Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

A new manifesto for a high-tech future free from work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

via Verso

Here are some more insightful and in depth takes on Inventing The Future1779303_1505913316339136_2644416062274766485_n

The Future

Neoliberalism has repurposed the idea of “modernity” for its own ends;[11] but now is the time, say S&W, for the left to reclaim it, by devising a “future-oriented politics capable of challenging capitalism at the largest scales.” Change will not come about as a result of wishful thinking, or by turning our backs on the future altogether. The left must approach the concept of the future as a contestable, hyperstitional field.[12] Likewise the concept of freedom ought to be revised as mutable and synthetic rather than fixed and natural. “Whereas negative freedom is concerned with assuring the formal right to avoid interference, ‘synthetic freedom’ recognises that a formal right without a material capacity is meaningless.”[13] Rather than an emancipatory action, freedom cannot be considered as separate from power.[14] The power to act independently allows us to achieve what is beyond our current capabilities, and is the basic requirement for postcapitalism:

One of the biggest indictments of capitalism is that it enables the freedom to act for only a vanishingly small few. A primary aim of a postcapitalist world would therefore be to maximise synthetic freedom, or in other words, to enable the flourishing of all humanity and the expansion of our collective horizons. Achieving this involves at least three different elements: the provision of the basic necessities of life, the expansion of social resources, and the development of technological capacities. Taken together, these form a synthetic freedom that is constructed rather than natural. (p80)

Freedom, in the form of free time, ought to be the basis of any emancipatory movement, particularly a postcapitalist one; not the negative freedoms for further employment or greater consumer choice. It is necessary therefore to “reject the centrality of work” in ordinary people’s lives.[15] Likewise, humanity itself must be freed from the cultural and social definitions of the humanist mould, as “[i]t is only through undergoing the process of revision and construction that humanity can come to know itself. This means revising the human both theoretically and practically, engaging in new modes of being and new forms of sociality as practical ramifications of making ‘the human’ explicit.” (pp82-83)

Orbistertius

Building FuturesInventing the Future

Finally, we will close with a few quick comments to try and clarify some other important points raised in the responses. Sophie and David critique our emphasis on disappointment as a productive affect, and what they see as our rejection of the power of anger. We want to be clear that we absolutely see a role for anger in leftist politics. When Joe laments that we do “not profess an equal love for the present” and warns that “love of the future sits dangerously close to hatred of the present”, we plead guilty. We find the present state of the world intolerable. Our own political stances are mobilised by anger about atrocities small and large that we see every day: anger at friends being beaten by police truncheons, anger at the epithets thrown at the homeless, anger at watching yet another black life snuffed out by the state, anger at the online and offline viciousness visited upon sexual minorities, anger at the mental health issues we see so many friends struggle with, anger at the casual fascism of crossing a border legally, and anger at the outright brutalities forced upon those who cross illegally. Anger has always been and always will be an important resource for those marginalised by society. The anger about abusers and the vitriol tossed at sexists, transphobes, and racists is entirely warranted. And Sophie and David are right when they say we don’t outline the parameters of this argument clearly enough. So to be clear: anger has always had and will continue to have an important affective role in leftist politics. We believe we have to do a lot more work to sort out precisely what we think about social media, along with the ethics and politics that might accompany it. As a society, we are still learning how to use these new tools and develop informal codes of behaviour. But it is clear that social media has been of immense benefit to marginalised communities in finding respect, support, strength, and a voice. We in no way want to dismiss this.

We would also add one smaller clarification to their piece. Sophie and David write “S&W display their ‘only after the revolution’ tendencies here, stating that ‘[p]luri-versalism…relies upon the elimination of capitalism and is dependent upon a counter-hegemonic postcapitalist project as its presupposed condition of existence’”. This is not our argument however, but that of Walter Mignolo (The Darker Side of Modernity, 275). He – we think rightly – recognises that in a world of capital, any vision of many worlds will only be many worlds under capitalism. Any effort to build a pluri-versalist order must therefore simultaneously be one which is anti-capitalist. Not a stagist argument about the priority of Marxism over decolonialism, but rather a simple point that pluri-versalism is incompatible with capitalism.

~ Williams and Srnicek at  The Disorder of Things

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Badiou: Down with Death!

Alain Badiou

Let’s start from the notion of nihilism. What does it mean? Nihilism is a figuration, a diagnostic on the state of the world and of thought, which established itself in the nineteenth century (we could argue that in a certain sense the first nihilist philosophy was Schopenhauer’s) on the ruins of the old religious and class convictions – as if nihilism had come along to name the void in which the collective symbolisation found itself.

So we could say that nihilism is the negative subjectivation of finitude; it is fundamentally the organised or anarchic (either is possible) consciousness that because we die, nothing is important. The most classic figure of nihilism is the statement that everything is devalued, de-symbolised and untenable in the face of death. It is an equalisation of the totality of everything that could be valued, faced with the radical ontological finitude that death represents. This question of the relation between nihilism and values is, as you know, a central question in Nietzsche’s philosophy, which takes up this theme of nihilism in order to make a very important diagnostic and critical use of it.

