Twice-Told Tales

There is an eerie, but pleasant, feeling when charting a new region of the map and finding it recognizable. These are two passages I’ve recently read for the first time that I thought resonate with pieces I’ve posted here. Whether that implies foresight, insight, or shortsight on my part I don’t know.

Disappear: On Virilio, Howard Hughes and Shut-Ins

Could it be that neoliberal capitalism’s destruction of solidarity and security brought about a compensatory hungering for the well-established and the familiar? Paul Virilio has written of a ‘polar inertia’ that is a kind of effect of and counterweight to the massive speeding up of communication. Virilio’s example is Howard Hughes, living in one hotel room for 15 years, endlessly rewatching Ice Station Zebra. Hughes, once a pioneer in aeronautics, became an early explorer of the existential terrain that cyberspace will open up, where it is no longer necessary to physically move in order to access the whole history of culture. Or, as Berardi has argued, the intensity and precariousness of late capitalist work culture leaves people in a state where they are simultaneously exhausted and overstimulated. The combination of precarious work and digital communications leads to a besieging of attention.

Mark Fisher  – Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures

 

Rigorous Exclusion: Parody, the Gothic, Madness

But if we do insist upon fictional violations of the laws of nature – of space, time, thermodynamics, and the big one, mortality itself – then we risk being judged by the literary mainstream as Insufficiently Serious. Being serious about these matters is one way that adults have traditionally defined themselves against the confidently immortal children they must deal with. Looking back on ”Frankenstein,” which she wrote when she was 19, Mary Shelley said, ”I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart.” The Gothic attitude in general, because it used images of death and ghostly survival toward no more responsible end than special effects and cheap thrills, was judged not Serious enough and confined to its own part of town. It is not the only neighborhood in the great City of Literature so, let us say, closely defined. In westerns, the good people always win. In romance novels, love conquers all. In whodunitsses we know better. We say, ”But the world isn’t like that.” These genres, by insisting on what is contrary to fact, fail to be Serious enough, and so they get redlined under the label ”escapist fare.”

Thomas Pynchon – “Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?”

Scribblings on the Regressive Hypothesis

The following is a puzzling-out of questions I’ve been asking myself about History of Sexuality Volume 1: if you have any thoughts or suggested readings, I would appreciate them /

If the belief that speaking truth to repression/oppression is emancipatory, as in the repressive hypothesis that Foucault claims to criticize in The History of Sexuality Vol. 1, is not merely mistaken because of historical inaccuracy (as the bulk of HS1, admittedly, concerns itself with), but also because of its failure to escape from power-relationships (which it claims to do) then one question needs to be posed: what power-relationships do repressive hypotheses, singularly or in general, engender? In HS1, Foucault does not answer this question anywhere. Because of this gap, something very funny happened: Foucault’s legacy became a new repressive hypothesis.

This new hypothesis, which I call the regressive hypothesis, seems to assert the following: speaking truth to repression/oppression is emancipatory – it also does not escape power-relationships.[1] But with no explicit account of what power-relationship this speaking truth to power in turn engenders, the regressive hypothesis gets off scot-free with everything the repressive hypothesis did – all you must do is note that you are historically placed in all-pervasive power, and you are then free to think everything you do and say is a radical act of rebellion.

So what is Foucault to do if he is serious about criticizing the repressive hypothesis, such that a regressive hypothesis is unthinkably stupid? He would have to try to say what power-relationships the repressive hypothesis engenders, for starters.[2]

If those power-relationships are so vague, so ephemeral, so ghostly, (neoliberalism seems a good candidate, doesn’t it!) then Foucault’s middle-period theory of all-pervasive power is waiting, arms-open, to rehabilitate the repressive hypothesis. This seems to be exactly what happened. I would have to think that Foucault is then misguided, or merely opportunistic, to feign to attack the repressive hypothesis as he did; why should he bother, when a slightly more fine-tuned, more politically convenient, regressive hypothesis is lurking in the wings, deaf to what HS1 is supposedly about, which adds the tiny “power is everywhere” caveat?[3] The regressive theorists could wade into the infinite-regress of all-pervasive power when they felt like it, but that is wasted time when every historical nugget dug from under the oppressive dirt says something radically subversive to the oppressors!

If the power-relationships that repressive hypotheses engender is evident and diagnosable (“academia,” surely, must be one of the symptoms), then we can get to work. Surely, then, the regressive hypothesis is as disposable as the repressive hypothesis? Then something new can be created; it will not be final, it will not be beyond re-evaluation or annihilation; but a rope down to its last threads can be traversed.

If the power-relationships that repressive hypotheses engender are not evident, not diagnosable, not even ephemeral, then is the notion of a power-relationship a sufficient bulwark against repressive/regressive hypotheses? Not at all. Does it even invite them? We must then move beyond (or before) Foucault, but not forgetting him.

[1] The regressive hypothesis has more innocuous names, like “critical theory.”

[2] “Social theories do not engender power-relationships, power-relationships engender social theories!” the curmudgeonly Marxists exclaim. I say: skip to the final paragraph. Or: buckle into your computer chair and get ready to accelerate – Foucault saw nothing yet, we see nothing yet, hurtle into the future where repressive and regressive hypotheses are no longer imaginable.

[3] Or would it be too impolite, too shameful, to say it “checks its privilege?”

 

Review of Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism

(copied from https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1902454724)

I suspect most academic books, maybe books in general, are just a list of excuses for personal prejudices. You believe what you want and then wave your hands until you have some mildly convincing reasons why you believe what you want to believe. That’s particularly easy in continental philosophy. Some academic books forcefully and shamelessly delve into polemics, and the reader is along for the ride. Other academic books are clear and precise enough that you forget you’re reading some asshole with a PhD’s preferences. Other books aren’t out-and-out polemics, but are also shoddily reasoned, so the reader is left scratching their head, writing “????” in the margins, and wondering why they bothered. Here’s where Malign Velocities comes in.

