The disconnection between these approaches to patchwork theory, in many people’s minds, may mirror the similarly contentious fault line between “continental” and “analytic” philosophies.
Each approaches a series of central problems from opposing directions, equipped with different tools for the job. However, despite their various disagreements, there is much to be said for a cross-pollination between the two approaches.
This came to mind explicitly whilst reading a book Reza recommended to me during the course of our conversation, after I explained that Intelligence & Spirit had pushed me down a deep dark well with Wilfred Sellars and Rudolf Carnap (that I found myself nonetheless enjoying, having never read either before).
The book he recommended was A. W. Carus’s Carnap and Twentieth-Century Thought. In the preface, Carus writes:
[F]rom at latest 1687 or so, knowledge became irrevocably theoretical. A gap opened up between knowledge and the shaping of individual human lives, a gap that has grown steadily wider over the centuries since then. The old philosophical ideal of applying knowledge to the shaping of practical life seemed doomed to irrelevance. Its vigorous revival by the Enlightenment led only to the Romantic reaction, whose most persuasive argument was the obvious gap between the desiccated world portrayed in our increasingly technical knowledge and the rich intuitive awareness in which we live our actual lives (the Lebenswelt, as philosophers like to call it when dwelling on this contrast).
This gap between knowledge and life split the thinking world into two warring camps, which have gone by many names; ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Romanticism’ were among the early examples. Each side tried to bridge the gap between knowledge and life, to bring them back together, but from different ends, in different directions. One side insisted on life, and sought either to disqualify the new kind of knowledge from serious relevance for life, or to tame it somehow, to bring it within the ambit of practical and intuitive life, in the manner of Goethe and Schelling. The other side insisted on the new knowledge, rather, and required life to adjust; this was the stance of Diderot, the Encyclopédiste Enlightenment, and the positivist tradition. In various ways, nineteenth- and twentieth-century western intellectual life hinged on the conflict between these two stances.
This reflects the previously discussed bipolarisation of thought, it seems, likewise echoing Reza’s criticisms of the pathologisation of education and political intelligences. However, the response to this is not to argue for the sealing of an apparent cracked divide. To pursue this, as Carus suggests has been previously attempted, is a misstep.
Instead, I would argue, in the language of this blog, that the project of consolidating thought into a unitary project remains doomed to reductive failure. There is no desire here for a new philosophical universalism. The suggestion is rather to place the “analytic” and “continental” traditions in a particle accelerator — much like the “state” and the “subject” themselves in patchwork theory — so that we might smash them together and expand upon the fragments, in turn giving us a more accurate view of the universe as a multiplicitous whole.
Put another way, the message is: Affirm the differences and modulate accordingly.
With this in mind, we might think of Carus’s discussion of life and knowledge as similar to those things at stake in the context of the patchwork debate. For example, might we frame the state as an imposed (Enlightenment) “given” to which there are no just alternatives whilst also testing the bounds of the (Romantic) subject in much the same way?
The latter exercise is arguably an already common practice. We could list countless ways in which “life”, in this context, has been theorised and manipulated. I’m thinking of Mark Fisher’s Gothic Materialism here, for instance, and his rethinking of “life” through the tinkered-with vectors of mechanism and vitalism. Is Reza’s project similar, then? Albeit dragging knowledge into the ring as an amorphous “intelligence”, having previously been more of a focus for the analytic side of the Great Divide?
Communication and education reemerge here as near-universal topics of interest to various epistemologies which can nevertheless be explored through disparate avenues. Perhaps what best conjoins the two is “language” as that most fundamental marker of intelligibility, and the malleability of language in various contexts becomes a repetitive point of intrigue for me throughout Intelligence & Spirit, particularly when Reza deploys a Carnapian thinking — or, rather, invokes “Carnap on Acid“.
Reza’s Acid Carnapianism emphases “the unbinding of language and logic from concerns about representation and even meaning”, which, in Intelligence & Spirit, is seen as “the very recipe by which reality can be structured differently.”
Carnap’s most famous contribution to philosophies of language and logic was his demonstration of the very insufficiency of language to convey meaning unless the context of the system in which a concept is deployed is over-defined. This is useful for science and computational languages, most explicitly, wherein languages can be constructed anew for certain purposes within closed systems, but out in the world as we know it, this thinking throws the very idea of veritable meaning into abject (but nonetheless productive) chaos.
(Don’t hate me, Nyx, but) I think the Contrapoints video “Pronouns” might be a good pop cultural example for us to use in order to demonstrate how this kind of thinking is already being played out across the boundaries of contemporaneous left-right political debate.
(The segment of the video from 04:41 to 12:10 is the key bit.)
In the video, YouTuber Natalie Wynn takes on US conservative alt media pundit Ben Shapiro’s demonstrations of superior logic and factual warfare by framing his pet “debate” around the illegitimacy of transgender pronouns as an analytic question of language rather than biology, arguing that Shapiro’s conceptual crutch of biology is the only way in which his argument can stand up and is far more influenced by his feelings than the facts he holds so dearly. (Reza’s previously discussed comments on the fact-value distinction echo in my ears.) However, functionally, Shapiro’s argument crumbles when carried over into the social sphere. His terms are, therefore, insufficiently defined to make any claim to a socially functional use of language.
So, when Shapiro claims that “facts don’t care about your feelings”, what he means is the “neutral” but astute and trustworthy world of knowledge is irrelevant to your parochial life concerns. However, Wynn goes on to demonstrate how her logical structure for language — which we might call “gendered English” — is a socially constructed and functionally “intelligent” — in Reza’s sense — process which inherently adapts to the world around it and challenges how someone like Shapiro insufficiently structures our understanding of the human subject in the 21st century. (Can we see Shapiro get DESTROYED and NEGARESTANI’D brickwise in 2019?)
Wynn goes on to demonstrate how calling a transgender woman “she” is the logically correct response in the majority of social situations — rather than it just being an appeal to feelings. What’s even more interesting about this video and its exploration of the issue of transgender pronouns in particular, however, is that this display of a socialised logic doesn’t take away from the fact that her argument is a challenge to how most people have previously conceived of themselves as subjects, which is what so troubles Shapiro and his ilk.
The root of transphobia for many is a fear about the consequences of the deconstruction of sociolinguistic signifiers for male and female genders. What these consequences are, for most people, are moot but it is nonetheless true that this deconstruction is, in many ways, taking place — and has been going on for decades prior to our present moment too: it’s just now reached the mainstream.
The real questions in orbit of this issue become: “What are you so afraid of?” “Why are you clinging onto the raft of a rigidly gendered subject?” “How does this benefit you and/or the world at large?”
The answers, to many on the left at least, are perhaps obvious. Those who don’t want the world challenged are those that have the most to lose from the pecking order changing or being dismantled all together — middle class white men. But that is not to dismiss this demographic outright. They are, in fact, a very useful weather vane.
For instance, the transphobic response to such questions is recognisably something along the lines of “an increase in clinical cases of gender dysmorphia is just the spreading of mental illness.” Whilst that is an argument offensive to so many, again we might argue that this is also not, in itself, incorrect — if we are to understand mental illness clinically as a “disturbance” in thought which disrupts an individual’s ability to handle “life’s ordinary demands”.
The voice of Mark Fisher echoes through here, necessitating the interrogation of what “life’s ordinary demands” are exactly in a life under capitalism. The message of much of Mark’s thought was rather to recognise why we might be feeling this way, why it is so distressing, and how such feelings might be indicative of a shift in how we conceive of ourselves as subjects. We mustn’t individualise mental illness but consider the ways in which society encourages and sustains the production of such fraught existences.
Here, then, I may go so far as to argue that the Acid Carnapianism approach to mind is downright Ballardian. To quote my favourite passage from JG Ballard’s The Drowned World:
Sometimes he wondered what zone of transit he himself was entering, sure that his own withdrawal was symptomatic not of a dormant schizophrenia, but of a careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance.
Shapiro’s perfectly rigid hair alone is enough of signifier for the fact he has no interest in pursuing a Kurtz-gradient — or should I say “Kerans-gradient”, in this Ballardian context.
Whilst this may seem like a major tangent away from the topic at hand, I think it helps to demonstrate how these issues of mind, intelligence and AGI are connected to a persist thread on the politics of emancipation which runs throughout the text.
Very early on Reza highlights how the “desacralisation of the mind as something ineffable and given coincides with the project of historical emancipation”. Mind, in this sense, starts to resemble that overarching essence of such questions as those considered above. A mind aimed towards emancipation is a mind that is self-conscious and self-critical about what it is, but this is not to individualise such a process. To consider this process at the level of the social, as Reza does, makes the move towards artificial intelligence (and artificial general intelligence) seem almost obvious.
