Author Archives: Zac🌺

About Zac🌺

Trying to fill the lacunae of modernity - musician/disc jockey/writer - TUF - they/them

Portia

When it started to happen, I didn’t know what my role was, but I knew I was ready. That was all I had going for me. I never did figure it out, never got my head out of the clouds, even though I so wanted to, more and more intensely as time went by, as our slime mold spread, I wanted to be of use. They say I’m good at using my head, but I don’t know about all that. Good at being in it, maybe, good at translating it. Not great at using it. And what virtue is the former, now? In the end it was precisely the veil of solipsism that fell when the blind furor of capital died. But I never felt like I quite got there. I was just the brave queen’s consort.

I remember when we began, when the thing that would become Portia first emerged, it was so clear that it had nothing to do with me, or even the others that I shared that space with, a life with, though most of them were engineers of one kind or another, and brilliant, not like me. This project we were working on, it stopped being ours before it began, and that was the point. But I just remember how clever so many of the newcomers were, when they began to connect up, found us and found the Collaboratory to their liking, all these engineers, hard and soft, all over the world, not just theoreticians–doers, makers, not of empty schema but of the world itself, all the stuff we needed. It was incredible to be in the middle of all of that. And maybe along the way I taught some of those prodigal architects how they might live better, with themselves, in true, benighted freedom. Maybe that is enough.

At the Centre, back when Ketchikan was still intensely cold, I remember feeling like I didn’t really know what was going on. I helped build the first seawall, before the robotics program had really taken off there, I worked in the kitchens, before the chem vats were installed, I was the editor for the first few accretion manifestos at the K-Centre, was the one to suggest we plug the early Manuals into those. That was something I did do for the Slow Revolution, but I was just a kind of librarian in the end. I was no microbiologist, no calorie designer, no data architect, no synthmat scientist, no artificier, no cyber jockey. I was just a witness, really, I was just there, trying not to crumble, trying to put on a brave face for my people. Portia was my home, even if I wasn’t much of a weaver, much of a hunter.

Pretty soon the K-Centre was just one node on a sprawling map. After the Long Crisis started to really burn, so many programmers, engineers, scientists were out of work, things were such a fucking mess. We realized the Collaboratory was never really going to be quite what we wanted, but it was working, and so a lot of smart humans joined the connectome. I remember when we decided to call it Portia, that was the whole concept we engaged with in the second manifesto of our Centre, how this could work, perhaps, but only if we hacked how the system related to itself, how it was integrated, and constantly reintegrating, driving itself towards a central fulcrum through which its intention could pass undeterred. To this day we don’t know quite what it is that makes those spiders tick like that, and, well, I suppose we don’t know what makes Portia tick either. But back then, being there at the geosocial nexus of all of that, whether it was the first ‘true’ Centre or not, you could see it, see the determination, the need for clarity and its realization. I remember the incredible hustle and bustle at the epicenter of it all, right there, not just on the net but on the ground, in the earth, in all those rooms full of makeshift computers, quick fingers, and laughter. In the production halls, synthetic steel sweating, the smell of hot printer polymer, in the aviary, full of frankenstein drones staring sightless through their lenses and cameras.

I remember when the NATO black unit arrived on our desolate stretch of coast, and we showed the world what we were willing to do. Ada standing out there wearing her crown, so defiant and beautiful and they thought they could just shoot her and get away with it but their ECMs weren’t enough, we’d pulled ahead already, and we caught it all, captured every moment, sent it out, pasted it on the walls, wrote it in the books that would become the Lexica Arsenalis, the encyclopedia of Man’s hatred, and then Paris fell for the last time, Europe ripped itself apart for the last time, and the tense freedom of the collaborative disquiet, the new enlightenment, became the rule. Those were the hardest times, but not the end times–and they could have been. We had the advantage of living in the wasteland that North America had become, not that it was peaceful, nor comfortable, but we had space to work with, we became the nomad monad. We had the cunning, we were the smarter spider by an order of magnitude, the monolith of empire could not survive predation.

Back then I couldn’t imagine that I would ever learn to live without her. I’m not sure I ever did, but I’m still here, and it’s worth it, even though I can’t keep up. My body isn’t just old–it’s broadly unmanipulated. You’d think I could say the same for my brain, but, you know… I think in that case it’s not about crude technology, not about meat and sockets, wires, which I am sorely bare of it’s true. But manipulating our minds is precisely what Portia does. It parses the recursion, formats semantic strata, pulls out little bits and pieces, structures them, engages sociality as a mechanism, penetrates the void, takes our ideas and weaves them into the air, into each others ears. We still haven’t borne a true synthetic general intelligence… but in a way we’ve become one.

Last season the mantas came back. Everyone was very emotional–we didn’t know if they’d survive, they migrated away soon after we loosed them into the ocean. The mutations we’d distilled seemed stable, and effective, but you never know… when you’re responsible for life in this way there can be a lot of guilt involved. The mantas wouldn’t have been the first species we’d brought back from the edge, only for them to fall again, this time into true extinction. But these gentle rays seem to thrive, seem to have become very intelligent over the course of their journeys. As we’d hoped. They’re gone again now, but I still come to this stony beach below the pitch black plateau of the arcology every day, picking my way through the quiet tumult of the R&D forest, and I think about all we’ve lost and all we’ve gained, and I think about her, and I think.

