Cyclonopedia: Hypercodex

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.

Artificial Mythologies — A Sad & Lonely Constellation

This was a talk given at the A Sad & Lonely Constellation conference held in Milan on 3rd May 2019. You can read more about this event here.

This session was really great and I enjoyed it immensely. The discussion, once it got going, was fantastic and all too short. David Roden’s final comments (sidenote: you can read his excellent paper here) were almost painful to end on because he ended up opening up so many doors which I would have loved to have probed the other panelists on. My silence at the end was occasioned by me trying to scramble together some online reference points which just didn’t load in quick enough. I was particularly interested to hear Amelia’s thoughts on how she saw her own research on alienation fitting in between these various points made in the Q&A.

Maybe those thoughts could be posted here at another time.

During the Q&A I also was asked a question about glitches. In response I mentioned I’d written on the topic before in relation to the TV show Westworld and glossed an argument from a previous post. That post can be found here — it’s not great but I’ve been in the process of massively reworking all of my Westworld posts to become the final chapter of my book Egress which I should probably get round to finishing at some point…

Anyway, here’s a transcript of my talk below, which perhaps attempted to cram too much into a 15 minute presentation, but I had a lot of fun presenting it.

Hi everyone.

I’d just like to start by saying thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here and shout out to the Italian Weird Theory contingent.

What I want to talk about today is the weird ways in which AI might provide a new ground for previously unrealised political potentialities, but in a way that drags into the discussion some philosophical (and not-so-philosophical) references points which I hope are surprising enough to shake up our prospective discussion.

A lot of this is part of new research I’ve been working on for only a couple of months and so this reading is fragile and but, in my experience, sharing that sort of thing anyway can make for some good conversation.

With that in mind, I want to begin this talk in true academic style by telling you all about a book that I haven’t read. It’s a book called Dogs and it’s by the French philosopher Mark Alizart, which is currently forthcoming in English translation via Polity Books. As its title suggests, it’s a book about dogs but, more specifically, it’s a book about humanity’s relationship to dogs across millennia. To quote from the summary of the book on Polity’s website:

Mark Alizart dispenses with the well-worn clichés concerning dogs and their masters, seeing them not as submissive pets but rather as unexpected life coaches, ready to teach us the elusive recipes for contentment and joy. Dogs have faced their fate in life with a certain detachment that is not easy to understand. Unlike other animals in a similar situation, they have not become hardened, nor have they let themselves die a little inside. On the contrary, they seem to have softened.

Whilst this might all sound very nice and a little wet behind the ears, once the book reaches its conclusion — so I’m told — it makes the quite surprising connection between dogs and artificial intelligence. Alizart argues that our relationship to dogs has not just shaped them as a species in myriad ways through, for instance, domestication; it has also fundamentally shaped us as well in ways that we may not fully appreciate.

Alizart goes on to suggest that we might need to start thinking of ourselves in a position relative to dogs when we are eventually confronted by the reality of an AGI. This is not a dystopian vision, however, where we are reduced to little more than pets for our AI overlords, as Alizart holds dogs’ civilisational relationship to humans in much higher regard. This relationship instead signals a new inter-species companionship, a kind of techno-species friendship, which will impact both humans and AI in equal measure and to an extent that we, at present, can’t yet fully foresee.

What is made explicit in the book’s summary is that the nature of this relationship should be a softening rather than a hardening of these intersubjective boundaries.

Whilst I’ll need to actually read the book to fully grasp Alizart’s argument — rigorous para-academic over here — I haven’t stopped thinking about this suggestion since it was told to me a few weeks ago, particularly at a time when so many theorists have been emphasising an eco-political need to reimagine our relationships to other species; to rethink the hierarchies of our cross-species relations.

This is something I’ve written about before, particularly in relation to the hardening of these subjective boundaries. An article that will forever stay with me is Laurie Penny’s 2016 essay “Against Bargaining” in which she describes the psychological impact of Trump’s election in the US as a “mental health asteroid”. We see this sort of thing more often than we might think — in which crises of subjectivity are increasingly equated with climate disaster or extinction events. Mark Fisher most famously noted how we’ve seen this in relation to capitalism as a whole, but I think the effects of “capitalist realism” on subjectivity — which Mark would also talk about length of course — are worthy of far more consideration than the overall picture because, whilst thinking the end of capitalism remains difficult, I think we’re far more aware of the fact that we as subjects are more malleable than we often given ourselves credit for. And so when Alizart talks of a softening, I think this is what he means — the innate malleability of capitalist subjectivity.

This is a malleability that is far more visible within ecological discourses today than in political philosophy more generally — and I think the emphasis on this which we find in Deleuze and Guattari’s “geophilosophy” or, more recently, other people’s writings around “geopoetics” are deserving of far more attention in this regard — and so Alizart’s call to take a critical step back from our anthropocentrism in order to help us relate to an AGI, which we might see as representing something like a new species in the sense that it is a new and external intelligence, presents us with a shift of perspective that this kind of species-being — to borrow a turn of phrase from Donna Haraway — requires. In this way, an AGI may likewise assist us in politically thinking our ecological dilemmas, making us the “Other Species” for a change by way of it constituting, as Reza Negarestani writes in his book Intelligence and Spirit, an “outside view of ourselves [which] tells us what we are in virtue of what we are determinably not.”[1]

Reza’s book is a particularly interesting example of this kind of philosophical discourse related to AGI because he infrequently nods to this kind of intersubjective relation.  For instance, when writing on how to rethink the very task of a philosophy of intelligence, he writes: “In an age when philosophy is considered to be at best an antiquated enterprise, and at worst a residue of what is orthodoxly normative, patriarchal, repressive, and complicit with all that is overprivileged and fascist, what does it mean to rekindle philosophy’s insinuative temptations to think and to act, to galvanize that activity which is at bottom impersonal and communist?”[2]