Although it is perhaps not so obvious from the rudimentary level of pop culture, where AI is constantly framed as an externalised self-critical self-consciousness. It is arguably the unfortunate myopia of the capitalist realist subjectivity which leads to such representations of intelligence being consistently sociopathic — a dull self-hatred in the narrative mirror. Intelligence & Spirit does well to challenge such a cliche, however, demonstrating how philosophy (of mind but also in general) has always been a project for the development of an AGI. The history of philosophy itself is an AGI production process through which we strive for an outside view of ourselves.
To Be Continued…
I’ve been struggling with a cold for a week now and it’s mutated into a horrible throat infection so the Reza posts are on hold until I feel like I’ve got the brain power to move forwards with them.
However, speaking of mutating viruses, Resident Evil 2 has arrived in the post and I’m gonna be sinking the limited energy I do have into that game over the next week or so whilst these antibiotics kick in.
I wanted to write about it because, before this cold got worse, I’d promised to stream it. I’ve decided against that now because I can’t talk and don’t want to hold off on playing it for the sake of a video I’ll probably never finish so I thought I’d be better to write up my thoughts on the blog instead.
(I’ll get round to finishing one of my gaming video essays one day — the Bloodborne one stalled months back but it remains promising…)
I’ve had a bumpy relationship with the Resident Evil games. I was reminded of my love for them when I was back at my home over Christmas, digging around all my long-forgotten childhood things and finding a complete run of Resident Evil games released on the first and second generation PlayStation consoles: that’s the first game, the “Directors Cut”, number two, number 3, Survivor, and Code Veronica.
Not counting the Gamecube remaster of the original game, there is an abrupt stop in my engagement with this franchise after this point.
This abrupt stop is no doubt down to the PS2 becoming the console for Silent Hill games whereas Resident Evil had ruled the PS1. The first Silent Hill on the latter platform was mythically horrific to my childhood brain and I didn’t play it until a few years after it came out — when I felt “ready” for it. I remember gaming magazines would talk about it in the same sort of terms as a snuff film. What’s even more memorable is that, when I finally did play that first Silent Hill game, I remember it far exceeding the horrors conjured up by my imagination. It was, at that time in my life, quite literally more terrifying than I could imagine.
It scared me in a way that the Resident Evil games had never managed to do. Zombies were fun and they remain my favourite pop horror archetype but Silent Hill got deep inside my head. And so, Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 ruled my PS2 from there on out because all Resident Evil games after Code Veronica were trash as far as I could tell and they never got a look-in. (Although I regret that I’ve still never played Resident Evil 4.)
I think things went sour for me after the release of the Resident Evil movie adaptation. Stylistically, the film was grotesquely over-influenced by The Matrix. I remember leaving the cinema (having snuck in underage to see it) and feeling like I had recognised nothing of the experience I hoped to see replicated. And then the games following the movie seemed to echo its approach to the franchise’s universe.
However, my distaste for this overly influential cinematic divergence might also be down to the fact that, in my head, I’d always downplayed the role of the Umbrella Corporation — that’s the evil pharmaceutical company at the heart of the franchise, responsible for creating the zombifying T-Virus as a bioweapon to make invincible soldiers which leaked out from their headquarters beneath Raccoon City, seemingly going on to infect 95% of the local population. If that makes Umbrella sound like a hard thing to ignore in this series, you’d be right, but I’d nonetheless get fixated on the environments and the zombie killing and ignore the story all together, as is a no doubt common tendency amongst kids playing way below the advised minimum age limit on their games. For me, back then, the story was background noise to the thrills I was there to receive.
Don’t get me wrong though: I think the idea of a mutated virus is good. It’s noumenal and taps into a historic human fear — a kind of Black Death irrationalism where illness is, in many ways, seen as a haunting inevitability and the things done to resist it are rooted more in superstition than medical science. It’s where that lines blurs that zombie apocalypse movies really hold their own and so of course it’s the most common cause of zombie apocalypses throughout popular culture. (The Walking Dead‘s first seasons captured this atmosphere and its existential despair best, if I remember correctly.)
However, whilst making the source of this noumenal virus the stupidity, greed and recklessness of corporate America isn’t a bad message in and of itself, it always felt really lame to me; cartoonish and unnecessary. Zombies are, on their own, more than enough. Adding Big Pharma to the equation both waters down and constipates the symbolism. It makes Umbrella a largely unseen enemy, reducing the zombies themselves to an eternally irritating smokescreen that persistently distracts you from the threat at large. You can’t get to Umbrella because you’re constantly hampered by the mess they’ve made. In this way, the series downfall was always inevitable. It set itself up for a fall into lame action archetypes when it made its main enemy largely untouchable — an unsustainable premise in the long run: the games had to become more corporate in themselves.
Saying that, Resident Evil 7 was an incredible experience, playing up to the haunted house vibe that made the original so good and making the Umbrella-infused finale far less like corporate espionage and a lot more Lovecraftian, making it feel like a genuinely satisfactory and supernatural conclusion, resisting the errors of previous instalments which made Umbrella the central part of the plot overall.
However, even today, the very existence of Umbrella just disinterests me. Personally, I don’t need to know the cause of the terrors on screen. It’s the not-knowing that makes it so unnerving in the first place and I don’t actually want that taken away from me. Plus, building a franchise around the outbreak’s narrative cause — the military-industrial complex no less — was always a weak move in my opinion that reeked of bad Hollywood action movies. (It’s the same reason why Aliens is the worst Alien movie — don’t @ me — there’s just something about a premise of “mindless drones versus mindless drones” which doesn’t appeal to me.) I’m not here to have my masculinity massaged by my undead killing spree, I’m here to have my very sense of humanity unsettled.
That’s what’s so interesting about the premise of the very first Resident Evil game. You have a very (very) stereotypical 80s/90s Action Hero cast — made up of precisely the kind of testosterone bozos found in James Cameron’s attempt at a Big Dick Energy Alien movie — who are then thrown into what is a very Japanese haunted house scenario; a place where folklore and modern society rub up against each other uncomfortably.
There is a sense that these bum boils of American masculinity travel through a kind of time warp and that was what made the game so scary: this sense of utter displacement — the silent, arcane, folkloric mansion being intruded upon by a cyberfascist futurity (– that’s in reference to both the goodies and the baddies, FYI.)
In many ways, it feels reminiscent of 1977 cult classic Hausu, the Japanese haunted house horror film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Obayashi was primarily a director of film and television ads before making Hausu, and the film would be nowhere near as surreal were it not filmed in the cinematographic language of advertising. Resident Evil is the same — transplanting the language of the American action movie into the Japanese haunted house for a similar effect.
These games have always been fun to play despite these very personal plot issues that I have with them, so generally it always feels overly nerdy to get hung up on them. I only mention all of this now because the remake of Resident Evil 2 is the first game in this franchise not to make me cringe when Umbrella becomes the main plot focus over and above your own basic survival.
Umbrella remain a constant presence during the game’s final two thirds, but something about the presentation here changes things. Whether this is rose-tinted (read: HD) nostalgia, an improvement or just a long-held grudge with this series thawing out, there’s something really interesting about this game and its plot — particularly what its bizarre cultural cross-pollination has to say about the world(s) in which it is set. Whereas the Silent Hill series was set in various quintessentially American locations, probing the inside of the American psyche in the process, Resident Evil 2 transplants what feels like a quintessentially Japanese perspective into an American(ised) location where it jars in fascinating ways, precisely because you have this same transplanting of fears, conspiracies and cultural signifiers across cultures.
Now that I’ve got those nostalgic reflections out the way, in the next post I want to talk about just what this remastered perspective says about this seminal Japanese view of an Americanised crisis; of a sovcorp dissolved into a zombie nation…
Yes, I might use Resident Evil 2 to critique Moldbuggian patchwork…
To be continued…
UPDATE: I sort of want to eat my words from yesterday. When I wrote that post, I was in bed, having just completed the first four hours of the campaign and about to play as Ada in the sewers.
Now, having just completed the sewers. I’m left with a gross taste in my mouth.
I was slightly taken aback by this sequence because I remember hearing something somewhere about Ada’s character being “fixed”. Perhaps that’s just because of this initial costume teaser.
What appears like an improvement on paper comes across as a hamfished film noir homage in reality and then deteriorates from there onwards when, after entering the sewers, she loses the coat and ends up navigating shit streams in a very short and very tight red party dress and a choker…?
We’re all used to seeing women on screen in action roles wearing high heels throughout the entirety of their ordeals, magically without breaking any ankles, but this was really gratuitous, especially during the scenes where she was side by side with Leon, the rookie, with all hip pouches, tools and weapons. Ada is meant to be this superior and mysterious FBI agent but she comes across like some really bad cosplayer.
