(Z)eros and Civilisation: Cave Twitter’s Cryptic Trans-Actions (Part 1)

At the risk of giving oxygen to a handful of bogus critiques — aimed at others most recently but I’ve received my own fair share these past months — can we talk for a minute about this really irritating and reductive habit shared by some Twitter gobshites, who disingenuously try to force others into cul-de-sac concepts and systems with the straw men of ignorance?

Whether its patchwork, accelerationism or something else, there’s a consistent demand from some quarters that everything cooked up in the blogosphere must be applicable to all bases, needs, demographics and interests, as if the intention has ever been to produce some sort of rigorous Total Theory that will solve all of our problems; as if everyone has forgotten the near-canonical utterance that the mission is to “let the Outside in”.

The intention is always to perforate the totality we’re presented with, undermine it, giving a voice to that which is always left out of our state-sanctioned historiographies, beliefs and “truths”. Still, cries of “crypto-fascist” ring out, left over from the Great Paranoia of 2017. By definition, what is sought is the implementation of fascism’s absolute opposite, taking deliberate and localised aim at the various microfascisms that provide the foundations for our contemporary processes of subjection and territorialisation — prevalent on all sides of politics. The intention is not to consolidate a new world order, but break apart that which is.

Nyx, in her recent essay, “Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper” — which weathered a couple of familiarly disingenuous attacks that seemed entirely ignorant and blind to this foundational position — made repeat and explicit references to this nomadic tendency in relation to the politics and praxes of a transgendered existence.

What I enjoyed most about Nyx’s essay was the way she expanded so incredibly on the work of Sadie Plant in her book Zeros + Ones, particularly Nyx’s additional and more contemporary examples of an (a)gendered guerrilla warfare in cyberspace.

In numerous instances, Plant writes about the inherently feminine and guerrilla nature of digital activism and cyberwarfare, but Nyx enriches this secret history even further, highlighting the more contemporary ways in which an amateur hacker — “amateur” in the positive sense of a person acting beyond the remit of some kind of neoliberal professionalism — and the state might find themselves, in unprecedented ways, on more-or-less even footing. Hacking and its associated tactics, in this regard, as Nyx quotes of Plant, are distinct from “the Western way of confrontation, stratified strategies, muscular strength, testosterone energy, big guns, and blunted instruments”, they are rather more like “Sun Tzu’s art of war: tactical engagements, lightning speeds, the ways of the guerrillas.”

Nyx articulates the relevance of such guerrilla tactics to trans experience in the starkest of terms when she writes:

The trans woman is an insurgent against patriarchy who is continually flanking it, introducing an affirmative zero into the gender binary, the affirmative zero which reaches ever more configurations in the downward cascade of gender fragmentation away from the binary and ultimately away from the human itself. It is a process of gender shredding where the feminine wins out in a cybernetic warfare against the crumbling tower of the masculine, and where therefore human reproduction becomes impossible. And yet while doing so, in affirming zero, inhuman desire and inhuman sentience develops alongside and in the same fashion as trans women.

Here, Nyx is building upon the gendered notions of Plant’s book brilliantly and, what is worth highlighting specifically here, is the ever-present (un)grounding of zero.

What is “zero”, affirmatively understood? Within the history of mathematics, as Plant sketches out so lucidly and in great detail, the concept of “zero” had existed for centuries as something — that is, as something more than “nothing” — primarily in the arithmetics of Hindu and Arabic cultures. Europe, she notes, was initially resistant to — even threatened by — the alien 0-9 system (which we might now struggle to imagine ever doing without) when it was first imported to the continent by the merchant classes:

When [zero] first appeared in the new string of infidel figures, the old Church fathers did everything to keep it out of a world which then revolved around one and its multiples: one God, one truth, one way, one one. The numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 were subservient enough, but zero was unthinkable. If it wasn’t one of something, it couldn’t be allowed. Then again, the Church could hardly be seen to protest too much about something that, as far as they could see, wasn’t really there at all. If zero was nothing, it should be as easy to absorb as the Sanskrit one had been. And, sure enough, zero was appropriated as a sign of absence, nonbeing, and nothingness. The ancient unity of something and nothing was apparently disturbed.