Collage

“Arguments from one’s own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments.” [1] …”The task of a philosopher is to highlight the hard fact that the concept is that over which no single human has a final grip.” [2] … “Progress means: humanity emerges from its spellbound state no longer under the spell of progress as well, itself nature, by becoming aware of its own indigenousness to nature and by halting the mastery over nature through which nature continues its mastery.” [3] … “Let us not flatter ourselves on account of human victories over nature. For each such victory takes its revenge on us. Each victory firstly brings about the results expected, but secondly and thirdly has quite different, unforeseen effects which often cancel the first.” [4] … “What, then, is the modesty needed? It is ‘pessimism of the intelligence and optimism of the will.’ It is the ferocious struggle to keep a clear mind in the face of terrible news.” [5] … “The political demand to be in control of one’s own life and environment, participating in the world with a frank immediacy free of all separation, hierarchy, and bureaucracy, is also the poetic and sensual desire to be really in the world, feeling its most intimate reality, which has been raised in long traditions of religious, artistic, and political expression.” [6]


[1] Gilles Deleuze (1990) Negotiations, 1972-1990

[2] Reza Negarestani (2018) Returning to the Age of Blogging (Toy Philosophy)

[3] Theodor Adorno (1983) Progress, published in The Philosophical Forum

[4] Freidrich Engels (1895) The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Marxists.org)

[5] Alvin Gouldner (1974) The Dark Side of the Dialectic: Toward a New Objectivity (PDF)

[6] Sadie Plant (1992) The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (PDF)

Theory Rehab

In the 21st century we must always be looking back to Debord.

“Theory” dies on twitter. Theory dies in the media, in town halls, theory even dies in academic journals and well-meaning zines, theory dies in the kaleidoscopic churn of the Spectacle. Of course this text is part of that too, any writing that I might do at all is part of this mass of content, of exposition essentially defused–but that is the problem that philosophy is for, really, to settle the should-I-shouldn’t-I score that our uncertainty finds at the convergence of critique when it inevitably, in this poststructuralist era, turns back on itself, paralyzes itself. Hegel already recognized this as the structure of consciousness itself, this prehension of negativity. This depthless insecurity and anxiety about the validity, relevance, and practicality of our knowledge comes along against the backdrop of a wider picture of deteriorating social practice.

Theory rehabilitation then is a means of opposing the recuperating automata of an alienating capitalist social space by means of clarity, concision, and extension. The last of these involves the adaptation and evolution of a given theory to compete with both its most contemporaneous critics and also–significantly–its own empty doppelgangers in the discursive environment.

Why does theory rehab matter?

Let’s take an explicit practical example. While he may be stuck somewhere between being a genuinely erudite philosopher, a vaguely interesting science-fiction author, and a problematic quack, no one can claim that Nick Land isn’t one of the most effective contemporary philosophers in a socially instrumental sense. If you raised a skeptical eyebrow when you learned what “hyperstition” is supposed to mean, maybe it’s time to take a look at the burgeoning subculture of anti-humanist reactionary libertarians that has emerged from the aesthetic and narrativized ideas about technology, philosophy, and the future he popularized in the late 90s. You don’t have to be a household name (although he is doubtless edging toward that status) to have a marked cultural impact, just a good sense of positioning, some tactical thinking. The man understands the art of making a cult, and not only that but he understands what such a cult might be in this age of profusion, decentralization, and dissemination. In this case, a memetic scourge. Niche? Perhaps. Influential? Unequivocally.

Land makes a good example because he isn’t just a shallow grifter, although those individuals are very much to be prey in this undertaking of rehabilitation. The reason I’m talking here about Land rather than someone with more reach in the mainstream, such as, say, Jordan Peterson, is that Peterson’s arguments are ultimately weak, in fact I would argue that his influence has already started deteriorating due to the theoretical fragility of his whole ideological edifice. As Ray Brassier puts it with regard to Land’s arguments: “no matter how much one might detest their rhetorical animus etcetera etcetera it’s not enough to simply dismiss them as kind of a puerile, indulgent hyper-nietzscheanism, it’s far more sophisticated than that…” Land is an ideologue, but he’s not stupid. Consider how wildly popular Deleuze & Guattari have proven to be, due in large part to the intuitively aesthetic appeal of their ideas. D&G are as open to interpretation as anyone (arguably moreso than most canonical 20th century thinkers) and it is very much their theoretical failures that opened the door to the Landian development of Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy, because frankly it’s a coherent interpretation, and more to the point it’s an extremely attractive one in our cultural and aesthetic paradigm. Who among us did not grow up with fantasies of our own cybernetic apotheosis, of techno-utopian ambitions, our elevation to some sublime trans-humanity? The fact is, Nick Land is increasingly famous and Sadie Plant is not.

This is in many ways the central problem that brings into play this idea of active rehabilitation. Ultimately D&G’s well-meaning attempt to reformulate and advance our understanding of modern capitalism led not to a dead end (quite the contrary) but to a paradigm that proved very easy to recuperate–in this case in a quite complex and spectacular fashion, since it isn’t just the natural de-rigorization of their program–in a social space that wants to identify with it and turn it to vain ends–but even a formal advancement of their entire system to explicitly advocate for radically prodystopian techno-capitalism. If hyperstition was merely a pseudoacademic joke, I imagine there would be far fewer intelligent and articulate millennial and zoomer-aged people advocating for ethnonationalism. Many of these people present apparently sound arguments, have a cultural fluency typified by the layered, purposefully ambiguous and ultimately self-serving ironic, metasatirical modes that this advanced stage of the Spectacle produces, and in spite of their questionable philosophical views, most of them are ethically normative humans in practice if not in theory. Many of them got to where they are precisely by an initially rational reaction to the neurotic and anti-intellectual moral authoritarianism they found among the left. To dismiss them and their arguments out of hand is to surrender. Uncommitted neoliberals and centrists, and, more to the point, people in various stages of intellectual development with increasingly malleable ideological self-conceptions are blossoming in these spaces, watching this stuff unfold.