When writing on this before, I’ve always emphasized the observation that, when we see post-capitalist and post-apocalyptic dramas in our fictions, they almost always occasion the emergence of a newly communal, collective and — yes — communist subject. The TV show The Walking Dead is a particularly interesting if bad example of this, where the zombified dead provide the central characters with this outside view of themselves, by telling them what they are in virtue of what they are not, causing a complete social breakdown of the kinds of communality we know and leading to us seeing this communality rebuilt in a variety of different ways. Those who are unable to adapt die, and so a great deal of emphasis is put on this human malleability. However, the prevalence of this kind of narrative in horror — it’s also interestingly central to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos — whilst innately acknowledging the truth that such a transition will never be easy, and it may even be — by present standards — deeply immoral, it also betrays the depths of our present pessimism.

So, what I’d like to consider here, very briefly, after an all too long introduction, is a very different perspective than that recently made popular within Reza’s book — one which focuses on fictions but reimagines their valences via a trip down a slightly different history of philosophy than the one deployed by Reza. For instance, whilst Reza might argue that this outside view of ourselves has constantly been attempted by philosophy — often failing, albeit productively — I’d like to shift away from this argument and instead argue that this more accurately the very purpose of mythology. I wonder: how can an AGI help us reimagine mythology in a way that has long been desired but has never been fully actuated within our reality, and, further to that, how we might consider a newly mythical thinking to also be innately communist.

First things first, and being all too aware of the time, I want to give you a whistle-stop and inevitably reductive history of mythology:

Studies of mythology in the West typically begin in Greece with the likes of Plato and Aristotle, for whom philosophy was understood as the return of a knowledge following the pre-historic age of pure theology. Mythology then, constituted by fragmentary memories of a time before writing, becomes, for the Greeks, a transitory knowledge, on which Aristotle in particular would ground his “hermeneutics”, notably named after the mythical figure of Hermes, the messenger of the Gods. In this sense, philosophy is born of but distinct from mythology. As central as these tales were to the Greeks, providing their philosophers with a language and a vocabulary more than anything, through which to comment abstractly on thought and that which is both within and outside of themselves, philosophy was nonetheless placed above the myth in a new hierarchy of human thinking.

Fast forward to the 18th century and this hierarchy between mythology and philosophy is disturbed. Myth begins to rise above philosophy as the imagined home of a profound and original knowledge, of which philosophy is only ever an extrapolation and a reduction. This triggered something of an existential crisis amongst the thinkers of the age. The Romantics, in particular, wanting (in some instances, colonially – that is, literally and physically) to return to a mythic space-time, in order to acquire a glimpse of this original truth, instead find themselves blinkered by the strata of reason in which they are embedded. To paraphrase an exploration of this period by Rudolph Gasche: “the language of the sciences and the new rationality (in contrast to the “old reason” of the Greeks) by which [we have] been marked, whose spell [we] cannot escape, allows the anticipated return to the mythical only in a distorted form”[3] — perhaps, a gothic form. “Therefore,” Gasche continues, “the simple return or the turning back fails: what remains is the longing for the origins and the painful experience of the impossibility of its renewed realization.”[4]

Here the horror of the story of Frankenstein, that myth of the modern Prometheus, might quickly come to mind. In thinking ourselves, euphemistically at least, as Gods in our apparent mastery of the sciences, we are nonetheless terrified by our own aptitude for destruction or abominable creation, contrasted to the absolute and apparently pure creativity of that which supposedly gave us life. And what is Frankenstein himself if not an artificial intelligence.

This desire to produce a new mythology was not, despite how it may sound, regressive but is rather rooted in a desire to reground poetry — and, by extension, subjectivity — within the uneasy new age of reason, and none were more successful in this regard than Schelling. Whereas Hegel would notoriously equate mythology with religion in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, echoing the long-held Platonic-Aristotelian view of myth as a lower and less rational thought, which positions philosophy as an exercise in the hardening of the boundaries of a previous subject, Schelling would, by contrast, offer up a far more generous reading with his Philosophy of Mythology, presented as a series of lectures given towards the end of his life.

Here, Schelling defines mythology as the poetic expression of that which is beyond historical time, as the expression of “occurrences and events that belong to an entirely different order of things (not only … the historical, but also the human…)”[5] The Greek mythology of Gods and Goddesses is just one such example of this, but it is Schelling’s implicit argument that this particular form of expression is not the only kind and we should not misjudge a system of mythology as a somehow primitive mode of thought, in its general disregard for truth. This is tendency that continues to persist in the arts today. For Schelling, it seems, this is the misstep taken by his unfortunately more famous colleague Hegel. The importance of myth to what Hegel calls Spirit — albeit reduced in Hegel’s own analysis — is that mythology is the expression of Spirit’s “poetic drive for invention.”[6] In this sense, we can see why the Creation Myth is a primary category within different mythologies from around the world. This is to suggest that, whilst philosophy tends to concern itself with ends, mythology becomes a transcultural attempt to think beginnings — the beginnings of religions, of peoples, of places, of times, of ideas, but also — and particularly revelant to our discussion today perhaps — of revolutions and technologies. It is in this sense that Gilles Deleuze would write in his essay “Desert Islands” of the way that geography and geology, in particular, are examples of “science mak[ing] mythology more concrete, and mythology mak[ing] science more vivid.”[7]

What is most interesting about Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology is that, in tracing its roots and tracing mythology itself back to the point of its own emergence within human culture, he finds that it is not, in fact, the product of human agency in itself. Just as we have come to appreciate the poetic in its unruliness, its resistance to reason, its multiplicitous interpretations, we find that mythology instead lurks in the shadow of Hegel’s Spirit. Reza, who has used Hegel and German Idealism at length in his book on AGI, nonetheless seems to miss something in his picking up of Spirit in a typically Hegelian mode, which Schelling himself critiqued Hegel for missing also. Reza, however, even goes further, distancing geistig even more than Hegel from any occultural connotation, and defining it as that which constitutes a “community of rational agents as a social model of mind” which is, more specifically, a social model which is defined by its function. Schelling’s mythology is, again, contrary to this – it does not intend to “assert or teach something” but rather just invent.[8] To call upon its function is to kill it — to condition it is to kill it — and in this sense we further parallels with the political discussions that have long circled the topics of communism and, more recently, accelerationism.

