. Accordingly, “I’m the president of the United States of the World Platform, and I hope it is Dr. Lawgiverz with whom I’m speaking,” will say and has already done so, the mystery man who has lost all his mysteriousness with these words. “It is indeed,” said Dr. Lawgiverz with a sarcastic and/but somehow even more inquisitive tone, this time reflecting a worry as well on behalf of the speaker. “The reason I’m calling you, doctor, is that we have gathered information which we think might be of interest to you regarding the recent developments in world history, and especially the history of science and philosophy.” “Don’t you consider philosophy to be a science in-itself? Or do you consider it an inferior science, a thing of the past, which should rather be left to extinction in the long forgotten pages of history?” asked Dr. Lawgiverz as if this had any relevance at all to the issue at stake here. “Whether philosophy is a science or not is of no interest to us, sir,” said the voice at the other end of the line and continued, “what’s of interest to us is your relationship, or correlation, as you and the likes of you would put it, to the newly emerging philosophical movement called Speculative Realism, which, no doubt goes beyond a mere interest in new possibilities of philosophizing and touches upon a fundamental and highly sensitive issue concerning the relationship between the meaning of life and the state of world politics today. Now, it would be understandable if you only touched upon this issue, but you go much further than that and recklessly intervene in world economics, manifesting itself in the form of capitalism, the most developed form of economics known to man up until now. As is clear to us, your intentions are much more sinister than they appear to be, to cut a long story short, doctor, we are convinced that your primary objective is to shake the foundations of humanity’s very own mode of being itself. Am I right or am I right?” “No need to get uptight with me mister president. I understand that you have done your homework extremely well, but I wonder if you really have any proof at all to sustain your unjustified accusations.” “I assume you are forgetting with whom you are talking mister doctor. If I had no proof to justify my accusations, as you put it, with what authority do you think I would have the courage, or to put it more bluntly, the guts, to call and accuse you of being the mastermind behind these conspiracies?” “I don’t know about that, sir,” said Dr. Lawgiverz and added, “but if there’s one thing I surely know, it’s that I don’t even know whether you really are the person you say you are, calling me in the middle of the night and speculating endlessly about my intellectual life and the conspiracies behind which I’m the mastermind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but how am I supposed to know that you are not a psychotic reader who has not only just happened to read one or more of my books, but who also happens to think he has solved the riddle just like that?” “Well, you obviously cannot know that, what’s more, you are not supposed to know that anyway. So why don’t you just stop presenting yourself as someone who is supposed to know everything.” “I must admit, I’m having difficulty relating to you.” “Perhaps that’s because you are an anti-correlationist, as you would put it.” “I think there is a grand misunderstanding here. Anti-correlationism has nothing to do with two individuals having difficulty communicating with one another. As a matter of fact, what’s at stake in anti- correlationism is much more profound than that. I don’t know if it’s necessary to get into details, but let me at least say just this: anti-correlationism is not a state of mind, or a state of situation, as Badiou would put it, rather, it is a mode of being and thinking, which is driven by a will to think non-reflectively and non-determinatively, that is, to think objects as they are in themselves, rather than they are for mortal humans. Anti-correlationism proposes that it is possible and necessary to think and speculate on a world independent of human thought and/but engagingly indifferent to the symbolic reality. In short, it is an attempt to traverse the fantasy and touch the Real, as Lacan would have put it if only he was alive, which he did when he was.” “How would a human do that, if I may ask?” “You surely may ask, and the answer you get would be that natural sciences and mathematics have already been doing that for centuries. It is only a matter of finding, or rather, creating a new language that would do(express) the same in and through words, rather than the symbols of mathematics, chemistry and physics.” “I didn’t call you to engage in philosophical and scientific discourse doctor. You are a suspect and my duty is to warn you that if you continue your sinister acts, you will regret being alive and capable of thought. Good bye!” “Good bye, sir.”

Cover of "The Dead Zone (Special Collecto...

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It is early 1974, “in Washington, Richard Nixon was being pressed slowly into a corner, wrapped in a snarl of magnetic tapes. […] In Room 619 of the Eastern Maine Medical Center, Johnny Smith still slept. He had begun to pull into a fetal shape.”[1]

In Stephen King’s novel The Dead Zone, adapted to cinema by David Cronenberg, the main character Johnny Smith stays in a coma for five years. He wakes up to a cold winter to find himself with a limp, and separated from his girlfriend. Johnny starts to see evil everywhere; he reads the consequences of the evil thoughts in people’s minds across time. A sense for evil, together with an ability to see the past, the present and the future, means it becomes impossible for Johnny to bear the burden of being in the world. He comes to realize that what he thought was an extraordinary psychic power is in fact an evil curse which makes life inordinately painful. Willing to escape from this unbearable situation that is turning him into the playground of good and evil, he falls deeper into the trap of a monstrous man, Gregg Stillson, the embodiment of evil in the world, who finds out Johnny’s secret and wants to abuse it. Johnny takes the wrong turn, because he didn’t know that “the dreadful had already happened.” Directed by the monstrous man he “wills nothingness rather than not will,” and dies a tragic death at the end.  

Little by little this brawny young dock-walloper had severed his connections with the world, wasting away, losing his hair, optic nerves degenerating into oatmeal behind his closed eyes, body gradually drawing up into a fetal position as his ligaments shortened. He had reversed time, had become a fetus again, swimming in the placental waters of coma as his brain degenerated. An autopsy following his death had shown that the folds and convolutions of his cerebrum had smoothed out, leaving the frontal and prefrontal lobes almost utterly smooth and blank.[2]       

Johnny’s rearrival, his return from the unconscious to the conscious state, from the land of the dead to the world of the living, with extraordinary psychic powers, a sense of omnipotence which turns out to be the source of death, is described by King in terms of a rebirth, a coming out of the womb after the second (nearer) death experience.

Johnny Smith is at first almost exactly the opposite of a clinical and criminal psychotic. Johnny does not identify, he refuses to believe in other worldly things, there is no struggle between good and evil in his world, in his world there is no evil, no third party. In Johnny’s world there is only him, Sarah, and their “eternal love.”  Living in an illusory heaven, Johnny is unaware of the dangers surrounding him, but in King’s world the evil shall surely show his multiple faces to scare the hell out of those people.

After the tragic and yet banal accident Johnny becomes a clinical but not a criminal psychotic. Johnny identifies himself with Jesus, he refuses to believe in the world as it is, there begins a constant struggle between good and evil in his mind. He has lost Sarah and their eternal love, and the evil forces surrounding their earlier happiness prevail. Johnny’s illusory heaven becomes an illusory hell. As usually happens in King’s world the evil shows his multiple faces and scares the hell out of the reader.

King’s novels are cathartic in a very Aristotelian sense of the word. And yet it’s precisely this cathartic effect disguised as subversive and critical of the established order that reproduces the order and produces psychotic replicas. King is a very unique example of how monstrous a unification of the therapeutic and the critical can be. There are two traumatic incidents leaving their traces on his life as Johnny goes along the way towards death. In this novel which is difficult to categorize as “horror” unless that is what horror actually is, Johnny Smith finds himself in an unbearable situation that sends him to an early grave. What seems to him to be a gift of life turns out to be a gift of death. Johnny is cursed by a “second sight” after two banal accidents, one in early childhood, one in adolescence, which submit him to the domination of the “power” of his wounds. And with the already there circumstances, that is, a society dying to believe in “the power of the wound,” “apocalypse,” “return of the living dead,” “transcendental experiences” and so on, Johnny becomes a tragic, Christ-like hero who feels compelled to sacrifice himself for the deliverance of salvation to the people. His mother sees it as an occasion for celebration that Johnny is mortally wounded when they tell her that he is in a coma: “God has put his mark on my Johnny and I rejoice.”[3]                  

Choose, something inside whispered. Choose or they’ll choose for you, they’ll rip you out of this place, whatever and wherever it is, like doctors ripping a baby out of its mother’s womb by cesarian section.[4]

And in accordance with the demands of his “inner voice,” Johnny Smith, in The Dead Zone, chooses resurrection. After five years of deep coma Johnny wakes up to a nightmare and finds himself as the one whose destiny it has become after two banal accidents of life to set things right and prevent heaven’s becoming hell. King knows that the reader’s assumption is that there is something inside to be protected from the external threats. The desire of the reader is the desire of the threat as external rather than internal to the self. King satisfies the reader’s desire by giving him/her the most beloved son Johnny as the gift: “the gift of death” as Derrida would have put it. Johnny fulfils the reader’s desire not only for an external threat but also for a saviour hero from within, one of “us.” Johnny emerges from his coma as the embodiment of the Christ-like figure, King’s son, whose mission it is to die and preserve the heaven-like qualities of this small American town in particular, and the universe in general.

 Upon his return to the symbolic order, from the unconscious state of coma, Johnny finds himself surrounded by people who are trying to exploit his extraordinary psychic powers, confronted with what Freud, in On Narcissism, calls “hallucinatory wishful psychosis” on a social level. It’s as though the whole society is in the grip of a paralysis and through their collective hallucination they cling to life. And Johnny becomes not only the thread tying them to their illusions, but also the one who preserves those illusions by sacrificing himself. Since this aspect of Johnny’s melodramatic story is more precisely expressed in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the novel, I now turn to Cronenberg’s film.

Cronenberg emphasizes that Greg Stillson is the man who is the manipulator, the one who creates and sells illusionary images of himself. In Cronenberg’s film Johnny’s visions are placed directly in opposition to Stillson’s fantastic images of self. Towards the end of the film, Johnny, no more able to stand the half-dead life he is living in isolation, decides to put his visions to a good use. He attends one of Stillson’s campaigns and shakes Stillson’s hand to see into him. What Johnny sees is Stillson as the evil president of the future, who has the fate of the whole world in his control. Johnny sees him pressing the button of a nuclear bomb behind closed doors. Finally Johnny makes up his mind and at a later Stillson campaign, this time in a church, attempts to assassinate Stillson. Sarah is there with her baby, and she notices Johnny just as he is about to pull the trigger. Distracted by Sarah’s cry, Johnny misses the target. Stillson takes Sarah’s baby and holds it up as a shield against Johnny’s bullets. Meanwhile Johnny is being shot by Stillson’s guards. A photographer takes Stillson’s picture while he is using the baby as a shield and this picture becomes the front cover of the Time magazine, not only ending Stillson’s career as a politician but also leading him to suicide.    

