DARPA, Defense Sciences Office, is seeking individuals with advanced musical training and expertise with audio software environments for a wide-range of research initiatives tasked with the development of disruptive technologies for U.S. national security. Submit CV and statement of interest to

Trawling through the opportunities page on the site of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency as she sometimes did, X never expected a request like this to surface. What could this musical securitarian collusion involve, she wondered, as her interest received an exponential boost from the coincidence of the position’s requirements with her portfolio. A conservatory-trained violinist turned audial modulator, known on the streets of Chicago as dronegrrrl, she surfaced here and there, loaded with the inevitable dual Samsonites and a massive black camping-style backpack containing all manner of tweeters, preamps, computer speakers, adaptors, all couched against knotted nests of 22-gauge wire. She blended frequencies distilled from recorded soundscapes captured over months—time-lapse recording bringing out the city’s baseline frequencies through slow accumulation—with on-the-fly circuit-bending. Once she used a highly directional speaker to blast out one of her altered soundscapes from an extremely narrow alleyway, effectively amplifying the background drone of the Mag Mile for a split-second as you walked by. Eventually some started basking in the amplification, which drew so much sudden attention that X quickly aborted the intervention. The hidden sides of dumpsters provided usual cover. Not to mention they were good resonators, especially after garbage day. She believed in maintaining strict anonymity, just in case future operations demanded it, just as they had in the past. It made things easier. But now she needed a job, and the prospect of getting an insider’s view of what for her remained a defiantly mysterious entity was too much to resist.

She had instantly forgotten about all of it, until receiving a curt email signed G. Hertzman two weeks later yielding little more than the time and location of the interview and polite formalities. On an unabashedly sunny Monday afternoon, X showed up at DARPA HQ, North Randolph Street, in the Ballston enclave of Arlington, Virginia, a six-story mildly futuristic looking building overshadowed by the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which was really a massive parking garage. Maybe that’s where the DARPA deep throat meets with reporters, on a skating rink. An intern escorted her to Hertzman’s top floor office, 619. There seemed to be a remarkable lack of people milling around. Maybe they were all in their labs. She chuckled to herself in recognition of what this place would do to her already deeply conspiratorial disposition. The grayish man slumped in the leather swivel that dwarfed him barely noticed the opening door. Throughout he spoke too loudly, as if deliberately misgauging the remit of his speech, and for the first minute or so his gaze remained trained on a green psychedelic ceramic ashtray.

“You were on TV, miss?”

“Uh… once or twice.”

“As performer?”


“OK. Do you know about speech-song transmutation?”

X didn’t. The formulation appealed.

“Politicians speak in organized ways, and I don’t mean through words…”

Without warning, Hertzman whipped out a handkerchief and began hacking uncontrollably. X thought, this guy’s probably been there since the ARPANET days, when Licklider was around. X had read the latter’s “duplex theory of pitch perception” paper with the expectation that it would give her clues as to how to break open the brain-ear, but found it lacking. Still, he did invent the internet. Further investigation warranted. After a solid half-minute, Hertzman sputtered on.

“They’re literally singing for their supper.”


“Singing from their point of view… I mean, hearing! To the rest of us, it sounds like regular speech. It’s an old mnemonic trick, and it works to activate aphasics too…. to a certain extent. We’ve all done it, you perhaps more than others. You set a list of things to remember to music… when you remember the melody, the list comes with it, right? Now the problem is you can’t go around singing all the time… well some people do… Reagan… Buckley, heh heh. So you need a way to conceal completely coherent melodies, real tunes, so that they’re only hinted at when the speech is perceived by the… uninitiated. Deutsch uncovered all of this decades ago. You start by recording yourself saying something and loop fragments of different lengths until you find one that starts to turn into music. It’s magic. Something… corrects itself. Like after a few days of wearing those glasses that flip the world upside-down back to the way the light waves actually hit you in the first place! Stratton glasses. You can no longer hear that passage as anything other than music. And then you listen to what comes before and after and it’s like, you’re bursting into song! Listen to Jack Lemmon in the China Syndrome. It’s practically a Broadway musical when he’s in the room! That’s the magic time he talked about. The kicker is that, since your audience hasn’t had the training, they’re not binding these fragments the way you are. But the melodies, in their non-altered state, if you will, are entering them differently, underground. It’s powerfully seductive. Meanwhile, your speaking style remains the same as it ever was, because you dial back the melodic aspect you’ve discovered until it’s just noticeable. You sort of reverse engineer yourself back into the state you started in, but with a twist. It’s consistent. It’s reliable. And you can remember a whole lot, too!”