In reality, the statement ‘because we die, nothing is important’ can remain a theological one. Indeed, we could say ‘Nothing is important, except God, except eternal salvation, except the other life…’; and we would then be embarking on something that is not nihilism, but the vocation for martyrdom or even placing hope in death itself, given that death is the only door to the infinite, and thus the only door to the value that matters, the supreme value. So we ought to say that full, complete nihilism is the nihilism that not only considers death proof of the inevitable devaluation of differences, but which completes this judgement with the death of God himself. So we can speak of complete nihilism only when the death of man is paired with the death of God. It was evidently in this sense that Dostoyevsky made one of his characters say that ‘if God is dead, then everything is permitted’. This is a nihilist statement in the sense that if God is dead, then nothing allows us to claim an inequality among different values. Judgement is itself of no interest, now that death is constituted doubly, both by the empirical death of men and the historical death of the gods.

In reality, this nihilism probably organises a complicated historical disposition – one that is still unfinished even today – which necessarily constructs what I will call a false contradiction, a contradiction that represents the two possible subjective variants of established nihilism.

The first position is a sceptical, atheist nihilism, which is in fact the most widespread ideology bearing it in the contemporary world. ‘Yes, it’s good to doubt…’ – and this is an absolutely fallacious interpretation of Descartes, when we know that what interested him was to prove the existence of God and to remain in doubt for the least length of time possible. It has become a sort of inheritance, with a long history – including in France – and one that results in the view that, fundamentally, the lightly sceptical reign of reasonable opinions combined with a smiling atheism is an acceptable subjective state, even if it does not seem very vigorous or exciting. It is a nihilist configuration, but it is what we might call a ‘non-tragic’ nihilism – the established, peaceable nihilism. The other position, on the contrary, is the frenzied desire for the resurrection of God – after all, the gods make quite a habit of reviving; they have always shown that their greatness is to mount a challenge to death itself.

This is absolutely what we have before us today, including at the level of average opinion: on the one hand, the will to preserve something of sceptical nihilism, of smiling atheism and the way of life that corresponds to it, and then, on the other hand, an attempt at the impossible resurrection of the dead God. This contradiction is, I think, a false contradiction, a contradiction that organises nihilism itself as a primordial renunciation of judgement and in particular as a renouncement of the category of truth. This contradiction – as is always the case with the great contradictions – today has a tragic and a comic form (though it is sometimes a sinister comedy). The tragic form is the extraordinary violent clash – which is always over oil fields (it is an oil-nihilism) – between sophisticated barbarism and what we might call archaic barbarism, killing either with the electronic drone or the butcher’s cleaver. In this latter case you are forced to invest something of your own person, whereas with the drone you can stay in your armchair and command the murder 3,000 kilometres away, before telling the President who signed the murder-order how it went. It is the tragic form because it is, all the same, haunted by death, murder, and occupation; and it is all the more tragic because it is not possible to see any way out of it, to see how it would be possible to give meaning to any kind of way out of this clash, precisely because it is a clash between two positions that are each in a certain sense untenable.

As for its comic form, we see this in the fact that newspapers can devote front-page headlines to the length of schoolgirls’ skirts, as if this were the news of the day. This will go down in history as ‘the skirt wars’… It is not wholly the same as the other nihilism, but in reality it expresses the same contradiction, because sceptical and nihilist atheism is also a whole universe of representations of femininity, of the relation to femininity, etc – and the impossibility of resurrecting the dead God also bears on this point. So this quarrel is the comic form of war.

We could ask what the two sides of this contradiction have in common. What they have in common is, ultimately, finitude. This is clear in the sceptical and atheist form of nihilism, for which it isn’t judgement that matters, but the free play of opinions. As for the figure of the impossible resurrection of the dead God, we know well enough that you can only get to God by manifesting and martyrising your finitude; so this is always a matter of the humiliation of finitude in front of the greatness of the infinite, which transcends and is external to it.

So in both cases it is the power of finitude that is convoked as the ground or territory of the opposition; and it is convoked in its quadruple operating form: that is, of identity, repetition, necessity and God himself. These four terms are, indeed, present at the heart of the contradiction that I am talking about.

Identity, because it is evidently an identitarian war. A ‘war of civilisations’, a war of religions, a war between the West and what is not the West, a war between democracy and tyranny: it has countless names, but it does indeed manifest itself as an identitarian war. Repetition, because in a certain sense it is a scene that has already been rehearsed, particularly in the representation of a conflict between the West and the Orient. Here we can mobilise the crusades, or, in the inverse sense, the expansion of the Muslim religion under the Ottoman Empire, or again in the other sense, colonialism and the Christians imposing their authority over Muslim peoples – in either case, it is a historically constituted scene being repeated. Necessity, because there is the necessity to deploy modernity conceived as the irreducible enemy of tradition. This is the question of symbolisation, of value, which is posed as the need for modernity to be able to develop without the hindrances, the reticence and the objections of tradition. So ultimately we can clearly see that God is the dividing line between, on the one hand, scepticism – which includes the necessity or authorisation of blasphemy – and, on the other hand, the attempt to resuscitate the dead God, which instead speaks to respect for the contents of the faith.