Theory rehab’s goal is not to oppose the artful propaganda of people like Land with counter-propaganda (although that is absolutely a valuable tactic, and I’ll credit Jeff Vandermeer, Jane Bennett, Donna Haraway, and Timothy Morton here among others). Theory rehab means to do two things:

– Argue for the value of theory in general against the cynicism (particularly that of the radical left) that takes it to be in some substantial sense elitist, authoritarian, and thus useless.

– Interpreting succinctly the meaning, rigor, and practical implications of theories that have been denatured by their own popularity.

– Attempting in some fashion to systematize this body of knowledge so as to make it more holistically intelligible and perhaps, in some way, a bit more practiceable.

Ultimately the goal of any late modern Marxist movement must be to reestablish rigorous discursive practice among progressive-minded individuals in the actuality of capitalist discourse. Given the almost-certain impossibility of mass-scale organizing associated with traditional vanguardist marxism, at least in the current social paradigm, what is necessary is the optimization of a decentralized progressive/left cultural sphere in the interest of emphasizing education, good-faith discourse, stronger argumentation, better rhetoric, and so on. In my gleeful fantasyland this has the side effect of actualizing the kind of protean consensus that might do the work of a ‘postmodern’ democratic centralism, converging motivated individuals on a collective promethean undertaking with praxical consequences. Believe me when I say I am reflexively suspicious of all this glitzy talk and overly ambitious rhetoric. Yet here I am, writing this stuff. We must all generate our own reasons to participate. I think Hegel helps.

In a sense this is really a thrust against the kind of populist progressivism (and often apocalypticism) that exists from the center to the radical far left, typified by righteousness and a general lack of self-awareness in its own reactionary theodicy. There has been a general trend since the brutal critiques of the previous century exemplified by Adorno, Jameson, Lyotard, and Debord to essentially give up the intellectual, practical high ground in favor of the moral, and, often, ineffable. This is an untenable approach. Especially when it comes to individuals like Land, Peter Sloterdijk, or–in a different and perhaps more significant way–Peter Thiel. Their manifest amorality, however central it may be to their worldview, is simply not a weakness in the logic of their arguments. We know this, yet we seem unsure how to navigate between errantly validating problematic points of view by engaging with them (which does apply to obviously shallow or naïve reactionary arguments) or admitting to their logical durability by refusing to: their arguments have to be engaged more systematically, in an effort to universalize the opposing conclusions. It’s true that many reactionary arguments are naïve and thinly coherent, and it’s true that those arguments survive only by their tenacity rather than their efficacy–these kinds of arguments should be brushed aside. But to do that we have to be able to effectively (even intuitively) discern between a coherent argument and an incoherent one to begin with. Ultimately the variegated primitivism, luddism, millenarian chaos-fetishization, and the often naïve and self-serving conception of egoist anarchism we see pervasive throughout leftist discourse all end up revealing themselves as a surrender to the normativity and pathologies of capitalism and capitalist logic, typified by Land’s Darwinian realism. There is a nihilistic vanity at play that is entirely at odds with the values and objectives of the socialist project.

The last century was full of confusedly utopian gestures that failed to provide a strong foothold for scientific marxism in the ideological arena of the 21st century. If there is a lesson to be taken from the SI and Paris circa ’68 it is that intellectualism both actualizes revolutionary potential and defuses it’s proliferation beyond the reflexively elitist circles it creates in our presently identitarian paradigm. What is necessary then is a breakdown of the boundaries of these circles by further systematizing theory in such a way that its rigor can be embedded in its simplification, by re-establishing critical discourse and education as an immanent feature of leftist sociality, in a manner that is neither academic nor blasé. It is the dissolution of the academy into culture itself, rather than the separation of proletarian ideology from the institutional academy. It is ultimately a pedagogical task that is as much about individual self-improvement as it is about culture, intelligence, and solidarity. Self-improvement is genuinely apolitical, and that is important.

These ‘theory rehab’ posts will be an experiment in providing highly paraphrased–thus reductive, thus succinct–documents relating to key topics in critical theory, leftist thought, and philosophy more generally. My hope is that these summaries will evoke a certain kind of intuitive appeal to people who perhaps already see them at work in society, conceive of them materially, in what they see in their day-to-day lives, that these condensed interpretations of mine might help to make intelligible the value of the ideas against the interminable backdrop of neurotic irony and self-doubt, and that this appeal will drive the further work of autodidactic practice capable of banishing the naiveté endemic to such simplified representations of the concepts represented. It is the nature of this era that surface level knowledge of almost any subject is readily available–I know I’m not the only one who spends a non-trivial amount of time on wikipedia, marxists.org, bopsecrets.org, stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, or various forums and discords–the question is finding the specific material that drives our emergent desire to learn more, to do the work involved in gathering more detailed, nuanced, and practical knowledge that lies beyond the vanity our intellects are often made to serve in this troubled time.