Then, when Leon and Ada seem to fall in love as they enter the belly of the beast, the cringe peaked. It’s the sort of bad dialogue that you expected from these games in the late 1990s but updated to this level of technical and aesthetic beauty, the outdated narrative comes across even worse than before — even in 1998 you could at least laugh at it.
Hears hoping my play-through of Claire Redfield’s narrative is more palatable.
UPDATE 2: I finished the game in a reasonable 6.5 hours from my sick bed. Unfortunately, I still agree with my childhood self — the police station is one of the best survival horror locations ever and, whilst the gameplay remains fun, the locations that follow it aren’t a scratch on where you start. All in all, a bit disappointed.
Wow, most so-called leftists genuinely do not understand Marx or capitalism, and do not understand that Marx himself differentiated markets from capitalism (the realm of exchange, to him, was merely irrelevant, not uniquely toxic or determinative). 
As Nyx points out: “When accelerationists say this everyone gets mad.”
The left wing aversion to markets, including myself in the past, is kind of weird to me, because markets probably emerge [pretty] much every time where people congregate in one place, share metrics & institutions, and have possessions or perform services. 
Markets & exchange are conflated with private property, the social division of labor, wage-labor/labor-power, and the class system, and they are not equivalent to, not necessarily entail/entailed by any of those. 
What’s more, where information, and goods are given, preferences bounded in scope, & production [with] fixed capital not an issue, it’s probably the case that markets & command produce the same outcomes. 
The issue comes with public goods, externalities, and production, specifically reverse capital deepening, reswitching, and the [effects] of money as an autonomous causal factor. That’s where markets & command diverge. 
Also where there are markets for information/market exchange generates information, and markets alter institutions endogenously, but this holds for command too. Where command does this it has the same negative outcomes as markets. 
Absent the state, and coercive mechanisms of employment & settlement, and with the reestablishment of the commons, temporary, local markets for inadvertent surplus are actually quite good (and more to the point will emerge on their own) 
As Ellen Meiskins Wood was wont to point out, markets & arbitrage do not comprise capitalism and have existed since time immemorial. Capitalism is a structure of production, class, property etc  Graeber, Polanyi, Ingham, Osterhammel, Carson, Scott, Zelizer & arguably Frederici can be mobilized for much the same argument. 
This doesn’t mean I’m pro market either, I’m just no longer a market abolitionist, as I see that as impossible absent intense, inefficient & costly coercion.  I’m a class, property, division of labor, wage labor, work, prison, forced settlement, and stratification abolitionist. But once those are removed, if markets emerge they will be temporary, local, socially benign & economically efficient. 
I am being ever more increasingly persuaded that actually existing anarcho-communism is patchwork and nothing else — a patchwork understood to be broadly abolitionist whilst retains an understanding of communication as exchange.
Although I don’t think that’s the corner @yungneocon is fighting in…
Just as in the SF flix, it is only by the formation of strong collectivities that the alien can be defeated, or at least subdued. Autonomous collectivies are anti-capitalist not by virtue of organizing against capital, as if capital were an errant ruler who could be persuaded to mend its ways, but through their production of sustainanble energy systems (in the broadest sense) that are simply indifferent to capitals incessant injunction to replicate more of itself. Markets and other sorts of trading circuits are of course integral to this process, just as socialist-style Statist macro-organization is, at best, irrelevant, at worst, positively obstructive to it.
Anti-capitalism is not a political movement, it is a set of practices, many of them still only potentials.
Our conversation around experiences of education and the importance of challenging your sense of both your world and your self led us to talking about patchwork far more quickly than I’d initially anticipated.
If you have no idea what I’m referring to here, a quick summary:
Patchwork was a topic of fervent debate throughout the blogosphere during 2018. It has primarily had a presence online prior to this as a Moldbuggian theory of neocameralism that was expanded and intermittently built upon by Nick Land on his Xenosystems blog between 2013-2017.
However, the patchwork debate took on a notably different shape in 2018. Whilst it has nonetheless continued to orbit this former debate and its implications for future technologies and modes of governance in a world continually warped by secessionism and a decaying neoliberalism, #CaveTwitter instead took its lead from Gilles Deleuze who wrote on “patchwork” on numerous occasions, but particularly in relation to American frontierism — see: “Bartleby; or, The Formula” (starting on page 68 of Essays Critical and Clinical) — and as a word for the interactions of smooth and striated space in the final plateau of A Thousand Plateaus which he wrote with Felix Guattari.
Taking a much longer run-up to more contemporaneous theories of patchwork, its related areas of interest and relevance are today far more numerous and far-reaching, whether concerning panarchic communisms and climate change politics or time-warps and Riemannian geometries. My own personal interest in this debate has been its usage for the potential rethinking of the subject-state relationship and as a vector through which we might explore the history of this relationship as it has been found in various cultural moments, both past and all too present.
For example, I’ve previously written about how visions of the fragmented self, so common to Gothic literary traditions, reflect (historically) an uneasy and unruly relationship between porous subjectivities and a totalising and imposing state form. Last year this blog regularly asked questions such as: “what’s the relationship of Frankenstein — as the archetypical Patchwork Proletarian — to the state consolidating processes of industrialisation and globalisation that were emerging at the time of the book’s publication, and to what extent is this same unconscious (or not so unconscious) rejection of state consolidation and embrace of unruly subjectivity still visible to us today?”
Patchwork, then, for this blog, is a mode of thinking that lets these warring subjectivities leak out into an administrated social of contemporary geopolitics, in order to wreak havoc on an imposed status quo, providing us with an opportunity to rethink how we structure and model our environments in ways that complement the nature of a bombarded human psyche and its social environment.
This topic was first introduced on this blog with “State Decay” — a post informed by many #CaveTwitter conversations and various related readings which seemed to inadvertently trigger 2018’s patchwork fever. What disappointed me about the trajectory of this debate, however, was that, once it fully took hold of the blogosphere over the following months, this central point of challenging what you take for granted about the world around and within you — and, more specifically, the popular politics that govern our world — began to repeatedly fall by the wayside.
Whilst it could be argued that this remained many people’s intentions with their specific provocations, to me this tendency only led to people “doubling-down” on their own personal whims and ideals — ie. challenging the world through the polemic exacerbation of their individualised political positions, further affirming and inflating a capitalist worldview; conflating self and state rather than interrogating the distance between them on a far deeper level. This tendency saw its peak halfway through the year when patchwork chat became little more than grandstanding about the potential success of various individualist patches.
“My patch will survive!” “No, my patch will survive!”
Reza encapsulated this unfortunate tendency with the question: “how can we experiment with alternatives without becoming the slaves of uncritical differences which might, as a matter of fact, just be the projections of our own identititarian egos?”
Whilst I might concur with this, this is not to suggest that Reza and I found a point of agreement quite so quickly. He confessed: “I see the potentials [of patchwork now] but I’m still very wary (probably, it’s just paranoia) about its political mobilization in the Moldbugian sense.” My response to this, which I think also speaks for many others who have been debating patchwork over the past year, was as follows:
To be honest, Moldbug is a minor footnote for my own thinking. He does represent a utilisation of this kind of thinking but, much like the Seasteading Institute, I feel like [his writings take] genuinely interesting and productive ideas and reduce them to the level of a Neo-Randianism.
The idea of a sovcorp, for instance, is, I think, worth holding onto if only for the sake of a philosophical vigilance. However, it is, in essence, a combination of state consolidation and capitalist monopolisation and his folding together of those two things isn’t all that compatible with patchwork as most of us see it.
The generous view of Moldbug’s position — more generous than I’m personally willing to seriously entertain — is perhaps that this intensified (accelerated?) tandem process of consolidation and monopolisation appears to be a recipe for geopolitical singularity, but this requires, even more urgently, a sketching out of the possibilities that exist beyond the horizon of his own myopic and short-term worldview which Moldbug himself seems to make no real attempts to do.
Moldbug is a peculiarly bland (cognitively rather than emotionally) thinker. The guy is like the Hans-Ulrich Obrist of the neoreaction (but maybe that’s what the future AGI looks like? :)).
I’m actually more interested in rabid libertarians like, for example, Robert Heinlein whose work I very much admire. People like Heinlein (a former communist and then an anti-communist) can be seen as bridges between incongruent ideas, whereas Moldbug is a symptom of the political autism of today’s world which is too sterile to actually make any difference for better or worse.
So yes, I’m in general agreement with your point.
That’s all well and good but what is the solution here — for us? What is the best foot forward for this conversation? What is the best way of approaching a world of growing geopolitical schism through philosophy?