The common term in this conflict is the exacerbation of the power of finitude. What I want to note here is that identity, repetition, necessity and God are in fact concentrated in the theme of death. The thought of finitude is essentially a deadly and mortifying [mortifère et mortifiant] one. Death is the implicit or explicit recapitulation of the four terms.

Firstly, identity. In the logic of finitude, we only know who someone is when he is dead. Death is the seal that allows us to say what someone is – otherwise you still do not know what he is capable of. This is a theme that you will find in Greek tragedy. It is death that comes to seal the destiny of individuals’ identities but also of peoples’ identities: we know of the eighteenth-century fascination for the fall of the Roman empire, which was the point where it was possible to grasp and to consider what the identity of the Roman empire had truly been, in its own being. There is a rather terrifying phrase of Sartre’s on this point, that ‘to be dead is to be prey to the living’. Death is effectively the moment when you can no longer argue back or plead your cause against the verdict that the living choose to pass on you.

Repetition. Death is what makes every individual substitutable for any other. ‘Death is the great equaliser’ – a theme that we find extending everywhere across all religions. At the moment of death you stop being a king or a toiler; you will die, and faced with this terrifying threat of death and the last Judgement, anyone will be substitutable for any other. Death is the means by which humanity indefinitely repeats its constitutive finitude. That’s the meaning of the meditation pursued inEcclesiastes: ‘Nothing new under the sun’. That is, that everything is heading toward death, without death itself changing anything. [Which then brings us to] the magnificent metaphor ‘All the streams flow into the sea, and the sea is never full’. This community-in-death is also an annihilation of time, absolutely cancelling out time’s creative capacity: ‘What are a hundred or a thousand years, when they can be wiped out in an instant?’ (Bossuet).

Necessity. Death is the only thing that we are certain of. Everything else is aleatory and variable – ultimately, the pure necessity of human life is crystallised in death. Malraux has Stalin saying (and it’s been questioned that he did), doubtless on a day when he was feeling melancholic, that ‘Ultimately, it’s death that wins’… even if you are a Stalin. This is Stalinist nihilism.

And then God, evidently. God has always been connected to death. God is the promise of immortality, indeed, immortality in itself. God is the name of non-death.

You see that death is the motif that recapitulates the instances of finitude, also because it is convoked as the ultimate argument every time that we suppose, or invoke, the possibility of humanity’s immanent, effective access to some truth of an infinite power – we always say ‘in the last analysis, man is a mortal animal’. From this point of view, I always admired the canonical example you learn in school of what a logical argument is: ‘All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, so Socrates is mortal’. Connected together in this example is a triple relation between (1) necessity – that is, syllogism, as the logical form of necessity, (2) the pretention to wisdom or greatness as embodied in Socrates, and (3) the knot between the two, death. This pedagogical syllogism is a toxic vehicle of finitude. That it is why it is given to everyone as a principle of logical wisdom.

Now it would be interesting to ask what the absolute modern form of that is. I think that it’s not at all a matter of insisting on the value of death, giving it an important place, but rather a case of covering up its finitude. That means calmly setting this finitude at a distance, relegating it to lost corners, if possible, with the idea that, in any case, we already live a long time… Fundamentally, the idea is that death can ultimately be covered up by a carpet of commodities. Consumerist mobility, the possibility of humanity always having another go within its reach, the serial ‘another’ of the commodity (another object, another journey…) is in reality what covers up the categories of death, at the same time as being the same as it. If we think about it, commodity consumerism is also, ultimately, the repetition, the identity of objects etc. So it is death in its consumable form. I always have this feeling that when we buy an object, no matter what it is, particularly the most useless objects – that is, the most amusing ones – it is like in the Middle Ages when people used to buy indulgences. It is buying a little guarantee against the vileness of death, a little slice of anti-death fetish. The image I have of that in my mind is that after having little by little been covered up by these commodities, and then finally disappearing behind them, we are dead: and that is where the true reality, the truly immortal reality, triumphs – the immortality of the market. That is the great comfort – life is covered up by little parcels of indulgences, such that this covering ends up displacing death simply because it is identical to death.

In reality, I think that the great element of modernity is to have generalised slow death, that is, the avoidance – as much as possible – of catastrophic death. That is why our societies find it very hard to deal with catastrophes. There must not be catastrophes: this is pathological. Tragic, unexpected death is unacceptable. Suddenly, death has arrived – but what is it doing here? What is the government doing? The plane to Thailand is meant for relaxation, not for smashing into the ground and killing you. We are forced to feel this as a terrible drama. Why? Ultimately we have much less chance of being killed in the plane than walking down the steps; this is not at the level of general statistics, but because it is a death out in the open, a death that does not fit into the law of modern death, which means dying very slowly, and, if possible, almost without noticing.

The thesis underlying all this, it must be said, is that death is the constitutive principle of humanity as such. The dereliction of man as ‘the being for which there is death’ – the problem being to deal with the extreme anguish that this conviction provokes. The contemporary philosopher who thought this through most deeply was Heidegger. Indeed, he said that from the point of view of man’s immanent end, he is ultimately ‘a being toward death’, and he mounted a fundamentally important meditation on finitude on this basis. I’ll read you an extract from Being and Time [all quotes used here are from Joan Stambaugh’s English translation]:

Ending does not necessarily mean fulfilling oneself. It thus becomes more urgent to ask in what sense, if any, death must be grasped as the ending of Da-sein […] Initially ending means stopping, and it means this in senses that are ontologically different. The rain stops. It is no longer objectively present. The road stops. This ending does not cause the road to disappear, but this stopping rather determines the road as this objectively present one.