Deconstruction 4

 


He is dressed in all black, even his face

He addresses me

If he was going to hit me he would have hit me

I can’t see his face, but he seems transfixed by the horizon
It’s him.

He moves towards me, coiling and tumbling in the air

His… his hands are adorned

He barks it,

his reach,

He keeps trying

it seems to make him anxious.

the violent man snarls

“He’s always in my dreams.”

 

… (but that was another kind of man, not this…that I loved)

 

His chitin eyes sank into mine

his voice thick in it.

His hand was on my thigh (the skeleton’s was around my ankle, it’s skull winking at me from the belly of a distant star.)

He spoke softly, lips parting by my ear,

I put my hand on his, not sure if I was stopping it or holding it to me.

He looked at me, and I couldn’t read it, couldn’t see a thing in his face, but

his voice was sweet.
He leans into me and his expression warms as he continues,

I wanted to follow him, but the intensity of that impulse, compulsive and unbidden, made me decide against it, so I watched him disappear into the gloom of the oversized archway that led gaping back into the complex, aching slightly.

…..

The mosaic was eating me.

He took my hands, held them before me, palms up. (a pair of eyelids snapped shut, leaving scarlet stigmata.)

His face was a crease of worry.

a timid smile curving into his beautiful–so beautiful!–face.

He pulled my hands to him, and I let him lift me,

he stood pointing, wind worrying at his hair

He pointed out into the vast, empty expanse of the water and I couldn’t see what it was he wanted me to

a knife in his hand, and he sliced into it (a burst of luminous ichor slashing into the air.)

I hadn’t noticed him walk past me

I looked around at him

He spits.

he softens

his slender shoulders and wide eyes

my eyes with his. He seemed calm

There was a book written in his sclera, all the text shunted to the side, deformed

his delicate human face, something forlorn and gleeful, caught, crows feet, ashen, livid.

He had written it from his perspective,

and his beautiful blood spattered on the worn timber

a speckled painting I could decipher.

-and I can feel the lichen on my flesh, the spores in my pores and the Mystery blistering within me a hoarse whisper, a lover expending themselves, throbbing mammalian surrender.

And I knew what I had to do.

…..

Torrent – 012620

Out of sight

zuhandenheit

and we fall a little further down.

Soles sinking, then shrill

wind sliding arterial, fabric swaying

strung up

the ground sweet tar below.

that throng

tumbling

before us all, some sharper than others,

some darker

and the linens hang from the line, from the old metal spiderweb tree,

somehow I can remember

the sun on my skin,

a pond,

tortoise, brown, mottled, pocked, an object, vivid, a life.

So much of that is lost now,

snippets, vignettes, fragments, sensations…

barely even those,

a daydream, or a fever.

I never wrote it down

I don’t remember when I learned to write

at all.

The past is eating my life

and that’s not even the end from which the fear oozes.

Ah! I said I wouldn’t be glum

discipline is not my strong suit

hearts not clubs

don’t talk to me about loss

I don’t have anything to say

just a grin,

and we fall a little further down

for sure it’s the valley of death

So what?

The skyline was beautiful on fire.

Torrent – 011220

There’s a joy in things that I usually forget.

Lilt of the music, song, the vainglorious worlds of pixel.

Livid,

these recursions spiraling out into a scape of unlimited throbbing dreams dripping scraping tick, tick, tick, tick, hah.

Sit, stand, drift, sway, belonging to it moved, wracked wreaking thousand thirst thrashing, heavy lids, droop zipping smiling, piano stab swift shattering in the tide of free-quency, savage, smiling, gut laugh cobweb eyes grin gratuitous, hah!

Sleepy networks, nodes, nodules, happenings, collective cloister-days and we could see into each other’s palatial inhering odyssey, adrift, swaying, bowsprit curving brave into the bazaar of the shadowed sprawl, garbed, drooping canvas covering and their shadows soft geometry blistered on the pavement shipwrecked why-do-you-call-for-me from this lighthouse gabled shafts blazing scouring going graceful into the night because I want to save them all, every one and I sit here with my drink and my scourge grinning letting the light dim on the wasted horizon shimmering please–please–I want someone to come in from that oceanic wilderness, gentle courage blazing on the shore of this endless disaster, let’s make it rampant with glee and soft sweet life work, passion, this is what will be glorious in the void musing–ambition subscending itself, giving it up, and growing in the corner of the cornea a life slashing into eternity, grit and strange, simmering, stubborn.

Solipsist this came to you forgetting that my brother gave it to me the wallpaper of my world that I ever seek full of the unstoppable treasure of affirmation, that comes at you, a proof, like Chloe said to me and she filled me with such delight I smiled wide, cried, kept it a snapshot in the litany of my being.

Love watching you.

To be watched, to be witnessed, edified, that is, of course, the real objet petit ah!