Many contemporary exit pains, in my view, express an oft-misguided rejection of international neoliberalism in favour of local neoliberalism with few formerly dominant cultures sure how to address a world that is post-imperialism and post-colonisation; post-them (eg. the “reflective impotence” of Brexit). Elsewhere, few colonies are sure how to shirk off what is often centuries of influence and effectively combat the entrenched mess that imperialist and colonialist projects have left behind.
An example of patchwork thinking which avoided much of these pitfalls and which has not yet been reduced to such a pissing content is Nyx Land’s Gender Accelerationist Black Paper — supposedly due a sequel with a patchwork-specific extension (#LesbiaNRx) some time in the future. It may be rooted in a personal experience but this experience is as one instance of a widely discussed minoritarian position that supposedly threatens various contemporary norms. Nyx’s continual weaponising of this experience makes it a challenge to a patriarchal world order that pushes a lot of buttons and it is also notably built memetically on the back of an inherently fragmentary dissection of the (gendered) self as such. (We’ll refer back to this gendered example shortly.)
Nyx aside, however, there is little talk in our current political climate of a (broadly speaking) “progressive” (ie. future-oriented and pro-change) and politically rigorous form of exit which is capable of perforating the social institutions which persistently arrest processes of fragmentation and continue to repress the new forms of social subjectivity that are trying to emerge from underneath the corpses of these once world-shaping institutions and their endeavours.
From here, I decided to go back to the “Patchwork is Not a Model” debate, in which I tried to express the very challenge of a “patchwork thought” to our current world order via a reading of Francois J. Bonnet and Jorge Luis Borges. This post received a number of responses and eventually led to a number of long debates on Reza’s Facebook wall which I tried to keep up with on the blog. This debate was, essentially, where our conversation first began.
My initial post started with a glib reading of Borges who, in one of his (very) short stories, writes a parable about the drawing and condensing of maps in relation to their territory, which Bonnet then interprets, in his book The Order of Sounds, as a comment on “the asymptotic nature of the model, its tendency to superimpose itself onto the real and to cover it over, without ever being able to complete this process, and at the cost of losing its very status as model and simply disappearing into a new reality, just as hopeless as the first, a new reality which once again calls for models in order to render it legible.”
Perhaps this says more about the inherent problem of human thinking and philosophy but, having had so many people comment flippantly on the various patchwork posts in the blogosphere with “I just don’t have faith in patchwork as a model”, I decided to write a pithy post rejecting the word ‘model’ as something that has come to symbolise a short-circuiting of the speculative process, reducing it to warring identitarian egos and not following it through as a machine for the genuine production of sociopolitical alternatives.
As such, it was my view that we should not treat patchwork as something that can be superficially imposed upon the world we know and already “have”. Patchwork is not a redrawing of the map but a fundamental shift in how we think about the “territory” which resists the sublimation of the map itself into our reality — that is, accounting for our tendency to forget that the model is a contingent and man-made perspective on the Real. It is likewise a thinking that does not allow the problem of the map to be subsumed into the map itself.
As a result, patchwork, for me, today, is best thought of as an interscalar system for thinking through a number of contemporary problems at the level of both state and subject — those things which geography has long since known it cannot quantify cartographically.
Rather than arriving at these disparate scales from an assumptive space of consolidation, the intention is instead to give onus to the differences first — both internal and external — and, rather than shaving off discrepancies in bad faith, forcing people to think through — to borrow some of Reza’s own language — “a non-arbitrary list of conditions of possibility” for new conceptions of subject and state (and, perhaps, by proxy, “mind” or “intelligence”, in Reza’s explicitly socialised formulations that are found throughout Intelligence & Spirit).
So, how do we make plans for such a future? Do we need, perhaps, a new form of modelling — or, in Reza terms it, a toy modelling?
Engaging in this debate prior to the publication of Intelligence & Spirit, I am willing to concede that I was far too hasty in adopting Bonnet’s criticism uncritically. Now, having familiarised myself with Reza’s conception of “toy models” — which I should clarify I really like and enjoy (despite the playful facetiousness of my recent unboxing video) — Urbanomic’s Toy Model AGI Playset is genuinely helpful for visualising these ideas and the book’s overall structure — I suggested that perhaps patchwork can be understood as a kind of toy model in itself.
Reza seemed to confirm this relationship in his responses whilst nonetheless adding a number of illuminating conditions to this proposal. He wrote:
The way I have understood patchwork, it is very much like a toy model. However, my only complaint at this point is this: a toy model is like a theoretical self-consciousness where you admit that all models have hidden or biased theoretical assumptions. Instead of abiding by the implicit theoretical assumptions which seem innocuous and make up the core structure of the model, you begin to see them as implicit meta-theoretical assumptions which are neither innocuous nor fully warranted.
The ascent to the realm of meta-theory is where you begin to tinker with various supposedly theoretical fixities, by incorporating rival theories, different models and methods in a control environment where you see how theories and models fair. In this sense, toy models are like hypothetical or counterfactual worlds where many things you couldn’t do in a specific theoretical worlds are now permitted. Construction or world building becomes a way of understanding the existing world(s).
Now, I said complaint because I think these relations between theory and meta-theory, implicit assumptions and the process of explication, are not yet adequately developed in patchwork’s paradigm. Or maybe I’m wrong? It would be great to elaborate, with regards to patchwork, why this new methodological paradigm works and how exactly it works rather than simply favouring it on the basis of the failure of other (canonical) models. This is why I was suggesting that we should look into the epistemic dimensions of patchwork, and to gauge them from the perspective of the methodological adequacy, robustness, scale, etc.
My way of thinking about patchwork may have been — and may remain — far looser and less engineered than Reza’s own but this call for a world-building approach is something I have tried explicitly to construct on numerous occasions last year — a “world-building” particular to the UK, I might add, through which I have begun to carve out an alternative history of this country’s fragmentary Gothic aestheticism, most successfully in what I see as my key patchwork posts “Lovers’ Flight” and “The Wyrd Sisters Bring Death to Leviathan“. This is, notably, not a focus on failed visions — lost futures — but rather the tracking of persistent visions of difference which capitalism and the state have failed to resolutely quash and repress.
As such, whether Reza and I agree about the theoretical minutiae or not, I nevertheless feel like our intentions are the same — a reconstruction of the human which is, for me, by extension, coupled to a reconstruction of the state. The question almost becomes: “what does Reza’s call to reconstruct the human (Lego) brickwise mean for the infrastructures which currently shape our thinking — ie. the state?” (Further reading of Intelligence & Spirit is undoubtedly required before I ponder this question any further.) Our arguments come from very different fields, perhaps, but the potentials of each are familiar enough — in my readings so far anyway — to warrant further conversation.
To be continued…
For my birthday at the end of last year I was gifted one of those ancestry DNA set things where you send a tube of your spit off to a lab somewhere and they give you a map of ancestral sexual encounters.
I’ve wanted to have a go on one of these things for a while now because my ancestry is a strange sort of mystery to me.
I’ve previously explored by family tree and traced it back five or so generations through Scotland and the North East of England. My Dad’s parents, who live in Sunderland, are very interested in all that kind of stuff and the family tree that my grandmother has built up is incredibly detailed.
I looked through all that she’d researched a few years back and it really meant a lot to me. I found out all sorts of strange things, my favourite one being that there is a direct paternal line (on my mother’s side of the family) between her father and Captain John Humble, the captain of the SS Forfarshire, the wreckage of which made Grace Darling a Victorian heroine that we learnt about in school.
But the more I found out, the more unsettled I became. As much as I wanted it to be, this history wasn’t mine. Not really.
I’ve known for my entire life that I’m adopted. My adoptive mother was a social worker and worked with a lot of vulnerable kids in the care system so she made a point of making sure I always knew and understood what it meant to be adopted. Because she’d brought me up that way I was always really open about it but, late into primary school, it became a thing that I was bullied about and, since then, my relationship to my situation changed.
As a teenage, I struggled more and more with this knowledge and it is undoubtedly at the heart of a lot of my depressive neuroses and feelings of worthlessness. The implied rejection and feeling of being adrift in the world inherent to the adoptive experience would be a good Depression Starter Kit in most people’s hands and, in more recent years, since my adoptive family imploded around 2013, these feelings have only intensified as I’ve gotten older and more independent, all too aware that there isn’t much to fall back on if everything falls apart.
In 2015, after a lot of deliberation and a few months of preparatory therapy, I decided I wanted to meet my birth mother. I had so many questions and really longed for this sense of connection that I’d never had and taken to mourning every year on my birthday.