Here Heidegger is distinguishing – and here I’ll return to the terms I used before, between the finite as passive stopping and the finite as an operation. The rain stops: it has disappeared, it has stopped passively. Whereas if the road stops, it is because it is its own end, it has led us somewhere which is its end, an end that constitutes the road as a direction, a track, leading from one point to another. In this case, the end closes off the possibility of operation.

Hence ending as stopping can mean either to change into the absence of objective presence or, however, to be objectively present only when the end comes. The latter kind of ending can again be determinative for an unfinished thing objectively present, as a road under construction breaks off, or it may rather constitute the “finishedness” of something objectively present – the painting is finished with the last stroke of the brush.

So here we immediately have the metaphor of work, in the fact that the last stroke of the brush is the thing that brings us to its finished glory, whereas if the road stops because it hasn’t been built yet, then that is a transitory and passive stopping.

Even ending in the sense of disappearing can still be modified according to the kind of being of the being. The rain is at an end, that is, disappeared. The bread is at an end, that is, used up, no longer available as something at hand.

To put it another way, the bread is used up, but it has fulfilled the role it was made for.

None of these modes of ending are able to characterize death appropriately as the end of Da-sein. If dying were understood as being-at-an-end in the sense of an ending of the kind discussed, Da-sein would be posited as something objectively present or at hand. In death, Da-sein is neither fulfilled nor does it simply disappear; it has not become finished or completely available as something at hand.

To put it another way: in death, Dasein is not like the road, the rain, the table or the bread we ate.

Rather, just as Da-sein constantly already is its not-yet as long as it is, it also alreadyis its end. The ending that we have in view when we speak of death does not signify a being-at-an-end of Da-sein, but rather a being toward the end of this being. Death is a way to be that Da-sein takes over as soon as it is. “As soon as a human being is born, he is old enough to die right away”.

Heidegger’s description of death essentially consists of saying that, in man’s case, finitude is radically immanent. Death is not something external, indicating a passive finitude or a finitude achieved by human life: rather, human life is commanded or oriented toward death, from within; Dasein is ‘toward death’ from the beginning. To put that another way, the thing proper to man is that the question of death, of finitude, is internal to his existence and to his definition, and not the result of fulfilment or stopping, which are but empirical appearances. For human life, the end is at the beginning. It is an ineluctable component of the prospect of life in itself.

I think that here we have got to the densest and most complete form of an organic relation between human existence and finitude. In my view this is the most radical thesis concerning the assumption of finitude, because it is a thesis that makes finitude immanent in an absolute way. Ultimately it makes death play the same role that the absolute plays in Hegel’s thinking (as he ultimately concluded that if we manage to attain the absolute, that is because the absolute is with us from the beginning). If we take Heidegger’s texts seriously, they tell us that death is also the absolute of human life, that is, at the same time its beginning, its origin and its fate.

I want to defend another thesis concerning death, a thesis that, conversely, upholds the absolute exteriority of death – a thesis that makes death radically non-immanent. If you want the complete details, see Logiques des mondes, Book III, Section 4, a chapter entitled ‘L’existence et la mort’, where you will find the whole context that I can only give a brief sketch of here.

The idea I want to defend – and it’s a simple one, truth be told – is that death is something that happens to you; it is not the immanent unfolding of some linear programme. Even if we say that human life cannot go beyond a hundred and twenty years, for biological, genetic etc. reasons, death as death is always something that happens to you. One great thinker on death is La Palice. A truth we get from La Palice is that ‘a quarter an hour before his death, he was still alive’. That isn’t at all absurd or naïve. It means that ‘a quarter an hour before death’ he wasn’t what Heidegger sees as ‘a quarter hour before death’ – he wasn’t ‘a-being-toward-death’ ever since his birth. ‘A quarter of an hour before his death’ he was alive, and death happens to him. And I would maintain that death always comes from the outside. Spinoza said something excellent on that score: ‘Nothing can be destroyed except by an external cause’. Yes, I’ll take that. Spinoza gives a long proof of that, but I won’t give it too. This means that death is in a position of radical exteriority: we would not even say that a human reality, a Dasein, is mortal. Because ‘mortal’ means to say that it contains the virtuality of death in an immanent fashion. In truth, all that is is generically immortal, and then death intervenes.

I would define death as a mutation of existential status in a given world, which I will try to give you a general schema of. We are all in a world, Heidegger is right on that, we are somewhere, we are localised and our very being contains and retains this localisation. The metaphysical approach I propose is the following: the register of being [l’être] on the one hand, and the register of existence on the other, have to be distinguished. Being belongs to pure multiplicity, under one form or another, whereas existence is always existence in a place. So it is necessary to distinguish, as Heidegger masterfully did, between being and being-there [Da-sein]. Thought on being is one thing (as you know, I maintain that it fuses with the analysis of multiplicities, or mathematics), and thought on existence is another.