Malign Velocities is a critique of accelerationism. What’s accelerationism? It is a complex, heterogenous group of thinkers, who generally emphasize speed, technological progress, and anti-humanism. Accelerationism is now hip with the youngins because of: Living Meme Nick Land, vaporwave thinkpieces, and of course the encroaching sense of doom and futility in contemporary life. Apparently Noys coined the term. He describes influences and predecessors: Italian Futurists, Soviet poets, French theorists, etc. He also describes different trends in accelerationism: apocalypticism, terminality, so on. His critique amounts to the following: accelerationists are apologists to capitalism even when they think they’re piercing through it; they indulge in a “fantasy” of the “Real” (note the capital R); and they forget, or try to dismiss, living labor in the productive process.

Noys does not furnish a single reason why you should believe any of the preceding. Partly because he avoids naming his targets; partly because when he does name his target, he is simplifying and misunderstanding them beyond recognition; and partly because there’s no clear sense of argumentation or consistency in the chapters. The first problem is simple enough; considering accelerationism is not infrequently broken up into “left” and “right,” its dangerous to try and criticize accelerationism as a unified intellectual and political program. When Noys is criticizing accelerationism, he doesn’t often say “Land says x and here’s why that’s problematic” for example. The second problem does not even depend on one’s familiarity with the figures he’s discussing. Let’s take the 1970s French theorists, who Noys criticizes at a theoretical level most considerably (other people, like Land, get no noteworthy appraisal; others, like the Futurists, are dismissed off hand – after all, if they were Fascists or misogynists, they can’t be taken seriously for one moment, right?). I have some knowledge of Deleuze and Guattari, a passing knowledge of Baudrillard, and no familiarity at all with Lyotard. The sections on D&G are based on a very simplistic reading of them, and do not levy any worthwhile criticism; furthermore, a more considerate reading of Anti-Oedipus (especially the passages on desiring machines working by “breaking down”) could have informed what Noys believes is a preferable alternative to accelerationism (chapter 7). Not knowing anything about Lyotard, though, I can still spot the sleights of hand Noys makes. In the Introduction, he does not present what Lyotard says of accelerationism in a satisfyingly clear way; he then talks about Lyotard views using the term “sublime,” without any uncontroversial evidence; he then says an “embrace of the sublime” is a conservative trope. Connect the dots, Lyotard is a conservative…apparently. This leads into the third problem; most chapters in this book go the following way: summarize a writer; summarize a book; summarize a movie; this writer sucks because x. There is no flow or consistency between any of the sections, or any of the chapters, that gives any credence to Noys’ critique. For example, in chapter 3, “Machine-Being,” Noys says he is going to show why D&G actually believe in a fantasy when they think they’re talking about real production. Okay, fine. Noys summarizes a book by Victor Tausk, which D&G refer to in Anti-Oedipus. Noys reminds us again what he wants to argue about D&G. Noys then summarizes Gravity’s Rainbow and hints at two readings: a psychoanalytic one (Noys is a card-carrying psychoanalyst by the way, so let’s not pretend D&G ever had a chance of a fair interpretation), and an accelerationist one. Noys does not explore either in detail. Finally, there’s a few paragraphs basically saying desire is repetitive and hollow. Oh okay. So why are D&G fantasizing? Noys just says they do, he does not argue for this position at all. Towards that end, Noys uses the very handy tactic of deploying economic buzzwords accepted by postmoden social sciences and humanities academics. Neoliberalism and its twin horses of doom, Thatcher and Reagan; dotcom bubble; financialization; housing crisis; stagflation; and of course the big one, which is so huge and useful that it makes it into the title: “capitalism.” Pepper them in anywhere! Ever notice that the CCRU started changing around the time of the dotcom bubble? Weird, huh? Silly Nick Land, he never had a chance of knowing his career would be historically situated, and thus defeated, by the economic machinations of stockbrokers across the Atlantic.

Here’s some positives, because on the internet you’re supposed to try to make friends and respect your elders. Noys gives a solid history and background for accelerationism. You can learn a bit about where accelerationist ideas came from by reading this book, and come up with a nice reading list. Also, Noys is careful enough to not take the most belligerent and wrong-headed polemical critique of accelerationism. Imagine this book written by someone much less intelligent, or…even worse….a critical theorist! And on that note, I applaud Noys for trying to criticize accelerationism. It is an absolutely worthwhile project to try and dispel the illusions and hype surrounding accelerationism.

Unfortunately, this book is just too short and underdeveloped to be worth reading. Noys just presents some unsubstantiated things he thinks about accelerationism as a middle-of-the-road Socialist, and summarizes a series of books you can just read for yourself. Skip it, or read it and defend your favorite theorist’s honor if you feel so inclined.

The Holy Families

(An Adaptation of Tweetstorm 1/6/17)

Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, “Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family.” Vital, if overlong, entry into the psychoanalytic literature. But, I am an American living in 2017 who has not yet been thoroughly indoctrinated into the post-psychoanalytic canon. Why psychoanalysis, even a critique of it? D&G’s critique of psychoanalysis is worth returning to, even after psychoanalysis’ fall from grace.  The figure of Oedipus, after all, is not the sole property of psychoanalysis, but is spread throughout the social field and thus allowed psychoanalysis and its discovery of Oedipus.  And the forces of Oedipus, the repression of desiring-production, the policing function, the transcendent metaphysics, the holy priest-, in no way require a psychoanalytic backing.  Granting to D&G that the important target is behind the psychoanalytic mask, if this chapter of AO were written now, what would it be called? When “Freud” is no longer a word for polite society, where is Oedipus?

I’d proffer two options for contemporary theoretical discourses that enforce social and psychic repression upon schizoidal desiring-machines.

Or in other words, who should be gutted next?

An easy target, but a tough kill, is modern institutional psychology. Social, behavioral, developmental, experimental… The psychological canon that has climbed out of psychoanalysis’ grave, yet still worships Oedipus.  What else should we find in the promises of productivity and understanding?  With much hesitation, let’s say “folk psychology,” which relegates desire to a leg of a Rational triangle.  Schizoanalysis should be wary of throwing in its lot with the eliminative materialists, but these alignments may be necessary.