In the film the atmosphere is extremely melancholic. Johnny is portrayed as a much more repressed, melodramatic individual who at the same time has a romantic vision of life. The traumatic incident, the time he spends in the dead zone, magnifies his will to transcend his body which he sees as a source of agony. He pushes himself further towards isolation to escape from the increasingly sharpening visions. Remember that Johnny sees in the past, present, and future of other people through touching them. Touching another person is a cause of pain for Johnny. As his visions sharpen and turn into sources of pain he moves away from intersubjectivity and towards introversion. It is one of the characteristics of Romanticism to consider trauma, suffering, pain, disaster as possibilities of transcending the flesh. In Cronenberg’s “romanticism turned against itself” we see exactly the opposite. In Cronenberg after the traumatic incident it is a regressive process that starts taking its course, rather than a progressive movement towards eternal bliss. The problem with Cronenberg’s inversion of romanticism is that he still sees the movement towards eternal bliss, towards jouissance as progressive; the difference between the classical romanticism and Cronenberg’s inverted neo-romanticism is that Cronenberg considers that progress to be impossible.

It is at the sight of their condition, upon the realization of the situation they are caught in, that Cronenberg’s characters recoil in horror. And it is at the sight of this that Cronenberg expects the spectator to recoil in horror in a fashion similar to his characters.


 

[1] Stephen King, The Dead Zone, (London: TimeWarner, 1979),100

[2] King, 82

[3] King, The Dead Zone, 71

[4]King, 111

Word from Urbanomic that Volume III of Collapse has sold out and is now available for free online. It includes the much-cited original Speculative Realism conference. Find it here.

via Speculative Heresy

Collapse III contains explorations of the work of Gilles Deleuze by pioneering thinkers in the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, music and architecture. In addition, we publish in this volume two previously untranslated texts by Deleuze himself, along with a fascinating piece of vintage science fiction from one of his more obscure influences. Finally, as an annex to Collapse Volume II, we also include a full transcription of the conference on ‘Speculative Realism’ held in London in 2007.

The contributors to this volume aim to clarify, from a variety of perspectives, Deleuze’s contribution to philosophy: in what does his philosophical originality lie; what does he appropriate from other philosophers and how does he transform it? And how can the apparently disparate threads of his work to be ‘integrated’ – what is the precise nature of the constellation of the aesthetic, the conceptual and the political proposed by Gilles Deleuze, and what are the overarching problems in which the numerous philosophical concepts ‘signed Deleuze’ converge?

Contents

ROBIN MACKAY
Editorial Introduction [PDF]
THOMAS DUZER
In Memoriam: Gilles Deleuze 1925-1995 [PDF]
GILLES DELEUZE
Responses to a Series of Questions [PDF]
ARNAUD VILLANI
“I Feel I Am A Pure Metaphysician”: The Consequences of Deleuze’s Remark [PDF]
QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX
Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence and Matter and Memory [PDF]
HASWELL & HECKER
Blackest Ever Black [PDF]
GILLES DELEUZE
Mathesis, Science and Philosophy [PDF]
INCOGNITUM
Malfatti's Decade [[PDF]
JOHN SELLARS
Chronos and Aion: Deleuze and the Stoic Theory of Time [PDF]
ÉRIC ALLIEZ & JEAN-CLAUDE BONNE
Matisse-Thought and the Strict Ordering of Fauvism [PDF]
MEHRDAD IRAVANIAN
Unknown Deleuze [PDF]
J.-H. ROSNY THE ELDER
Another World [PDF]
RAY BRASSIER, IAIN HAMILTON GRANT, GRAHAM HARMAN, QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX
Speculative Realism [PDF]

Cover of "Dead Ringers"

Cover of Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers

With Dead Ringers (1988) Cronenberg shows the consequences of an attempt to get rid of the space between the me and the not me. The illusory absence of difference between Mantle twins Beverly and Elliot is their own creation. They identify with one another so much that they think they are one split soul living one life in two different bodies. When they are discussing the deteriorating condition of Beverly, Claire says to Elliot that he shouldn’t identify with Beverly, distance himself from him, and live his own life separate from Beverly. In response to Claire’s suggestion Elliot says, “But the drugs he takes are running in my veins.” Beverly and Elliot are twice split. They are not only split from their mother by birth, but also from one another. They are divided within and against themselves. Let us start from the beginning to make more sense of what happens in Dead Ringers.

Right at the beginning of the film we see Beverly and Elliot, in childhood, talking about the difference between the copulation of fish and humans. One of them suggests that fish are able to reproduce without having sex, and that if humans were living under the water they wouldn’t need to have sex to copulate. They would simply internalise the water through which they would copulate. At the prospect of copulation without touching, the other twin responds by saying, “I like the idea.” The next scene shows Beverly and Elliot approaching a girl and asking her if she wanted to have sex with them in a bathtub as an experiment. They are aggressively rejected and accused of talking dirty.

 From the very beginning Beverly and Elliot see science as a means to attain sex objects and sex objects as means to carry out their scientific projects. A further hint at their tendency to see the female body as something to be experimented upon is given in the following scene where they are seen operating on a plastic doll pinned down on the table. This is their play. For them the object of desire is at the same time the object of science, and science is a form of play. Their diagnosis concerning the patient is intra ovular surgery.

From the year 1954 we shift to the year 1967. Beverly and Elliot are in the faculty of medicine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We see them applying their surgical instrument, their own invention, on a cadaver in the autopsy room. In stark contrast to the professor’s negative attitude towards their radical new instrument, the next scene shows Elliot receiving a gold plate model of their instrument as a prize for their contribution to gynaecology. At home Beverly is working on their future contributions to the field.

The differences between Beverly and Elliot become more obvious with the entry of Claire to their life. Beverly comes to understand that he is different from his brother through his different way of being in relation to Claire. While Elliot sees Claire as merely an object of play (sex and science), rather than as another person, Beverly is more affectionate and wants to sincerely engage in a profound interaction with Claire. And yet Claire’s sexual identity, that is, her masochistic tendency to occupy a passive and submissive position in the relationship makes it impossible for Beverly to escape from the double bind situation he finds himself in. The whole film is a narrative of how one falls into a double bind situation and why it is impossible to escape from this double bind without having to die. 

In Dead Ringers the Mantle twins are locked in the mirror stage. Death emerges as the only way to escape from this entrapment in an endlessly self-perpetuating process of projective identification. Their minoritarian nature, having been born identical twins, leads them to study the womb as the monster that gave birth to them. The Mantle twins’ fascination with deformed wombs, and the instruments they invent to act upon those deformations reflect their deviant relation to birth, motherhood, and sexuality.    

At the culmination of the historical effort of a society to refuse to recognize that it has any function other than the utilitarian one, and in the anxiety of the individual confronting the ‘concentrational’ form of the social bond that seems to arise to crown this effort, existentialism must be judged by the explanations it gives of the subjective impasses that have indeed resulted from it; a freedom that is never more authentic than when it is within the walls of a prison; a demand for commitment, expressing the impotence of a pure consciousness to master any situation; a voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of the sexual relation; a personality that realizes itself only in suicide; a consciousness of the other than can be satisfied only by Hegelian murder.[1]

In the relationship between Beverly and Elliot, the other consciousness is at the same time the consciousness of the self. Beverly and Elliot think that they are the same and yet different from one another at the same time. An impossible situation is situated in the context of gynaecology and the psychic life of a male gynaecologist’s relation to a female patient is used to show what happens when art-sex-science become one. The “voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of sexual relation” Lacan is talking about is precisely the Mantle twins’ relation to the female body and sex. Because they see themselves as a deviation from the norm, they see their mother as the birth giver of an abnormality. Their fascination with the ill-formed female body thus gains a significance in terms of their relation to their mother and birth.

The very existence of imagination means that you can posit an existence different from the one you’re living. If you are trying to create a repressive society in which people will submit to whatever you give them, then the very fact of them being able to imagine something else—not necessarily better, just different—is a threat. So even on that very simple level, imagination is dangerous. If you accept, at least to some extent, the Freudian dictum that civilization is repression, then imagination—and an unrepressed creativity—is dangerous to civilization. But it’s a complex formula; imagination is also an innate part of civilization. If you destroy it, you might also destroy civilization.[2] 

Cronenberg is a much more Freudian director than he would dare to admit.

Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease.[3]

Freud says that reality and fantasy, external and internal, the self and the world, the psychic and the material are in conflict and that this conflict is always experienced as pain. To compensate for the pain of this fragmentary existence man writes and tries to form a unity which he believes to have once been present and after which he is destined to strive. In Freud’s vision the subject is always in pursuit of an unattainable sense of wholeness, what he calls the “oceanic feeling.” And yet, Freud says, the subject can turn this negative situation into a positive one by creating works of art and literature in the way of producing at-one-ment with the world, although for Freud, this at-one-ment is impossible to attain, and if literature has any therapeutic effect at all, it is only to the extent of turning indescribable misery into ordinary unhappiness. Freud says, “the substitutive satisfactions, as offered by art, are illusions in contrast with reality, but they are none the less psychically effective, thanks to the role which phantasy has assumed in mental life.”[4]

Freud’s idea that imagination in general and writing in particular is a desperate attempt to return to the womb, to the state of being before birth, is clearly manifest in Dead Ringers. In the womb Beverly/Elliot was one and their choice of profession is a sign of their striving for that long lost oneness within themselves, with each other, and with their mother. What Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, calls the “oceanic feeling,” that is, the security of existence within the womb, tied to the mother with the umbilical cord, and swimming in the placental waters in foetal shape without the danger of drowning, is what the Mantle twins are striving for. According to Cronenberg they wish they were fish. Cronenberg sees barbaric regress as an inevitable consequence of progress.