Let’s suppose that X and Y exist in the world. They have a being of their own, independent of the fact that they are in this world. But what does ‘existing in a world’ mean for them? It means: being in a state of being differentiated from all the others who are in the same world. The singularity of existence is the possible systemic differentiation between an element of the world and an element of the same world. So somewhere there has to be the possibility of evaluating the difference between the two. So we would say that ‘existing in a world’ is to be taken in a practically infinite web of more or less strong differences with everything that is in the world in question: that’s what constitutes the singularity of our belonging to the world.

We will use the term D(x,y) to denote the difference between X and Y, a relation whose value ‘measures’ the extent to which X and Y are different. The difference D(x,y) has a value that will situate itself between a minimum (µ) and a maximum (M). If it equals M, it is because X and Y are very different, they are as different as could be; if it equals µ, it is because they are almost the same, as similar as they could be. A world, in its basic machinery, is a game of differentiations proper to this determinate world, oscillating between a minimum and a maximum.

So on that basis we can say that for some person, ‘existing in the world’ is the measure of difference between herself and herself. This would be written E(x) = D(x,x). That is a very simple and ordinary idea. Existence is always something qualitative, it is an intensity: there are moments when you feel ‘alienated’, that is, very differentiated from yourself; so D(x,x) has a maximal value. And there are other moments where you feel yourself fully exist, where your existence is intense, you feel close to your true identity; so D(x,x) has a minimal value. Between the two it fluctuates via intermediate values, and X and Y are not absolutely different nor absolutely identical, but ‘averagely’ different.

We can also express it by saying that ‘the existence of a multiple something, relative to a world, is the degree to which in this world the multiple appears identical to itself’ (Logiques des mondes p. 285). This time, this is expressed in the value of the function ‘identity to oneself’ (annotated Id(x.x)): if Id(x,x) has the maximum value (M), that is because this multiple exists absolutely in the world under consideration; and if Id(x,x) has the minimal value (µ) that is because its existence in this world has an extremely weak intensity.

As for death, it is, formally, the sudden, contingent passage – imposed from the outside – from the situation Id(x,x) = p [p being some non-minimal value] to the situation Id(x,x) = µ. That’s why we can always say ‘that is what death is’, when we see death and we absolutely know that is what it is. We know that it’s death because x is still there, but the intensity of his existence is almost entirely eliminated. The fable of the immortal soul does not rely on the distinction between mind and body, but it is rooted within it, that is, in the distinction between being and existence. The idea of immortality is that in this world – the world that prescribed the intensity of an existence proper to this world – x is dead, but that does not mean that he is dead in every world.

Ahmed chose this moment to signal to ‘Mr. Badiou’ that he had to leave the stage instantly. The meditation he had been elaborating, alone on the stage, concluded with the slogan: ‘Down with death!’

See more from Badiou here.

Hermetico-Promethean Postnihilism

 

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To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of one’s own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: How can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

My interest in science in general and neuroscience in particular derives from this understanding of philosophical activity as a dialectical process in nature. For me science is not an object of philosophy but a condition of it. Presumably you can already hear Badiou’s voice here, and rightly so I must say. Badiou had once said that “philosophy is the conceptual organisation of eternity in time.” What, then, is dialectic? Dialectic is simply “the unity of opposites,” as Fredric Jameson defines it in his Valences of the Dialectic. Everything has within itself nothing and inversely. The self and the other are always already reconciled, but in order to actualise this unity philosophy splits the one in such a way as to sustain the process of its reconciliation within itself. The one is not, it all begins with two and continues ad infinitum. Of course a designation such as Hermetico-Promethean post-nihilism is paradoxical, but this being paradoxial is itself creative of the space out of which something not only new but also good, or less worse than that which is or could be, can emerge. That said, a positively altered future itself only ever emerges from a split introduced in-between the past and the present, the good and the bad…

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Now, I see nothing bad in interrupting the process of negativity, but needless to say one cannot achieve this by affirming it. One still needs negativity to interrupt negativity. It is in this sense that nihilism turned against itself becomes a condition of progressive philosophy. If science is making a huge progress while the whole planet is rapidly dying, what’s the point of that progress in science? It becomes a meaningless activity for its own sake. Without a future there can be no science either, but it is only by way of putting science into good uses that we can have a future. And when I say we I mean we humans, we animals and we the plants. Paradoxical though as it may sound, robots are of no concern to me, but enhancement technologies such as neuroplasticity softwares are…

I take whatever rings true to me in accordance with my intention. Intending something is not necessarilly willing without consciousness. One may be driven to anything at all, including willing nothingness as Nietzsche has taught us, adding that “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Although Nietzsche’s proclamation may be valid for some, it is not necessarily valid for all. To say again now what I’ve already said some other time, I’m still up for consciously desiring good life. That said, I reckon it’s not even worth mentioning that will, drive and desire are not the same thing. As for the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, we must return to Hegel as always. There are indeed many illusions in this life, some for life yet some others not, some necessary while some irrelevant. Not that I am one, and yet it’s not for nothing that Hegel had once said, “the great man of his time is he who expresses the will and the meaning of that time, and then brings it to completion; he acts according to the inner spirit and essence of his time, which he realizes.” This, I think, is still true and ever will be, if we are to have a future worthy of the name, that is…

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François Laruelle’s Christo-Fiction is Unbound and On the Loose Somewhere Out There

Christo-Fiction: The Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem François Laruelle.