We found each other through Facebook of all things. I already knew her name thanks to my adoption papers which I was given when I turned 18 and so I tapped it into the search box and there she was — the first result. (This is something I’ve wanted to write about before but have never found the right words: to experience familial similarity for the first time as an adult in the digital age makes your brain spin. Genetics are weird. It felt like I was in my own science fiction clone family drama. Most people really do take for granted the fact that there are people in the world that look like them.)
It turned out she lived less than 10 miles away from me with her young son and that she was totally up for meeting me. We met in the middle and went for coffee every couple of weeks when I still lived in Hull and now, whilst I’m in London, we try to see each other once a year around my birthday.
Since our first meeting, I’ve met her sister and her family, and her mum and her boyfriend. I’ve learnt a lot about the family from her mother, who swears that I am the spitting image of her husband who worked on the docks and died when my birth mother was very young. She brought a lot of old photographs to a dinner one time and showed me all sorts of pictures of him. We are both very burly-looking Yorkshiremen.
Of course, that is only half the story. My mother isn’t comfortable about talking about my birth father and she remains the only person who knows who he is. She was very young when she had me and in the interview with her that was taken as part of my adoption papers she is elusive in a way that is stereotypically teenage. (She says he likes wearing jeans, hanging out with his mates and he works in an abattoir… It paints quite a picture.)
I’ve since taken great pride in the fact that I was born in Hull and my family worked in the shipping industry (as my adoptive mum’s family did too) and so I was glad to have that sense of home remain in tact and be strengthened; to not feel quite so adrift in the world anymore. That fact has only made me more curious though. I’ve speculated that, with Hull’s Viking history, there might be some Danish in me, and with our family long working the docks, who knows where people might have gotten knocked up along the various trade routes. I mean, Hull was the UK’s flagship port town for centuries! My DNA is probably a smorgasbord of worldly delights!
I got the email this afternoon saying my results were ready and couldn’t have laughed harder if I’d tried. Science has spoken and it has told me that my ancestors are 100% from the UK. That’s not a glib euphemism either. My DNA is 58% English, Welsh and Northwestern European; 42% Irish and Scottish.
Which seems weird though, right? Like, not even the obligatory sliver of Africa? The world’s original peoples? Apparently not. No doubt we came straight out of the ocean. Hull always did resemble Innsmouth.
Oh well. Just slap me on a Brexit billboard already. I am so white.
Whilst transcribing Reza and Robin’s NYC conversation, I was struck by Reza’s closing remarks, emphasising the role of education in his work as a philosopher.
Robin asked, poignantly, addressing the deep-time scale of much of what Intelligence & Spirit attempts to address:
If the book essentially stands against both nihilistic resignation and the idea of a magical revolutionary emancipation, and configures the task of emancipation as one that extends way beyond our individual life spans, then what part can any of us hope to play in that? And what part do you see yourself, as a philosopher, playing in that emancipation of intelligence from its cage, and from the shortcomings of actually existing human intelligence?
[F]or me as a philosopher, the most important thing is the idea of education. Education is always and all the time connected to the philosophy of intelligence and the philosophy of mind. And by that I do not mean higher education, I mean the broad spectrum of education, from nurturing to developmental psychology, and so on. If we don’t take this idea of education seriously as the basis of what we can do here and now, then any kind of future emancipation is going to fail.
We get overexcited by our revolutionary paradigms, by what we have achieved, but then we see, two days later, twenty years later, that we are back to square one, if not worse. Education is absolutely, for me, the most concrete contribution I can make. And the idea of education, right now, not only in Western countries but across the globe, is fundamentally pathological. Why are the so-called revolutionaries not talking about education anymore, as something that is deeply, fundamentally tied to the history of intelligence and to concrete political change?
This really resonated with me. I think about education a lot.
If you’ve been following this blog, you may have realised I have a neurotic’s obsession with archiving and documentation — this series in itself being a case in point — but rather than this being an anal inability to let anything go, I think instead that documentation is just how I learn. Watching, listening, waiting to find a way in and producing something that is very much my own out of that process, but which can likewise help someone else better understand something. And this is what education should be marked by, surely, rather than the atomism of competitive pissing contests?
It was formally studying photography, from the age of 14 onwards, that made me interested in this understanding of teaching. I was allergic to any kind of timed performance-based testing as an overly anxious student but photography showed me the benefits of a more relaxed education and allowed me to find education everywhere. It became a social experience — social in a way that I’d never previously found in the didactic realm of the classroom.
I’ve written about this sort of thing before, particularly related to photography and also to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s book The Undercommons. In my essay “Community Remains“, for instance, which was commissioned by my old undergrad course, I highlight how Moten and Harney “describe a ‘beyond of teaching’: a social praxis of pedagogy that does not simply transmit knowledge to the consumer-student but encourages an acephalic community of independent thinkers; a community of a shared secret that is fugitive to bureaucracy.” What Moten and Harney describe is, in effect, an extracurricular consciousness raising.
However, in the UK, a lack of interest in the revolutionary power of education becomes entirely understandable when the trips to the pub after class are seen less as an outside to pedagogy and instead just a necessarily shared drowning of sorrows.
This is the effect hidden behind the headlines. Teaching is a profession that has infamously been through the wringer under a Tory government in this country but the form of education that really matters has never been done in those classrooms anyway. Not really. The biggest tragedy of keeping the nation’s educators in a state of perpetual burn-out is precisely that it is an undercommons, a beyond of teaching, that suffers. It is, as Moten and Harney make clear, a bureaucratised capital-T “Teaching” that reduces our very capacity to teach proper.
Having watched this process unfold at a most relentless pace over the last ten years in particular, via friends who teach and who have been taught, I’ve been wholly disillusioned from the idea of teaching at any level for myself. (I applied to be a secondary school trainee teacher thing last year, actually, but didn’t get through the weirdly Apprentice-like selection process, which really didn’t help settle my bubbling disenfranchisement.)
It also doesn’t help that this pathological element that Reza describes only gets worse the higher up the system you climb.
Despite present frustrations, art education remains the context in which I have learnt the most and, most importantly, learnt how to think critically.
Arts education here becomes shorthand for a loose, community-oriented, outside (in both a figurative and literal sense) education which happens already within the world rather than being sold as some kind of preparation for it. It is an education that necessitates a collective thinking about the world as it is and how it could be. It may not be, in this respect, quite so rigorous — although proper study is, of course, a very important part of it all the same — but despite being a lot less well read than many of my interlocutors who have formally studied philosophy for longer, it is also evident to me, from just a few years on Twitter, that an ability to “think” and “read philosophy” are not mutually exclusively skills…
What’s important about this kind of informal arts education — if you’ll excuse the brief continuation of this extended reminiscence — is that, for me, communication is (or should be) at its heart. (This is a very important point that we’ll return to later on in this series.) Arts education is a form of education that is predicated on communication. Without it, it fails. You can’t learn about this stuff in a vacuum. Not really. Culture is inherently communal.
Photography education — which is my background and the industry in which I continue to work in (or, more accurately, on the periphery of) — was, for me, an especially wonderful example of this. It is a scientific and technological process; an art form; a ubiquitous media; it’s journalism; it’s surveillance; it’s a fun hobby; it’s whatever. Photography is the most complicated media that we are all, to some extent, familiar with. Unfortunately, we treat it flippantly, but I think to understand its promiscuity is to understand much of the modern world and, particularly, how we might tinker with its image.
Jason Evans, for example, was a former mentor of mine when I was a photography student — who taught me as much in three months from his living room as I learnt in the entirety of my three-year degree — and his most recent project is the perfect example of what this kind of education might look like.
It’s called The Garden Gate Project and involved working with a horticultural charity, using photography as a way to both further engage with and document the gardeners’ own work.
From experience I can tell you that Jason is an incredible teacher. It’s like a magic power he has. He teaches seemingly through intuition. You simply watch him and find yourself learning a bucket load. His openness to play is infectious and he opens up everyone he meets to new worlds.
In this interview with Pylot Magazine, in which he is asked what he thinks his participants have gotten out of this experience, in the sort of way a university might ask its staff to self-evaluate, he poignantly says:
I am not sure how you assess learning; it’s not a straight forward transaction like reciting the alphabet. The workshops were an opportunity to experiment in a supportive, non-competitive environment. When you try something new, neural pathways are being opened, habits are being challenged. If nothing else we had fun, and I think it is useful for everyone to have some time to play.
I am open to being corrected if I am way off the mark here but, to me, this resonates with the processes described in Intelligence & Spirit. How do you assess (or even access) learning?
Education isn’t, as schools perhaps like to think, a rote form of cognitive upload. We might joke about the “uploads” of knowledge shown in The Matrix but, as Jason says, education is the overwriting of neural pathways; the challenging of habits. Neo doesn’t unlearn via red pill and he doesn’t learn by cognitive injection, even if that’s what the narrative tries to imply; he learns by testing out what he thinks he knows about himself on Morpheus and having his self-belief and knowledge challenged by his peers. The technochemical interventions only open up a new stage of possibility. It is the social challenge that shapes the brain, not the learning of the knowledge in and of itself.