The importance of myth to the discussion of an emerging AGI, however, is that, in the its uneasy outsideness, in being that which emerges from us but is beyond us, its future origins may shift our own origins in their predominance. For instance, to return to our canine friends, in looking at the psychedelic dogs produced by Google DeepDream, we might see this as a nascent and inchoate example of an externally “sensuous imagination”, to borrow a phrase from Schelling. And yet, in its imaging of noumenal dogs, it is still the product of a broadly anthropocentric subjectivity. If our thinking on this matter is indeed to become more rigorously political but also radical and communist, we need to soften ourselves further still. DeepDream, for instance, is an example of us using computer to dream dogs. We instead need to think what it is like for dogs to dream us.

[1] Reza Negarestani, Intelligence & Spirit (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2019), 4

[2] Ibid., 407-408

[3] Rudolph Gasche, Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology, trans. Roland Vegso(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 32

[4] Ibid.

[5] F.W.J. Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, trans. Mason Richey and Markus Zisselsberger (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 9

[6] Ibid., 13

[7] Gilles Deleuze, “Desert Islands” in Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974 (South Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2004), 9

[8] Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, 13

Black Metal Science: A Note on the Nigredo of Negarestani

I had an epiphany last night.

I began this year with a long — and sort of shit — series of posts that I built out of an email conversation I had with Reza Negarestani. With his long-anticipated book Intelligence & Spirit finally out, and having been working on his career-spanning collection Abducting the Outside with Robin, I wanted to understand how his old work (which I felt familiar with, as an emphatic DeleuzoBataillean) was connected to his new work (which broadly went over my head in its references to the likes of Carnap and Sellars). So, I wanted to ask where he was now at and hear how he saw his own trajectory.

In hindsight, I don’t think I was very successful in transposing what felt was a genuinely productive conversation into blog form.

However, last night, whilst reading Edia Collone’s essay, “The Missing Subject of Accelerationism: Heavy Metal’s Wyrd Realism”, in the book Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory, I found a side to Reza’s thought that I hadn’t previously considered and I think, in the process, I found the link between his rationalism and his gothicism, laid out right in front of my nose.

Collone writes:

Negarestani, the current exemplar of that dry rational/technological Prometheanism promoted by the Reader, betrays an intimate link between black metal theory and accelerationism, whose ‘missing subject’, it would seem, is nothing more, or less, than what I would like to term, heavy metal’s wyrd realism, its ‘art of making reality, of knowing reality, and knowing how to make reality’ through its ‘aesthetics of inevitability’…

The link between old and new Reza is here, I think, in this knowing and making of reality — and, specifically, knowing and making it wyrd. In a way, we might consider the phrase “wyrd realism”, as far as Reza’s work is concerned, to have a shifting emphasis. We might tentatively frame Cyclonopedia as a theory-fictional attempt to make the wyrd real, by grounding Lovecraftian horror in philosophy. Intelligence & Spirit, on the other hand, could be seen as an attempt to make the real wyrd, in precisely the mode that science wyrds the world in our “understanding” of it on a daily basis.

What I mean by this is the wyrdness of, for instance, the first image taken of a black hole, which I wrote about the other day. The sense in which science has to bend over backwards and expend an enormous about of energy and resources just to make its discoveries visible to us.

I feel like an awareness of this is a consistent presence throughout Reza’s thought — that is, the ways in which science — but also politics, art and philosophy — all wrestle with their increasing (rather than diminishing) insufficiency with regards to giving anthropocentric form to their discoveries. The question becomes: How are we, at the level of the social, of the spirit, able to comprehend that which is, by its nature, not-for-us, especially when it is rendered somewhat (but — in the case of the black hole — barely) legible? Furthermore, what are the implications of our scientific (or other) frontiers being moved so much further outwards from what we can, cognitively and sensorially, process and be aware of?

These are questions that have always been central to philosophies of mind but I found it interesting to see the seeds of an old Batailleanism still embedded with Reza’s prose. For example, I think this is a key passage related to this from Intelligence & Spirit:

While the history of intelligence begins from death as a condition of enablement, it extends by way of a view from nowhere and nowhen through which completed totalities are removed and replaced by that which is possible yet distant, and that which seems impossible yet is attainable. […]

The only true nihilism is one that is advanced as an enabling condition for the autonomy of impersonal reason […] True nihilism is the beginning of reason, not its end. It is not something that can be libidinally yearned for or intellectually invested in: not only because it is neither a belief nor a desire — since the identification of nihilism as a belief or desire leads to pure aporia — but rather because nihilism can only be affirmed as that which renders our temporal beliefs and desires obsolete once it is maturely seen as the labour of truth through which the fleeting appearances of totalities — of states of affairs, beliefs, desires, and values — are destroyed. This is truth as the atemporal reality of mind, spirit as time.

Here we find the black metal theory of Reza’s philosophy of mind. Here we find the horror, the nigredo, of a truly philosophical science.

Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 6): Complex Communisms

← Part Five

All this talk of world-building and speculative sandboxes allowed us to find common ground, I think. Reza’s definition of world-building as “a way of understanding the existing world(s)” is precisely the point for me, particularly in a post-Brexit referendum UK, where it is clear that a establishment “media class” does not understand the patchworked intersection of different politics and sentiments that are persistently upsetting the electorate. It has created an insidious feedback loop where this lack of understanding spreads and eats itself, further unsettling the national psyche. He responded:

Right, I can see that. But of course, this comes down to this so-called fact that to so many non-UK people these revolutionary ambitions made in response to purely UK-centric paradigms have no relevance to a broader global context. I mean, look at the British orthodox marxists: nothing is more detached from a global reality than these people.

But I think that even these very specifically British scenarios can be expanded to a wider political logic. We should neither dismiss them nor should we take them out of their territorial / geographic context. And that’s why, once we take British politics — across the left and right spectra — seriously as no more than an important exemplar, then we need to do the actual job of investigating them in terms of whether they are methodologically sound (with regards to the context, the system of specific socio-economic relations, mode of governance, etc) or not.

I agree with that, of course, and I’ve repeatedly said that my focus on the UK — which I do recognise to be a nation that already takes up far too much oxygen in the grand scheme of things — is simply because I would not be comfortable writing about anywhere else. It’s all I know.

But that’s not to say that these points cannot be extrapolated outwards more broadly to relate to other parts of the world. The response from many of my readers have confirmed this and I’ve very grateful for their input, particularly by Brazilian, Czech and Slovenian readers who have greatly enriched this debate over the last year.

Reza continued:

If so many people experience the same set of tribulations and issues, then as you say, these quasi-problems should be recognised as real problems: Problems for which we have not yet found final solutions. That’s why we not only need to uncover and assiduously investigate our current models of problems, but to develop hypothetical models from whose standpoints the limits of our current models and problems can be fleshed out and renegotiated.

Again, I find myself agreeing with Reza whilst likewise being made aware of my own philosophical blindspots:

Until and unless we embark on the task of real investigation (the skepticos), we just don’t know how many of our problems are actually pseudo-problems. That’s why the broad question of epistemology is important in addressing what we should do and why we should do it.

At the risk of retreading already well-trodden ground (on this blog and in this series itself), I went on to further address the influence of Mark Fisher’s work here, far beyond Capitalist Realism.

What has powered this blog since the start is the relationship I see — now left unexplored by Fisher himself — between his final book The Weird & The Eerie and what was to be his next book, Acid Communism.

Mark didn’t simply favoured communism because it was an edgy and notorious failure. He hoped to explore its broad history, its moments of impotent or squashed revolution — specifically the 1970s in Europe and North and South America — and, most specifically, he hoped to analyse what failed in us that led to communism’s destitution as an ideal or a goal.

With all this in mind, I see The Weird and the Eerie, despite its brevity, as an extension of Mark’s eternal project: How do you re-acquire an intuitive desire for this form of political collectivity against the captive forces of capitalism?

In my reading, I think Mark recognised in The Weird and the Eerie that weird fiction and horror (and SF more generally) already contains variations on this same question in their inherent (re)weirding of the mundane. Robin and I have likewise talked about this in terms of the British countryside — particularly where he lives in Cornwall with its megalithic structures, postindustrial detritus and its gothic literary tradition. (Reza: “Robin is exactly that kind of interlocutor you need, someone who refuses to settle his mind on this or that option without being whimsical.”) Whilst many environmental writers talk about a “rewilding” of our landscapes in this country, Robin has repeatedly suggested that what is closer to the surface and far more useful in the present moment is a practice of “reweirding” instead.

My interest in this process is related to a bastardisation of Mark’s “capitalist realism” which I wrote about on the blog a few months ago: a “nationalist realism” — the suggestion being that too often our speculative remodelling of how we might organise ourselves and our societies beyond the state-form is prematurely judged to be reckless. We are as squeamish about alternatives to the state-form as we are to capitalism as an economic system and I think the mechanisms for this bad faith are entirely related to one another. (Capitalism wouldn’t exist without the state-form, of course.)

In attempting to rethink a new political collectivity in this regard — a collectivity that is certainly counterfactual to how most people currently understand themselves as “national subjects” — I think a patchwork thinking precisely allows for the creation of a new world where new things are permitted which are nonetheless based on a familiar cultural history: specifically, in the case of this blog, the Gothic as an entwined commentary on a shifting state and subject — both necessarily affecting their other.

And so, it’s been my project on this blog to try and explore how a shift in how we think about the State will allow for a shift in how we think about the Subject, breaking us out of our individualisms and our more vampiric tendencies, in a way that means we have far more political control over ourselves than being at the whims of capitalism’s “libidinal engineering” (as Mark would call it). Reza writes:

Yes, I do agree with your point regarding the task of subject-engineering. There is an abstract generic subject (in the Kantian sense) but there is no generic concrete subject. We cannot simply jump from the former to the latter. The concrete subject should always be gauged in its determinate relations to what you called the rigorous explication of the state and the idea of we.

Here again, we see an example of what we have been talking about with regards to understanding the contexts and particularities of fragmentation as ways of new modes of integration which can ultimately afford us new differences of which we were unaware of in our own established particularities.  

Acid Communism remains a really potent idea for thinking about these questions for me and what I hoped to do by the end of my conversation with Reza was to really drive this point home and see what his thoughts are on it.

I may not be well versed in my Hegel, Carnap, Sellars or Quine. The sight of an equation might still trigger a certain nausea left over from my school days. But this is what patchwork is about for me. It’s an acidic dissolution of current paradigms that we might rebuild brickwise. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:

‘Acid’ is desire, as corrosive and denaturalising multiplicity, flowing through the multiplicities of communism itself to create alinguistic feedback loops; an ideological accelerator through which the new and previously unknown might be found in the politics we mistakenly think we already know, reinstantiating a politics to come.