Deconstruction 3

She holds out her hand

She hopes

She falls into step

She found power in ecstacy

She used to play dice with the other girls at lunchtime

She would spend the rest of her life unravelling

She barely remembered what it was like

She did not let him in for a long time

She was just a skin now, a signifier among signifiers

She felt delicate

She always had her wits about her

She caught it

She slid her knife from its hidden sheathe

She stared into grey-on-paler-grey eyes

She scowled at them

She wondered how they knew

She wanted to bring this conversation to its prompt conclusion

She sighed

She set off in another direction, ready to find at least a little enjoyment

And she found serenity in her body.

|+|+|+|

Torrent – 122219

The reconstitution of the dream will come around again as the machinery of alienation gives way to the old confrontation with the world itself steeped in the humanity of the collective the herd the commune the riot and the song of liberation will find a home in billions of throats and the clattering tumult of the drums the same drums to which we once danced around the bonfires when magic still lived here in the twilight of our history and now these speaker stacks shuddering with the stentorian noise of the future wrecking it as it wrecks us scything down through time towards the necks of all these beautiful people who just wanted to be left to love in peace and all I can think about is Magnard’s burning corpse as I curl up in the dream kingdom empire built for me once a nursery now an asylum where the walls are padded and the staff too polite.

Acid Commun(al)ism

We don’t have as much as we did. Yet we can do so much more, here in the future.

It doesn’t feel like chaos, like being adrift, you’re used to it, you grew up like this. Adaptive, agile, curious, cautious.

Your parents, their parents, they grew up differently. Theirs was an era in flux, still embedded in Darwins orthodoxy of survival, enslaved to the leviathan–a dogma corroding under the weight of civilization. The historical society of order they were born into, disfigured by concentrations of power pooling through history, didn’t provide them with the tools to deal with the radical pluralism of the future. The seething entropy their society seemed to lurch toward took its psychic toll, the perceived nihilism of disenchantment, of dead matter dissected and ransacked, had dragged everyone under the tide.

As the Big N once so astutely pointed out, if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Man had always tried to sweep its own ugliness under the rug, desperately seeking escape from the flesh, desperately seeking to be given entrance to the walled community on the other side of the death Man could never come to terms with. Get us into heaven, into cyberspace, out of these doomed bodies. But it is that coming home, that making peace with the body and falling in love with your life, its life, that has given structure to the shifting nebulas of subjectivity and ideology that so scared our ancestors.

Your vast knowledge is itself ready-to-hand, zuhandenheit, it has no moorage, the Truth is always withheld, rippling outside the periphery, out of sight, but you don’t need it, it embeds itself in your behaviors, your habits, your reflections–all of these divorced from the seductive normativity of the Spectacle, expressions of you and your will alone, tempered and rendered infinitely graceful by your grasp of the tautological nature of consciousness and its structures. In reducing life to a game we turned it into a grandiose project, a project of satisfaction, we let the world disclose itself to us as it would, and lived well in it. Heidegger could never have imagined what the solution to the problem he raised might entail, and not a one of us has ever conceived of it as a return to some mythical prehistoric purity–what conception could be more inaccurate, more banal? In one motion we refused the yoke of both civilization and of so-called nature, “nature” as the word we use to separate ourselves from the thing it refers to. We learned how to survive and prosper together without giving ground, without compromising with those who would dominate us, we were lost in the effortlessness of Being and the world took us back into itself, together.

…One does not solve the ethical problem by positing a good human nature and then saying that it should be allowed to flourish. There is too much evidence against the idea of an essentially good (or essentially bad) human nature for that claim to be made. One cannot rest one’s ethical judgments on human nature, but instead must develop the socially given ethical networks within which our lives unfold.

(T. May, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory volume 4, no. 2)

You do not know authority.

Your life, your identity, your influence, unfolds from your social character, your relationships. The machines set in motion, real and figurative, continue their work, mapping, configuring, and producing, but the vast, historical mechanisms of oppression find no purchase in these configurations, those old structures are untenable in this vast ocean. Their absence (and their material legacy) has declawed the rule of so-called ‘natural’ law, has birthed an orgiastic cybernetics, a new environment for the human cognitive system. You have adapted to the omnipresence of stimulation, and that stimulation has finally become a vector for freedom rather than addiction, the nihilistic zoetrope capital made of it deposed. The myth of survival that maintained and protected the despotism of imperial democracy has been shattered and mammalian impulse has been replaced with a different, stranger machinery of survival, one that unfolds at the emotional level, one adapted to withstanding the deepening void that the coruscating sapient brain finds itself inhabiting, one adapted to a kind of tribalism rooted inwards rather than outwards, in compassion and curiosity rather than conquest, rather than ignorance.

Friendship is/as a “way of life“.

We have finally bought ourselves respite enough from the attrition of the world, nature, the universe, society and its long history of debts, to focus on the important problems, the problems that we have been writing about, singing about, crying about, for millennia. Of the blistering loneliness of the ego, the evanescent nature of love, of joy, of desire, the degrading self-reflectivity of the strange loop, of the unknowable Real always receding from the periphery of our vision. None of the problems ever resolved themselves. It doesn’t matter–the stirrings of modernity’s dementia have been quieted (for now.)

Friendship is the foil.

—-

We don’t have as much as we did. Yet we can do so much more.

When our parent’s world was collapsing around their gold-speckled ears we abandoned it. It wasn’t as hard as you’d think–there was pain of course, uncertainty, a coarseness to life. But it was no different, for so many of us by then, to stay in the imperium. In the end what we were giving up on was only our debt to civilization, it’s deterioration was our release, and it wasn’t so difficult to reconfigure the infrastructure once the superstructure had begun to crumble. Not after those that guarded it’s workings lost their grip on the edifice.