The act of describing the phenomenon had buoyed Hertzman, now affecting an energetic disposition proper to a younger, Carl-Sagan-type agent from the 1980s, perhaps working on the fringes of science, paranormally. And the hacking had ceased.

“Let me get to the point, miss. You’re here to listen to speeches in order to detect their melodic undercurrents.”

“You want me to… find melodies?

“Yes. By pinpointing fragments in each speech and listening to them on loop until they give way. You’ll have to judge where the loops start and end. It’ll probably take a little doing at first. The main thing though, is this. At times these melodies align with popular songs, or bits of them anyway… and it’s no accident. If you can hijack, subliminally, an association, a positive association, it’s win-win, for you and the consciousnesses of the people you’ve attracted to your cause. When listeners become participants, hearts and minds are synchronized and health is restored. Ku-ber-ne-tes.

On that word, he looked X right in the eyes, for the first time. A Wesley-Clark-glassy-delusional kind of direct, perhaps useful when the stakes of the matter are being acknowledged.

“Your credentials are impeccable, miss. Can you start tomorrow morning?”

X smiled. “I can.” That was easy, she thought, not that she understood what she had just signed up for. Hertzman pushed a small black storage box towards her. On the front of it, hastily scrawled: Trump.


After crashing at an unexpectedly fleabag motel, X showed up the next morning to room 432, no bigger than a conventional walk-in closet, equipped with a laptop and two high-quality Genelec speakers secured to an awkwardly-sized table and a microphone and stand leaving little room to maneuver. The Trump box contained a shiny metallic orange hard drive on which 126 entries were grouped into two folders, “speeches” and “informal,” the former containing everything from his Republican Nomination acceptance to the Inaugurination and the bizarre announcement of his Supreme Court choice; the latter housing a more heterogeneous blend of “remarks,” “statements” and “conversations.” X had been unable to sleep much, for pondering the implications of the task before her. Anyone could do such a thing and achieve stealthy control of another individual’s attention. True, it could cut in multiple directions, and that was fine for a while. But mostly, she couldn’t face the concept of listening to… that President.

Yet face it she did, and the inaugural speech would inaugurate. The hard drive had only one folder, the computer only one application, STS, represented by a nondescript black square icon. On dragging the file onto it, a spartan interface opened, expanding the clip’s waveform to fit the entire screen. There was a resizable yellow bar at the top of the window for setting loop boundaries. You couldn’t play back without looping. You couldn’t loop a segment under 6 seconds, or over 15 seconds, which constrained things rather specifically. And you couldn’t stop the loop once engaged. You had to wait for it to exhaust the amount of repeats specified in advance, that you entered in a dialog box that popped up once the loop limits determined. A sizeable spectrogram covered the lower half of the screen though it didn’t appear to play a part in the process. The summed effect of these weirdly monomaniacal formalisms and lack of interactivity immediately suggested significant work had already been accomplished on the matter and that X had arrived in medias res to fine-tune. Perhaps.

The mic was another matter. Hertzman told her to record herself singing the found melody, as confirmation of a successful conversion. It’s a tune once you sing it, or so the quantum reasoning seemed to go. “First you subvocalize, then vocalize.” He also told her this singing would be recorded and all other operations in STS meticulously tracked, not for purposes of surveillance he insisted (all too performatively), but to precisely record the various spans of time required for full “turning” (as he put it) and to feed this information into a database. That’s one database I want to hear, X thought.