A more diffuse target, but even slimier and more sacred: the critical branches of WGS, critical race, intersectionality… Especially the legacy of sex-negative feminism: the patriarchal pyramid, entire journals on petty transgressions, a new “daddy-mommy.”  “Say oppression or I’ll slap you!” Every machine, every desiring-production, is re-inscribed upon the transcendent principle of patriarchal oppression.  We’re beyond gender, of course, so we can thus comfortably say that little boys and little girls alike are reduced to little patriarchy-oppression machines; arrest flows of desire and insert the principle.  Like Oedipus, too, the gender studies professor tells us that oppression and masculinity produce their own cure.  Lie upon the analyst’s couch, or in the classroom desk, and proclaiming “Oedipus!” and “Oppression!” will cure you!

A schizoanalytic critique of contemporary psychology and intersectional sociology is worth mounting now, and especially the latter.  That target has three things in common with psychoanalysis that D&G loathed: diffuse application, social policing function, and a sacred-cowness.  Like Oedipus, oppression is rendered a universal.  History is simply reversed; the pre-oedipal of the deep past that psychoanalysis was forced to admit and quickly re-inscribed becomes the post-oppressive of the deep future that the intersectional discourse similarly confronts and re-inscribes into the oppressive triangle.  Taking nothing at face value, we may refer to the disdain with which the intersectional writers treat talk of “post-sexist” or “post-racist” societies.  The policing function is obvious; like D&G we may seem to be lining up with the rabble if we proclaim the analyst/critical theorist is a con-artist and prude, who policies language and behavior.  D&G, and other post-structuralist figures, savaged untouchable discourses. What was erected in their wake are more untouchable discourses.  This is the irony that has become of “critique.”

For those way in the back seats: like psychoanalysis, intersectional studies is not ALL bad and can be refashioned for revolution.  We should not be surprised if it can be, and perhaps we should look there first. We should step carefully where we see fit.  Let us not ignore what Butler can give us towards the dismantling of the oppression-triangle.

This is a sketch of my case for the need for a schizoanalytic critique of institutional psychology and intersectional studies, in the vein of that of psychoanalysis.  Let’s not confuse this project for reaction or right-wing tendencies (no not yet, or at least not necessarily…).  We need not appeal to that rare beast D&G recognized, the revolutionary tendencies within reaction.  That will be saved until it is unavoidable.  A vibrant and radical left should attack what is nearest and dearest. Do not stop at liberal intersectionality if you want to save desire.  It should analyze how desire desires its own repression. Directly or indirectly, psychoanalysis had us and intersectional studies has us on a collision course with fascism.  This is the key point.  Out of social and personal concern, many psychoanalysts were critics of fascism.  Unawares, the Oedipus they forced upon every neurotic that walked through their doors was fascism incarnate.  So too is intersectional studies.  The fascist workings of callout cultures and sexual exchange are in the open.  Unlike psychoanalysis though, and because of its purview in the wider culture, intersectional studies is stoking the flames of other reactions and fascisms.  Other fascisms?  Perhaps not too different at all; turn patriarchy and oppression into white genocide by a simple flick of the hand.  Much ado is being made about the identity politics shared by the intersectional liberal left and the white nationalist alt-right; much more needs to be made, and not from any common-sense socialist base that thinks it has transcended the fascism of identity politics.

To repeat: intersectional studies has us on a collision course with fascism where it has not already engendered it within its own community, and in the outliers.  Some on the right can see this, and for their own good they are keeping quiet.  Psychoanalysis is dead, Oedipus is not. Using Oedipus, a new project has to be undertaken: understanding how desire desires its own repression in the 21st century.

Disappear: On Virilio, Howard Hughes and Shut-Ins

I admire Paul Virilio’s minute obsessions. They color his thought in unique ways. The beach-side bunkers, the cheesy 90s technologies – especially Howard Hughes.  Howard Hughes, the brilliant technological entrepreneur who faded into obsessive behavior, appears multiple times in his writings, especially as a figure of “disappearance.”  At the symbolic level, as well as literal level, no one could do better.  To approach Howard Hughes as a disappeared figure, particularly from the 1960s until his death, requires arranging key actors and set pieces: power, the nowhere (the dark room, the desert), and the technological monk.

Power breeds isolation or, rather, anticipates it.  We may refer to Nietzsche, on the need of the powerful to exercise distance from the herd, on the need of a pure and lonely mountain spring. First we must consider the mundane, however; for the masters and master-slaves alike, the power-solitude doublet appears.  “Any man that seeks power isolates himself and tends naturally to exclude himself from the dimensions of the others, all techniques meant to unleash forces are techniques of disappearance,” (Virilio, 67).  Disappearance, particularly within contemporary surveillance capitalism, is the hard-won prize of power, as is solitude.  The manifest destiny dream in the sleeping American brain is an escape from the festering Old World cities into power and into solitude.  In There Will be Blood, our rising oil-baron hunting down property in the far West tells us his life’s ambition: “I want to make enough money that I can move far away from everyone.”  This is what Howard Hughes achieved by the middle of the century: he could buy rooms, buildings, hotels, corporations, in order to empty them.  As Virilio writes, “the only purpose of his wealth, finally, was to purchase total reclusion in a dark room…[journalistic expert on Hughes, James Phelan] concludes: what Hughes was accumulating was not money, but power,” (Virilio, 68).  But Virilio is careful to point out that Hughes, and the modern and postmodern race of isolated technocrats, are not the miserly kings living in their castle, which Virilio takes to be the dominating image of Citizen Kane.  The castle, the palace, the ivory tower are loci, places, inhabitances.  What Virilio discovers in the case of Hughes is isolated power which says: “to be is not to inhabit;” in other words, not just the disappearance of the emperor into his palace, but the disappearance of the palace as well – disappearance of the place, and into nowhere (Virilio, 69).