[it] was a mystical gathering of men and women, it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me, to discover this group of incredible musicians, no one worked, nobody had any money, we’d all come from poverty, and no one would give an inch with respect to their aesthetics and their music. We believed in the music.

(A. Braxton, 2014 interview)

—-

They said we could not sing our dreams, our ideals into existence, that the implacable demands of “nature,” that merciless nature Outside as well as our supposedly cutthroat nature within, would punish us for our arrogance but you had the courage to believe otherwise. You had the faith in your kin, brothers, sisters, others, that they had that courage too, were as willing to honor an endless and ever-shifting system of accordance as you were.

Some weren’t willing, but not enough. We worked together, not as one but as many, to curtail and compress their influence, we left them far behind. Their children had only to leave the walls of their archaic citadels, to leave their islands for the deep oceans of our world, in search of respect, of compassion, and the enclaves dwindled to nothing.

These oceans aren’t always forgiving. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real, and it always feels like the end of the world is closing in, because of course it is. Thinking dust accretes in the atmosphere. They say computers the size of planets are constructing themselves in the Oort, and no one knows what will happen when they finish their project, no one can even guess at what that might entail, even now.

But here on Terra we are divisible still, individuated, free, we defer apotheosis still, we create still, prod at the sublime for apparently no reason at all. In our divisibility, and the relations that unfold from it, we produce and perpetuate the shape, the image, of ‘life’ such as we define it, a definition always in motion, because those are the games we play. Everything is Different, things can get a little rough, but we have yet to step over the line that would separate us once and for all from our humanity. We will leave that to our children, or theirs.

The problem of consistency concerns the manner in which the components of a territorial assemblage hold together. But it also concerns the manner in which different assemblages hold together with components of passage and relating. From the moment heterogeneities hold together in an assemblage, a problem of consistency is posed, in terms of coexistence or secession, and both simultaneously.

(G. Deleuze & F. Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus)

We have replaced the monolith with the multiple, substance with texture, truth with meaning.

We don’t have as much as we did. Yet we can do so much more.

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It’s inevitable that cyberspace would have been welcomed into this culture of Man, as the ultimate chance to finally make an escape from the meat. Finally, we get to the great dream, the body as metaphor, removed from all of it’s visceral activity, its blood and guts and all the messy stuff that Man would always rather have left behind… cyberspace fed this dream, for total control, for autonomy, for the perfect end of the great patriarchal project, the great resolution of the masculine identity crisis, the point at which the soul would finally be united with itself, finally make it to an omnipotent sense of identity. But no one, it turns out, actually escapes from the meat, instead it’s a matter of getting caught up with it. The body is never left behind, instead it’s the body itself which begins to learn how to disentangle itself from all constraints… Ecstasy is no longer the state of escaping matter, but instead a matter of escaping the state, be it of the art, the nation, or the mind itself. The state is the obstacle to what becomes the question of getting out of order, a flight away from the ideal, away from transcendence, away from the notion of identity and masculinity.

(S. Plant, ICA Conference 1994)

The intelligent spotlight looking out of your eyeballs once saw itself as a soul, it supposed that its great aspiration was victory over the body that housed it, the divine, immortal mind acting in defiance of death. It was Man that presided over the truths bound into the society they had stratified, and Man must always have an enemy. To our ancestors everything unfolded as binaries, or at least could reasonably be seen to, for the sake of practicality. But what could be more unreasonable?

It seems primitive now, but it wasn’t until the future first started to reach in through those strata, corrode them, dismantle them, that the chokehold was broken. They would say, the future is female, a proverb that has long since lost its meaning, so complete was its truth. People had begun to cast away the identities thrust upon them, “gender” in particular, even before the third millennium set in. It was a rapid transition, it must have seemed to the ancient regime so sudden–that the world, the digital world, which was by then the whole world, became populated with queerness almost overnight, bursting with the desire to be something other than what we had been told we were supposed to be. Zeroes became ones, ones became zeroes, in the end the quantum computers answered more questions than we could ever have imagined, for we had all become both, all become many, all become more, and our processing power multiplied.

As interpolation and exchange began to pervade civilization and colonize the human experience at every level, the viciously guarded hierarches, categories, the Spectacular, the entire narrative of Man collapsed. His all-consuming insecurity became untenable, the Outside came in and the inside came out, bloody and visceral. Soon enough we were all cyborgs, changing our bodies, changing our minds, integrating with each other, losing ourselves, and look! In losing ourselves we lost nothing of any particular value. We are still simply lonely monkeys exchanging gifts and affection, in comparison to the inhuman intelligence, indivisible, rising out of the orgiastic machinery. But we are adapted to this deep universe we have found ourselves in, this coarse fabric behind which we know seethes decoherence, insanity, and death.

I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be alone, to be human, in the age of Man. Compared to that long history we are ourselves machines insofar as we integrate so easily, freely, assemble together to form whatever sensuous whole is needed for the challenges that face us, navigate the worlds of illusion we inhabit. We have come upon an era awash in the numerical yet no longer reducible to it, no longer seeking to be reducible to it. No longer seeking some false objectivity, some transcendental understanding with which to barricade the ego Now we swim in nihil, and it frees us because the pantheistic forest never left, art never left, death never left.