I’m going to end this series with Reza’s comments on this. I agreed with every word and, whilst our back-and-forth had been immensely enjoyable and productive, it felt like a good and natural place to stop (all the while considering when and where we might be able to pick things up again.) I still think patchwork, as so many people have been exploring it, fits with these demands. All we need next, if enough people have their interest piqued, is to see some results…

Yes, I think this confusion between communism as a process of discovering true alternatives and a failed experimentation at statecraft is partly due to Marx and Engels’s own puzzlement. In German Ideology, they give a brilliant definition of what communism is: a real movement that suspends the established order of things. But on other occasions, they sound as if they are peddling a kind of utopia for the sake of utopia. I would say, this is actually the enigma of communism that should be understood first.

The process view (the adventure for new alternatives) by itself is too vague. Its potentials should be tested against the existing world which means that from the standpoint of particular historical moments (presents) communism as a process should be arrested as a specific configuration of social and economic relations (a system). Otherwise, it would be just novelty for the sake of novelty, difference for the sake of difference, which is too abstract, too bewildered to make a concrete difference in the status quo or the current order of things.

So, in this sense, the craft of a communist state should be seen as something positive and determinate, pitting the real movement or process against the actual world.

Now of course, as you mentioned, this moment of arresting the real movement (line of flight if we want to be a tad D&Gishly cheesy) can be assimilated by the current order. The break, deterritorialization and arrest mechanisms were invented to thwart the pathologies of acceleration, deterritorialization and pure escape. But then what can warrant that we are safe from the pathologies of deceleration, capture and reterritorialization when communism as a process turns into a planetary scale stifling state?

This is the question that we should try to answer in an elaborate and popular manner: how can we experiment with alternatives without becoming the slaves of uncritical differences which might as a matter of fact be just the projections of our own identititarian egos? And how can we pierce through these kitsch marxist versions of communism which seek to establish an actual counterpart of the process?

The end.

Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 5): Philosophers Without Borders, Without Boundaries

← Part Four

To return to the “Patchwork is Not a Model” debate, discussed in Part 3, I came to understand that my initial mistake was in associating the word “model” with a blanket reductivism rather than seeing modelling more generally as a distinct methodology that could be of use to our discussions.

My complaint, in line with the discussion had in Part 4, was that the word had become meaningless in this most generic of uses, because the system it was being deployed in orbit of was purposefully under-defined. And yet, as Reza went on to demonstrate, its usage in scientific fields is far more useful than the vague way it was deployed by passing Twitter interlocutors. Reza writes:

Yes, the word “model” is often used in quite general terms. For me, a “model” is an essentially theoretical entity with a definitive structure, description and scope constraints.

In a way, when I say “model”, I absolutely mean the science of modelling, and [particularly] modelling in science and engineering where the concept of “model” is a systematic and explicitly formulated idealization of an interpreted structure of either an actual phenomenon (target system) or another model.

In the latter case, models are more like hypotheticals or counterfactuals which we can use to talk about possibilities which might not be found in nature. Like, for example, three sex biology or Arthur Eddington‘s idea of the model as what can possibly expand the scope of what is considered to be the actual.

I think what you are describing [with patchwork] is more like big toy models where the main theoretical assumptions are suspended in favour of tinkering and hypothetical manipulations (thought experiments). 

This, again, provided a further opening through which to discuss patchwork with Reza on his own terms. Patchwork is less an attempt at imposing a system but rather a provocative remodelling for tinkering with and manipulating that which is — or, put another way, confronting with the building blocks that constitute what is contemporaneously seen as essential and not contingent; as “given”.

To reconsider our “territories” on these terms and to use this configuration as a basis for geopolitical reorganisation has the potential (I believe) to be hugely productive in a modern world where state consolidation as a process is faltering everywhere we look and the revision and rejection of the historic results of imperialism and colonialism are increasingly commonplace in politics both on the left and the right.

This rejection of centuries of state consolidation has generally been championed around these parts as a symptom of a wider process of entropic fragmentation where those who have ruled over us continue to lose their grip. As traumatic as such a process may be, it is one that we must stay attentive and vigilant to, and particularly to the ways in which it shapes our senses of ourselves.

As Reza put it, we must strive for a better understanding of “how changes in our self-conception necessarily lead to the transformation of our collective modes of acting”. This has already happened for the worse, with the growth of neoliberalism dismantling our collective politics.

Here, the enunciation of a shared project that I hoped was on our horizon began to feel ever closer.

For me, this interest in the relationship between self-conception and collective modes of acting comes from Mark Fisher’s declaration in Capitalist Realism that the “required subject is a collective subject” — and the more I read of Intelligence & Spirit, the more I begin to see Reza’s conception of “intelligence” to be one way of formulating such a required “subject” far beyond the limits of that term as it is typically understood.

I’ve written on other conceptions of “collective subjectivity” frequently on this blog, particularly in orbit of the discussions of communism that can be found in the works of Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot. These are, perhaps, my relative areas of “expertise” but, in their shared poeticism, these thinkers remain difficult to map onto a thinking such as Reza’s. (At least his current thinking — his Bataillean earlier texts remain a treat in this regard and a further conversation on this would be more enlightening as to how much he sees being carried forwards.)

What is particularly curious about Reza’s trajectory in this regard is that he has turned to those philosophers that many of his most infamous influences openly derided. Bataille famously wrote about Hegel on a number of occasions and even believed that his philosophy would “recommence and undo Hegel’s Phenomenology“. His distaste is perhaps an inherited bias of his time, however — his direct knowledge of Hegel’s philosophy is regularly contested.