The general form of the nowhere is paradoxically both inertia and speed, as we must consider with Hughes:

14 July 1938, his Lockheed-Cyclone having flown around the world ‘in a great circular arc,’ lands at Floyd Bennett Field where he had taken off on 10 July.  Then he guides his plane into the hanger to the exact point he left from.  It isn’t long before Hughes recognizes that his desire for movement is only desire of inertia, desire to see arrive what is left behind.

Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance page 69.

To unpack this requires two important points: the non-place represented by speed and travel, and the power signified by inertia.  The speed of the private plane in the open sky, the speed of the limo on a desert road, the monthly, weekly or even daily migration from one luxury hotel to another, all signify an absence of arrival and of destination.  Though a familiar post-structuralist trope, the notion of the in-between importantly figures here in Virilio’s treatment of Hughes; Hughes inhabits the in-between and transitory (even making his actual departure and arrival point the same), and thus disappears from all particular places.  Change thus becomes inertia; the moving blip of Hughes’ migration on the map his localized nowhere.  This inertia came with the price tag of power.  The power supplies the plane, the gallons of fuel, the attendants; but what it most importantly supplies is the disappearance.  When Hughes disappears, he builds his own reference frame of time and space.  He does not follow the clock-time of the masses.  Famously, after his plane crash, Hughes entered his private theatre to watch some movies; he did not leave for four months.  You and I have jobs, classes, appointments; we enter the space and time of a theatre (or now, Netflix) for two or three hours.  Hughes attained the power to disappear into the movie screen for as long as he chooses.  He dissolves the temporal boundaries of all his preferred activities.  The two hour movie becomes the 860 hour movie.  “To be all-powerful, to win in the game of life is to create a dichotomy between the marks of his own personal time and those of astronomical time,” (Virilio, 69).  As with time, also with place; when Hughes roams in his “ubiquitous nowhere,” he is removed from the spatial grid of the masses.  Thus Hughes “could believe himself everywhere and nowhere, yesterday and tomorrow, since all points of reference to astronomical space or time were eliminated,” (69).  This inertia and this speed are power.

How can we get a handle on this sense of nowhere that Virilio is describing?  Paradoxically, particular settings are symbolically nowheres.

First, there is the dark room.  Inverting Plato’s allegorical cave, where people are chained up in the cave, Virilio envisions Hughes buying million-dollar caves – dark rooms.  In his theatre, in his Las Vegas hotel room in the Desert Inn, whose curtains stayed closed for his nine-year stay, in his monk-like cell “where he lived nude, covered with bedsores, emaciated and destitute on a pallet,” Hughes disappears into the nowhere of a dark room (68).  The dark room is nowhere because the blinds are shut, the clocks removed, and the only windows are the screen and piles of newspapers.

Second, there is the desert.  Virilio draws a connection between the American West and the Biblical deserts of the Desert Fathers: “there is very little different between the dark room at the top of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and the retreat to the desert of the ancient hermits in search of the Eternal,” (70).  There are no places in empty expanses of deserts – except for the caves of monks and the penthouses of luxury hotels.  I must add another desert which Virilio missed – the Arctic sea ice of the North.  Howard Hughes became obsessed with the 1968 film Ice Station Zebra, a mediocre big budget Cold War espionage thriller set in the isolated outposts of the disputed far North.  He allegedly watched it around 150 times.

Here is our central figure, our leading actor: the technological monk.  Virilio makes the explicit connection between the ancient monks and Hughes – but what makes Hughes technological?  There is his entrepreneurial past, particularly his love of aircraft.  There is also the camera-technology of screens, projectors (“At the foot of the bed where he was lying was, however, an artificial window, a movie screen. At the head there was a projector and alongside it, within reach, the controls…”) (69).  Phones, cars, absent involvement in government espionage.

But now we must leave Hughes.  Hughes was famed for his reclusivity because of his power and the fame he’d already achieved.  Now, however, the technological monk has arisen as a key figure (feared? Aspired to?) in our culture, and no power is needed.  We may joke about the fat 30 year old virgins who live in their parents’ basement shitposting about movie trailers or comic books, but this form of existence, piecemeal weekends or as a whole life, are becoming common.  The cost of disappearance is little to nothing – the dispersed information-technology mode of production in the West may even encourage it as a productive role.  We must ask: what is the technological monk? Particularly now? And what do they do?

To exert the power of absence and separation of time and space, we may say the technological monk does nothing – or at least nothing which lasts.  Virilio writes of Hughes that

This completely desocialized man, who vanished from the earth, who avoided human contact for fear of germs, who was terrified by the very breath of his rare visitors, nonetheless thought only of the media, from the aerospace industry to the cinema, from gasoline to airfields, from casinos to the star system, from the design of Jane Russell’s bra to that of a bomber.  His existence could be considered exemplary.  Hughes cared only about that which passes in transit.  His life rebounded from one vector to another, as has, for 200 years, the power of the American nation he adored.  Nothing else interested him.  He died in the open sky, in an aeroplane.

               Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, page 35.

Media, spectacle, entertainment, radiating from a screen in a dark room.  Even if it is the popular image of the technological monk today, it is no less accurate.  Refer, for instance, to the hikikomori of Japan, a veritable endemic lifestyle of complex socio-economic origins, and the collection of media products of all forms.  We’ve all heard of the guy “that wants to end himself but the only reason he goes on is because he’s looking forward to the next major movie, comic book, and video game release,” (Berardi, Loc 354).

And if the technological monk has or develops the power to extend his reach out of the dark room and desert, or after a time descends from it, what then?  Is it “like Simeon of Emesis, who comes down from his solitude, he said, so as to mock the world (or to play with the world, as Hughes)”? (Virilio, 71).  In fact the technological monk of today does not have to come down from any solitude.  The pure separation of the media-entertainment-political stream of Twitter, to say nothing of the assorted forums and chans and otherwise nowhere-factories of the internet, has bolstered the Alt-Right and NRx into a political force in real, yes real, life.  Loathsome as it is to say so, technological monks and their Keks are mocking and playing with the world simultaneously.

