State Decay: Collapse

This post is another appendix to ‘State Decay‘ — the first one is here — addressing concerns raised in the comments, which I think are legitimate and warrant a more in-depth explanation than the one given in a comments section, which unfolded as follows:

dmf: “There is great beauty in decomposition, if only we would stop resisting it” — really have you ever been in areas where the state has either collapsed or largely withdrawn?

xenogoth: There’s a great difference between collapse and a natural process of decomposition. Hence the metaphor, as well as the quote from Vince to finish.

dmf: but we aren’t literally going thru decomposition we are undergoing a series of collapses, don’t know Vince’s work well but Nick is willfully ignorant about the vital roles of infrastructures, perhaps yer writing on/as speculative fiction and I’ve missed the genre/point in which case apologies.

xenogoth: Speculative, yes, but not fiction. Collapse seems to be what happens when a state, in its rigidity, is exposed to its outside and can’t adjust. That is the subtext of this whole post. Lovecraftian horror is the horror of collapse in this same mode, but limited to the individual rather than to a state. But many have explored ways that collapse is just the result of bad infrastructure, rather than the only feasible result of [sudden, radical] change. That’s the fallacy of capitalist realism. “Horrors are not all there is to the Outside”, as Mark wrote. Also, patchwork itself is [a] multiplication of states and therefore infrastructures, is it not?

dmf: patchwork is a fictional genre, failed and failing states is the news of the day. to think we can somehow manage/re-engineer this is more way-out/scifi than promethean fantasies of re-engineering the weirdings of the climate.

xenogoth: I disagree but I’ll explain why in future posts.

Later:

Mahan: […] “Every once-living thing, in its decomposition, allows innumerable differing microcosms to flourish, uninhibited and free. There is great beauty in decomposition, if only we would stop resisting it.” yes, resistance generally sucks. deleuze taught us that. now we all affirm, for better or worse.

but ….. the left died and innumerable 4channers flourished…. if i don’t see much beauty in that, maybe we should fast-forward to the third critique and talk a bit about taste… also, and more importantly, syria has now almost totally decomposed, so did iraq, and there wasn’t anything beautiful about that either. are we talking about natural death here? or did something kill something else? is some sense of realpolitik also inspiring us? unfortunately, political decomposition is not as beautiful as its strictly natural counterpart captured on time-lapse videos. this bit just ruined the whole post for me, almost. grrrrrr….

but back to the main point. robyn makes so much sense, but he just sounds too annoyingly detached, like he just came down from mars (or wherever) to explain patchwork and he’ll be back up (or down) there right after the seminar… if we’re a bit more attached to this planet thingy we’re in, we’d be aware that there should be a path leading us from where we are now to the patchwork future (let’s say we all happen to LOVE patchwork overnight). how will the world be cut up into hundreds of thousands of swathes of land to be then autonomously but inter-dependently ruled? what happens to the resources, the raw materials we will nevertheless need even if we totally switch to bitcoin gov-corps? who will take on syria? the ‘wars’ that sustain the state form are incompatible with a patchwork model. and that is the fictional bit about patchwork. neo-empires and monopolies are more of a reality than this kind of ‘wishful thinking’, i’d say. […]

xenogoth: Like a previous commenter here, I want to stress that the difference between decomposition as a process, as I’m imagining it, is not the same as collapse. Evidently I need to clarify this and I plan to.

The Left didn’t died and allow 4chan to flourish. Again, I think that point is already made here too. The Left stopped considering / taking its outside seriously. The Left stopped communicating and began to believe too much in its own universalism. When other conversations began to dominate, it didn’t know what to do and was unprepared. That’s not death, that’s having your head in the sand.

A response to the rest, too, is to come. I do not see it as being as drastic as people assume it to be and I think, in some places, the signs of a move towards patchwork are already present, particularly in post-Brexit Britain. As Vince had already insinuated, a global patchwork is sort of an oxymoron. It’s not a globalist cure-all. We need “the infectious patchwork within the state, a recursive dissolution that leaves not a network of states, but an endless flux in which the state itself disintegrates into the very war that sustains it.” This is the process I see as state decomposition and the examples I already see as heading this way aren’t as dystopian as people seem to be assuming. I don’t think that “war”, in the sense Vince uses it, is in reference to international conflict but the internal struggles that have long given the state its form: class struggle perhaps being the central engine and all the struggles that in itself contains. Resource management and trade won’t stop with patchwork. Nor will aid. Again, this is the point I try to make clear. It’s not a turning our backs on each other but necessitates communication in order to function. It necessitates a responsibility to your outside and I think that means that situations like Syria would be less of a shitshow with states providing aid only doing so much and having their own imperial agendas. The only fiction I see is, again, people’s reliance on a capitalist realist fallacy when any alternative is put forward is wishful thinking. This post does not describe a fully functioning global system for fixing all our problems so dismissing it as not fulfilling that is stamping on it before its had time to grow legs — precisely the sort of knee jerk melancholic response that has rid the left of all altervatives. This is merely, for me, an introduction to the problem and there is more to come. And I want to show, over the course of a number of posts, how it’s an idea the Left could take seriously if it wanted to.