She received a jolt when listening to the ex-President’s inauspicious inception. His schematic way of speaking, condensed into a limited number of pat phrases, repeated often, fast-tracked him for speech-song conversion therapy. There was music everywhere! Not to mention that the speech format—concerned with projection and expression—already impelled more robustly articulated contours. Maybe Hertzman didn’t think she could handle the more subtle technics of melodic extrication required when dealing with the monotone set. If only he knew.

Still, for a while X remained hypnotized by one particular loop from the NRA speech. “But earlier in the evening remember. Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina. Pennsylvania. All the way up we ran up the East Coast. And you know…” X caught herself singing it, remembering the words, on the way to the can and back. Could this be what Hertzman had in mind? No, too obvious. After all, Trump ran with that electoral night story—and did until the end—squeezing it in wherever and whenever he could, and then some. It had nudged itself toward song by virtue of copious rehearsals.

X found a more promising candidate in the Gorsuch nomination address: “Whose qualities define… really and I mean closely define… what we’re looking for.” It contained a signature turn-of-phrase at its core (“really and I mean”), whose musicality radiated in both directions, infecting recalcitrant speech and gently shoving it towards song. This meant a lot more repetition. For the first time, X registered on a somatic level the inertial aspects of her newfound position. She also noted how the rigidity of the procedure (abetted by digital replication) kept the fragment in place during the ongoing morph, ensuring its smooth incorporation. By the thirteenth or fourteenth repeat, X intuited a shift had taken place, retrospectively noticing her bodily rhythms slowly succumbing to the loop, adopting its intensities as their own. Around the 22nd or 23rd, she gained a sense of what it would feel like to sing this emerging melody, subvocalization kicking in. By the 32nd repeat, X felt secure enough to sing the nascent melody for posterity and surely, she thought, for immediate analysis by her superiors. She now felt a sympathetic connection with this tune. That made sense; she had surfaced it in the first place. This fact by the same token uncomfortably exposed how quickly something can be claimed as one’s own, re-ontologized through incantation. More than imagining yourself producing it, you’ve actually created it. You own it. And then a wave of pure revulsion prompted by the thought of becoming connected in any way to that abject meatsack of a president postponed consideration of the conceptual intrigue this weird binding secreted.


The next day at 9 AM sharp, Hertzman, looking particularly frail, stopped in, shutting the door behind him. An uncomfortable intimacy quickened his pace. He reached into his suit pocket for a small pill bottle. He spoke quickly.

“Some analysts use these. THC. Taking one of these will increase your ability to track down contours. The right hemisphere surges and does the work the left usually suppresses. OK, good day miss.”

Hertzman had already departed by the time X could manage acquiescence. Brute force maneuvers dominated the morning, which meant endless repetition. X set an inordinately high number of them—111—for an altogether hopeless fragment in order to carve out a space to think without drawing attention. Something about Hertzman’s account didn’t sit right. Why would politicians go through the trouble of listening to loops of themselves just to remember a speech? Didn’t they all use teleprompters? And isn’t all of this musicalizing only tantamount to standard expressive and rhetorical tactics that seduce and compel? The motivation for this esoteric undertaking eluded her completely. Nor could she find anything on G. Hertzman except that the G. was for Gig and he had a PhD., and that was all exclusively from the DARPA site. Kubernetes was Greek for steersman. Wiener appropriated it to coin cybernetics.

Nevertheless, the process remained fascinating to X, who had noted Hertzman’s use of the word transmutation, signaling the alchemical realm. X’s preoccupation with slow background transformations in the portentous Chicago soundscape opened her to the language and practice of alchemy, and to the transformation of minds and bodies via particular frequency combinations. The transmutations at play here took place differently. It wasn’t just that sense zeroed out after a certain amount of repeats. Any child knew that from repeating words until they deliriously melt into sonic magma. It was way weirder than that, even creepy. The pitches actually changed, adjusting upwards or downwards in order to conform to frequencies that could bind together to simulate the contours of the system of reference X found herself in, the equal-tempered Western scale. X could feel that slip happening, the percept revising itself in small increments. The melodies became more spaced out in range, as if a veil had been lifted. The tune had been there all along, it only needed surfacing. And it happened rhythmically too. Irrational intervals progressively distorted into synchrony with an implied beat. Slow quantization. Even the more intractable elements of a loop behaved as expressive deviations within a secure meter. X came to believe that it was the speech’s rhythmic profile that first tripped the abductive intuition of melodic potential. Perhaps the only significant precondition lurking in this nebulous process. Still, at times you really had to work it. One particular rhythmic intuition, admittedly faint, took 86 iterations before anything resembling a melody became apparent. It felt like a protracted boiling down, but also the worst kind of enforced pareidolia. X wondered, feeling on shaky cognitive ground, were musicians able to better sniff out cues because of some kind of skewed, hypermelodic umwelt? Was that why she was here?