What else may the technological monk do?  Berardi touches upon what Virilio feared in his book on suicide and mass murder.  Writing of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Berardi notes the need to understand

…the subjectivity of the perpetrators – the psychopathology of human beings exposed to electronic hyper-stimulation during their formative years, the special fragility of the first generation to grow up in the virtual age.

Francesco Berardi, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, kindle location 589.

The technological monk may thus kill others and themselves in spectacular displays which dissolve the line between media and reality.  It does not take a sci-fi imagination to envisage a suicidal mass murderer killing from within the dark room, either.

And now for the obligatory ray of hope.  May a technological monk be an artist? A philosopher? Broadcasting from nowhere, from their unique time and place, from a cool dark room and through the screen?  To arrive at what was left behind, what of Zarathustra at his lonesome spring?  If anyone discussed so far prefigures this, it is Hughes.  For hope’s sake we shall pluck Nietzsche out of the fresh air and mountain tops he prefers, and cast him into the virtual age of screens and dark rooms.  Cast him into the desert, as Deleuze did:

But noology is confronted by counterthoughts, which are violent in their acts and discontinuous in their appearances, and whose existence is mobile in history.  These are the acts of a ‘private thinker,’ as opposed to the public professor: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or even Shestov. Wherever they dwell, it is the steppe or the desert.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, page 376.

It is not only broken ones who drift through the nowhere, the smooth spaces of deserts, steppes, and networks.  It is also the nomad, the war machine: the thinker on the attack.

The ‘F’ Name

The ‘F’ Word

Reading Evil-William-Gibson’s aka Nick Land’s new article on fascism, “The ‘F’ Word,” published in what seems to be a perfect example of survivalistic popular interest lacking any skepticism, The Daily Caller, my mind was drawn towards a thinker perhaps as poorly understood as fascism itself: Michel Foucault.  Although the alleged paragon of SJWism, his analyses of power and the State in fact cogently crystallize, way back in 1976, a number of Land’s points: the pervasiveness of modern fascism, the three heads of the modern fascist state (racism, war, and suicide), and the link between state socialism and fascism.  The figure of fascism, however, for Foucault is at a more localizable scale than “democracy:” biopower and the modern State.

First for a brief sketch of biopower. Foucault’s work in the 1970s was concerned with analyzing the dominating forms of power which have arisen in Western society since the Medieval era. Schematically, these are sovereign, disciplinary and biopower.  These forms of power are power-relations and are dispersed throughout society.  That is, even though sovereign power takes its form in the King and his sword, sovereign power is likewise today found in the police, in the workplace, in war.  The parameters and differences between these forms of power are chronological, theoretical, and political, but the key difference between sovereign and biopower which pertains to fascism is the “right” wielded.  The right of the sovereign was “the right to take life or let live,” (History of Sexuality Vol.1, 136).  That is, the sovereign’s right in his relationship to his subjects is to kill them (send them to war in his army over a territorial dispute, or behead them at the scaffold), or to let them live. Otherwise, the sovereign has little interest in the daily life of le peuple and his right does not extend to it.  Biopower, however, is concerned with the various rates of a population, an object of governance which had not existed hitherto: birth rates, death rates, divorce rates, etc.  Through institutions and the State as a whole, biopower is directed at man as a biological species and a biological individual simultaneously.  The right thus accorded to biopower is to “foster life or disallow it to the point of death,” (HS1, 138).  Biopower dominates throughout the 20th century, the period of fascism and socialism, but how is “fostering life” amenable to Nazism and Stalinism,  to the Holocaust and Holodomor? Foucault does point out that biopower is accompanied by the bloodiest wars in history and all-encompassing state rule, and says they are achieved through fascism.

To wage war (world wars or, more accurately as Land notes, wars on “poverty, drugs, and other resilient social conditions”) and eradicate life on massive scales in the age of biopower requires racism.  The key division made by the biopolitical state is among the “biological continuum of the human race of races,” but not merely as a “scientific” category; races are postulated as a relationship of war: “if you want to live, the other must die,” (“Society Must Be Defended,” 255).  The biological survival of one race (tribe, perhaps) is made the function of the destruction of another race.  The state which fosters the life of its race must become a war-state.  Foreign wars are waged against other races (war on terror), while domestic wars (on poverty, drugs, etc) are the poorly disguised interventions of the State into the various rates of its population.  Thus the familiar tribalisms of all fascisms, but more importantly the economic and warring hegemony of the modern State, and the essential “illiberalism” of Democracy which Land speaks of.  This connection between racism and war is the seed of fascism and the biopolitical State – these two cannot be sanely distinguished.  It is through the discourse of purifying one race by the destruction of another that we find “a normalization of war-powers in a modern state, that is: sustained social mobilization under central direction,” and thenceforth to fascism plain and simple (Land).  The biopolitical State is essentially fascist: that includes the Third Reich, the Obama administration, and socialism.  When democracy is indistinguishable from the modern State in any of its forms, it indeed tends toward fascism.

So much for the racist State and the murderous State, on to the suicidal State, that of perpetual war and sheer survival.  As Foucault demonstrates regarding the Nazi state, the purity of the Aryan race is predicated not just on perpetual violence against other races, but the perpetual danger of the Aryan race itself.  The “popular interest” that is suicide is taken up by the State’s various wars such that “exposing the entire population to universal death was the only way it could truly constitute itself as a superior race and bring about its definite regeneration,” (SMD, 260).  The fascist State is based upon sheer survival, which is based upon racism and war.  If National Socialism is to appear so practical, that is because it is the perfection of the biopolitical State: the superimposition of “an absolutely racist State, an absolutely murderous State, and an absolutely suicidal State,” (SMD, 260).