Evidently further clarification is needed and that’s what I plan to do here.


As he said goodbye to 2014, Nick Land reflected on lessons learned over the course of the year:

Horroristic practice: to seize the collapse of the world as the opportunity for an encounter with the Outside. Is this NRx? In all probability, no more than symbiotically. The occasion for tactical alignment, however, is considerable.

The word “collapse” here looms large but “opportunity” is likewise a word that deserves attention. What I read in this post is not an apocalyptic nihilism but the prediction of a collapse of a prevalent ideology — a “collapse” that has, more or less, happened — and a call for subsequent and meaningful change.

This is not NRx because it would be naive to suggest NRx has the natural monopoly on opportunities that arise from “collapse”, but it was perhaps the only thought that desired and was prepared for it.

The comments above echo, in a way, the schism between responsibility and justice explored previously. Decay, for me, is not an advocation of state collapse in much the same way a rejection of justice is not the same as a dismissal of all “responsibility”. Mahan is right that decomposition has an aesthetic quality when seen in time-lapse but this does not change the horror of what is occurring. Evidently “decomposition” was a bad word to invoke without further explanation.

I invoked “decomposition” for what it brought to my mind in the recent writings of Donna Haraway, in the way fragmentation is occasioned by the opportunistic hyper-activity of various ecologies, particularly those great communicators, bacterium.

To resort to quoting Dictionary.com, decomposition is a process of the

separation of a substance into simpler substances or basic elements. Decomposition can be brought about by exposure to heat, light, or chemical or biological activity.

Invoking processes of death and decay nonetheless invokes images of biohorror but it is also something that allows for the flourishing of more life on the body of — to again refer to Vince — a rotting leviathan.

A necessary follow-up to this is, of course, Uri’s ‘Skins and the Game‘ in which he frames patchwork as a “recipe for consistent dissolution, which structurally avoids paranoiac re-capture.”

Patchwork, insofar as it breaks its neocameral pieces apart in a systematic commercium of sovereignty, is a recipe for the “ambivalence” Garton himself recommends. Recursively implementing its own dynamics into the organisms that comprise it, Patchwork is a machine that kills Leviathans. Neocameral sovcorps are the bacterial termites that rot them away, implementing “the infectious patchwork within the state, a recursive dissolution that leaves not a network of states, but an endless flux in which the state itself disintegrates into the very war that sustains it”, of which Garton writes.

Whatever skin or membrane remains is for the game to decide.


are we talking about natural death here? or did something kill something else? is some sense of realpolitik also inspiring us?

To play on the Ccru’s definition of ‘Flatline Materialism’, written in the context of the non-collapse of society post-Y2K:

The Crypt is nothing outside an experiment in artificial death, hyper-production of the positive zero-plane — neuroelectonic immanence — invested by a continually reanimated thanatechnical connectivism. This fact carries inevitable consequences for the cultures that populate it, uprooting them into Unlife — or the non-zone of absolute betweenness… [220]

I didn’t use the patchwork face of Frankenstein’s monster to illustrate the last post for reasons of aesthetic facetiousness alone. The monster is precisely an example of uprooted Unlife, absolute betweenness, artificial death thanatechnically instantiated that horrifies Frankenstein as the “father” of something made in his bastard image. Patchwork is the bastard image of the state which is born of and also threatens its imperial authority. Horror is it’s natural aesthetic mode but, again, as Fisher writes: “Horrors are not all there is to the Outside”.


Elsewhere, Ed Berger highlighted a further line of thought, which I hope he doesn’t mind me partially quoting here:

[…] collapse of the state as-is = absolute catastrophe and an opening into endless tribal warfare… which is actually a pretty interesting line of questioning to pose to patchwork (and something capable of being reversed: hasn’t the majoritarian order of states already been guilty of this, and even more so hasn’t this been a major driver of large-scale infrastructural works?) It might also be interesting to look at production of the modern state itself… did it not emerge precisely from the decomposition of the older orders?

As a lot of my own thinking has emerged from texts that Ed and others have pointed to, I won’t follow this specific line further here. He is better placed to do that and I hope he does!


if we’re a bit more attached to this planet thingy we’re in, we’d be aware that there should be a path leading us from where we are now to the patchwork future

A longer post, considering a path towards patchwork that is already present and has been discussed as such (though the niche nature of patchwork as a theory means it has not yet been discussed explicitly in these terms), is to come in the coming days or weeks. As so many points have been raised here, I’ll be taking my time with it and I’ll try to consider every one.

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11 thoughts on “State Decay: Collapse

  1. “collapse of the state as-is = absolute catastrophe and an opening into endless tribal warfare… which is actually a pretty interesting line of questioning to pose to patchwork ”
    yep, this seems to match the daily news as far as I can see, states aren’t collapsing out of rigidity they are collapsing b/c they were dependent on various forms of extractive industrial capitalism and we are out of cheap resources and labor, suffering from various monopolies/platforms and their captures of government overseers, and the like. Now unless one can find a way to meet the day to day needs of the masses with the sorts of regularities (supply chains, etc) they have come to expect (or aspire to) or they will take what they can as they can.

    Liked by 1 person

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