Ghostbusters is a Film about Academics Caging Spirit
You may very well be asking yourself what the fuck any of this has to do with anything… Well, here’s your guiding light as you chart the trajectory of Reza Negarestani from 2008 to 2018: education. Not a sort of linear education but an education that puts an electric whisk in your ears and flicks the switch.
In reaching out to Reza, I thought that this conception of a socially emancipatory education might be a good jumping off point for us, allowing us to talk about his work and his own experiences of educating and being education.
This exposition above might be oversimplified and wholly disconnected, in form at least, from Reza’s own position to those who are better versed than me but, whilst I am largely unfamiliar with the philosophers he contends with, I felt there is nonetheless a shared goal towards a sort of (un)consciousness raising of the sort that is largely absent from (or, at best, ineffective within) contemporary politics today.
As such, Reza’s book almost begins to take the form of a genealogy of future morals, as being towards a “good” education in (/ for) itself (in a Kantian moral sense), interrogating the social-to-come from underneath the institutions which we currently allow to give form to our formal intelligences, which nonetheless continues to crumble under their own bureaucratisation.
In attempting to explain all of this to Reza — in a lot less detail — what I found encouraging was that, despite my own melt-brained anxiety about engaging in a conversation with someone who I was intellectually very intimidated by, he later suggested at the start of our email exchange that the difficulty in pinning down his own trajectory of thought is perhaps “mostly due to the fact that I, myself, am trying to wrap my mind around some of these problems” — that is, problems of approach and best practice, and I sensed that his willingness to engage and talk with me was likewise coming from a genuine desire to open up and collectivise such problems outside of formal and overly monitored channels.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was this shift towards — this desire for — a more dynamically public approach that Reza puts down to his disconnection from his own former mentor (of sorts), Nick Land, who was once seen as the inspiration for much of his earlier work.
Without mincing words, Reza wrote to me:
What I no longer have any sympathy for is the Landian position and the way of thinking.
Land’s way has been quite detrimental to thinking and philosophizing. His thinking requires too much commitment to settled ideas and determinations. This is not essentially a bad thing, but I have seen throughout the years that this form of thinking ultimately becomes stifling and prevents one from branching out to new territories and adopting new methods.
I find it quite oppressive that his fixated hatred for some philosophers (eg, Hegel and Plato) makes one dismiss these philosophers and not actually engage with their thoughts without prior biases which can be way too strong. In that sense, yes, I see my new work as a ‘reaction’ to my former more Landian way of thinking. But reaction is not always Oedipal and/or reactionary, it can actually lead to further experimentations with the self and a more expansive reflection on one’s past and possible futures.
The irony of this, I suggested, was that this is precisely why I like and continue to have time for Land. His Twitter boomerisms aside, he has been a kind of gateway-intellectual for me, and many others, allowing us to reach an outside of the stifling academic programmes that seem to be wholly unaware of their susceptibility to thinker-fashions and internally reactionary tendencies. Indeed, rather than being a disconnection, in my experience this is something they continue to have in common — such is my present experience of reading (and reading around) Intelligence & Spirit.
The point, perhaps, is this: I don’t mind that Land has his own preferences and bugbears but anyone who reads him would be missing the point, surely, if all they did was stop where many perceive him to have stopped. (This is a trend exemplified, of course, by numerous NRx Twitter accounts refusing the follow anyone that Land himself does not follow on the platform, but I wouldn’t blame him for their cultish neuroses — although perhaps he does secretly enjoy it.)
Many of those who have been under Land’s influence and have moved on nevertheless succeed in retaining this philosophical vigilance for themselves — that’s certainly true of those that I regularly talk to within the #CaveTwitter milieu. This was my impression of Mark Fisher also and various other post-Ccru interlocutors. Whilst Mark and Nick may have had an infamous falling out on the Hyperstition blog, he continued to teach and discuss his ideas with enthusiasm.
Land’s text “Machinic Desire”, for instance, was framed as a central text for the Postcapitalist Desire course Mark was teaching at the time of this death and he said of his experience of Nick:
[I]n the ‘90s … I was closely exposed to the work of Nick Land, who we’ll look at later, a very controversial figure who developed a form of — I don’t want to say right-wing, exactly — capitalistic accelerationism. His idea was that capital was the most intense force ever to exist on Earth — that the whole of terrestrial history had led to the emergence of this effectively planetary artificial intelligence system which therefore can be seen as retrospectively guiding all of history towards its own emergence — a bit like Skynet in the Terminator films.
Land’s work is this intense poeticisation of the power of capital. It’s interesting that that work came out in the ‘90s at that moment of the high triumph of capital after the collapse of the Soviet system at the end of the ‘80s. Land’s work was really a play on; a development of; a kind of remix of earlier, ostensibly left-wing thought — particularly the work of Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard — and they tried to imagine a kind of post-capitalism that would try not to retreat out of capitalist modernity but try to go all the way through it.
From this description alone, it is interesting to see that, whilst Reza may have moved on, his project nevertheless seems to follow on from this same trajectory. Cyclonopedia continued such a process of intense poeticisation, telling this same story through the tandem grip of oil (and its industry) and Islamic religions on the Middle East, but I think this influence can still be felt through Intelligence & Spirit — it is just that the nature of this planetary artificial intelligence system has been rethought and reconceptualised.(Indeed, Robin is of the opinion — I’m unsure if Reza agrees with this or not — that the “Robo-Kant” portions of Intelligence & Spirit echo Land’s own project of a Machinic Kantianism quite explicitly.)
So, it seems to me, that even those who have publicly and polemically “moved on” from Land’s work, like Reza himself, surely they cannot deny his influence in this regard, even if they’ve left that initial diversion long behind them? What is most important is being open to the challenge and continuously challenging yourself. Reza replied:
Yes, the real merit of Land is to point out that there can be ways of thinking outside of the academic ambit. And I genuinely respect him for that. I do hate pigeonholed academia and its idiotic bureaucracy as much as him. However, I think […] he let that hatred fester such that he ended up precisely doing some of the academic vices like settling on problems (almost like a tenured professor), recreating a methodological rigidity outside of the academia. But in any case, I still enjoy his work.
Perhaps the problem here is that the Ccru was a perfect sort of flashpoint, holding open an egress between academia and its outside that this amorphous collective of people who fire their mythical thinking through. A particle accelerator, welcoming the university’s infrastructure, all the while threatening to engulf the system with what it produced, reflecting upon the nature of capital’s death drive — it’s tendency to produce that which threatens its own existence. The Ccru swapped capital out for philosophy and tried to give it the same treatment, and it produced a body of “work” that continues to stand the test of time.
Reza’s contemporary project, it seems to me, is not wholly disconnected from this attitude. He too seeks to open up an egress between minds; between conceptions of mind.
On the very first page of Intelligence & Spirit, Reza is emphasises this kind of experience. When he argues in the first sentence that “mind is only what it does“, this seems like a Hegelian swipe at our fixation on what minds do internally and independently, missing the fact that most mental functions exist so that we might let the Outside in, interacting with the world and the other minds that inhabit it — such is the failing of a modern Education system that attempts to atomise students and lecturers alike within an enclosed system of intellectual production.
Understanding this function of mind is integral to any conception of intelligence for Reza. Here he borrows Hegel’s term “geist”, of course, to refer to a form of thought that is “the object of its own consciousness” and which attempts to “comprehend itself in its interpretation of itself to itself.” Spirit, in this sense, might be understood as our attempts to understand our selves. Not the self as a minded subject, but the social as the necessary communication of minds.
Here we might frame Reza’s project as follows: How do minds relate to other forms of mind? This is the problem carried forwards, or perhaps even reverse engineered. The solution is likewise given a few paragraphs later: “The functional picture of geist is essentially a picture of a necessarily deprivatised mind predicated on sociality as its formal condition of possibility.”
From here, the book proceeds by interrogating how our present moment can allow this picture of mind to unfold and take hold, encouraging the sociality that present structures cannot help but diminish.
Rather than this being a wholly different project to Reza’s previous works, as I see it they were wholly intertwined.
Reading Cyclonopedia in excruciating detail with Kodwo Eshun and friends, we would examine each and every “Fuck You” Reza threw at his readers in the introductory chapters of that book. We picked apart every sentence that contradicted the one preceding it and every clue that muddied the waters of the overall picture. Did we find the Reza Negarestani of Cyclonopedia to be some sort of Pepe Silvia? Yes, I think many did, at least in isolation. But read together — as Kodwo argued was the only proper way to read the book — we found the opposite and, as sappy as this might sound, many of us found each other.