The binding took, as it always did, especially when one’s tendencies to see things through verged on the masochistic. Before divining a new sequence, X accidentally nicked the spacebar into kicking off playback a few seconds before the last conversion and heard the phenomenon described by Hertzman, the springing into music. Only minutes before had X merely suspected the passage suitable for looping; now it was music, incontrovertibly and totally. The discrete interval, the qualitative jump, flashed in an instant the extent of the disfiguration, how far things had strayed. Something in the background, a weak signal, had been boosted. But these weak signals remained weak signals for anyone who hadn’t gone through the loopy maneuvers that were warping her brain. Despite Hertzman’s contentions of subliminal influence, it wasn’t clear that these covert musicalizations could perform as advertised.

X popped the pill after lunch, in need of other stimulations and a temporary deferral of all these questions. It might not have been the best idea. Now, patterns became manifest the second a passage was singled out, in quantum fashion. And practically any passage would do. Like this one: “Some point in the future we ought-a look back and say how did we do it without space.” The nonsensical sentence slotted itself compliantly into the frame of a stuttering, descending melody: a one-note ostinato on E-flat, moving to D for “we ought-a look back and say how did we do it,” then a doubled C on “without” to finally land on A, for “space,” the largest interval in the sequence. But if it was open season, where were you supposed to set the boundaries paramount for any elusive melody to emerge? Even accounting for the restrictive frame set by STS, no human could possibly assay all the options.


On the morning of the third day, exasperated by two days of stumbling around, X visited Hertzman, who this time instantly broke his ashtray fixation, summoned by her somewhat impulsive entry.


“There must be a way to get there faster. Surely a computer could process the speech, extract possible melodies, compare with existing tunes, a Shazam-like thing, all in milliseconds!”

Hertzman gestured X to sit as Sagan surfaced again, smiling for the first time.

“Heh heh. If it doesn’t take off after one hundred and eleven, it’ll never get there! Hahaha.”

He knew of the temporal transgressions, but continued as if they didn’t bother him.

“It’s not that it can’t be done with computers. We are doing it. As well. The thing is, a computer doesn’t get infected the same way a human does. Do you know about primers?”


“Some musically gifted folks developed odd tics after undergoing absolute pitch experiments. They started spontaneously humming tunes they had never heard before. The theory is that they were… incubation media for earworms later harvested for corporate purposes. Priming for something to come, get it? These primers self-generated the earworms, somehow, and then jettisoned these accursed things by humming them out. It’s a well-known technique. Many subjects had Williams-like dispositions… they were bursting with song and couldn’t wait to spread the earworms around. Their brains and vocal cords both were humming! Amazing generators! The hooks would either catch on, become pervasive, or die out. It was hit and miss, but… essential that the earworms be human generated. Some sort of program for stimulating this generation must have been implanted during the PET scan. Do you understand?”

“What part?”

“That what we’re interested in is the way your particular inclinations modulate the machinic process. Lick used to say ‘it’s the coupling, stupid!’ The computers provide the speed and accuracy, the humans bring flexibility and intuition.”

Hertzman shook his head slowly, caught in a timewarp. “Computers. Heh. Invention, the mother of necessity. We can design speeches, put them in other people’s mouths, which are of course beautifully simulated visually. That was a tough nut to crack. Working on that since the 90s. Sound of course is porous from the get go. I’m assuming you know about VoCo through the consumer end and maybe some of the work we’ve done, though I can’t talk about a lot of it, naturally. Yet, anyway.”