This gives us our indication for therapeutic procedure – to afford opportunity for formless experience, and for creative impulses, motor and sensory, which are the stuff of playing. And on the basis of playing is built the whole of man’s experiential existence. No longer are we either introvert or extrovert. We experience life in the area of transitional phenomena, in the exciting interweave of subjectivity and objective observation, and in an area that is intermediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the world that is external to individuals.[5]

Freud’s and Winnicott’s methods of therapy are based on the pursuit of a lacking sense of unity of self and the world. This form of therapeutic procedure forces the subject to ego formation, normalization, and submissiveness to the existing order of meaning. Freud considers the state of being in harmony with the world as the sign of health and development of the capacity to repress the drives and making sharp distinctions between the internal and external worlds, and between the conscious and the unconscious mind as a sign of progress. Although Winnicott, like Freud, assumes that there is an originary split between the internal and the external worlds, he at the same time differs from Freud in that his therapeutic process involves some kind of a journey that the therapist takes with the patient. In this kind of therapeutic relationship the therapist engages in a spontaneous interaction through playing with the rules of the game itself. In this process the role of the therapist is to render the patient capable of learning to play. In turn the therapist himself learns to relate to the patient through a kind of unconscious communication. 

What we have both in the Mantle twins and Freud and Winnicott then, is a will to transcend the material world through material tools. Mantle twins’ aim is to go beyond the material world and unite with one another in a dimension where the psychic and the material, the self and the other become one. The surgical instruments Beverly invents after Claire goes away for two weeks, are parallel to his mental deterioration. As he turns against himself, so do the surgical instruments turn into weapons against the patients. The sharp and pointed instruments represent Beverly’s regressive movement towards aggressive barbarism. The Mantle Retractor is replaced by objects to dig into the body.  These instruments are a result of Beverly’s attempt to externalise the illusory space created by loss of the object of love. By digging holes he thinks he will have restored himself. The instruments he creates eventually turn against him and his brother, destroying both in the process.

 

Videodrome

It is a recurrent theme of Cronenberg films that what the subject himself created turns against the subject and becomes the very cause of the subject’s death. In Videodrome (1982) for instance we see Max, the victim of a video program which is inserted into the subject’s body and possessed, the subject acts unconsciously in the service of the monstrous forces behind the screen. All Videodrome tapes do is to bring out what’s already in the subject. That is, make the subject’s unconscious fantasies appear on the surface of the screen. In other words it turns the subject into a projection-introjection mechanism. At the end of the movie we see Max’s hand turning into the gun he was holding. He is seeing himself on the screen killing himself, and in the next scene he is killing himself in front of the screen onto which he had already projected the scenario of his own death. He introjects what he himself projects, and what he projects is already an effect of what he had introjected. What we have here is a deconstruction of the relationship between the screen and the mirror.  Not only the screen is a mirror, but also the mirror is a screen. The Videodrome tapes are the partial-objects which when united through the subject’s body, take over the body and manifest themselves in the actions of the subject. The subject becomes, in a way, an object of violence against itself and others.


[1] Jacques Lacan,  Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1977), 7

[2] David Cronenberg, Croneberg on Cronenberg, ed. Chris Rodley (London; Faber and Faber, 191992), 169

[3] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1985), 279

[4] Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, 262

[5] Donald Winnicott, Playing and Reality, (London: Tavistock, 1971), 64

Institute of Geosciences of the Universidade F...

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The Science and Metaphysics Event has just kicked off over at Speculative Heresy, with Ben Woodard giving us a post on Lovecraftian Science/Lovecraftian Nature. I’ve just finished my piece, which will go up at some point over the next week I’m sure, so stay tuned. It didn’t turn out quite as I intended, but I’m sure some people will find it interesting. … Read More

via Deontologistics

Science, Metaphysics and the A Priori / A Posteriori Distinction by Pete Wolfendale
Posted on September 21, 2010 by Nick Srnicek @ Speculative Heresy
Today’s contribution to the blog event comes from Pete Wolfendale of the always interesting Deontologistics blog.

The question that we have been posed is that of the relation between metaphysics and the natural sciences. In particular, we are tasked with squaring the relative autonomy of metaphysics in relation to natural science with the fact that they in some sense share the same object – the world as it is in-itself. This is a difficult task, and it cannot be satisfactorily completed here. However, it is possible to sketch an answer to the question, and to defend it against a few important objections, if not all possible ones. This is what I propose to do here.  Read More

via Speculative Heresy

Descartes

Life and Death in a Raving New World (excerpt from The Life Death Drives)

The influence of Nietzsche’s concepts of the will to nothingness and eternal return are pervasive in Freud’s later work. Freud’s turn towards metapsychology and his consequent creation of the concept of the death drive is rooted in his need for something to fill in the gaps in his scientific and empirically observable theories owing much to Darwin. Freud was uneasy with the concept of the death drive on account of its non-scientific nature, but nevertheless he had to conceptualize the death drive as the counterpart of the life drive in order to be able to go beyond the pleasure principle. Educated as a neuroscientist Freud was aware that he was contradicting himself and perhaps even turning against his earlier attitude towards the human psyche by showing that at the beginning was the death drive and that the life drive was only an outcome, a kind of defense against the death drive… Read More

via senselogic

Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism I have decided to make available a short draft version of a larger work, what could probably be called my greater “project” that I am actively working on. As has been pointed out by both Nick and Ben in their recent interviews with Paul Ennis, I am part of a small group of speculative realists (a name I gladly wear) that not only defends, but attempts to expand on the tradition of psychoanalysis, or more specifically, the metaphysics of psychoanalysis… Read More

via Complete Lies.

• Philosophy as Biography •
• Alain Badiou •

“Nietzsche wrote that a philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher. Maybe a biography of the philosopher by the philosopher himself is a piece of philosophy. So I shall tell you nine stories taken of my private life, with their philosophical morality… The first story is the story of the father and the mother.
My father was an alumnus of the École Normale Superieure and agrégé of mathematics: my mother an alumna of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégée of French literature. I am an alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégé, but agrege of what, of philosophy, that is to say, probably, the only possible way to assume the double filiation and circulate freely between the literary maternity and the mathematical paternity. This is a lesson for philosophy itself : the language of philosophy always constructs its own space between the matheme and the poem, between the mother and the father, after all.” Read More

• VIDEO Version •

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/Aan1MAI%5D
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AaqtLQI%5D

Postfelsefe nasıl hadım eder, ya da neden XI. tez tersine çevrilmeli üzerine

Postfelsefe nasıl hadım eder ya da neden XI. tez tersine çevirilmeli üzerine Benim felsefeye ilgim materyalizm ve onun eleştirel işlevi sayesindedir: bilimsel bilgiyi onun mistifiye edilmiş tüm ideolojik bilgiselliğinin karşısına almaktır. Ahlaki temelde bir mit ya da yalan karşıtlığından değil, onların akılcıl ve sistematik eleştirisinden bahsediyorum. – Louis Althusser [kaynak]

Burada bır zamandır okumaya çalıştığım bir felsefi metinden kısaca sözetmek istiyorum. Zira şu ana dek metnin sadece 2 bölümünü yani 50 sayfasını okuyabildim. Bu da kitabın sadece 3′te 1′ine tekabül ediyor. Şunu itiraf etmek zorundayım: Bu 50 sayfayı okumak bana 500 sayfa okumak gibi geldi. Bunun nedenlerinin başlıcaları arasında benim “felsefeci” olmadığım gerçeği yatıyorsa da, bundan öte metnin Kant sonrası felsefeye, modernist felsefeye olan özgün eleştirisinin ince noktaları ve ziyadesiyle yoğunluğu okunuşunu zorlaştırdığını eklemek gerekiyor. Halbuki metnin son yılların felsefi metinleri içerisinde en yalın, en tutarlı, en takip edilebilir bir dille yazıldığını düşünmeme rağmen, bu böyle oldu. Yazar: Quentin Meillassoux, Kitap: After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity on Contingency (Sonluluk Sonrası : Vukuu Belli Olmamanın Gerekliği Üzerine Bir Deneme)… Read More

via Mutlak Töz

Creatureliness and Immortality (via Speculative Humbug)

 [I now think the opinions expressed here are massively too hasty – this issue of meaning and finitude requires a lot more thought – but I’ll leave the original post up anyway.] I’ve just watched the first episode of this interview with Simon Critchley, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to note a key disagreement I have with Critchley’s position while the thoughts are still fresh. Critchley makes the point – with which I agree – that our soci … Read More

via Speculative Humbug

Excerpt from Cengiz Erdem’s Ph.D. thesis

In his Critique of Judgement, Kant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement. If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a particular by subjecting it to a universal, it becomes understandable why among these two I shall be using the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory idea necessary for the emergence of the immortal subject as the enunciated content.

It is only in and through a position of non-mortality within and without mortal life at the same time that the exploitation of mortality can be brought into the spotlight. A critique of the exploitation of mortality inherent in particularly exemplary cultural products will be achieved through putting them in a perspective that analyzes the life death drives in such a way as to expose the exploitation of the fear of death as the driving force inherent in them. The point is that it is indeed necessary to fantasize being what one is not, in our case being non-mortal, to be able to become self-conscious of one’s self-reflexivity in the way of creating an order of signification not caught up in the rotary motion of drives locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism, but rather one which breaks this vicious cycle and at least attempts to subtract death from life in a counter-act to the post-structuralist idea of life as a process of dying and death as an absent presence in the midst of life. It is only through such a subtraction of the absent presence of death within life that the productive interaction between Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, Foucault’s bio-politics, Badiou’s theory of infinity, and Kant’s reflective mode of judgement give birth to the immortal subject as the womb of a new thought, a new life, and a new mode of being, free of the exploitation of mortality and engagingly indifferent to this mortal, all too mortal life.

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badio claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

 The Brain: The Places in the Brain Where Space Lives | Mind & Brain | DISCOVER MagazineJames Williams teaches philosophy at the University of Dundee. He has written on French thinker Jean-François Lyotard, Lyotard: Towards a Postmodern Philosophy (Polity), Lyotard and the Political (Routledge) and with Keith Crome The Lyotard Reader and Guide (Edinburgh), on Gilles Deleuze, Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: a Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh) and The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze (Clinamen) and a new defence of poststructuralism, Understanding Poststructuralism (Acumen).

 Mark Thwaite: You have written books on Lyotard, Deleuze and now you add three other poststructuralist thinkers (Derrida, Foucault and Kristeva) to your list – before we get into the detail of your books, what is it that draws you to these thinkers?