Such multiplicitous texts must be read by a multiplicity in turn — like the Ccru before it or even A Thousand Plateaus before them, to take two other examples of formally difficult works that demand a social response to their contents. (It should be of no surprise, then, that Cyclonopedia too began its life as a blog, with much of Reza’s since-deleted content on Hypersttiion becoming fodder for his book.)
In this way, Cyclonopedia is a pretty good crash course in learning how to read philosophy in a way that deconstructs an enclosed sense of self just as proximity to a great teacher, like Land or Evans, seems to do. It is a book that makes you feel both insane (which is fun) and it is a book which makes you feel like you’re having fun (which is insane), and the arguments about what exactly it all means that are to be had amongst your fellow readers and classmates turns the social itself into a blacksmith’s stone for sharpening minds and the various arguments for or against it.
This is the only way of approaching any philosophy, you might say, but not all philosophy is sculpted in such a way as to force your hand to reach out to others in quite the same way. Too much philosophy, in fact, presents itself as the product of a singular mind devoid of social contamination, seemingly priding itself on necessitating a reading group to unlock its secrets — multiple minds being required to get inside one.
This is not the case with Reza. Since he is already several, his readers make for quite a crowd.
I think Intelligence & Spirit — believe it or not — functions in much the same way as Reza’s previous work in this regard. However, rather than whisking up fact and fiction we have instead continental and analytic philosophies, and this playful de- and reconstruction is an education in itself. The vigorous blurring of these lines, however, is not just a novel play with form but a necessary play with mind in itself, arguably combatting the oversimplified divides that are so present beyond the book’s boundaries.
To return to Reza and Robin’s NYC conversation, Reza continues on the topic of education and seems to infer that this splitting, this “bipolarisation” of thought, is today insidiously pervasive. He argues:
Education is market-driven everywhere today. But here we see something far more insidious than the marketization of education. I talk about this a little bit in [Intelligence & Spirit], but not directly in relation to education. We are witnessing a kind of historical bipolarisation as to what education consists of, between the Left and the Right. On the left, we see education as being about the virtues of intersubjectivity, with minimal regard to the purview of scientific facts. But when you go too deep into your subjectivity without the scientific facts, it becomes something akin to methodological individualism where different individual preferences and choices — even though they might be purely psychological — are taken as facts. Whereas on the right we see a different kind of pathology: the minimisation of intersubjectivity and the hyperinflation of facts. But as early as Hume, and in fact even from Plato, there is such a thing as a fact-value distinction. You just cannot conflate them with one another. You always need to triangulate them with regard to one another, and that is a labour of intelligibility. You cannot just have intersubjectivity without scientific facts, nor can you think you can simply derive social values, political values, political paradigms, from mere scientific fact accumulation. These are both pathological.
For me, all of this is just a first step, and I’m just trying to actually work on the details of what would be a system of education, an education in which we can determine the good life of an intelligence which has not yet fully determined what it is, where it is in the world and what it should do; an intelligence which is still in the process of developing its methods of inquiry with regard to its position in the world, so as to cultivate itself by enriching the universe it inhabits.
I agree with this wholeheartedly and here, the importance of photography being a technological and social tool comes back to my mind. Does it count as the most simplistic version of such an education? Because the best photography does triangulate approaches — scientific, aesthetic and social knowledges; intersecting knowledges which are, by the standards of formal Education today, deemed to be disparate and unequal — in order to produce something that is promiscuous in its interactions with the world at large.
No doubt Reza’s conception of education is far broader than this but perhaps this suggests a way into his conception of intelligence that hints at the sort of tasks that we are require to undertake so that we might instantiate it — whatever it is.
The “it”, for me, is similar to that which Mark Fisher refers to in Capitalist Realim as a “collective subject” — that multiplicitous and socialised being or spirit that has continually haunted the background of this blog and the leftwing politics it generally contends with. It is that which is forever demanded but always resists being materialised by the rigid machine of an administrated social and its institutionalised sense of respectability. It is a product of an education — as a relation (which is not, in itself, limited to subjects) — that ruptures a formalised, bureaucratised and obstructive Education.
This formalised Education thrives off of competition. It thrives off of the atomisation of individuals. These things, in and of themselves, might not be evil by default but, as Mark explains in Capitalist Realism, they become nefarious when a hierarchical structure such as that found within systems of Higher Educations passes down a message of “individual ethical responsibility” to the level of the student, lecturer, worker, employee, citizen, whatever, as a way to diffuse any notion of collective responsibility having any purchase the other way.
Individuals are disposable, at both ends of society. Individuals can die or lose their jobs or get “cancelled” without the wider structure in itself taking a hit. And so it is here, in re-cognising a “Geistig” — a functional and deprivatised — model of mind, that we see an avenue of emancipation emerging on the horizon.
To be continued…
He’s here. He’s back. Robin Mackay returns to the blogosphere.
It’s almost three years now since I decided to rescue the many texts that for years had been written, sometimes appeared somewhere obscure, been forgotten, copied from one laptop to another, ignored, shuffled around, occasionally reread and then forgotten again.
The site contains all of my writings, translations, along with a few audio and video pieces. The full text is included wherever it was possible and was not legally dubious to do so. I’ve tried to avoid too much overlap with my other home at Urbanomic.
Every time I’ve come back to edit the site I have remembered other items I hadn’t added yet, and this will probably continue for some time.
But why? In the aftermath of Mark Fisher’s death in 2017 and the remembering of earlier periods of life and self-reflection that had inevitably set off, I initially conceived of this archiving project as a response to my distress at the fact that dealing with other people’s words as editor, translator, and publisher, not to mention just dealing with life, existence, and money, seemed to have made it impossible for me to commit myself to any “serious” research that I could consider “mine”. That’s partly what you might call “facilitator’s syndrome”, and partly an excuse for my own somewhat unsystematic style of thinking (and maybe that seriousness is anyway just an outdated idea, a phantasm that no one can genuinely realize today). But at the same time, in the gaps in between all this other stuff, I had actually produced a substantial amount of writing, most of it as a result of external provocation, often commissioned, generally executed under pressure, and usually on subject matter that was at some tangent to my own interests (in so far as I had any idea what those were; and many times it was these tangents that reoriented and reenergised my own vector).
I’ve been waiting for Robin to rejoin the blogosphere for months. It might even be over a year since he first mentioned his plans to return.
Robin’s “facilitator’s syndrome” is strong. Even over here in this corner of the internet, Robin’s comments and ideas have directly informed much of what has appeared on this blog, including some of my most popular posts, such as “State Decay” and “A Note on Eerie Agentic Capital“, which wouldn’t exist or even have been started without his diffuse input.
Suffice it to say, I am very excited he’s back in our area.
Read the rest of Robin’s introductory post over at readthis.wtf and dip into what is a really amazing archive of stuff. Robin’s also got a separate Twitter account for himself now as well: @readthiswtf
Ever since the “Patchwork Is Not A Model” cross-platform debates, I’d wanted to reach out to Reza to try and get a better understanding of whereabouts he was coming from.
When Reza first arrived on Twitter, however, it felt like my probing email would no longer be necessary.
Questions seemed to be fired at Reza almost immediately after he signed in and much of what ended up going down over those few days of Twitter hyperactivity was — for me anyway — mind-boggling.
(Reza went on to deactivate his account, citing early onset symptoms of Twitter addiction, and sadly, as a result, all of his responses to his curious and/or hostile interlocutors have now been deleted. Thomas Murphy takes credit for dealing the final blow — watch out, y’all!)
I must confess that, instead of approaching Reza with questions of my own, I ended up sitting back and spectating for the most part. I felt incredibly stupid, wandering through various hellthreads, feeling like a prisoner of my own “liberal arts college” education — or whatever the UK equivalent of that is. It felt like Reza and others had suddenly begun to speak a very different language.
(There’s a whole other post to be written about how useful, sobering and enlightening that kind of intellectual experience is but this is not that post.)
Part of what kept me on the edge of my seat as a spectator during these conversations and arguments was that, whilst I felt like I was having to decipher a new language, I also felt like I was beginning to see the true correlation between the problems being tackled. Whereas previously I had felt there were chasms between many of us, it gradually became easier to trace the roots of various positions back to a common ground and goal.
So, I decided again to try and chat to Reza in private — tabula rasa — and see if we couldn’t try and assemble a platform in good faith for starting a new conversation out of more than hyper-condensed tweets, Facebook comments and rattled-off blogposts.
So here’s a rattled-off blogpost… (Or two…)
But also here are some blogposts which I hope will open a new chapter for a 2019 patchwork blogosphere.