Reza’s work, however, rather than doing away with one in favour of the other, seems to draw insight from both. Take, for example, that great philosophical watershed moment: the death of God. Towards the end of Intelligence & Spirit, Reza describes this event in terms that seem equally Bataillean (that is, sur-Nietzschean) and Hegelian:

There is an oft-repeated objection that all that enlightened humanism accomplished was to overthrow God only to replace it with humans. But … this is not a matter of exchanging one tyrant for another, but of taking the first step in an ongoing struggle to unseat the conditions of servitude. The singularity of geistig intelligence lies in its plastic and protean form — that is, its ability to recognise itself both as that which currently is and that which it currently is not. It is by orienting itself towards that which it is not … that the human acquires the capacity to see beyond its temporal image of itself and the world, and thus becomes capable of reassembling itself from nowhere and nowhere through the ramifying objective — an exploratory purpose — inconceivable even by God’s intellectual intuition.

We undoubtedly have a general conception of what we are not — our answers to such a question define so much of our popular culture — but do we even understand who we are? Especially today? There’s something almost Deleuzian here in this description of the “singularity of geistig intelligence” and the reality of our present situation, of inconsistency and confusion, reminds me of Deleuze reading of Alice in Wonderland.

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.’

In Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice’s journey into Wonderland completely dissolves her sense of who she is. She knows she began her day as Alice but the events of the day play with her head to such an extent that she wonders if she might now instead be someone else that she knows. She changes her size so much that she forgets what her body is actually supposed to look like, but what seems to confuse her most is that she doesn’t know things like she used to. She recites poems but they come out wrong. She can’t remember facts that she did before. She wonders if she might now be a school friend instead of herself. She becomes utterly adrift in her own multiplicity.

For Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense, Alice’s predicament — her disorienting experience of his own multiplicity, contrasted to her prior identity as “Alice” which she woke up with that morning — is emblematic of a Platonic dualism: two conflicting dimensions — “that of limited thing and measured things, of fixed qualities” and “a pure becoming without measure, a veritable becoming-mad, which never rests” — which together govern our sense of reality.

Again, we return to the issue of modelling. “Pure becoming,” says Deleuze, “contests both model and copy at once”. It contests the fixed identity of “Alice” as fixed representation of self and likewise the paradoxically multiplicitous nature of being-singular.

The paradox of “infinite identity”, as Deleuze calls it, is important here. But what is most clear in Reza’s work is that — if we attempt to insert Alice into Intelligence & Spirit for a moment — she, as a child, is largely disconnected from a geistig intelligence. In some ways, her story comes to resemble the pure becoming of a geistig intelligence after the death of God — she is a child anew orphaned by a Holy Father.

This experience of acknowledging what one is and what one is not likewise seems to echo Bataille’s evaluation of the death of God and its affect on a social self-knowledge in The Accursed Share. He writes:

The same God that preserved unity in its unshakable self-identity — which is no longer identical to itself and is now changeable — had to disperse the human race the same way that it had once held it together. The same way that it was the cause of its own unity in its identity, it is now the cause of its fragmentation in its multiplicity.

What I read in common here is this paradox of an “infinite identity”. Now that God — the holy One and All — has perished, we see ourselves in his image. As Reza says, this does not mean that we are God but rather that we see this nature once jettisoned into the divine as being an inherent part of ourselves and, most important, our sense of ourselves as selves.

There is a lot more to be said here regarding the relationship between Bataille and Hegel’s thought — another thread that is far too extensive for right now and which I’d like to pick up another time. (I’m currently reading Rodolphe Gasché’s book Georges Bataille: Phenomenology & Phantasmatology which explores their relationship in great detail.) First, though, we might interrogate the problems that Reza raises with a project of absolute fragmentation. There remains a disconnect between fragmentations of self and state.

Nick Land reemerges here as a notable inspiration and foundation when considering the (previous) influence of Bataille on Reza’s work. And, in orbit of the patchwork debate, much emphasis has been put on the role of fragmentation in Nick’s thinking in this regard. (That is, fragmentation seen — as Land puts it — as “a selective sorting process that mobilizes the Outside.”) However, Reza responded with an explicitly Hegelian challenge to previous articulations of such a process:

There was a discussion with Robin [had privately in NYC] that the patchwork toy model shouldn’t be all about fragmentation (ie. bringing out differences). We don’t know the scope of these particularities and differences yet.

Integration or unification is also important because not only can it actually re-orient some of these differences but, more significantly, it can shed light on new differences hitherto hidden from the perspective of current particularities. So, to me, patchwork should be bimodal — meaning going through fragmentation, integration, more fragmentation, more integration. But then isn’t this a kind of Hegelian account of the process of concretization which is, of course, tainted by Hegel’s less interesting and wholesome theological commitments?

In my opinion, what we need is an account of the process of concretization, plus all of its methodological richness, yet minus all the junk about the whig progressivist account of history, teleology and inflated political prescriptions.

Another issue in my mind, [regarding] the political mobilization of patchwork, is [how effective can it be]? In other words, such experimentations are still done within the current world climate. But, as long as the world climate is like it is, any form of experimentation can be parasitic on the current world logic and end up being yet another fundamentally failed experimentation in the vein of communization theory.

To that extent, I genuinely don’t know whether it is possible to perform such experimentations as long as we are living in this world paradigm. 

I confessed an ignorance here — I may know my Bataille but not so much my Hegel — but, whilst at first I skirm under the suggestion, it makes sense, and this has long been the elephant in the room in which many of us have been discussing patchwork.

Of course, I would argue the UK presents an interesting potential case study for this, but such is the problem with the current Brexit vote (for many on both the left and the right, despite the nature of the populist debate around the issue): Should we stay and remain a part of a well-established world paradigm, continuing to try and shape it from within? Or should we leave on the off-chance that we might somehow be able to challenge this paradigm and forge it anew for ourselves? Both options remain a pipe dream to the vast majority.