James Williams: I was drawn to Lyotard’s ultra-realist political sensitivity, not in the grim conservative sense of realist, but in the sense of refusing any misplaced idealism about structures and systems. I like the way he seeks out gaps in those structures through their dependence on desire. His ability to connect those gaps to notions of justice is important to me. Deleuze is a vital metaphysician; in future years it will be commonplace to utter lines like “Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Marx, Deleuze …” He opens life on to a realm of conditions and potentials that resist modern day naturalism (the reduction of life to the findings of the natural sciences defined in a very limited way) whilst remaining free of dogmatic mysticism. Derrida is a wonderful teacher. He expands our capacity to read between and across lines and texts. I like Kristeva’s combination of literary and psychoanalytical thought. She shows that an engagement with the role of deep processes in the psyche allows us to understand the revolutionary power of literature. As for Foucault, I have a soft spot for the complexity and balance of his style, its measure and cadence; it adds pleasure to the necessity of his understanding of the power of interlaced historical processes in contemporary lives.

MT: Your first book was on Jean-François Lyotard. Lyotard strikes me as a thinker often cited as the writer who defined postmodernism (in The Postmodern Condition), but not as a philosopher whose work has had a great impact beyond this. What is is that you see in Lyotard’s work that is so important?

JW: Lyotard was one of the best essayists of his time. A modern day Diderot, rather than a pure professional philosopher. So his work on the postmodern must be seen as a brilliant idea among many. It must also be seen in its aesthetic and polemical settings. Lyotard’s works are creative provocations with deep philosophical, political and artistic backgrounds. His work on the postmodern is often misread as a defence of postmodernity (an epoch) when it fact it is a plea for postmodern works that defy epochs by retaining a disruptive extra-historical power. Postmodern works remind us of the limits of the rational or irrational consensus that emerges and defines a slice of history. They are therefore outside such time-slices and have a negative power, ‘here are the limits of reason’, and a positive power, ‘here is an event that we must find new ways of doing justice to’. The notion of impact is a suspicious one in this context and I prefer to think in terms of the untimely: ‘That is to say, for as long as that for which it is time, and which the present time has more need of than ever, continues to count as untimely – I mean: telling the truth’ (Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, 55). There are many current works inspired by Lyotard’s truths, for example, Margret Grebowicz’s Gender after Lyotard (SUNY, forthcoming), Geoffrey Bennington‘s Late Lyotard and Simon Malpas’s Lyotard (Routledge). Keith Crome and myself have a new critical edition of Lyotard’s works out this month! (The Lyotard Reader and Guide, EUP).

MT: Your Understanding Poststructuralism will, inevitably, be sold as an introductory text to students, but I thought it much better than many introductory texts (important though I think many of these gateway books can be). One of your concerns would seem to be that some analytic/traditional philosophers have not bothered to rise to the challenge of poststructuralist thought, but have condemned it tout court and without care. Why do you think that is?

JW: I like Bourdieu’s sociological methodology for answering this kind of question. For example, in his Homo Academicus, he traces the patterns of training and background for French academics. A similar work could be done for contemporary philosophers (where they trained, with which supervisors, their views of the importance of reason and common sense, whether they view themselves and thrive as specialists or generalists, their attitudes to science, religion and the arts). It would be scurrilous to offer answers independent of such a survey in addition to an extensive study of the statements made on continental philosophers. I am interested in raising critical questions that intersect with analytic ones in order to show that poststructuralist thinkers have some of the most original and powerful, in the sense of liberating, answers to traditional problems. Sometimes, the answer is that the problem is a false one. This can lead to some shock and misunderstanding, often based on the most sketchy reading and perhaps some concealed political and emotional motivations. I’d be happy to have shown that this need not be the case.

MT: What do you make of the ethical/religious turn in thinkers like Derrida? Was it inevitable?

JW: Nothing is inevitable, because even if things are causally determined, the meaning of what occurs exceeds facts or states of affairs. That’s why the same event is very different if we know it is to happen, rather than if it surprises us – hence the rich possibilities in literature for scenes where a death is foreseen (I often return to Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, even if it was unsettling to read of its origin in true events in his recent beautiful memoirs Living to tell the tale). When we use the term ‘turn’ in philosophy it imparts meaning and weight to what is turned to, but this is always controversial, none more so than when it imposes linearity on to works with much more complex twists in time. For me, Derrida is primarily a great political interpreter of the philosophical tradition – and he never turned – for others, he is an ethical thinker. It is a mark of his importance that this will remain a rich source of debate.

MT: A number of the big beasts of poststructuralism are dead now. Theory’s time has, perhaps, passed. Who in contemporary thought should we be watching out for: Agamben, Badiou, Negri, Virilio, Zizek!?

JW: The philosophy I work on avoids these kind of predictions, except when they are uttered ironically. They encourage a nostalgic view that deflates the present. They also run counter to the view of events as shaped in retrospect and as always retaining an openness to future transformations (theory will return, but not as we know it). They also reflect the consumerist and fashion-led approach that turns us into onlookers rather than makers (see Guy Debord’s not-to-be-missed Comments on the Society of the Spectacle or his original Society of the Spectacle). Don’t look to others: What drives you and disgusts you? Work on them, but without fixing and representing them… Not easy, but definitely good for life.

MT: Lyotard’s libidinal economics – like Deleuze & Guattari’s politics of desire – seem to me to have dated more heavily than other postmodernisms, perhaps because they seem so tied to the jouissance of ’68 … or am I being unfair?

JW: There is a beautiful treatment of this kind of problem in Charles Péguy’s great book Clio. Péguy describes history as two intersecting cones: as we look into the future the cone widens and there are always more judges and actors, a bigger potential audience, but equally when they look back there are ever more worthy protagonists around us in the past. Our future audience turns out to have a choice among a much greater range of scenarios than we expected. So the interlocking cones of history grow wider backwards and forwards, and both cones expand through time. This leads to a set of interesting paradoxes. We care about future judgements, but we necessarily matter less and less in the future. Yet when we look back at needy actors just like us, we see them amongst many others. We crave significance, but remove it from others to make space for our own, as they do to us. One of the biggest problems is whether this should be cause for melancholy, or for a release from the burdens of destiny (Péguy’s moods alternate between despair and glory). If it is the latter – and, after all, it is up to us – then Lyotard’s desire will keep returning, but never as a dominating legacy.

MT: In the critical responses to your books, have you learned anything that would make you want to reassess or finesse your arguments? Have you been happy with the responses to your work?

JW: Readers’ responses to manuscripts, commissioned by academic presses, are the most important critical response to books and articles received by academics; they are almost never seen by others. A bad response means no publication, no publication can mean no job. Luckily, I have had many helpful responses that have much improved my books. It is luck because readers and reviewers can often be less well-qualified than the original author or have an opposed agenda (‘this book about guinea pigs should have been about elephants’. There is very little kudos in reading and reviewing, so they are done out of duty, enjoyment in judging others, lust for power, or necessity (junior academics find it hard to get early publications and hence often work through reviews; they are also in need of the tiny sums paid for reading: ‘we offer you £50 worth of our books for a 3 page report on this 400 page manuscript’). I like the way some modern reviewers are trying to re-invigorate the form by turning reviews into more creative pieces, where judgement and categorisation play less prominent roles. A good reviewer jumps off from a work, rather than jumps on it (obviously Nietzscheans do not have regrets, but were I to have any, one would be to have flattened rather than lifted works).

MT: You have a new book about Deleuze coming from Clinamen in March (The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze) – can you tell me a little about it? Will this be building on the arguments in your Gilles Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition”: A Critical Introduction and Guide?

JW: Clinamen is one of a dwindling number of independent specialist philosophical presses resisting the commercial logic of ‘many introductory primers and few, mainly historical, classics’. Bill Ross, the editor, pays genuine care to his authors and books. My book argues that Deleuze sought to construct a metaphysics, a world-view, with the greatest potential for openness, that is, with the fewest basic exclusions and identifications. A metaphysics that says that humans or nature or God, identified in a certain fixed way, are prior and best is terribly violent and narrow. However, even contemporary forms of empirical scientific naturalism can be narrow, due to the metaphysical presuppositions of their methods: forms of abstraction and generalisation, for instance. My book shows the detail of Deleuze’s arguments in relation to other key thinkers. I trace Deleuze’s work on transcendental conditions in Kant; his ethical thought based around expression, through Levinas; his engagement with science, through Bachelard; his work on reciprocal determination, in Whitehead; his distance from the possible, through Lewis; his radical opposition to the use of common sense, through Harman; and his revolutionary politics, in Negri and Lyotard. The book could have been called Deleuze, Life and Philosophy, but The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences is much less hubristic (the value of a good editor).

MT: What are you working on now?

JW: I’m working on another book-length reading of a work by Deleuze (The Logic of Sense). This book develops his idea of the radical connection of all things and people through the intense sensations that can run through them. He deduces a surface of sense connecting impersonal neutral events to individual singular actual ones, for example, in the way a single battle brings together many different actors, but from myriad perspectives and through multiple emotions and attachments. This notion of the event, as a connecting process prior and constitutive of fleeting identities, has very interesting ramifications for the ways we see life. So I am working on a long-term project of a new philosophy of the event inspired by Deleuze and by Whitehead.

MT: What is the best book you have read recently? Who is your favourite writer/what is your favourite book?

JW: I do not really have favourite writers and books. There are writers that accompany different moods and moments very well (Goytisolo, McEwan, Faulkner, Franquin, Goscinny, Uderzo, Chatwin, Sollers, Barthes, Greene, Borgès, Morris, Nietzsche, Foucault, Golding, Proulx, Waugh, Sempé) but which ones, when and where is unpredictable, sometimes they work, sometimes they do not. When they work they connect a moment to others by making them different; a single fixed and cherished favourite could not really do that – like a jester always telling the same joke to lesser effect. Off with his head.

MT: Has the internet changed the way that you read and write?

JW: I can’t remember a time before the internet. The latest surfing speeds and remote file and email access allow an academic to be almost anywhere in the world and ‘at work’. This ends the old dichotomy of, either, working on a single well-crafted piece next to a hot stove in slippers, or, sitting in a fusty university office teaching and administrating. My only worry with this passing is that it can increase a somewhat typical academic jealousy and paranoia (What are they doing? Why aren’t they reading me? Who is planning my downfall? Do I care?) Less in-the-flesh contact involves a loss of social skills and an increase in lonely self-analysis. It goes without saying that poststructuralists like me never ever suffer from this, and don’t you ever say the contrary, because I will find out.

MT: Anything else you’d like to say?

JW: Thanks for interviewing me. A serendipitous remedy for the above electronic social alienation lies in setting up a network of valued internet sites – something like an archipelago of cultured writing amidst a sea of dross. ReadySteadyBook (and its linked blogs) are pleasant and hospitable islands!