My main reason for wanting to reach out to Reza in particular was that, in many ways, he was my first philosophical focal point when I began my deep dive into this blogospheric realm of niche philosophies. Over the last 10 years or so, I’d read a lot of Ccru stuff, some Deleuze & Guattari, some Heidegger, some Foucault, some Nietzsche, other stuff here and there, but — looking back — I can’t say I really got a lot of it. I put this sheepishly down to having never studied philosophy formally before. I had no real conception of the history of philosophy, its various images of thought or an understanding of how all these different things connected together. My aim was simple and not so studious: I just wanted to understand weird music better.
Starting a Masters degree in late 2016, I still felt like no more than a hobbyist (and I still do, in some ways). I knew I had a lot of catching up to do but I did pretty well for a twelve-month crash course in contemporary art world theorising. (It wasn’t as horrific as that may sound.) Prior to embarking on this course, for the sole purpose of filling in some of the glaring blanks in my knowledge, I spent a whole year working my way through a Hubert Dreyfus course on Being & Time — then I just hoped for the best. However, rather than go hard on Kant’s Critiques or some Hegel or whatever other canonical cornerstone might have been advised when starting a formal philosophy degree, the only text we read with any obligatory closeness Reza’s first book Cyclonopedia, which was read in excruciating detail for a class piloted by Kodwo Eshun in 2016/17…
Looking back, I’m surprised I made it out with my sanity (relatively) in tact.
Kodwo’s class was an “experiment in decelerated reading”, during which, for fifteen weeks, we read Cyclonopedia one sentence at a time, pulling at every thread encountered, unravelling it and ourselves, feeding our minds to the Lovecraftian abyss of hyperactive and contradictory philosophy that Reza had given to the world, sketching out a history of unruly thought as we sought to better understand this strange book and its relationship to philosophy proper, taking it to be the occulted manuscript that it truly appeared to be to so many. (I ended up getting really into Bataille as a result.)
Later, we used the US presidential election as a sort of grounding-ungrounding point for considering, in particular, the polytical legacy of the term “hyperstition”.
Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time with Reza’s work during this time, particularly his earlier, more Bataillean texts — “The Corpse Bride” being my favourite — and that experience has remained in the background of all my other readings ever since. But this has always been coupled with an awareness of the fact that Reza himself has moved on from this book, now a little over a decade old (in book form at least).
I’ve been back in this headspace in recent months, attempting to decipher Reza’s new book, Intelligence & Spirit, from this very position as a recovering Cyclonopedoid — which is to say, as someone with a decent knowledge of his previous work but not the references he is currently deploying.
At the same time, I have been revisiting many of his older essays as I help put together his forthcoming Urbanomic collection, Abducting the Outside, has only intensified this experience of charting two Reza’s in tandem.
I have the feeling that this collection will help many make sense of Reza’s trajectory, but at the same time, maybe not. Has Fanged Noumena clarified the events of Nick Land’s life that led him towards neoreaction or has it only further complicated things? Perhaps the issue is the format of the collection in itself as a record of the wilderness years between Cyclonopedia and Intelligence & Spirit; as a record of all the other roads travelled in the interim.
This is a common problem when dealing with philosophers who have, at some point, been digested by the spectre of the Ccru. Both Reza and many of his previous interlocutors are now most often understood by their distance from one another rather than from a more productive rhizome of divergent philosophies. The post-Ccru milieu today is made up of Landian hangers-on, neorationalists and a scattershot of other vaguely Accelerationist trajectories that have found themselves embedded in a cork board of new pop / pulp modernisms. In the distance lie the decaying corpses of various speculative -isms. Deciphering it all is a seemingly impossible task to the casual reader.
Perhaps the most pressing issue for me is that this otherwise admirable disparateness, which continues to define a vague collection of people who remain largely resistant to historicisation, is that this may now be detrimental to the philosopher that Reza has become. Like so many other people who have followed Reza since his orbit of the post-Ccru blogosphere, the disorienting sensation of having no idea what has led him to this point is quite palpable — until very recently, anyway…
Perhaps 2019 is the year when the story gets set straight.
The irony is that this shift in itself has compounded matters for understanding Reza’s intellectual trajectory. Lest we forget that, when Cyclonopedia first came out, many assumed Reza was a Ccru avatar. He remains, in this respect, the living embodiment of hyperstition — he is a fiction that made itself real.
However, rather than being a product of Nick Land’s drug-addled cerebellum, as so many assumed, Reza’s shadowy profiles were more the result of his position as an Iranian citizen, for whom online anonymity was less the fun LARPing of English grad students in masks and a more general necessity of his existence on social media.
To go from this spectral persona to someone who is very active and open online — particularly on Facebook — is undoubtedly a strange and unruly phenomenon to contend with, philosophically and personally, and I think that is particularly relevant to the process that so many are currently faced with: making-sense of these new matters of mind.
The posts in this series — “Patchwork Epistemologies” — have been constructed out of a labyrinthine email conversation that I had with Reza during the last few months of 2018, as I tried to make sense of some of the more recent schisms and divergences opened up and revealed by (particularly patchwork-oriented) conversations online.
As a warning, and due to the nature of my initial reaching-out, many of these issues are selfishly posed in the context of my own personal interests and experiences, as well as the general interests of this blog. Personal tangents and expansions abound from here on out, partly because this wasn’t intended to be a blog post but rather a personal attempt to inquire and find a “way in” to a different kind of interpersonal conversation, and also as a nice attempt to get to know each other as I helped work on Reza’s next book.
So let it be known: if I go on at length too much, as I already have done, my excuse is that this is an exercise in making sense of things for myself rather than trying to dominate and override what was, in private, a really enjoyable and generous conversation.
The only reason you’re reading this now is that I think much of what was discussed between us in our tennis-like exchange may be interesting to others who have orbited this corner of the blogosphere over the past 12 months.
That is the primary intention here. My quest was then — and remains — to better understand “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”, if I might borrow, straight away, from Reza’s own vocabulary.
Whilst this recent Urbanomic document is a wonderful intro to Intelligence & Spirit and Reza’s more recent trajectory, this is instead something of a Xenogothic primer to a Patchwoke Reza in 2019. (I’m joking… But also I’m not really.) If an intro to Intelligence & Spirit is all you’re after, better to start there and come back here later — or maybe don’t come back here at all. Much of this is embedded in blog chat and, whilst I try to provide context for everything discussed, that doesn’t make the conversation any less… “niche”.
Almost as hellthreadish as the fragmentary Twitter conversations this blog occasionally attempts to document, taking on the archivist’s task of untangling topics and overarching points which can get lost in the debris of the convivial aftermath, this series is formatted as a series of loosely connected topics, but it is worth keeping in mind that, during our back-and-forth, all of what is to follow was very much entangled up within itself.
I’m very happy to say that, despite all that has happened online in the last twelve or so months, I found myself at a point, not long before Christmas, with nothing more to add — for the time being, anyway — feeling in total agreement with Reza as our conversation turned to communism, regarding a general approach to philosophical and political thought in this very strange decade.
Over the course of putting this series together, however, many further threads have emerged that it would be nice to pursue and answer at a further date. And, of course, there are numerous moments throughout where my own knowledge and internal library fails me but these moments are purposefully left to dangle as threads to be followed up on later. The preliminary first two parts of this conversation may just be the beginning…
Such is the way of the blogosphere.
It has taken a number of weeks to disentangle this conversation and make it readable for the blog so please forgive my current exhaustion with these posts and the occasional moments where it wanders off, lost, noticeably underdeveloped. (I am breaking this mammoth post up into various chunks to try and rectify this but a conversation about patchwork with Reza could be a book in itself, honestly.)
If you are left dissatisfied by any path left here, I strongly encourage picking up a topic for yourself on your own blog, on Twitter or in the comments, and we can continue the conversation, hopefully with Reza’s own input too, later on.
But, rest assured, whilst this series may already be very long, it has a happy ending… A happy ending which I hope will function as a jumping off point for the blog-months ahead in 2019…
Another archive retrieval.
Back in 2015, I went to this ceramics exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff called Fragile?
The last room of the exhibition was home to Keith Harrison’s installation Mute which consisted of a giant wall of speakers attached to two turntables.
Each of the speakers had a ceramic disc attached to its front and the idea was that, over the course of the exhibition, you could watch the deterioration of these ceramics plates through sound.
On the wall behind the turntables there were lots of records you could use to abuse the speakers for yourself. Jazz worked best, apparently. Brass timbres seemed to do a lot of damage.
I wanted to find out for myself so, one Sunday during the unusually hot Welsh summer, I decided to cycle over with a record bag and play some of my noisiest records for a hour. I think its the most fun I had all year.