“François Laruelle’s lifelong project of “nonphilosophy,” or “nonstandard philosophy,” thinks past the theoretical limits of Western philosophy to realize new relations among religion, science, politics, and art. In Christo-Fiction, Laruelle targets the rigid, self-sustaining arguments of metaphysics, rooted in Judaic and Greek thought, and the radical potential of Christ, whose “crossing” disrupts their circular discourse. Laruelle’s Christ is not the authoritative figure conjured by academic theology, the Apostles, or the Catholic Church. He is the embodiment of generic man, founder of a science of humans, and the herald of a gnostic messianism that calls forth an immanent faith. Explicitly inserting quantum science into religion, Laruelle recasts the temporality of the cross, the entombment, and the resurrection, arguing that it is God who is sacrificed on the cross so that equals in faith may be born. Positioning itself against orthodox religion and naive atheism alike, Christo-Fiction is a daring, heretical experiment that ties religion tightly to the human experience and the lived world.”

François Laruelle, Christo-Fiction: The Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem, translated by Robin Mackay, 

Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture

Artaud, Deleuze and The Will to Nothingness

Catrin Welz-Stein – Unborn Ideas

I close the eyes of my intelligence, and giving voice to the unformulated within me,

I offer myself the sense of having wrested from the unknown something real.

I believe in spontaneous conjurations.

On the paths along which my blood draws me, it cannot be that one day I will not discover a truth.[1]                     

Antonin Artaud does not call for destruction of reason through the imaginary but an affirmation of reason’s self-destruction on the way to self-creation. There is a knowledge which Artaud is in pursuit of without knowing what that knowledge is and what purpose it serves. Artaud is always in pursuit of this unattainable and ungraspable knowledge and he knows that, as he is trying to give it a voice, he is moving away from and towards it at the same time. This movement of the action and the intention in opposite directions, that is, this turning against itself of desire, is a thought that Artaud feels with his body but cannot express through articulable forms. Artaud makes the inarticulable visible through costume, lighting, etc., and tries to create a psychic materiality.

When you will have made him a body without organs,

then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom,

then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out,

as in the frenzy of dancehalls,

and this wrong side out will be his real place.[2]

Artaud feels the body as an externally organized structure and experiences existence as pain because he feels his body to be restricted and subjected to forms it is not willing to take at all times. By disorganizing the body through putting its organs to different uses, to uses other than they have come to be put, within the organizing structures, Artaud induces agony in himself. Desiring to become inorganic, and this is a desire for an impersonal death, an “ungraspable” knowledge, this striving for infinity within the finite, is, paradoxically, at once the product and the producer of his affirmation of life as it is, that is, as “a process of breaking down…” as the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it in his The Crack Up. In The Logic of Sense Deleuze reads Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up with Kleinian eyes and says that identification is peculiar to manic-depressive states. In The Crack Up Fitzgerald says,

I only wanted absolute quiet to think about why I had developed a sad attitude toward tragedy—why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion… Identification such as this spells the death of accomplishment. It is something like this that keeps insane people from working. Lenin did not willingly endure the sufferings of his proletariat, nor Washington of his troops, nor Dickens of his London poor. And when Tolstoy tried some such merging of himself with the objects of his attention, it was a fake and a failure…[3]

Deleuze affirms Fitzgerald’s manic-depressive attitude towards the relationship between life and death in the Porcelain and Volcano chapter of his The Logic of Sense.

If one asks why health does not suffice, why the crack is desirable, it is perhaps because only by means of the crack and at its edges thought occurs, that anything that is good and great in humanity enters and exits through it, in people ready to destroy themselves—better death than the health which we are given. Is there some other health, like a body surviving as long as possible its scar, like Lowry dreaming of rewriting a “Crack Up” which would end happily, and never giving up the idea of a new vital conquest?[4]

In a world ruled by fools full of ill-will war becomes inescapable. Since war, conflict, violence and destruction are interior as much as they are exterior affairs, it is hardly a matter of bad luck that we will be wounded at some point if we haven’t been already, not that I wish it to be that way. An injury either creates a possibility of relating to the world as it is, or turns into an obsession with the self, into a delusional and rigid vision of existence projected onto the real, giving birth to neurosis or psychosis.

We do not write with our neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life, but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in “the Nietzsche case.” Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is a set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health.[5]

If we have a look at “the Nietzsche case” once again with Kleinian eyes through a Deleuzean looking glass we see that the mechanism of projection-introjection is itself the illness of which resentment and bad conscience are the causes and the symptoms at the same time. In the case of projection the subject’s illness is manifested as aggressiveness and hostility towards the external world, always accusing the others for his weaknesses. This is the paranoiac who is afraid of being persecuted and sees the external world as a threat to his unity. Afraid of the external world, he himself becomes hostile towards it in turn provoking hostility against himself, thus giving birth to the actualisation of what he was afraid of. And in the case of introjection the subject internalises the fault and turns against itself. This is the psychotic who identifies with everything and everyone, and who has too many points of view together with a divergent coherency of thought and action. Intending to take a spoon from the drawer he might break a plate on the floor. In the first case there is a detached hostility and in the second case there is an immersed attachment. In both cases the subject becomes the victim of his own actions against and toward himself and others.