The biopolitical State is fascist: that includes the Third Reich, the Obama administration, and yes the socialist State. Foucault walked this shaky ground long before.  Though we are all familiar with the militaristic and survivalistic aspects of socialism in one country, Foucault proclaims that “Socialism was a racism from the outset,” (SMD, 261).  This is insofar as socialism adopts all of the fascist trappings as every other biopolitical State, is unable to direct its critique, even from the outset, at the biopolitical preconditions of the State, and of course, in its disposal of the mentally ill, criminals and political adversaries. Even before the Red Terror and Civil War, socialist thought, for Foucault, was already intricately bound to biopower and fascism, thus “rationalizing the murder of its enemies,” (SMD, 262). Socialism in one state was fascism from the start – it did not need to turn into it.

To wrap-up, Foucault identifies fascism as the limit to which the modern State, an entity which has the right of fostering life or disallowing it to the point of death, tends to.  The central aspect of fascism, the tribalist discourse of race war, is the condition of survival of the modern State, as are its wars and focusing of popular interest. State racism, perpetual war, and fanaticized social suicide, in a word fascism, are the perfection of the biopolitical State.  Foucault even extends this analysis beyond the familiar Reich boogeyman to socialism and social democracy.

Land raises a key point which we won’t find in Foucault however, possibly because Trump was not on his radar; the fact that fascism is apparently back.  That is, the supposed disappearance of fascism from the West when, as Foucault and Land demonstrate, it came to dominate Western states for nearly a century.  Thus the sick joke floating about and above mainstream media – that Trump’s populist fascism and his weeb-fascist Alt-Right supporters are both too fascistic for Western governance and simultaneously not fascistic enough.  The catalysts that Land identifies are the cut-and-dry functioning of a fascist biopolitical State (“the embrace of demographic engineering as an explicit policy objective, of deliberate partisan asymmetry, attended by a rolling thunder of cultural-elite approved rhetoric that has not only been indiscreet, but blatantly triumphalistic”); the question is why it seems to have stopped working.

Socrates on Power-Knowledge

In the Protagoras, Socrates is joined by Protagoras in defending knowledge from the people. Through an elenchus aimed at an absent and dispersed interlocutor, Socrates takes up a basic hedonistic account of pleasure and pain and concludes that knowledge is indeed of paramount importance. With a careful manipulation of terms however, we can see how empty this line of debate is in comparison to the original point of the masses: knowledge is dragged around as if it were a slave.

According to Socrates, most people think that knowledge

…is not a powerful thing, neither a leader nor a ruler….while knowledge is often present in a man, what rules him is not knowledge but rather anything else – sometimes anger, sometimes pleasure, sometimes pain, at other times love, often fear; they think of his knowledge as being utterly dragged around by all these other things as if it were a slave.

Plato, Protagoras 352b2-352c2

He continues the argument against pleasure and pain, but what Socrates has sketched is a good approximation of the historical and ideology-labelling post-modern present.  As all humanities and social sciences students are taught, especially all the good Foucauldians, knowledge of man is irreducibly a product of power over man.  Following from Nietzsche’s genealogical analyses, knowledge is “dragged around by [power] as if it were a slave,” for

…devotion to truth and the precision of scientific methods arose from the passion of the scholars, their reciprocal hatred, their fanatical and unending discussions, and their spirit of competition – the personal conflicts that slowly forged the weapons of reason.

Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” Page 78.

Perhaps it is now true that the majority agree that power-knowledge is a tight pairing (witness the mainstream discourse over the media in the current election cycle, for example), but this seems to be a relatively new position on knowledge post-Enlightenment.  The Socratic dialogues show us that this position was quite familiar to the ancients; a privileging of power over knowledge is a frequent opponent in the dialogues (see, for example, the opening of Socrates’ debate with Polus in the Gorgias; after being told why oratory is flattery because it is bereft of knowledge, Polus exclaims “Don’t they, like tyrants, put to death anyone they want, and confiscate the property and banish from their cities anyone they see fit?” 466b9).

But Socrates, perhaps in playing his game of particularisms or perhaps knowingly backing away, deprives “knowledge” of its role as a social-scientific category in favor of rote calculation of pleasures and pains,

For you agreed with us that those who make mistakes with regard to the choice of pleasure and pain, in other words, with regard to good and bad, do so because of a lack of knowledge, and not merely a lack of knowledge by a lack of that knowledge you agreed was measurement.

Plato, Protagoras 357d2-357e1

What is this knowledge that Socrates thinks he has thus justified? “Measurement,” the comparison of two quantitative sums of pleasure and pain. Can we even remotely consider this the same thing as knowledge of Eudaimonia, knowledge of justice, knowledge of man, knowledge which is today still contested?  One gets the sense that this portion is one of the most academic of the Socratic dialogues; two persons who already agree, demonstrating against an imagined uneducated horde, that even tyrants must know arithmetic.  For whatever it is worth, his argument is successful; but over the past two centuries a much more important conception of knowledge has been on the ropes – more than ever, perhaps, “the people” declare that knowledge is nothing.

Callicles and Nietzsche

Nietzsche finds a friend and predecessor in Callicles, an interlocutor in the Gorgias Socratic dialogue. If any figures in Plato’s works deserve the bushy mustache, its him. In his wide-ranging duel with Socrates, they touch upon many themes which Nietzsche would later make central to his philosophy. Focusing on the early parts of the debate, we’ll see how Socrates, Callicles, and Nietzsche debate seriousness and play in philosophy, the herd, and the role of self-control for the powerful.

Callicles enters the debate in the most Nietzschean fashion there is: “is Socrates joking?” (Gorgias, 481b6). Much can be said about whether Socrates is earnest or joking, in this dialogue or any. We all know that Socrates knew nothing and died diseased, but he took his self-given task very seriously. As evinced by Callicles and Polus, however, this separates him from the other Athenians; the others, their power assured and confident, do not take his dialectic seriously. As Callicles says, “this is in fact the clever trick you’ve thought of, with which you work mischief…” (483a2-3). The spirit of gravity and seriousness in philosophy is anticipated by Socrates, prankster though he is. Though Plato cemented and reified this spirit and slew playfulness and irony as best he could, the motive of this attitude is in place. Callicles correctly positions philosophy as a childish sport and game; at this we should not despair. Nothing could delight Nietzsche more as a philosopher. But Socrates replaces the innocence of playful philosophy with self-defense – he gives it the form of the dialectic.