MT: Thanks so much for your time James – all the very best.

RSB-ROBOT
Copyright © 2002-2010 http://www.readysteadybook.com.

Mark Thwaite (13/02/2006)

 
alice, white rabbit, the hole and many doors

 

Mark Fisher has been writing an acclaimed blog as k-punk for some years now. Focussing on culture, especially music and literature, and politics. His writing also appears in the New Statesman, Frieze, The Wire, Sight and Sound and FACT. A founder member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, he now teaches at Goldsmiths University and the City Literary Institute in London.

In November last year he published his first book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, and also edited a collection of texts on the death of Michael Jackson, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, both published with Zer0 Books.

Rowan Wilson: Your blog, k-punk, is one of the leading blogs for cultural analysis. When did you first start writing it and why did you start?

Mark Fisher: Thank you. I started it in 2003. At the time, I was working as a Philosophy lecturer in a Further Education college in Kent – I reflect on some of my experiences there in Capitalist Realism. I was then quite badly depressed – not because of teaching, which I enjoyed, but for a whole series of long-term reasons – and I started blogging as a way of getting back into writing after the traumatic experience of doing a PhD. PhD work bullies one into the idea that you can’t say anything about any subject until you’ve read every possible authority on it. But blogging seemed a more informal space, without that kind of pressure. Blogging was a way of tricking myself back into doing serious writing. I was able to con myself, thinking, “it doesn’t matter, it’s only a blog post, it’s not an academic paper”. But now I take the blog rather more seriously than writing academic papers. I was actually only aware of blogs for a short while before I started mine. But I could quite quickly see that the blog network around Simon Reynolds’ blog [see the RSB interview with Reynolds] – which was the first network I started to read – fulfilled many of the functions that the music press used to. But it wasn’t just replicating the old music press; there were also sorts of strange, idiosyncratic blogs which couldn’t have existed in any other medium. I saw that – contrary to all the clichés – blogs didn’t have to be online diaries: they were a blank space in which writers could pursue their own lines of interest (something that it‘s increasingly difficult for writers to do in print media, for a number of reasons).

RW: You’re almost one of the elder statespeople of blogging now. How has it changed since you started?

MF: Blogging networks shift all the time; new blogs enter the network, older ones fall away; new networks constitute themselves. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of comments; a largely unfortunate change in my view. In the early days of blogs, if you wanted to respond to a post, you had to reply on your own blog, and if you didn’t have a blog, you had to create one. Comments tend to reduce things to banal sociality, with all its many drawbacks.

Yet blogs continue to do things that can’t be done anywhere else: look at the way that Speculative Realism has propagated through blogs. Originally coined as term of convenience for the work of the philosophers Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant and Quentin Meillassoux, Speculative Realism now has an online unlife of its own. This isn’t just commentary on existing philosophical positions; it’s a philosophy that is actually happening on the web. Graham has his own blog, Object-Oriented Philosophy, but there are a whole range of Speculative Realism-related blogs, including Speculative Heresy and Planomenology. Reid Kane of Plamomenology has gone so far as to argue that Speculative Realism is “the first avatar of distributed cognition”, that, in other words, there is a natural fit between SR and the online medium.

RW: You were one of the co-founders of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), described by Simon Reynolds as the academic equivalent of Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz. Who did you form it with and what was its purpose?

MF: The main driving forces behind it were Sadie Plant and Nick Land. But Sadie Plant left quite quickly so the CCRU as it developed was much more shaped by Nick Land. Nick’s 1990s texts – which are to be issued in a collected edition this year, by Urbanomic, who publish the Collapse journal – are incredible. Far from the dry databasing of much academic writing or the pompous solemnity of so much continental philosophy, Nick’s texts were astonishing theory-fictions. They weren’t distanced readings of French theory so much as cybergothic remixes which put Deleuze and Guattari on the same plane as films such as Apocalypse Now and fictions such as Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Jungle was crucial to the Ccru. What the Ccru was about was capturing, (and extrapolating) this specifically British take on cyberculture, in which music was central. Ccru was trying to do with writing what Jungle, with its samples from such as Predator, Terminator and Blade Runner, was doing in sound: “text at sample velocity”, as Kodwo Eshun put it.

RW: The writing of the Ccru seems very different to your current style. Are you still involved with the Ccru – and indeed is it still operating?

MF: It was never formally disbanded but then again it was never formally constituted. It’s odd because, it’s only a decade on that the stuff is starting to get published in book form. As I said, Nick’s texts are just about to be published. Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) has just had his book Sonic Warfarepublished on MIT Press. As for the change of style, I suppose a number of things happened. One was the slowing of the UK cyberculture that had inspired the Ccru throughout the 90s. Gradually, the exorbitant hypotheses of the Ccru seemed to have less purchase on a culture that increasingly seemed to correspond more with Jameson’s ideas of retrospection and pastiche. In the 90s, it was possible to oppose a vibrant cyberculture to the malaise which Jameson identified. But in the 00s, the blight of postmodernism spread everywhere.

Also, I found that, as I started teaching regularly, and as I got used to writing for an audience – and there’s no form of writing that makes you as aware of having an audience as blogging; print publications just don’t compare – I rediscovered rhetoric, argument and engagement. The exhilaration of the Ccru-style was its uncompromising blizzard of jargon, text as a tattoo of intensities to which you just had to submit. But it’s hard to maintain that kind of speed-intensity for longer writing projects; and I found that I enjoyed producing writing that was expositorier and which tried to engage the reader rather than blitz them. I like Zizek’s line that the idiot he is trying to explain philosophy to is himself; I feel the same. Much of my writing now is me trying to explain things to/for myself.

There were also political schisms. The Ccru defined itself against the sclerotic stranglehold that a certain moralizing Old Left had on the Humanities academy. There was a kind of exuberant anti-politics, a ‘technihilo’ celebration of the irrelevance of human agency, partly inspired by the pro-markets, anti-capitalism line developed by Manuel DeLanda out of Braudel, and from the section of Anti-Oedipus that talks about marketization as the “revolutionary path”. This was a version of what Alex Williams has called “accelerationism”, but it has never been properly articulated as a political position; the tendency is to fall back into a standard binary, with capitalism and libertarianism on one side and the state and centralization on the other.

But working in the public sector in Blairite Britain made me see that neoliberal capitalism didn’t fit with the accelerationist model; on the contrary, pseudo-marketization was producing the pervasive, decentralized bureaucracy I describe in Capitalist Realism. My experiences as a teacher and as trade union activist combined with a belated encounter with Zizek – who was using some of the same conceptual materials as Ccru (the Freudian death drive; pulp culture, technology), but giving them a leftist spin – to push me towards a different political position. I guess what I’m interested in now is in synthesizing some of the interests and methods of the Ccru with a new leftism. Speculative Realism has returned to some of the areas that the Ccru was interested in. What I’m hoping will happen in the next decade is that a new kind of theory will develop that emerges from people who have been deep-cooked in post-Fordist capitalism, who take cyberspace for granted and who lack nostalgia for the exhausted paradigms of the old left.

RW: One of the most exciting things to happen in publishing last year was the development of the Zer0 Books imprint. Can you explain how that came about and the purpose of the project?

MF: The imprint was set up by the novelist Tariq Godard. He asked Nina Power and me if we’d like to do books, and we suggested a range of other people. What we wanted was to produce the kind of books we’d want to read ourselves, but which weren’t being published anywhere. In mainstream media, the space that had drawn Tariq and myself towards theory in the first place – the music press, areas of the broadcast media – had disappeared. Effectively, that kind of discourse had been driven into exile online. So part of what Zer0 was about was harvesting the work that has been developed on the blog networks. Zer0 is about establishing a para-space, between theory and popular culture, between cyberspace and the university. The Zer0 books are a reminder of what ought to be obvious, but which the imbecilic reductionism of neoliberal media would like us to forget: serious writing doesn’t have to be opaque and incomprehensible, and popular writing doesn’t have to be facile.

RW: Your first book, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, was published by Zer0 in November. Why do you think that capitalism, even in the wake of the financial crisis, has such a grip on our consciousness?

MF: I’m not sure that it has a grip on our consciousness so much as on our unconscious. It shapes the limits of what we can imagine. It does so because it has enjoyed 20 years of unchallenged domination, blitzing our nervous systems with its intoxicants, paralysing thought. Put at its simplest, capitalist realism is the widespread idea that capitalism is the only “realistic” political economic system. The response to the financial crisis only reinforced this belief – it was (on every level) unthinkable that the banks could be allowed to crash. The problem is imagining an alternative that anyone believes could be actually attained. Which isn’t to say that an alternative can’t ever come about; in fact, after the financial crisis, we’re in the bizarre situation at the moment where everything – very much including the continuation of the status quo – looks impossible.  But this is already an improvement from how things seemed only two years ago. The financial crisis forced capitalist realism to change its form. The old neoliberal story was no longer viable. But Capital has not yet cobbled together much of a new narrative, or come up with any economic solution to the problems that led to the crash in the first place. It’s as if capitalism has suffered its own version of shock therapy.

RW: How is your argument different from that put forward by Fredric Jameson in his work on the culture of postmodernism?

MF: Well, as I say in the book, in many ways what I’m calling “capitalist realism” can be contained under the rubric of Jameson’s theorization of postmodernism. Yet the very persistence and ubiquity of the processes that Jameson identifies – the destruction of a sense of history, the supersession of novelty by pastiche – meant that they have changed in kind. Postmodernism is now no longer a tendency in culture; it has subsumed practically all culture. Capitalist realism, you might say, is what happens when postmodernism is naturalized. After all, we’ve now got a generation of young adults who have known nothing but global capitalism and who are accustomed to culture being pastiche and recapitulation.

RW: In the book you move from describing the problems of capitalist society to how it is making us mentally ill. What do you think are the central lasting effects of neoliberalism on our psyches and, with its collapse, how do you see these unravelling?

MF: Neoliberalism installs a perpetual anxiety – there is no security; your position and status are under constant review. It’s no wonder that, as Oliver James shows in The Selfish Capitalist, depression is so prevalent in neoliberalized countries. Widespread mental illness is one of the hidden costs of neoliberal capitalism; stress has been privatized. If you’re depressed because of overwork, that’s between you and your brain chemistry!