Nietzsche says that the will to nothingness eventually turns against itself and becomes creative and revalues all values to survive death.[6] It is through writing as the patient and the physician, as the analyst and the analysand at the same time that Nietzsche is able to turn resentment, bad conscience, fear, and guilt against themselves and produce desire as affirmation of the world as it is after a conflict that is interior as much as it is exterior to the self. This conflict is the crack up that happens to the body of the organism. It is neither interior nor exterior, but a “surface event.”

There was a silent, imperceptible crack, at the surface, a unique surface Event. It is as if it were suspended or hovering over itself, flying over its own field. The real difference is not between the inside and the outside, for the crack is neither internal nor external, but is rather at the frontier.[7]

It was on and through his disorganized body, or body without organs, that Artaud traversed the realm of affective intensities and the field of partial objects and produced desire without an object. For Deleuze the process of traversing the affective intensities felt through body rather than grasped by the mind may be the returning of a “great health.” Here objects are related to in such a way as to produce desire not as lack but as production. For Deleuze it is the production of fantastic visions of the world that are the causes and effects of certain pathological conditions. Bombarded with unattainable objects of desire the subject becomes mad.

In both Freud and Lacan the attitude toward the object of desire is Platonic in that the object of desire is the object of desire as long it remains unattainable. To put it in Lacanian terms, with the acquisition of language the subject starts to enter the symbolic order and loses touch with the Real which is the unconscious. His desires and drives are shaped and organized according to the Symbolic order of the language game in which he finds himself. So the direction the subject’s becoming will take depends not only on the way in which the subject relates to language but also how he relates the unconscious to language, since it is one’s production of a sense of oneness for oneself in and through language that determines one’s way of being in relation to language. Language is neither internal nor external to the subject and yet it is equally internal and external to the subject since language is the surface in-between. Beyond language there is nothing. Deleuze observes a movement of language towards its outside, not to reach the outside of language, but to create an outside language within language in writers such as Kafka, Beckett, and later Kerouac(The Subterraneans, Big Sur). For Deleuze, their subversions of syntax become their passage through the fleshy transparency of signification unless the process of production through the unconscious forces of the outside is blocked.

All writing involves an athleticism, but far from reconciling literature with sports, or turning writing into an Olympic event, this athleticism is exercised in flight and in the breakdown of the organic body—an athlete in bed, as Michaux put it.[8]

Deleuze sees the goal of literature as giving a voice to those unconscious forces that belong to a realm outside of language and those forces can only be given a voice by creating an impersonal consciousness through a new language within language – an outside language inside the language – that traverses the field of partial representations of the human condition and produces an other sign that is itself at once internally exterior and externally interior to the major order of signification. The outside of language is the realm which Deleuze calls “the transcendental field of immanence.” It is through this synthesis of transcendence and immanence that Deleuze is theoretically able to touch the material through the psychic, and the real through the fantasy. But the problem persists, for the question remains: how are we going to practice this theory? Is it practical enough to be applied to the banalities of ordinary life?

In his book, On Deleuze and Consequences, Zizek bases his critique of Deleuze on his use of Artaud’s concept of the body without organs. As is clearly understood from the subtitle of his book, Organs Without Bodies, Zizek’s aim is to reverse the Deleuzean order of things. With his well known 180 degrees reversals, Zizek uses Deleuze’s idea of a resistance to Oedipalization against him, and that way shows that Deleuze’s assumption that Oedipalization is something to be resisted is based on false premises. For Zizek, Oedipalization takes place when and if there is a failure in the system. Zizek considers Anti-Oedipus to be a book in which Deleuze and Guattari situate a psychotic and an Oedipalized subject on the opposite poles of one another. For Zizek a psychotic is the Oedipalized subject par excellence, rather than being an anti-Oedipe who escapes the codes of capitalist axiomatics.

[…] far from tying us down to our bodily reality, “symbolic castration” sustains our very ability to “transcend” this reality and enter the space of immaterial becoming. Does the autonomous smile that survives on its own when the cat’s body disappears in Alice in Wonderland also not stand for an organ “castrated,” cut off from the body? What if, then, phallus itself, as the signifier of castration, stands for such an organ without a body?[9]

What for Deleuze is traversing the symbolic becomes traversing the fantasy in Lacan as Zizek pointed out first in The Sublime Object of Ideology and later in The Ticklish Subject. Traversing the fantasy is a stage in the process of progress and it is only upon entry into the symbolic that the subject becomes capable of initiating change in the symbolic order. In Lacan’s mirror stage where a series of imaginary Narcissistic identifications prepares the subject for the symbolic order, the child has an illusory sense of oneness and yet this illusion is necessary only in so far as the child will traverse this fantasy and will have learned to look at the world without identification.