For Plant, ontopolitically, zero takes on the symbolic role of the feminine in echoing the seemingly paradoxical nature of the productive void. There are, however, more nuances to attend to. As Nyx writes:

0 and 1 are fitting glyphs to make analogous to gender. The 0 which seems to be a void, a vulva, and the 1 which seems to be a unity, a phallus. The problem with trying to layer a simple misogynistic narrative of feminine as lack or castration is that the number 0 itself is not merely a void but rather a circle of autoproduction, an ouroboros. Paradoxically, 0 is not merely a lack or nothingness, but rather is itself a number. It is a positive signifier in the guise of nothingness, the enclosed and captured void that makes the unity possible.

And as Plant herself writes later:

It takes two to make a binary, but all these parts are two of a kind, and the kind is always kind of one. 1 and 0 make another 1. Male and female add up to man. There is no female equivalent. No universal woman at his side. The male is one, one is everything, and the female has “nothing you can see.” Woman “functions as a hole,” a gap, a space, “a nothing — that is a nothing the same, identical, identifiable … a fault, a flaw, a lack, an absence, outside the system of representations and auto-representations.” Lacan lays down the law and leaves no doubt: “There is woman only as excluded by the nature of thing,” he explains. She is “not-all,” “not-whole,” “not-one,” and whatever she knows can only be described as “not-knowledge.” There is “no such thing as The woman, where the definite article stands for the universal.” She has no place like home, nothing of her own, “other than the place of the Other which,” writes Lacan, “I designate with a capital O.”

Nyx’s move may have provoked some controversy but, to me, it seems like a wonderful and loyal continuation of the line of flight that Plant herself describes here. The few criticisms fired at Nyx seem based on a failure to grasp the move she carries over and updates from Plant herself. If Nyx’s argument is so sacrilegious, what are we to make of the materials she is drawing on? Is Nyx’s position not an attempt to update a smattering of seminal Accelerationist texts and take them to their ultimate conclusion?

If that is somehow distasteful to you, it’s a wonder you’ve stuck around this corner of the internet long enough to find it. Such is the pessimism that so many of these writings are based on.

Nyx’s symbolic shifting of zero from woman to transwoman, some have suggested, is a fundamentally mysogynistic gesture. Peter Heft is not one of these people but, in his post on the essay and its critics, he nonetheless confesses some anxiety in this regard. First summarising Nyx’s argument, he nonetheless adds a concerned, albeit still thrilled, caveat:

The brunt of G/Acc rests on the assertion that “[i]f patriarchy treats woman as little more than a deficient or castrated male, then trans femininity is an affirmation of that castration as a site of production” and posits that the trans-feminine subject must reject humanity and propel forward alongside, and within, technocapital. As the trans-feminine subject and technocapital become increasingly interwoven, gender becomes “shredded” as the war between the sexes accelerates creating the conditions where males are no longer needed. Thus, the feminine forces the masculine into a position of double-death. For n1x, the “dreary duty of masculinity” is overcome and ideals of masculinity as such either succumb to the passive nihilism of celibacy, or to the vain hope of sexbots solving the problem of obsolescence. In both cases, however, “the era of testosterone” comes to an end and the trans-feminine overcomes the masculine paradigm leaving the still masculine men to die off while the “more evolved” men take the so-called “pink pill” and become the trans-feminine.

While I have some worries here — namely that n1x still invokes an ideal of futurity and she seems to ignore the straight, cisgender woman and her role –, I’m also willing to spot this as I find the idea intriguing and morbidly exciting.

I like Heft’s post, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his concerns, and so I don’t mean to unnecessarily pour scorn when I suggest that his anxiety contains the latent echo of the transphobic discourses that have dominated so many channels this past year.

An argument for a central role of ciswomen is one that, we should remember, TERFs themselves routinely give their (very loud) voices too. Why is this an issue worth noting here? Because, in line with the senses of masculine and feminine as they have been explored here already, we might argue that TERFs damningly fill the role of “masculine feminists” — which is to say, as women who wish to define themselves as another-One, as a whole, as all, alongside the masculine-one itself. This is why Nyx’s zero is affirmative, injecting into a gender binary that has sought to reconsolidate itself over as little as bathrooms and pluralist pronouns.