I do think that the financial crisis killed neoliberalism as a political project – but it doesn’t need to be alive in order to continue to dominate our minds, work and culture. Even though neoliberalism now lacks any forward momentum, it still controls things by default. So, sadly, I don’t see the deleterious psychic effects of neoliberalism waning any time in the immediate future.

RW:You identify the madness of managerial bureaucracy, the incessant and pointless ‘auditing culture’, in contemporary public services, specifically education. You discuss how this auditing culture is now, along with capitalism’s PR network, a new big Other, a replacement for God. It’s the ideological matrix that we all cynically dismiss (not just privately – this cynicism is now the accepted public language; see the Guardian’s G2 section for daily examples) but nonetheless remains the binding authority. Why are we not simply able to shrug it off?

MF: PR is not limited any more to specific promotional activities – as I say in the book, under capitalism, all that is solid melts into PR. In so-called “immaterial” labour, the effect of auditing is not to improve actual performance but to generate a representation of better performance. It’s a familiar effect that anyone subject to New Labour’s targets will know all too well.

Neoliberalism reproduces itself through cynicism, through people doing things they “don’t really believe”. It’s a question of power. People go along with auditing culture and what I call “business ontology” not necessarily because they agree with it, but because that is the ruling order, “that’s just how things are now, and we can’t do anything about it”. That kind of sentiment is what I mean by capitalist realism. And it isn’t merely queitsm; it’s true that almost no-one working in public services is likely to be sacked if they get a poor performance review (they will just be subject to endless retraining); but they might well be sacked if they start questioning the performance review system itself or refusing to co-operate with it.

RW: So now we move from the critique to the positive proposals. In an interview with Matthew Fuller for Mute you tentatively suggest that the left needs to come up with a new big Other, one that is more representative of Rousseau’s ‘general will’. How is this to be distinguished from the capitalist big Other and how would it be prevented from becoming reified, a new system of mystical dominance?

RW: Reification isn’t a problem per se; in fact, it’s something we should hope for. Evan Calder Williams, whose book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse is coming out on Zer0, talks of an “anti-capitalist reification”, and I think that’s what we need to develop. It’s capitalism that poses as being anti-reification; it’s capitalism that presents itself as having dissolved all illusions and exposed the underlying reality of things. Part of what I’m arguing in Capitalist Realism is that this is an ideological sleight of hand; it’s precisely neoliberal capitalism’s ostensible demystifications (its reduction of everything to the supposedly self-evident category of the free individual) that allow all kinds of strange, quasi-theological entities to rule our lives. But I don’t think the aim should be to replace capitalism’s fake anti-reification with a “real” anti-reification. Reification can’t be entirely eliminated. I take this to be one of the important lessons that Lacanian psychoanalysis has to teach. Being a speaking subject at all involves a minimal reification; the big Other is coterminous with language itself. But this is very far from being a problem for the left. It’s the left that needs to insist on the reality of something in excess of individuals, whether you call it the “general will”, the “public interest”, or something else. When Mrs Thatcher famously denied the existence of society, she was echoing Max Stirner’s claim that all such abstractions are “spooks”. But we can’t ever rid ourselves of these incorporeal entities – neoliberalism certainly hasn’t. As I argue in Capitalist Realism, neoliberalism hasn’t killed the big Other – for who is the consumer of PR (which no actual empirical individual believes) if not the big Other? The point now – and I would affirm this forcefully, not tentatively – is to invent a leftist big Other. This doesn’t mean reviving authoritarianism; there is no necessary relation between the big Other and a strong leader. On the contrary, in fact, authoritarianism happens when there is a confusion between the big Other (as virtuality) and an empirical individual. What we need are institutions and agents that will stand in for – but cannot be equated with – a leftist big Other.

RW: You talk about the re-formatting of memory that is a symptom of capitalist realism, where history can be altered almost instantly (as in a Philip K. Dick novel) as we stand agog before the supposed ceaseless innovation of capitalism. You were also one of those to start using the concept ‘hauntology’, the idea that there was a cultural meme that acknowledged the collapse of a moment and picks through the remains for the lost futures buried within (it’s probably fair to say that Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism, the first Zer0 Book, is operating within this terrain). Similarly, we are in a political landscape littered with ‘ideological rubble’ (as you quote Alex Williams). My suspicion is that for you the ‘moment’ that has collapsed is the politics of ’68, one that was perhaps guilty of the re-formatting of history and memory in its own way, before many of its ideas were taken up by a post-Fordist capitalism. So what is the detritus that you are picking through? What of the discarded remnants of left politics would you dust off? And is it possible to give old ideas new momentum?

MF: I would say that, in many ways, the politics of ’68 haven’t collapsed enough. ’68 is a spectre which still hangs over theory. Yet the forces which ’68 railed against no longer exist; there is no Stalinist Party or State that we need to blow apart with a Cultural Revolution. Which isn’t to say that we should want to return to Stalinist authoritarianism, or that it is possible to do so; the oscillation between these two options is the sign of a failure of political imagination. It’s necessary to go all the way through post-Fordism, to keep looking ahead, especially at times when there seems to be nothing ahead of us. Part of the importance of the concept of hauntology is the idea of lost futures, of things which never happened but which could have. On one level, late capitalism is indeed all about ceaseless reinvention, nothing is solid, everything is mutable; but on another level, it is about recapitulation, homogeneity, minimally different commodities. Some of Jameson’s best passages are about this strange antinomy. Deleuze and Guattari, too, emphasize the way in which capitalism is a bizarre mix of the ultra-modern and the archaic. The failure of the future haunts capitalism: after 1989, capitalism’s victory has not consisted in it confidently claiming the future, but in denying that the future is possible.  All we can expect, we have been led to believe, is more of the same – but on higher resolution screens with faster connections. Hauntology, I think, expresses dissatisfaction with this foreclosure of the future.

So it’s not now a question of giving old ideas new momentum, it’s a matter of fighting over the meaning of the words “new” and “modern”. Neoliberalism has made it seem self-evident that “modernization” means managerialism, increased exploitation of workers, outsourcing etc. But of course this isn’t self-evident: the neoliberals fought a long campaign on many fronts in order to impose that definition. And now neoliberalism itself is a discredited relic – albeit, as I argued above, one that still dominates our lives, but only by default now. Part of the battle now will be to ensure that neoliberalism is perceived to be defunct. I think that’s already happening. There is a change in the cultural atmosphere, small at the moment, but it will increase. What Jim McGuigan calls “cool capitalism”, the culture of swaggering business and conspicuous consumption that dominated the last decade, already looks as if it belongs to a world that is dead and gone. After the financial crisis, all those television programmes about selling property and the like became out of date overnight. These things aren’t trivial; they have provided the background noise which capitalist realism needed in order to naturalise itself. The financial crisis has weakened the corporate elite – not materially so much as ideologically. And, by the same token, it has given confidence to those opposed to the ruling order. I’m sure that the university occupations are the signs of a growing militancy. We need to take advantage of this new mood. There’s nothing old fashioned about the idea of rational organisation of resources, or that public space is important. (The failure to rationally organise natural resources is now evident to everyone; and the consequences of letting the concept of public space decline are equally obvious to anyone living in Britain, with its violent crime and drunkenness, both of which are symptoms of a kind of despair that is as unacknowledged under capitalist realism as it is ubiquitous). Similarly, what is intrinsically “modern” about putting workers under intolerable stress? The pseudonymous postal worker Roy Mayall put this very well in his LRB blog:

We used to be told that there were three elements to the postal trade: the business, the customers and the staff, and that all were equally important. These days we are clearly being told that only the business matters. So now the ‘modernisers’ are moving in. They are young, thrusting, in-your-face and they think they know all the answers. According to them, the future is the application of new technology within the discipline of the market. But the market doesn’t tell us what to do: people tell us what to do. The ‘market’ is essentially a ploy by which one group of people’s interests are imposed on the rest of us. The postal trade is at the front line of a battle between people’s needs and the demands of corporations to make ever increasing profits. That’s what they mean by ‘modernisation’, and it’s not ‘nostalgia’ to remind ourselves that things used to be different.

But the fight will only be won when we can say with confidence, not only that things used to be different in the past, but that they can be different in the future too. I’m hoping that, before long, the neoliberal era will be seen for what it was: a barbarous anti-Enlightenment atavism, a temporary interruption of a process of egalitarian modernization.

RW: At the end of last year you edited a collection of essays, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, brought out almost at the speed of John Blake Publishing! What was so important about Michael Jackson’s death that made you put such energy into this project?

MF: Yes, it’s rapid-response theory! There’s no doubt that Jackson’s death arrived at a punctual moment. A whole thirty year reality system had just collapsed with the bank bail-outs. Obama had been elected. There was no-one who personified that thirty year period more than Michael Jackson. In the few days after Jackson died, I found myself watching his videos over and over again. I surprised myself by moved from a position of detached cynicism to feeling increasingly sad. There was something in those videos – particularly the Off The Wall clips – which afterwards disappeared from Jackson personally and from the culture in general. So I listened to Off The Wall and “Billie Jean” obsessively. I probably listened to “Billie Jean” forty times, but it was like listening to it for the first time; there were depths to it I’d never got to before. I wrote a post on my blog which elicited some positive responses; and it struck me that the network around Zer0 – which includes many of the world’s music writers as well as theorists – was in an ideal position to produce a book that could deal with MJ as a symptom. Which isn’t to say that the book is some desiccated analysis that doesn’t engage with the sensuous qualities of Jackson’s music – there are some wonderful descriptions of the tracks and Jackson’s dancing. The book was put together very quickly, but I’m extremely pleased with the results. It was heartening to see what music writers can do when you give them space and let them pursue their interests. There are some pieces in the book – such as Chris Roberts’ and Ian Penman’s – that are so sui generis that it is difficult to imagine them appearing anywhere else.

RW: You’ve had a busy year, what with the blog, teaching, finishing a stint as reviews editor at The Wire, conference papers, marriage, Zer0 and the publication of two books – is it time for a rest now or will 2010 be just as busy?

MF: This is not the time for a rest. On a personal level, a rest is impossible. Most of what I do doesn’t make me much money, so I have to keep working at a furious rate to keep my head above water. On a wider cultural and political level, this is a highly exciting time, not a moment to be convalescing. This year, in addition to the teaching, blogging, freelancing and editing for Zer0, I will be putting out Ghosts Of My Life, which will bring together my writings on hauntology and lost futures; in some ways, it’s the other half of Capitalist Realism. There’s another big project that I’m involved with which I have high hopes for, but we’re not ready to go public on that yet.

