The XG Discord started showing signs of life last week as, after an extended period of inactivity, following the general insanity of what has been the last few months, we finally found a way to hold another reading group. Due to popular demand, we had a go at Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. (Hopefully we’ll keep this up every week from now on. I really enjoyed it and felt like a right idiot for allowing life to get in the way for so long without us doing another hang out.)
I hadn’t read Reza’s book since around 2017, when I first attempted to get to grips with it in a class with Kodwo Eshun. After quite some time, allowing that experience to settle in, I found it an oddly lucid book to return to.
We talked a lot, jumping around the text a bit, but I thought I’d write up some of my initial thoughts for anyone looking for their own way into this quite notorious text, as well as a few thoughts reflecting on what this book is now, as Reza’s somewhat abandoned child.
The best way into Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia is hidden in plain sight — the introduction. Here, more so than in all that is to follow, we find ourselves presented with a hypertext in physical form. The introduction is the codex. Once you grasp how you’re supposed to read it — following all its references and making connections, building out the tendrils that spread over these thin pages into the deepest regions and conspiracies of human knowledge — the rest of the book becomes a puzzle that needs your input rather than just a tome to tell you truths. In that sense, your role is crucial. You have to figure out for yourself what is truth and fiction, and where the line blurs.
I’ve often thought that what Negarestani is doing here is challenging his readers to play a variation on ‘The Wikipedia Game’ — how many clicks until you get to Nick Land. The references and neologisms are so frequent and intense that to read this book without a search engine to hand is surely to play its game on Hard Mode. As Alvanson writes in her introduction, most of these chapters and exchanges seem to resemble blogged content but the blogs themselves have disappeared. “Everyone in this manuscript seems to disappear without a trace…” This is a text without clear origin, like the Nerium Oleander she glimpses from the window of her taxi as she tries to find the mysterious serpent she met via her Suicide Girls profile. Where it leads you, however, is perhaps more important than what it, in itself, has to say.
This is similarly true of many of its most obvious references. Cyclonopedia is Reza’s “Geology of Morals”; a manifesto for a subterranean geopolitics. Parsani is his Challenger and oil is the ooze that makes the world scream. In digging for oil, penetrating the earth, for truth, excavating irrealities, plot holes also proliferate. Philosophy begins when he dig and fill. “Footnotes to Plato?” More like Artesian boreholes and trepanning.
This, too, is apparent from the start. “Clues or evidence are the most relentless plot holes.” The book is evidence of an event online; a blogosphere, the heyday of the Hyperstition blog. The blog has decayed. In fact, at the time of writing, the whole site is down. Cyclonopedia is a form of xenopoetics — “something to do with composing out of distorted materials … everything looms as an accentuated clue around which all subjects aimlessly orbit, leading into an eclipsed riddle whose duty is not to enlighten but to make blind.”
To truly understand the text, you must go back to the origin, but no such origin exists. There are traces, evidence of an “incomplete burning”, but what we are left with is a labyrinthian trek through Reza’s ( )hole complex — a sort of blobjective twist on the Lacanian not-All. The Ccru has not, does not, and will never exist. Reza Negarestani is a non-universal subject which admits no exception.
The @_geopoetics bot tried to take this to a new extreme, dragging early Reza’s thought, kicking and screaming, back into cyberspace, like a scalp stretched across the 0s and 1s of a Markov bot. It stalks his writings, trying to bring him back to traverse the zone. But the @_geopoetics bot knows as well as Reza does:
Reza Negarestani is a hyperstition: a fiction who made himself real. As such, some may view the ‘real’ Reza of his later work, such as Intelligence & Spirit, to be a misstep; a case of poor character development. Stalkers are not scientists, and yet here now is a man who is all too real; observable. But Cyclonopedia still lingers, reading like a parable for bloggers everywhere. Once you make the transition from web to print, you lose a certain sense of autonomy. You are no longer who you choose yourself to be. The “death of the author” is an understatement. ‘Reza Negarestani’ demonstrates the zombification of the author.
Elsewhere, Reza writes on the “corpse bride”, a name for a kind of Etruscan torture where a criminal is tied to his victim’s corpse, so that they might go putrid together — one dead, the other alive (for now). I often get the sense that this is how Reza relates to his first book these days. This is no doubt how many people relate to those initial works — no matter the medium — that allow them to break through into another space of notoriety. The author certainly dies but they remain present, entangled with their texts, putrifying as the manuscript breaks down at a molecular level.
The good thing is that, as horrific as it might sound, I’m pretty sure Reza can “afford” it.