Considering this persistent vision of a dystopian utopia (potentially) beyond the confines of our presently self-destructive neoliberalism, this dialectical process that Reza put forward is certainly much more attractive a methodology to carry forwards, at the interscalar level of state-subject, when you remove Hegel’s penchant for a nationalising teleology. But I remain somewhat skeptical — such is the current global mindset regarding any potential future outside.

Nevertheless, Reza went on to clarify:

The point of a so-called speculative dialectics is […] you begin with a set of very abstract universalities (like, we are all humans), then you fragment it, then you begin to determine what the fault lines are, then you integrate these fragmentations on a higher level, then you arrive at new differences and so on. However, the problem with Hegel as I see it is that this process seems to be already determined by a finality (historical telos). 

This is the crux of a next stage in patchwork thinking, and geopolitical thinking more generally, I think — at least my own as I have been trying to apply it to the UK.

A major part of my research over the last year has been concerned with just such a problem and a central text for thinking this through has been Tom Nairn’s rich and dense book The Break-Up of Britain, as well as his essay “The Twilight of the British State“, both of which are ostensibly for the dissolution of the United Kingdom and also for a project of European integration. It seems to precisely argue for what Reza is suggesting here: a two-fold process of fragmentation-integration that may help forge a new way forwards.

Now, this book was written in the 1970s, before the EU as we know it today had fully consolidated itself into a neoliberal institution, but in trying to see how Nairn’s argument of fragmentation and integration works, I see a vision of another and very different Europe to the one we have today, which is notably devoid of the mythical finality of homogenous equilibrium and where the differences that emerge through processes of free market and international entropy are not dealt with so appallingly as they have been in the decades since it was written.

Part of the challenge of reading the text today is trying to imagine the Europe that Nairn has in mind considering the Europe that we have. As such, much patchwork thinking goes much further backwards, rejecting our once-fragmented-but-now-consolidated wholes that we have, ie. Europe and the United States. It is Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy that are instead taken as historical case studies. Reza picked up on this himself, writing:

I think the prototype of this patchwork model in the way we are talking about it is not the contemporary Europe. Cyrus the Second, for the first time, managed to integrate a massive amount of land under precisely a similar paradigm. The central government only played the role of a soft referee and protectorate only when it was absolutely necessary.

Cyrus and the Persian empire are very interesting examples to invoke here, especially considering the history of the Greco-Persian War, which offers a counter often left unmentioned when the Greek city-states are invoked as patchwork antecedents. (Another potential tangent, which will be left unexplored, presents itself here.)

Reza goes on to note that these apparent antecedents were largely founded “on cultural and religious discontinuities.” He makes this point to counter my suggestion, explored in numerous posts on this blog, that a future patchwork Britain will likely flourish along the lines of class conflict. He continued:

There is a long tradition of patchwork systems in history. However, the majority of these patchworks are not based on any sort of class conflict and almost none of them see the patchwork system as a scientific-political enterprise that should be taken seriously in its own terms. To them, patchwork is only a utilitarian means for an optimal state-governance.

This is, in part, a rebuttal to my English parochialism — class conflict being the fault line that, historically, binds us as a discordant nation. This remains very much the heart of an English neuroticism but I have likewise been interested in the ways this neuroticism has been exported to the rest of the world, shapeshifting as it goes.

Class conflict is often discussed, in innumerable Marxist studies, as the heart of the industrialised nation-state and England is likewise taken to be the “grandfather” of the modern nation-state as we know it today — for better and for worse, depending on where your politics lie. It feels fitting to me, then, that England (and the UK more generally) should be the first to experiment with its form in a way that will — I believe — actually improve relations amongst different peoples rather than embolden a UK historical project of divide and conquer.

Fragment the UK along the lines of historical class conflict, integrate a new social consciousness, rinse and repeat, etc. (for as long as it is productive).

This is where my interest in the Gothic comes to the fore, as an aesthetic movement largely enacted along the lines of cultural and religious differences which holds class unconsciousness and class antagonisms at its heart. Such is the plot of Wuthering Heights, for instance, or a dozen other Gothic novels. Class appears as the bedrock for all that floats above it in the toy model structure of the Gothic subject.

Reza went on to acknowledge science fiction as playing a similar role:

I see sci-fi as another form of this convergent ramification. For example, Robert Heinlein in America, whose works are picked up by both the left and the new right, even though Heinlein’s work is distinctly libertarian in nature, and in many ways anti-right and anti-left. For example, see [Heinlein’s short story] The Man Who Sold The Moon — it’s like communism’s vision of cosmism put into motion by rabid capitalist — even Ponzi scheme-like — methods.  

I wondered if this tendency was something explored more explicitly in Kristen Alvanson’s work. Together, Kristen and Reza have collaborated on numerous occasions, most infamously perhaps in Cyclonopedia wherein Kristen makes an appearance as the discoverer of the book’s manuscript in its Lovecraftian introductory chapter.

Her own book, XYZT, forthcoming on Urbanomic, seems to dramatise much of this conversation, albeit how it may play out between the US and Iran rather than between the UK’s internally fragmented subjects. It is summarised on the Urbanomic website as follows:

‘We’ve been told that there’s no difference between us and them.’ On this premise the protagonists of XYZT contrive a device capable of shuttling volunteers back and forth between the US and Iran, hidden from the watchful eyes of immigration police and state bureaucracies. Each volunteer will have a single opportunity to be received by a local host and to have a brief authentic experience of what it means to live as “them” before being transported back home.