RW: And finally, I hope it’s not too late to ask what were your favourite books of last year?

MF: Apart from the Zer0 books – and I’ve almost certainly forgotten something really important – they would be:

Fredric Jameson, Valences Of The Dialectic. A genuinely monumental work that I expect to be referring to for many years.
Graham Harman, Prince Of Networks. A stunning reinterpretation of Bruno Latour’s work that is also Graham’s most lucid account yet of his object-oriented philosophy
Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Jodi’s sharp analysis of the impasses of the left is also a kind of requiem for much the 2.0 bluster of the last decade.
Slavoj Zizek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce. Much more focused than some of Zizek’s recent books, this was a reminder of his supreme relevance to the current conjuncture.

RW: Thanks Mark.

Rowan Wilson (22/02/2010)
RSB-ROBOT
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Speculations I

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Table of Contents

Editorial – Paul Ennis

Articles

Science-Laden Theory: Outlines of an Unsettled Alliance – Fabio Gironi
Thinking Against Nature: Nature, Ideation, and Realism between Lovecraft and Schelling – Ben Woodard
To Exist Is To Change: A Friendly Disagreement With Graham Harman On Why Things Happen – Michael Austin
Interviews with Graham Harman, Jane Bennett, Tim Morton, Ian Bogost, Levi Bryant and Paul Ennis – Petter Gratton

Position Papers

Nomological Disputation: Alain Badiou and Graham Harman on Objects – Nathan Coombs
Response to Nathan Coombs – Graham Harman
Networkologies: A Manifesto, Section I – Christopher Vitale

Book Reviews

Deleuze/Guattari & Ecology edited by Bernd Herzogenrath – Adrian Ivakhiv
The Ecological Thought by Tim Morton – Petter Gratton with a response by Tim Morton
After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion edited by Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler – Austin Smidt

 organ without a body

The Naked Lunch I am concerned with here is David Cronenberg’s film about William Burroughswriting process of Naked Lunch. The film, rather than being a direct adaptation of the novel, is a distillation of Burroughs’s life as he strives to write himself out of the past. We see Burroughs progressively deteriorating to the level of a dumb beast as he tries to make sense of his sufferings in and through writing. In the introduction he wrote for the 1985 edition of his earlier novel Queer, the writing of which dates back to 1953 following the two years period of depression, guilt, and anxiety ridden self-hatred after his accidental shooting of his wife Joan in September 1951, Burroughs, in an almost confessional manner, explicates the sources of his compulsion to write. Writing, for Burroughs, represents his lifelong pursuit of getting out of consciousness and reaching the area between fantasy and reality.

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.[1]

The death of Joan creates a space within Burroughs into which he escapes, and attempts to fill with his writings. Cronenberg explicates what Burroughs had already implied in his introduction to Queer. In the film writing in particular and creativity in general is shown to be a response to a traumatic incident, that is, production of fantasies to compensate for the horrors of life. As the film proceeds so does the mental deterioration of Bill Lee who represents Burroughs in the movie. The first signs of Lee’s split come when he is arrested by two policemen for “the possession of dangerous substances.” What they are talking about is the bug-powder which, Lee, who has given up writing to become a bug exterminator, uses to kill insects. The two policemen ask him to demonstrate his profession. One of them puts an insect the size of a hand on a pile of bug powder to see if the insect will die. As the insect begins moving its wings, arms, and legs they leave the room and Lee with the insect. As soon as they leave the room the insect tells Lee through a mouth-anus at its back that it has instructions for him, that it comes from the Interzone, that his wife Joan is not actually human and that he has to kill her. The insect asks Lee if he could put some bug powder on its mouth-anus upon the application of which it starts to make noises and movements as if in an orgy. In the next scene we are in reality and Joan is asking Lee to put some bug powder on her lips. As wee see a few scenes later that the mouth-anus turns out to be the abyss, the bottomless depth, or the space in-between fantasy and reality in which Lee loses himself and shoots his wife.

This presentation of fantasy and reality side by side occurs throughout the film. It is when the gap between fantasy and reality disappears that the Unconscious manifests itself. In the case of Bill Lee the undesired event is pushed back into the unconscious in turn causing an accumulation of sadistic impulses in him. These sadistic impulses are then externalized in and through writing. For Burroughs writing was cathartic in that it liberated the untamed drives and prevented the manifestation of aggression in the external world. In Cronenberg what we see is almost the opposite of this attitude to writing. As we know from Dead Ringers, Videodrome, and eXistenZ, for Cronenberg writing and creativity have destructive rather than therapeutic effects on the writer. In the film Bill Lee emerges as the culmination of these two opposing views on not only the creative process but also the relationship between the creator and the creation, the subject and the object, mind and body. As the arena of this conflict Bill Lee’s world is that of the one in-between the internal and the external worlds, the Interzone, or in psychoanalytic terms the Unconscious, the Real, where there is no self or not self.

Interzone is Tangiers on the North African coast where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in 1953. In those days it was a place of escape for the self-exiled artists and artisans. At Interzone everyone has their own particular universality in one big universal cesspool and that cesspool is Lee’s fantasy world. The Real, or the Unconscious, is impossible to represent and all those monsters, bug-typewriters, and disgusting images are only the creations of Lee’s hallucinating mind. In it every universality is surrounded by many other universalities and each universality is a body without organs. Upon arrival at the Interzone Lee starts to see his typewriter as an insect resembling the one which he had first encountered in the interrogation room at the police station. The bug-typewriter becomes the mouth-anus mechanism, the partial object opening a gap through language in-between the body without organs and the organ without a body.

Orality is naturally prolonged in cannibalism and anality in the case of which partial objects are excreta, capable of exploding the mother’s body, as well as the body of the infant. The bits of one are always the persecutors of the other, and, in this abominable mixture which constitutes the Passion of the nursing infant, persecutor and persecuted are always the same. In this system of mouth-anus or aliment-excrement, bodies burst and cause other bodies to burst in a universal cesspool.[2]

Here Deleuze is referring to Melanie Klein’s Psychoanalysis of Children. The state of being which Deleuze summarizes is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child, the world of simulacra. At this stage, which preceeds Lacan’s mirror stage, the child is not yet capable of identification. There is an introjection-projection mechanism going on but the objects, internal and external, are experienced as bad objects. The conception of goodness has not yet developed in the child. Since there is no good object for the child to identify with there is no condition of possibility for the identificatory process with a good or a bad object, there is no self or not self.

The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position in which identification with a good object takes place. The passage from paranoid-schizoid introjection-projection to manic-depressive identification is the process of passing through the Interzone, or in Lacan’s words “traversing the fantasy.” In Deleuze’s terms this process is the hovering of an impersonal consciousness over the transcendental field of partial objects. The bug-typewriter is Lee’s impersonal consciousness manifesting itself in the form of a paranoid fantasy, a body without organs which is pretending to be an organ without a body. In fact it is neither a body without organs nor an organ without a body and yet it is both at the same time. It is a becoming in between being and non-being.

Cronenberg’s move is away from Burroughs’s Kafkaesque understanding of the body as metaphor and towards a Deleuzean narrative of the metamorphosis of the body in a literal sense. All those self-destructive creators are inverted into the spotlight in and through Croneberg’s films and this enables Cronenberg to contemplate on the creative process as an inversion of destructive process and fill the film with this contemplation. What we see in Naked Lunch is the death drive in conflict with the life drive.

In Deleuze the body without organs is the metaphor of the death drive. And since the death drive is a response to the fragmentation of the self, it can only take the form of a paranoid fantasy projected onto the Real. The body without organs is the partial objects brought together in a totalizing way, in a way that deprives them of their partialities.

What the schizoid position opposes to bad partial objects—introjected and projected, toxic and excremental, oral and anal—is not a good object, even if it were partial. What is opposed is rather an organism without parts, a body without organs, with neither mouth nor anus, having given up all introjection or projection, and being complete, at this price.[3]

The body without organs, then, is the absence of a connection between the subject’s inside and outside. The subject, in a state of total negation, neither eats nor excretes. It eats nothingness itself and becomes the catatonic (w)hole. It is not out of the body without organs that the subject is born but from the paranoid-schizoid position which consists of a not yet formed consciousness, an impersonal consciousness violently attacking the external world and splitting the given unities. As opposed to the body without organs it consists of projection and introjection of the partial objects surrounding the subject to create fantasies such as an illusionary ego, and learns to keep the body without organs, or the Real at bay. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position which corresponds to the formation of the super-ego and the sustenance of a balance between id, ego, and super-ego.

Burroughs’s cut-up and fold-in techniques appear to be the two constituent parts of his defense mechanism against the spectre of Joan haunting him. To escape from the paralyzing state of being haunted by the spectre, that is, not to turn into a body without organs, he carries the projection-introjection mechanism to its furthest and literally and unconsciously puts words and sentences, partial objects, next to and within each other to make up discontinuities, cause ruptures and keep the Real at bay. Through giving a voice to the Real as it is before symbolization, Burroughs’s intends to prevent it from becoming real, from being actualized  hence submitting the governance of his actions to an external force. It is this mechanism of repression inherent in the cut-up technique that causes what it tries to cure. The cut-up technique involves literally cutting-up passages and putting them together as a new text which would be neither the one nor the other, hence deforming the syntax. The fold-in technique involves folding into each other the different parts of the same text, hence distorting the order of time. In both states what is at stake is a total negation of the external world as a result of its being considered as hostile. In Burroughs the paranoid fantasy projected on the real replaces reality with its inverted version, that is, Burroughs turns what he imagines the external world to be against itself by creating a paranoid fantasy involving a scenario in which the subject believes itself to be governed by an internally constituted external and evil force. Burroughs discovered cut-up and fold-in techniques as a defense mechanism against the paranoid fantasy he constructed around himself. To get out of this mad symbolic world, he decided to slash it into pieces and connect it with other texts that are themselves torn apart.