It dawned on X that Hertzman had been singing his last few interventions. Could that be? It seemed implausible that the speech-song effect, which after all required a particularly vigorous kind of shepherding into existence, could jump scale to prime phonic encounters willy-nilly. Surely not after only two days at it? And Hertzman might just plausibly be a master at covert melodicizing, able to slip into that mode at will.

“The truth is, machine audition has not matched the detection sensitivity and flexibility of the human auditory system. You hear into the backgrounds of things, miss. We want to know… how you deal with all of this.”

Hertzman’s speech-melody had slipped into an even more concrete articulation, with a mid-80s affectation, redolent of a cheesy Foster-era Chicago tune.

“The neural circuitry in the temporal lobe that controls pitch salience, right hemi especially, gets aroused while the semantic side retreats. It whisks the speech away from its communicative function towards more shadowy realms of experience.”

Retreats, my ass! X defiantly attended to the content of Hertzman’s florid speech, to reverse the process. A bad feeling came over her, the one that always accompanied an impending crossroads. The melody began to flicker out, the speech crossfading itself back into its unquantized, untempered mode. The veil back on. Fuck. Hertzman had not been speaking any differently than before.

“Broca’s area takes care of the syntactical part. And there’s an intense amount of activity in the motor and pitch areas when you’re looping. Speech and music were neurally one before the secession. Language used the repetition endemic to music to jumpstart itself into existence! Bindings of sounds become words that go on their merry way, while music careens off the deep end.”

“You need musicians… to pick up the melodies, the rhythmic cues, as a shortcut… to jumpstart the process, right?”

“Well… yes and no. Musicians are good at pinpointing but, as it turns out, take longer to convert speech to song. They’ve been conditioned to hear pitch within a relatively rigid framework, which is hard to let go of. The pitch alterations that occur happen slower for them. They detect something in the background, on a pre-conscious level, but can’t close the circuit as quickly. It’s that effort we’re interested in. You’re here in more of… an exploratory capacity. And in no small part because of your software expertise. You have first-hand knowledge of the methods by which one thing can transmute into another. Though I have to say, when you finally did close that circuit, when you sang those melodies out… you fashioned that malarkey into something really gorgeous.”

X contemplated the prospect of being another organism probed for data, a suitable biological medium from which to extract better methods of subliminal control for more insidious persuasion schemes. If I quit, I have to do it now, she thought. And then, having reached that conclusion, another trajectory imposed itself, the way that crossroads, even arbitrarily designed, clarify stakes in an instant. Sure, knowing what operational levels the agency worked on, and what they considered promising lines of investigation, even if completely crackpot, could come in handy. Useful intelligence for blowback ops. And clearly, the insufficiency of Hertzman’s explanations pointed to deeper implications lurking, surely connected to “disruptive technologies for U.S. National Security,” a matter which hadn’t really been explained. There was that primer thing too which, though saturated with the earmarks of a gonzo CIA initiative, appeared to pose certain mysteries for Hertzman, an “all-knowing” type, at least from his demeanor. More visceral motivations clamored. The momentary attunement X felt moments before was signaling something, even if its cause couldn’t be identified with any certainty. It was peculiar enough hearing speech as music after the requisite effort, yet quite another, altogether shocking thing, for the procedure to metastasize into everything, coupled with the even more extraordinary ability to turn the filter off at will, which left X dumbfounded. A weird circuit had been activated, a new form of transit between modes of perception and production that X would want to trip repeatedly, perhaps with this job as useful cover.


X couldn’t believe it. Tony Conrad was standing outside of the main DARPA entrance. He double-taked on catching sight of her, and burst:

“You gotta be kidding! You? Here?

“What do you want me to tell you? Infiltration, maybe? What are you doing here?”

“I figured, when in Arlington, visit DARPA, right? They must have loads of interesting information about things even we never thought to suspect, the paranoids we are! Good thinking, I know. Even people who work there probably don’t know the whole of it. You think I can ask someone about that Cuban thing? What are they getting you to do?”