The “TE” of TERF, of course, means “trans-exclusionary”. Transplanting the worst instances of this discourse into the terms of Nyx’s argument, we might likewise rename them “zero-exclusionary” feminists — the apparent paradox of saying something can exclude zero being more than appropriate in this context.

The political necessity of this manoeuvre could not be more obvious this month, considering the recent news that President Trump might attempt to legislate “transgender” out of existence, just as the Church sought to administrate zero into the oblivion it was reductively taken to represent. Inserting anyone who identifies as trans- into the equation of Plant’s 0s + 1s must necessitate, today, a shift in where zero lies, making both man and woman 1: conceptual wholes relative to the perpetual transcience of trans identity.

This should not be taken to be an erasure of ciswomen. I think Nyx makes this very clear. To suggest otherwise is to, again, echo the arguments of TERFs.

As @laincortes said on Twitter: any affinity acknowledged between zero and (trans)women is not an erasure, an absence — this is to stick to the Western reduction of zero — but rather the “manifestation of adaptability”.

To be continued…




Following my mention of Peter Heft’s post, Peter himself responded on Twitter. I was wary of putting words in Peter’s mouth and his comment, whilst obvious not clearly representative of any position, simply made me think of the argument explored above but I didn’t want to necessarily attribute this to him.

Peter went on to make a number of great points in a thread that followed, presented below:

I feel as if it’s only right that I add a brief comment: I didn’t expand upon the cis woman argument because it’s not a huge concern, but I’ll explain it briefly here. My concern is *NOT* that cis women are being dethroned or aren’t going to take a primary role, etc… [1] My concern was, rather, with n1x’s teleological claim. The claim that men will become obsolete via biotech, etc., does ignore the role of straight cis women in propping up the current regime. In other words, just as men will react against G/Acc and be placed in the [2] double death scenario, I think a subset of women, be they antitech, trad, or simply not down with the project, will react against it as well. Thus my worry is that by ignoring these womens’ place, we skirt dangerously close to patronization at best and misogyny at worst. [3]

Nyx herself replied too:

That’s actually a really great point. The reason why I didn’t elaborate very much on it is mainly because G/ACC’s scope is explicitly analytical and not political. My goal was to first lay out a theoretical understanding of gender related to accelerationism. [1] In the #LesbiaNRx manifesto I will definitely be exploring this point though, because (unsurprisingly) I reject the whole universal female sisterhood bullshit. [2] (and also because the #LesbiaNRx manifesto is going to be on the political consequences of my conceptualization of gender in G/ACC) [3]

Peter again:

I figured the analytic as opposed to political nature of G/Acc is why discussions of other groups wasn’t foregrounded. Given that, I felt it would be unfair for me to criticize that since that wasn’t the purpose of the post. I suppose my general worry boils down to the following: [1] Cis “women” (whatever that may mean once we reject essentialism) have been oppressed in specific ways and I don’t just wanna shrug off the work of “traditional” feminists or non-queer liberators. But perhaps I’m too idealistic in thinking a coalition, of sorts, could form. [2] I suppose to more formally explain my thoughts I’d have to go back to the headspace I was in the other day and that will take a re-reading and bracketing of all else right now. Regardless, I look forward to LesbiaNrx! [3]

Nyx:

I mean I feel like I also was pretty insistent in G/ACC that the root of patriarchy lies in the primordial exploitation of female reproductive potential. So certainly it’s not going to be a simple “cishet women are canceled” position either. [1] Fortunately, female sexuality is also pretty fluid overall, heh. [2]

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4 thoughts on “(Z)eros and Civilisation: Cave Twitter’s Cryptic Trans-Actions (Part 1)

  1. My god, where am I? You all should be ashamed of yourselves, falling this far from grace into the debaucherous hyperliberalism of wanting to deconstruct gods creation of male and female into some gay soviet shit.

    Like

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