Burroughs’s cut-up technique is a result of his search for a way of desymbolizing the paranoid symbolic world he had constructed and projected onto the external world. Burroughs thought resymbolization was therapeutic in that it gave voice to the evil within in the way of expelling it. Cut-up technique aims at desymbolizing the totalitarian system surrounding the subject and was a defense against the totalitarian nature of this resymbolization. Burroughs himself admits in a letter written to Kerouac shortly after beginning to use the cut-up and fold-in techniques that “writing now causes me an almost unendurable pain.”[4] In Naked Lunch the movie, the theme of the materiality of language recurs through the encounters between the bug-typewriter and Bill Lee. Bill Lee creates an insect within, projects it onto his typewriter, and talks with it.  His creations have taken on lives of their own and are doing and saying things mostly against him.

  • (via silent-musings)In Nova Express, Burroughs’s 1964 text, The Invisible Man says, “These colourless sheets are what flesh is made from—Becomes flesh when it has colour and writing—That is Word and Image write the message that is you on colourless sheets determine all flesh.”[5] Burroughs had a strong sense of the materiality of language. When he has The Invisible Man say “becomes flesh when it has colour and writing” he is in a way referring to the Unconscious as the invisible man who is striving to become visible to himself and to others in and through language.

 Foucault’s interpretation of Bentham’s Panoptic mechanism becomes relevant here. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault presents the Panopticon as a metaphor of how power operates within modern western society. A revolutionary apparatus for its time (19th century), the Panopticon was more than just a model of prison for Foucault, it was a mechanism to keep an absent eye on the prisoner, to keep them under control at all times.

The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.[6]

The formulation of the concept of the Panopticon involves not only seeing without being seen, but also a mechanism that imposes both their differences and their resemblances upon the subjects. So the subject’s difference from other subjects is itself externally constituted, but is also internal to the subject. The subject is the product of the mechanism in which the subject finds/loses itself, and participates in the setting of the trap. Some subjects are produced in such a way as to act on an illusory sense of consciousness, that they are in control of their lives and events surrounding them, that they are freely choosing their destiny, when in fact all the rules and possibilities of action are always already set. In a panoptic mechanism taking on passive and submissive roles brings wealth, love, health, and even happiness. In a panoptic mechanism everyone is a slave, but some are less so than the others. In a panoptic mechanism submissiveness brings power. The system is such that the subject, to feel secure, takes on a passive role. In return the subject is recognized as worthy of a higher step on the social ladder, which brings an illusionary sense of security. The efficiency of the panoptic mechanism depends on its ability to produce submissive/adaptive/rational subjects.

Panopticomania

Burroughs’s mind works exactly like a panoptic mechanism. And I think this has been one of the major concerns of Cronenberg throughout the shooting of the Naked Lunch. What we have in the movie is a man who has been caught up in a trap that he himself set. Bill Lee projects the construct of his psyche onto the external world and it is by doing this that he finds/loses himself in the trap, dismembered. The paranoid fantasy he constructs becomes so powerful that it engulfs him causing his detachment from the external world and leading to the eventual loss of the gap between fantasy and reality. It as this point that the Real slips through and tears him apart. He, in his mind, literally becomes a slashed monster, sees himself thus, as he is not, and becomes other than himself. His becoming-other, however, is in the wrong direction, or rather results in a confusion concerning the relationship between the subject and the object.

Burroughs believed that literature gives birth to action. He also saw writing itself as an action. At the end of the film we see Bill Lee at the border on his way back to Annexia from the Interzone. Two guards ask him what his occupation is. He says he is a writer. They want him to demonstrate. He takes out the gun from his pocket. Joan is at the back of the car. It’s time for their William Tell routine. Joan puts a glass on her head. Lee misses the glass and shoots Joan on the head. The guards are satisfied. The spectator witnesses this crime and remembers the person irrelevantly looking out of the window when they were slaughtering Kafka’s K. at the end of The Trial. Who was that person? Was it God? Was it a single man? Was it all of humanity?


[1] William Burroughs, Queer (New York: Penguin, 1985)

[2] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Athlone, 1990), 187

[3] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 188

[4] William Burroughs, Letters (New York: Penguin, 1994), 286

[5] William Burroughs, Nova Express, (London: Panther, 1982), 30

[6] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 204

The Evil Spirit and The Spiritual Automaton

It is a recurrent theme in science-fiction-thriller movies that in time humanity turns into the slave of its own creation, namely of machines. It is precisely because of this fear of being replaced that humanity attempts to get out of time, out of the physical, and eventually falls on the side of what it was attempting to escape from; be that which they fall in the direction of metaphysics or pure-physics, in both cases their thought itself becomes machinic.

The Panopticon may even provide an apparatus for supervising its own mechanisms. In this central tower, the director may spy on all the employees that he has under his orders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders […] and it will even be possible to observe the director himself. An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the center of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the director’s own fate entirely bound up with it?[1]

Panopticon, then, is a mechanism that disperses power as it produces submissive subjects. The transparency of the building makes it a model for the exercise of power by society as a whole. The subject becomes one with the mechanism surrounding it and so becomes the effect and the functionary at the same time. In short, the subject starts operating like and feeling itself as a machine. The body is not replaced by a machine but starts to work like the machine it is connected to. This is the contamination of the subject by the object.

Slavoj Zizek points out Deleuze’s emphasis on the passage from metaphor and towards metamorphosis in terms of the difference between “machines replacing humans” and the “becoming-machine” of a man.

The problem is not how to reduce mind to neuronal “material” processes (to replace the language of mind by the language of brain processes, to translate the first one into the second one) but, rather, to grasp how mind can emerge only by being embedded in the network of social relations and material supplements. In other words, the true problem is not “How, if at all, could machines imitate the human mind?” but “How does the very identity of human mind rely on external mechanical supplements? How does it incorporate machines?”[2]

In Cronenberg’s films we see the theme of machines replacing humans in the process of being replaced by the theme of humans connected to machines, or machines as extensions of humans providing them with another realm beyond and yet still within the material world; the psychic and the material horizontally situated next to each other. In eXistenZ, for instance, we have seen how the game-pod is plugged into the subject’s spine through a bio-port and becomes an extension of the body. In Naked Lunch the typewriter becomes Lee’s extension. In Burroughs’s the obsession was still with the machine taking over the body. In Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs the obsession is with body and machine acting upon one another. What Burroughs experienced with his body but was unable to express becomes possible to express with the film. As we know from his writings on his routines Burroughs himself was becoming-machine internally, he was incorporating the dualistic and mechanical vision of the world surrounding him, but he thought his body was being attacked by external forces and the space he occupied was being invaded by forces that belonged to an altogether different realm, an external world. In Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch we see Bill Lee becoming a spiritual automaton to keep the Evil Spirit within at bay. The paradox is that the Evil Spirit is itself his own construction which in turn constructs him as a spiritual automaton constructing an external Evil Spirit.


In what follows I will attempt to show that Cronenberg’s films are caught in a vicious cycle, that they are self-deconstructive, and that if one thinks too much about them they not only turn back on themselves but also collapse in on themselves. This is because they are shut up in themselves in a highly solipsistic fashion and are the victims of the way they attack what they consider to be dangerous for humanity. In short I will try to show how Cronenberg’s films deconstruct themselves and invalidate their own stance before what they criticize, and this turns them into suicidal rituals before which the spectator is expected to recoil in horror.

One example of what I have said concerning the self-deconstruction inherent in Cronenberg’s films is in the middle of Naked Lunch where Tom Frost, also a writer, who appears to be Joan’s husband in Interzone, tells Bill Lee that he has been killing his wife everyday for years.

Author William Burroughs, an ex-dope addict, relaxing on a shabby bed in what is known as a Beat Hotel. Paris, 1959. Photograph: Life/ Loomis Dean.

Tom: There are no accidents. For example, I have been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years.

Lee: What?

Tom: Well, not intentionally, of course. On the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous.

Lee: But you do consciously know it. You just said it. We’re discussing it.

Tom: Not consciously. This is all happening telephatically. Non-consciously.[close-up of Tom’s mouth, his lips moving in disharmony with what he is actually saying] If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else. I’m not actually telling you about the several ways I’m gradually murdering Joan. About the housekeeper Fadela whom I’ve hired to make Joan deathly ill by witchcraft. About the medicines and drugs I’ve given her. About the nibbling away at her self-esteem and sanity that I’ve managed, without being at all obvious about it. [the movement of his lips become harmonious with what he is saying] Whereas Joanie finds that she simply cannot be as obsessively precise as she wants to be unless she writes everything in longhand.

We have to keep in mind before engaging in analysis that all this is happening in Lee’s mind, that Interzone is a construct of his psyche, that he is actually in New York, that he is hallucinating all this Interzone business, and that the year is 1953. What we have here is the loss of the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious mind. However, this is not a real loss of the boundary because we, the spectators, are informed beforehand that all this is happening in Lee’s mind. There is only the inside of Lee’s mind, and if there is anything lost it is the reality of the external world. Lee only hears the echoes of his projections. The murder of Joan has had such an impact on Lee that he is hearing nothing that the other says and he is replacing this nothing with his own scenarios concerning what’s actually going on outside.

What does the disintegration between Tom’s words and actions signify? It signifies the double-bind situation in which Cronenberg’s films are caught. In other words he is unconsciously communicating that which he thinks he is not saying. He is unconsciously doing what he thinks he is arguing against; that creativity brings with it destruction, that progress and regress are complementary. In Naked Lunch writing is identified with killing one’s wife. To keep the actual killing of the wife at bay, Lee writes not to rationalize the murder but to irrationalize not-killing one’s wife, and we know this from the fact that Tom Frost’s words are only projections of Lee’s psyche.

This scene also explicates Cronenberg’s attitude towards the recurring theme of a psyche-soma split in his films. But more importantly, since Naked Lunch is mainly concerned with the activity of writing and what happens to someone who is in the process of creating something, this scene deals with the relationship between body and language. Here I will leave aside the exhausted subject of a mind-body split who cannot make a distinction between appearance and reality and move towards the more recent theme of the relationship between bodies and languages, with the hope of opening up a field across which one passes and in the process of this passage becomes the embodiment of a new possibility of signification, another sign, neither within nor without the old mode of signification. For this a third dualism is required, and that third dualism, being that of language and Event, has already been worked through by Deleuze.     William Burroughs at his writing machine, New York, fall 1953. One of numerous, rarely seen photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg that feature in a special Gallery section of Naked Lunch@50, here Ginsberg’s Kodak Retina records a crucial moment for Burroughs, as he worked on the manuscripts of “Queer” and “Yage” before heading off towards Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch… (Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust and Stanford University Library.)


[1] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 204

[2] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 16

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