“Speeches that become songs… politician speech… I spent the day with fucking Drumpf…”

“Oh fuck! Really? Well you know what I always say about melodies. They’re for control! But they’re way out of control now, like hoaxes that perform beyond their intended function. They fuck a whole lot more things up… very proactive. Melodies… they’re major brain operations… quantum operations. When you hear music you’re in the past, present and future at the same time! Temporalities are… what’s that Barad word? Entangled! Hey, what’s your safe song?”

“My what?”

“Your safe song. The one that gets you out of trouble up there, if you know what I mean.”


“Well get one! Mine’s Wild! Dee Dee Sharp. “And I knoooooow…. in the end… you’re gon-na leave me, my friend.

– xenopraxis

Not Bill but Joan

Bill, armed

A few months ago, I traveled to the Performing Arts Forum in St. Erme France. I have been thinking about guns ever since.

I went to talk about sex. The other speaker’s talk was on sects. It would have been funny, that unintended homophone, if it weren’t for the real similarities. If it weren’t for the thing about guns.

Performing Arts Forum isn’t like anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s not a lecture series or an artist’s retreat or a commune, though it could look like any of those from a certain vantage. The lectures at PA-F go on for hours in a free form, open ended monologue. The daily events are written in chalk on a blackboard and changed by anyone at any time. Dinner typically begins at 9 and is prepared by a crew of chefs and whomever happens to wander into the kitchen looking for an espresso. For a few years when I was a teenager I was lucky enough to attend a sleep away summer camp at a relaxed hippy place with no required activities and lots of time to find yourself. PA-F is a little like that.

Anyway. As a part of his talk on sects, the other speaker, Jason, told a story about the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan-I Sabbah. The story was, I think, intended to exemplify the indistinct border between magical and charismatic efficacy. To the best of my memory, it went something like this: The followers of the Old Man of the Mountain believed in his powers with notable fervor. One day, a visitor to Alamut asked how Hassan-I Sabbah could be certain of the powers he claimed to wield. In response, he instructed one of his disciples to throw himself off the edge of the mountain, which the disciple did without hesitation. Neither Hassan-I Sabbah nor his visitor checked on the disciple’s fate, but the point was clear enough. If magic is the power to make things happen, then Hassan-I Sabbah’s magic was real. And beyond that? Well, we are in any case not given to know.

These disciples are of course those famous killers the Assassins who close the invocation with which William Burroughs opens his revolutionary time travel-occult detective-pirates, plague, and pederasty novel Cities of the Red Night. After calling on magical entities of many periods and regions, Burroughs ends the invocation by dedicating the book “to all the scribes and artists and practitioners of magic through whom these spirits have been manifested…NOTHING IS TRUE EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.” That final capitalized phrase may now be most familiar from the video game Assassin’s Creed, but it came to Burroughs via Aleister Crowley, who took it from Fredreich Nietzsche, who took it from the Old Man of the Mountain.

In other words, guns and magic. From sects to sex, with an interval of philosophy. I have no problem with the sex, of course, and certainly no qualms at all about philosophy. It’s the sects that bother me.

Here’s another example. Genesis Breyer P-orridge appears in a studio photo for Throbbing Gristle wearing a shirt that says “Free Men Bear Arms.” In another, later photograph, the older and genderqueered Gen appears with Lady Jaye. Both have automatic weapon pendant necklaces dangling down their chests.

Gen, armed

I have no idea what to say about this.

I feel foolish. Of course the guns have always been there. I just didn’t see them.

Worst of all, it’s not just a matter of figuring out how to unsee the guns–as if I could ever live with that–but of reckoning with the real similarities. Because force is prominent in all of these domains–guns, magic, and philosophy. I could name it “will”, I suppose, though “force” is the term I use throughout my own writing, citing Deleuze or citing Foucault. Relations of force. Fields of force. Of course there are guns. Of course I have my own arsenal. It just pleases me to call it rhetoric.

So I’ve been thinking about it, and one thing that has come clear to me in the months since my time at PA-F is that I can’t do this work, still less the project that brought me to the Occulture, if I can’t find my way through this problem.