A detachment from identification is common to both Deleuze and Zizek and in this sense they are both Lacanians. Lacan is the one that unites them as he splits them. For Deleuze the Lacanian symbolic is that in which the subject finds itself upon birth, so to initiate change the subject should try to introduce an exterior inside, a new language within language. Deleuze tries to put language in touch with a pre-verbal, if not pre-linguistic stage. It is to Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position that Deleuze attributes importance. Deleuze takes the schizoid part of the paranoid-schizoid position and extracts from schizophrenia all apart from introjection and splitting processes. Following Klein Deleuze makes a distinction between introjection and identification. According to Deleuze introjection and splitting are useful tools for creating difference, whereas identification not only preserves but also serves the system. Zizek agrees with him on the usefulness of introjection and splitting. In both cases the revolutionary-becoming is associated with the death drive. But Zizek disagrees with Deleuze’s association of introjection and splitting with schizophrenia.

For Zizek there must be a distance between reason and non-reason. One should not try to name the unnamable, but rather one must show the nothingness outside everything, to do this one must introduce a split into the symbolic continuity of things. An interruption of the system from within is the aim of both Zizek and Deleuze, and yet while Zizek affirms non-representability of the unconscious, Deleuze sees the unconscious as the producer of difference and initiator of change. For Deleuze the unconscious is dynamic, but for Zizek it is static and it is this static state outside time that manifests itself in the form of gaps within the symbolic order; it splits and interrupts the flow of things, rather than participate in it.

What does Oedipalisation mean? It means the production of a subject who would willingly blind himself to the social reality. Who would rather see nothing rather than see the truth. An Oedipalised subject is he who blinds himself to the symbolic meaning of things and chooses to see the nothingness before or after the symbolic. It is the symbolic that Oedipus represses by blinding himself to it. That he has engaged in sexual intercourse with his mother and killed his father, induces such guilt in Oedipus that he punishes himself by cutting himself off from the external world. This Oedipal introversion of the subject leads to a weakening rather than a strengthening of the subject’s fantasy world. With the exclusion of reality, fantasy has nothing to mediate. Unconscious drives cannot attach themselves to external objects so as to turn into desire. Left hanging in the air the unconscious drives turn against the subject and the subject becomes self-destructive, blinding himself to the symbolic, thus opening himself up to the nothingness behind it by choosing to see nothing. An Oedipal subject closes his eyes and seeing the nothingness inside says there is nothing outside. He is Nietzsche’s man, as he puts at the beginning and the end of On The Genealogy of Morality, who “would much rather will nothingness than not will.” For he still wills, otherwise he wouldn’t want to blind himself to it all. It is because he cannot help willing although he doesn’t want to will that his will turns against itself and wills nothingness rather than something to stand in for it.

It is Nietzsche’s legacy to have made a distinction between the subject and the signifier, knowledge and truth. By exposing the absence of an origin of knowledge he exposed the absence of truth in knowledge. Nietzsche inverted into the spotlight the nothingness inherent in knowledge which is constitutive of a truth outside scientific knowledge. Truth can take many forms and one of these is poetic truth, which Nietzsche considers to be closer to the absolute truth, which is the truth of the absence of truth at the center of scientific knowledge.

For Nietzsche there is no relation whatsoever between the object of knowledge and the truth of experience. Perhaps what Deleuze would years later call transcendental empiricism explains the production of truths alternative to the scientific truth which claims to be objective and absolute. For Deleuze literary activity involves creation of impersonal consciousnesses within the subject of writing. The subject of writing should detach himself/herself from the object of writing; that is, the writer should make a distinction between the enunciated and the subject of enunciation. As Deleuze puts it in his essay, Life and Literature, “literature is not a personal affair.”  Literature is not about writing down one’s personal experiences as they actually took place, which is impossible anyway. Literature involves selecting from experience and giving form to formless experience which is yet to take the shape of new forms of experience. Out of the old experience one creates new experience.

The writer turns unnameable drives into new symbolic meanings and new objects of desire. With Deleuze the unconscious is given a very important role to play in the process of cultural production. The non-symbolizable drives interacting with one another and forming what is called the unconscious are turned into comprehensible and desirable forms through literature. Literature contributes to the symbolic order by producing not only new symbolic meanings of the already existing objects but also new objects which didn’t previously exist within the symbolic order.  Literature, therefore, turns the unconscious drive into the symbolic desire. So Deleuze could say the unconscious produces desire. Literature is about turning the pre-verbal — if not pre-linguistic — objects into verbal objects with symbolic meanings attached to them. Literature constructs a world in which the objects gain new significance.


David Pearson, a plastic surgeon, has a fun hobby: photoshopping Escher/Droste-style remixes of watch-faces, combination-lock dials, and other round readouts and twiddles.

Droste/Escher (Thanks, Teresa!)

(Image: Antique Time Spiral, used by permission)


[1] Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (Berkeley: University of California, 1975), 92

[2] Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (University of California: Berkeley, 1975), 570-1

[3] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up (New York: New Directions, 1945), 69

[4] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003),

[5] Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, transl.Daniel W. Smith and Michale A. Greco (London and New York: Verso, 1998), 3

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), 116-8

[7] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003), 155

[8] Gilles Deleuze, Essays: Critical and Clinical, transl. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Verso: London and New York, 1998), 2

[9] Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 83