We are no longer riddled with that twisted sense of idealism, of apotheosis deferred, no longer seeking admission to the pearly gates that protected the theocracy’s dream. Whatever small-minded salvation Man might have envisioned it as, it has come to us and it is nothing like they imagined. It is messy, uncertain, unquantifiable, it is the unspeakable epiphany of the psychedelic experience, the dissociating ecstasy of the true act, the surrender of sex, and in coming to terms with it we have learned to live with–and for–each other. It turned out that history had been built on a myth, turned out that the intelligent hominid was more than ready to make its peace, that the savagely draconian, violent imperial societies of the masculine godhead were not necessary, not even conducive to making us our best selves.

Quite the opposite.

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Between a man and a younger woman, the marriage institution makes it easier: she accepts it and makes it work. But two men of noticeably different ages-what code would allow them to communicate? They face each other without terms or convenient words, with nothing to assure them about the meaning of the movement that carries them toward each other.

(M. Foucault, interview 1981)

School is the schoolyard alone. There is no instructor, no master, no classroom. There is only the social territory, the cafeteria, the rave, the playground, cyberspace in its incomprehensible infodensity. Your friends and kin show you how they live, you observe, discuss, ponder. We don’t reveal truths to each other, evangelism can only ever be play, rather a collective of truths emerges from our malleable beliefs. Apes aping apes, network hubs uploading, downloading, packet-switching, feeding into each other.

Security is immanent, privacy is irrelevant.

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Security?

I didn’t say it wasn’t a ‘violent’ world. The violence of this era is incapable of aggregation, consolidating itself, distributing itself systemically, but you didn’t really imagine it would ever become truly absent, did you? Even by the turn of the millennium we had figured out what the very concept of violence could encapsulate, in all its virulent, subtle, social manifestations, the violence of so-called civility. There has never been a recorded murder in my lifetime–and everything is recorded, by now. But we understood that no matter what we did friction would exist, it had to exist. What kind of world would we live in, really, if we were all forced to be nice to each other?

But we are all adrift, every one of us, always have been, not sure why we always felt we had to lie about it. There are currents, there are tides, but there are no islands, no accretions, the monolithic can no longer emerge in this time at the end of time, the end of human time, our time. There are no armies to gather, no dynastic treasuries to guard, no stockpiles to plunder, no crops to raze. What would be the point?

Thalassa eats as we swim schooling.

The least we can do is be kind.

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It has long been said that the desert is monotheistic. Is it illogical or devoid of interest to observe that the district in Paris between Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue de l’Arbal conduces rather to atheism, to oblivion and to the disorientation of habitual reflexes?

(G. Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography)

First we began to treat the cities like the earth. Then we began to treat the earth like the cities. Then there was no distinction any longer. We receded from the equator, the arcologies, and built our landscapes in the soil again, raised from the living earth a kaleidoscope that would have made Chtcheglov gasp with delight. It was a place one could lose oneself, utterly, and still find your way back. Literally and figuratively. Find a hearth, lose yourself in the everlasting festival of our future, make kin and make music with them. It is up to you now. Nothing is stopping you from falling in love, you just have to be brave, have to take responsibility, have to step into your own sovereignty and bear that burden with all the grace and all the fury that befits that overclocked grey meat throbbing in your skull.

The political demand to be in control of one’s own life and environment, participating in the world with a frank immediacy free of all separation, hierarchy, and bureaucracy, is also the poetic and sensual desire to be really in the world, feeling its most intimate reality. ‘The eruption of lived pleasure’, wrote Vaneigem, ‘is such that in losing myself I find myself; forgetting that I exist, I realize myself.’ But those who have found this point at which they are also lost have often run away from it too shocked by the realisation that oneness with the world entails the loss of the ability to think, experience, criticise, or reflect upon it. While the radical subject is ecstatic, it cannot express itself; as soon as it is separated again, it cannot remember how it felt…

(S. Plant, The Most Radical Gesture)

We are all of us here in the future nothing if not situationists for life is too complex by far to navigate with the blunt sledgehammer of so-called ‘reason’ and its parasitic hubris. Connections flow, environments blossom and collapse, online, offline, decline, oceans of encryption, battlefields of decryption, packet loss. There is no exit from the machine morass, but we have adapted, we have reconfigured its structures, not to serve us but to house us, to keep the monkey brain sane, to gift it with the liberation and expressiveness that its disenchanted consciousness needs so it can grin gleefully into oblivion and edify all the lost souls that came before it. It’s not a solution to sapience–that will never be found until the last of us has expired–but it is a vast reconstruction of its conditions. We brought goddesses and gods back into a world transformed, we laughed with them and buried them in the earth, knowing we would not forget they were there (not again).

We would discover for what drama our setting was the setting. Poetry would be realized: Lautreamont’s call, made in 1870, for a poetry ‘made by all.’ We would feel the will to speak; discover what it was we wanted to say; say it; be understood; win a response. All at once we would create events and their languages, and live in permanence within that paradise. ‘We have to multiply poetic subjects and objects,’ Debord wrote in 1957, in the founding paper of the SI, ‘and we have to organize games of these poetic objects among these poetics subjects. This is our entire program, which is essentially transitory. Our situations will be ephemeral, without a future: passageways.’

( G. Marcus, Lipstick Traces – A Secret History of the 20th Century)

 

This abstract myth existed before the dawn of the third millennium.

 

It was up to the people of the 21st century to bring it forward with them, to propagate it.

 

Then to allow it to permeate and pervade, to make us honest and gleeful.

 

 

They succeeded.