Set against the backdrop of escalating hostilities between Iran and the US, and based on her experiences living in Iran at the end of the first decade of 2000s, Kristen Alvanson’s XYZT builds on the idea of a ‘dialogue between civilizations’ only to demonstrate the potentially outlandish ramifications that might follow from such a seemingly innocuous idea. An audacious cross-genre experiment, a firsthand memoir of what it means to see what ‘they’ see, and a science-fictional, non-standard engagement with anthropology, XYZT reveals fissures and cracks in what the media calls reality, but which in fact is liable to take on all the unpredictable features of a contemporary fairy tale.

I’d love to hear how Kristen herself would respond to some of these questions — another post for another time? — but this is what Reza himself had to say:

Kristen’s work is a kind of weird debunking of this whole idea of Dialogue or Communication as some sort of vector for universal harmony.

Even though I consider myself a universalist, the Habermasian paradigm of rational dialogue is not going to work. The same thing can be said about Brandom but at least he has a far better grasp of reason and universality.

I think both of these two figures really confound the universality of reason which is abstract with concrete universality or collectivity. The former never warrants the latter. Concrete collectivity requires something more — new techniques, new understandings of complexity, particularities of the human experience, etc.

However, with that said, I think reason is an absolutely necessary component (even though it’s not sufficient). We just don’t know what these differences are. To actually do the hard work is to conceptualize about these differences, to make them known and highlighted. And to conceptualize these differences we have to take the idea of reason seriously, to study and renegotiate it so that we don’t get trapped in metaphysical and speculative flights of fancy re: the concept of reason and/or difference. 

Habermas and Brandom remain totally alien to me at present as well — I am continuing, very slowly, in my attempts to rectify this persistent unfamiliarity with many of Reza’s references — as Robin often jokes, you chat to Reza and you don’t come away with an answer but a reading list. However, this was still very interesting to me as this misguided reliance on “Communication” as the bringer of peace has largely been my starting point as well. (See, for instance, “Egress” or my series on COUM Transmissions.) This is not to say that communication cannot help matters of disagreement but rather it is as much a tool of warfare and harm as it is peace and harmony.

I have been heavily influenced by Bataille’s writings on communication and community in this regard — which regular readers may be well aware of already — particularly his writings on communication as something inherent to human experience which is based on a “principle of insufficiency” — a conception that would feed into his Literature & Evil period.

In the second chapter of On Nietzsche, for instance, Bataille writes:

[Human beings] must “communicate” (as much with indefinite existence as among themselves): the absence of “communication” (the egoist folded back on himself) is obviously the most condemnable. But “communication” cannot take place without wounding or defiling the beings, is itself guilty. The good, in whatever way one envisions it, is the good of beings, but in wanting to attain it, we must ourselves question — in the night, through evil — the very beings in relation to which we want it.

A fundamental principle is expressed as follows:

“Communication” cannot take place between one full and intact being and another: it wants beings who question being in themselves, who place their being at the limit of death, of nothingness.

Bataille’s limit here is not necessarily indicative of a nihilism. His “nothingness” is perhaps proto-Sartrean in being a symbol for “the transcendence of being” in itself, in its illusionary wholeness. This nothingness is, then, as palpable as existence itself — an immanent outside that being strikes in negative and which supports the very structures of being in itself.

To communicate, then, is to seek to transcend oneself, interacting with the other, with an otherness, that may possibly kill us. It is to put oneself at risk — in whatever sense we may want to understand such a risk, whether that be a risk to life or a risk to ego. We open ourselves up to the challenge of another(‘s) existence.

This is not to rest too much on Bataille’s violent melodrama — no matter how much I enjoy it — but to see in his work the acknowledgement that communication can be very difficult and fraught whilst it is nonetheless necessary and worth striving for. Communication is, in this sense, a necessary evil — and this brings us back to the discussion around “education” with which I opened this series properly.

I feel like, underneath his melodramatic prose, Bataille is also a thinker of this “hard work” that Reza is talking about, and it is this hard work that, in my mind, is associated explicitly with any striving for a future communism — a topic which would be drawn out more explicitly in the Bataille-inspired writings of Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy.

There seems to be a sense in which Reza is using these “analytic” voices — if we might preserve the distinction just for a little longer, for a momentary clarity — that are largely unpopular in the circles in which his reputation has grown out from, but he nonetheless seems to be wrestling with a problem that is as Bataillean as it is, say, Carnapian — albeit having done away with the stylistics of the former’s kind of thinking. It is an investigation, perhaps, of the ways that the irrational productively intrudes on reason in reason’s insufficiency. We might even understand “reason” to be that which helps us “deal with” the irrational, the unconscious, the unruly flows of the earth.

For Bataille, throughout his writings, and those associated with the College of Sociology in particular, it seems like this irrationality is something that must necessarily be held aloft in tandem with reason if we are to strive for a new form of collective subject that sees the present (reductive) sense of being cast into the void.

This is the most striking thread that I will leave unexplored here and I intend to pick this up elsewhere at another time. Far more research and argumentation is required on my part to better construct a linkage here, between the Bataillean undercurrents of past and present Reza, but I’ve held your attention on this point for long enough for the time being.

In the next post — and the final post of this rambling and mixed-up series — we will end with a discussion during which came the moment where I found myself agreeing with Reza wholeheartedly: our discussion on the nature (and future) of Communism.

To be continued…

Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 4): Warped by Language

← Part Three

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…

Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 3): The Patchwork Problem

← Part Two

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.

Reza replied:

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…

Patchwork Epistemologies (Part 1): Memoirs of a Recovering Cyclonopedoid

Serendipitously, the day Reza left Twitter — and apparently forgot his password — I sent him an email I’d been intending to send for weeks.

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.

S/O K-Punk, Hyperdub and Mille Plateaux.

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…