Wherever authority still forms part of good bearing, where one does not give reasons but commands, the dialectician is a kind of buffoon: one laughs at him, one does not take him seriously. Socrates was the buffoon who got himself taken seriously: what really happened there? One chooses dialectic only when one has no other means…It can only be self-defense for those who no longer have other weapons. One must have to enforce one’s right: until one reaches that point, one makes no use of it.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Kaufmann), “The Problem of Socrates,” paragraphs 5-6.

Callicles gets the closest to finding what Socrates the plebeian really is; he does not simply get muddled or angry with him as the other Athenians do, but recognizes him as the serious and defensive buffoon. He sees his dialectic as a “trick” and his work as “mischief” – but not, as in the playful tricks and mischief of child philosophy, but in earnest.

The discussion between Socrates and Callicles soon alights on the herd.  Callicles asserts that there is a great difference between the laws of man and nature,

I believe that these men do these things in accordance with the nature of what’s just—yes, by Zeus, in accordance with the law of nature, and presumably not with the one we institute.

Plato, Gorgias, 483e1-3

Socrates makes him stumble however, because don’t the “inferior,” the herd as Nietzsche would have them, often dictate the laws and emerge more powerful than the superior? Socrates does no less than envisage the coming history of Christianity and democracy in their most mediocre stages. Socrates thus equates the laws of the herd with nature; appalled, Callicles dismisses such an idea (489c). However, after being goaded into a certain construal of nature and law by Socrates, he can do little more to explain the triumph of the herd, a veritable law of nature since the rise of slave morality. Indeed, even the “superior” become inferior through these laws of the “rubbish heap of slaves and motley men,” (489c3-4); weak rulers “justify themselves by maxims from the current opinions of the herd…” (Beyond Good and Evil, paragraph 199). Nietzsche sees that slaves making laws is precisely natural – what else are they to do? The relationship of law and rule (or absence, in the command-relation) is an important one for the realms of master and slave-morality, but Socrates and Callicles soon come against the character of the overman – that of self-rule.

After spiraling through definitions of what makes one superior, Socrates takes the first step.

SOCRATES: Ruling or being ruled?

CALLICLES: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: I mean each individual ruling himself. Or is there no need at all for him to rule himself, but only to rule others?

CALLICLES: What do you mean, rule himself?

SOCRATES: Nothing very subtle. Just what the many mean: being self-controlled and master of oneself, ruling the pleasures and appetites within oneself.

CALLICLES: How delightful you are! By the self-controlled you mean the stupid ones!

Plato, Gorgias, 491d3-e3

This exchange is key. Socrates points out what, for Nietzsche, makes the overman – self-control. However, he describes this control as “ruling the pleasures and appetites.” Callicles, in the opposite direction, sees self-control as being ruled, indirectly, by others. But, for Callicles, self-affirmation is still in terms of appetites. Appetites are not instincts. The instincts, as Nietzsche later recognized, towards creation and affirmation and will to power, often work in the opposite direction of the appetites (which are towards pleasure, wealth, food and drink, etc). Callicles does not fall for the ascetic doctrine Socrates implies, but stumbles at the value-creating doctrine. When Socrates inquires whether living pleasantly (“as much as possible flowing in”) also necessitates flowing out (we may read: suffering, pain, work), Callicles accepts as a matter of course – this fact is of no importance for him. He does not stress the differential flowing in and out, the “war in him.” As Nietzsche saw in this period of Greece, “no one was any longer master over himself, the instincts turned against each other;” Socrates became renowned because he presented an apparent “cure” to the problem of self-mastery: knowledge, morality, asceticism (TOTL, “The Problem of Socrates” paragraph 9). Callicles’ cure, the master-morality of appetite and command, was no longer a cure either. Nietzsche identifies the two as “the happiness of repose, of undisturbedness, of repletion, of final unity…” (BGE, para200). Callicles describes this too:

The man who has filled himself up has no pleasure anymore, and when he’s been filled up and experiences neither joy nor pain, that’s living like a stone, as I was saying just now. Rather, living pleasantly consists in this: having as much as possible flow in.

Plato, Gorgias, 494a6-b1

But what is “having as much [pleasure] as possible flow in” consist in, but striving towards the stone? Callicles is on the track of affirmation but does not adequately account for the flowing out, the “self-control and self-deception” of the overman (BGE, para200). Self-control is higher and more noble than mere asceticism.

Socrates and Callicles are striving towards two deaths here. The more macabre of the two, who likens happiness to death, tombs and corpses at the first opportunity (493a-d), Socrates seeks the undisturbedness of depletion; Callicles, the undisturbedness of repletion, or the glutton. Affirmation and the overman is the complement, but distinct from both. It is life, neither of the deaths, though they all “spring from the same causes” – the “age of dissolution” and war (BGE, para200). Though Callicles is likely one of the most admirable figures to grace the dialogues for a Nietzschean, he is still only a herald of the philosophy of the overman.

 

Banality of Wealth: 3Jane in Mona Lisa Overdrive

There is a radical gap between wealth and the wealthy, capital and the capitalist. Capital’s strength knows no bounds and can burn nations to the ground, while capitalists are simply cunning animals. Capital flows freer than blood or air, while the capitalist is bound to flesh, sometimes, even, to the grounds of a stately manor. Capital has a vampiric existence, feeding on the lives of workers, while the capitalist dies and rots. Capital is important; the capitalist is empty.

Post-modern culture produces many things; images, spectacles, desires, flows of wealth, to name a few. One thing it does not produce is a content wealthy class. Leisure classes rise and abate, debauchery and scarcely less debauched philanthropy cast filaments of happiness onto the earth, but the wealthy are empty as we are.

3Jane in William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive shows us this.