Hollis

Sometimes you listen to things and you think ‘I’ve only really had one idea in my life, and I’ve just been doing it in a hundred different ways ever since…’ that’s a sort of slightly depressing thought, but then you can remind yourself that that was also true of Samuel Beckett, and Miles Davis, and a ‘few’ other people.

 – Brian Eno

Hollis’ work has been a fairly constant feature of my creative life. The Colour Of Spring contributed hugely to ending my misguided moratorium on pop music (and the glossy aesthetic legacy of the 80s), and the subsequent records would become central to my perspective on the trajectory of rock and guitar music in the 21st century. While minimalism was already well integrated into my constitutive lines of flight via such obvious figures as Reich, Glass, Sakamoto, and others, it was Hollis that really made me understand how important the judicious application of silence is to the entire foundation of musicality, whatever the context. The delicate, restrained beauty of so many of Talk Talk’s more defining moments (the beginning of Spirit springs immediately to mind) were revelatory.

He has been dead for weeks now and I still can’t listen to his music without coming undone. Hopefully that will give way to a more sublime and constructive kind of sadness soon, but I can at least write about that music, offer a brief elegy.

Hollis was a master of arrangement, but he was a creature ahead of his time in that he recognized that to take music further we would have to become more granular with our creativity, shift our focus from the compositional context to the primarily timbral. It wasn’t about arranging songs, verses, choruses any longer, we had done that to death. What Hollis did was he arranged texture, he arranged sound, delicate, alien, underscored by the weight of silence.

Of course on top of this emphasis on texture and sound-for-itself (which premeditated the course that electronic music would take over the following decades) he was a poet, a singular vocalist, and a dynamic composer. The axiomatic aspects of his aesthetic project are present throughout each of these features of his work – by the time Spirit had come around, for example, the textual content of his songs had been pruned and compounded into sparse, translucent lyricism.

Oh yeah, the world’s turned upside down…

While Spirit and Laughing Stock are often championed as harbingers of what would unfold within the underground rock world over the subsequent decades (which they very much are) it’s The Colour of Spring that really speaks to what Hollis was able to do, a bridge between the straightforward synth pop of It’s My Life and the leftfield art rock that would follow. The intimate nature of the production is on full display from the get-go, with the stripped down drums drawing attention to the syncopated ornamentation throughout Happiness Is Easy. The snare is still engaged on the snare drum here (by Spirit it will be almost entirely absent) but it’s already dry as a bone relative to the enormous gated reverbs that characterize 80s production orthodoxy. The stilted fills and choked cymbals set the stage for the sparse, clear acoustic guitar and double-bass flourishes. This track also features the first of the many decidedly unusual solos that are such defining features of the record, manifest here as an off-kilter synth, an alien horn from an uncanny valley.

These leftfield solos are central to what made this record so appealing to me back when I was a creatively ambitious guitarist confronting the artistic bankruptcy of contemporary rock music, they display an incredibly original approach to sound design that is present across the album, coexisting with the pop music structures and stylings of each song. It’s there at the very outset of I Don’t Believe In You, one of the tracks that pulled me in early on with its dramatic intro, a single discordant synth stab that sounds like an ethereal car peeling out juxtaposed over delicate nylon guitar. The second and perhaps best of the solos makes its appearance here too – where Happiness included a synth masquerading as a trumpet, here we have a guitar sounding decidedly like a synth. The early strains of Hollis’ full-throated desire to reconstruct the dogma of rock n’ roll as futurist sound art are on full display. This carries on in Life’s What You Make It, with its soaring guitar leads. Give It Up features another blistering guitar solo, one that sounds even more like an excerpt from a noise album. These solos are categorically unlike those you find on a Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd album, derived not from ego but from Otherness. Give It Up is probably the track that most catalyzed my entire love affair with this band, a relatively straightforward, brilliantly catchy affair that benefits so much from the space that Hollis’ had begun to apply to such great effect in his compositions, each chorus collapsing into gentle, detailed ambience floating over punchy drums. A sublime emptiness seething behind the hooks and bombast.

All of this foreshadowed what Spirit would accomplish. It opens with the familiar gentle strings, a muted trumpet, incidental music for a film that dissolves into environmental field recordings and meandering melodies that deteriorate further into unsettling, droning destitution and then – a guitar. This is it, no moment, in my mind, speaks more to the heart of what it was Hollis was doing than that first guitar chord, framed against nothing, loaded with more sonic power than Tchaikovsky could ever have managed with all the artillery in the world. This moment gives way to an utterly gut-wrenching harp solo, a climactic point of Hollis’ experiments using instruments as proxies for other instruments, in this case a harmonica aping a synth, convincingly. The beginning of this record is legendary and rightly so, one of those wonderful instances of an artist truly managing to communicate the heart–or should I say, Spirit–of what they are trying to do.

I could ramble ad nauseam on this topic, but really I should let Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock speak for themselves. Their magnificent secrets should be able to better make the point I’ve been trying to make here. If it’s not obvious at first, keep listening. If we are to continue to express ourselves meaningfully we must learn how to use old words in new ways, learn how to frame them such that their decrepit character is rendered anew. As Brian Eno pointed out, many of history’s greatest artists were obsessed with a specific idea, were channeling an abstraction of a single aspect, a discrete facet of the goddess that is creation. Those ideas, impossible to articulate with the languages of the embodied, are embedded in their artifacts and accomplishments. Go listen.

Rage on omnipotent

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