An excellent night was had on Thursday at the New Cross House to celebrate the launch of Thomas Moynihan’s new book Spinal Catastrophism.
Robin and Tom ran through a bunch of the book’s connections, from the earliest examples of speculative thought through to German Idealism and crashing on the capitalist exacerbation of contemporary back ache. It was a wide-ranging conversation that may end up online at some point and, judging from the Q&A afterwards, it sparked off so many thoughts within our audience.
It’s a “classic Urbanomic publication”, as Robin put it, but I can’t help but feel pride over Tom carrying forward the post-Ccru torch from the Cave Twitter catacombs. From Pepsi to spines, Tom is jumping from niche to niche and exploding intellectual histories wherever he goes.
Professor Barker previously explained his thoughts on spinal catastrophism in an interview with the Ccru as follows:
For humans there is the particular crisis of bipedal erect posture to be processed. I was increasingly aware that all my real problems were modalities of back-pain, or phylogenetic spinal injury, which took me back to the calamitous consequences of the precambrian explosion, roughly five hundred million years ago. The ensuing period is incrementally body-mapped by metazoan organization. Obviously there are discrete quasi-coherent neuromotor tic-flux patterns, whose incrementally rigidified stages are swimming, crawling, and (bipedal) walking. Elaine Morgan persuasively traces the origin of protohuman bipedalism to certain deleterious plate-tectonic shifts. The model is bioseismic. Crustal convulsions and animal body-plan are rigorously interconnected, and the entire Aquatic Ape Theory constitutes an exemplary geotraumatic analysis. Erect posture and perpendicularization of the skull is a frozen calamity, associated with a long list of pathological consequences, amongst which should be included most of the human psychoneuroses. Numerous trends in contemporary culture attest to an attempted recovery of the icthyophidian- or flexomotile-spine: horizontal and impulsive rather than vertical and stress-bearing.
The issue here — as always — is real and effective regression. It is not a matter of representational psychology. Consider Haeckel’s widely discredited Recapitulation Thesis, the claim that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It is a theory compromised by its organicism, but its wholesale rejection was an overreaction. Ballard’s response is more productive and balanced, treating DNA as a transorganic memory-bank and the spine as a fossil record, without rigid onto-phylogenic correspondence. The mapping of spinal-levels onto neuronic time is supple, episodic, and diagonalizing. It concerns plexion between blocks of machinic transition, not strict isomorphic — or stratic redundancy — between scales of chronological order. Mammal DNA contains latent fish-code (amongst many other things).
Tom takes this matrix of human thought and posture and explodes it, like a lighting bolt sent up from your vestigial tail that blows out the top of your skull. For anyone who wants a concrete exposition of how the relevance of the Ccru’s misunderstood legacy resonates as far into our pasts as it does our futures, this book for you.