3Jane is the cloned offspring of the Tessier-Ashpool family, the holders of enormous wealth and the driving force behind any form of research and production, legal or criminal, that can be named. She plays a vital role in the intrigue of Neuromancer and is largely absent from the second book of the Sprawl trilogy, Count Zero, but appears for what she is in the final book. Now dead and transformed into a construct, 3Jane throws the lives of Molly/Sally, Angela Mitchell, and countless others into chaos. And for what?

There is the first aspect, the strength of wealth and the petty malice of the wealthy. The T-A fortunes created new cities, birthed industries, and Changed the face of cyberspace and human experience. As is revealed in MLO, the event alluded to as “When It Changed,” which marked the arrival of strange ghosts into cyberspace, was triggered by the marriage of Wintermute and Neuromancer, two Tessier-Ashpool corporate AIs, following the events of the first book.  It Changing led to the creation of a new approach to religion in Count Zero and, indirectly led to the deep relationship between Angela Mitchell and Bobby Newmark, and the driving life-passion (understanding the Change) of characters major and minor. In the closing pages of MLO, it is even shown that the momentous Change points beyond the solar system, beyond the human and AI, and into the Beyond.  As the Finn, a construct like 3Jane, puts it, “Different, its real different.” The wealth of the T-As did this, created AIs, facilitated their union, propelled the matrix beyond the limits of thought. But the T-A wealth is autonomous from the Tessier-Ashpools, frozen in their orbital castle. After their dispersion and into Count Zero, the T-A dynasty lingers but the T-As themselves are disappearing. Finally, in MLO, it is petty hatred and frustration from beyond the grave (that is, as an immaterial consciousness) that drives the plot. Though fortunes are thrown into the intrigue that embroils Angie and Molly/Sally, 3Jane has little power:

Thing was, she died. Outside, I mean. Meantime, all her shit outside, all her scams and schemes, that’s being run by lawyers, programs, more flunkies…It really pisses her off. The people who’re trying to get into your place to get the aleph back, they work for somebody else who works for some people she hired out on the Coast.

William Gibson – Mona Lisa Overdrive, page 191

Added to this is her personal hatred and jealousy of Molly/Sally and Angie. While she is impotent, the T-A wealth, many times now removed, is still a catalyst.

3Jane and the T-As as a whole share the fear that still haunts the wealthy, but not, of course, their financial empires; death. Immortality research foundations are now overfull with Silicon Valley money, an ever-frantic gesture. The T-As first attempt to achieve this through cryostasis is detailed in Neuromancer.  In MLO, however, 3Jane has to pay witness to her own death and pseudo-immortality. As in the quoted passage above, the T-A fortune and its products continue to run the world years after the family’s collapse, and a furious 3Jane is trapped within a “construct,” a sort of consciousness-transfer/AI hybrid. Though she has cheated death, in a way, she is bodiless and unfulfilled. Particularly frustrating is the prosaic means that the construct represents; Finn, a cyberspace cowboy, has the same access to the afterlife as she does, heir to one of the largest megacorps in existence. 3Jane desperately wishes for the autonomy and importance of an eternal physical body, which despite her wealth, is still unattainable. The cryogenic sleep of her family haunts her, as her biographer notes:

Photographs of another cryogenic storage unit built by the Swiss manufacturers of the Tessier-Ashpool vault. Becker’s assumption of similarity had been correct, she knew: these circular doors of black glass, trimmed with chrome, were central images in the other’s memory, potent and totemic.

Ibid. page 104.

Power and immortality are only means, however. As Colin notes in the cyberspace confrontation with 3Jane, her bid is not for immortality but to have “her narrow, obsessive, and singularly childish way,” (Ibid, 223).  What is this way? None other than the singular desire of the rich and poor alike across the Sprawl and world as a whole – the spectacular figure of Angie. Angie, the character/alter-ego of one Angela Mitchell, is a “simstim” star. That is, a hyper-moviestar whose experiences in luxury resorts, sexy relationships, and celebrity drugs millions vicariously experience through a sort of VR. This is a perfection of the media spectacle and thus offers a false choice, a unity of poverty, and an empty promise that, Gibson shows, the poor and wealthy alike are sucked into.

Media stars are spectacular representations of living human beings, distilling the essence of the spectacle’s banality into images of possible roles. Stardom is a diversification in the semblance of life – the object of an identification with mere appearance which is intended to compensate for the crumbling of directly experience diversifications of productive activity. Celebrities figure various styles of life and various views of society which anyone is supposedly free to embrace and pursue in a global manner. Themselves incarnations of the inaccessible results of social labor, they mimic by-products of that labor, and project these above labor so that they appear as its goal. The by-products in question are power and leisure – the power to decide and the leisure to consume which are the alpha and the omega of a process that is never questioned. In the former case, government power assumes the personified form of the pseudo-star; in the second, stars of consumption canvas for votes as pseudo-power over life lived. But, just as none of these celestial activities are truly global, neither do they offer any real choices.

Guy Debord – The Society of the Spectacle, paragraph 60.

In MLO, Angie the simstim star is this absolute spectacle and absolute commodity which, through the illusion of capitalism of “free choice” and “global” possibility, offers a false choice to her consumers. But, just as Angie offers no real choices, she is not truly global; and in not being global, she is nowhere, not even in orbit. Mona, the illiterate former prostitute is sucked into a bid at copying the copy – ie, kidnapping and replacing Angie with a surgically-altered Mona. This is itself a mirror of 3Jane’s desires to become Angie. The false option of the fulfilled and lush life that Angie leads in simstims is neither a choice for Mona or 3Jane, nor anyone else, not even Angela, despite differences in property. 3Jane does not have leisure, does not have power. When confronted with this galling fact by Colin, she can only scream and attack. This is the power of the spectacle, and the emptiness of the wealthy.

The Tessier-Ashpools were, from the start, elusive. They bought their privacy. As spectacles go, they removed themselves from the market in a sense. As the story of 3Jane in MLO demonstrates, however, the myth of fulfillment should not be sought in the circles of the rich and famous. Even in Gibson’s techno-future, the wealthy deserve no less pity.