And yes this is a version of the Pepe/Kek dilemma. I thought I understood how to see my way through it, but I don’t. So here I am.

At least I have company. Other people seem to be confronting versions of this problem in their own ways, and those conversations seem to center around Nick Land. So here’s what some other people have been saying lately. Maybe something here will help.

Nick Land interviewed by Marko Bauer and Andrej Tomazin:

–>tl;dr Land is fascinating and convincing except when he sounds like he might have voted to restrict access to abortion

Alexander Galloway on Accelerationism compared to Xenofeminism:

–>tl;dr It’s titled Brometheanism

Amy Ireland on Nick Land:

–>tl;dr This is not some one-off blog post. It is all that Amy Ireland brilliance.

McKenzie Wark on Nick Land:

–>tl;dr “Land achieved notoriety in recent years as a prophet of Neo-reaction. I’m not going to say much about those texts, although they do pose questions for reading the early work.”


ex post facto ex ante

Ah, coffee. The espresso maker hisses at me and I’m glad to interrupt my reverie. A friend once remarked that coffee could be the foundation of an ontology. He never followed up. Neither did I. But what was I thinking about? Right, I was imagining how the heated air spilling from a vent onto my kitchen floor sounds like a thousand whispers, the furtive clamour of a people who speak only in rumors: a pure language of noise. But it strikes me now, thinking again about this sibilous din of plosives and continuants, that whispers pulse and surge in exactly the way that paperweights don’t. Whispered rumors are more like flames. They’re seemingly nothing, flickering in and out of existence, yet burning nevertheless. No wonder Bachelard thought that fire could be psychoanalyzed (or rather, that “our convictions about fire” could). And it’s ironic how this thought of fire and the unconscious is chilling, so chilling that I get a shiver down my spine, which some call “frisson.”

Some also call frission a “skin orgasm.” But the latter hasn’t stuck. Maybe because it’s just too accurate and we’re not prepared to think about orgasmic events taking place outside of those activities it pleases us to call sexual. Better to use the alien frission, I suppose. Its “pleasant tingling feeling” or “emotional thrill” doesn’t make us think what an orgasm makes us think. Which ideally is nothing. But this is a little ironic given that “thinking off” has become a new form of sex and because a skin orgasm is itself a kind of thought—thought incarnate, a thinking in the skin. And it moves. A shiver crawls down my spine, spreads across my arms, climbs up my neck, and pushes through my scalp. Sometimes it even pulses. Like an orgasm. A shiver down my spine has a rhythm. Like a song stuck in my head. The expression, I mean. But I suppose the thought, too. The stuck song, that is. I guess thinking in general has a rhythm. Woolf, thought so. “I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot,” she wrote. But she must have thought this, too. I’ve also tried to think a rhythm:

Now we are safe … Now you trail away … Now you lag … Now they have all gone … Now the cock crows like a spurt of hard, red water in the white tide … Now we must drop our toys … Now they suck their pens … They wag their tails; they flick their tails; they move through the air in flocks, now this way, now that way, moving all together, now dividing, now coming together … Now the terror is beginning … Now I cannot sink … Now grass & trees … Now the tide sinks … Now my body thaws … Now we are off … Now I hang suspended without attachments. We are nowhere.”

I filched these bits from The Waves for Ludic Dreaming. The former is festooned with all types of nows that Woolf makes exotic. The latter’s nows, however, are not at all exotic. They’re completely ordinary. In fact, they’re infra-ordinary. Mine are endotic nows, the kind that Perec would find exceptionally unexceptional. Either way it still seems that where there are rhythms there are no wrong words. Bucket. But that isn’t hugely insightful, especially because my nows are just an abstraction of Woolf’s. Which is to say an abstraction of the rhythm of The Waves. Which is curious because The Waves is itself an abstraction of the rhythm of the waves. Which is even more curious since the waves—the spumey and spindrifty kind—are abstractions of tidal and atmospheric fluctuations. Rhythm it seems is abstraction all the way down. And strangely concrete, too, for the paradoxical reason that rhythm is the consistency we abstract from a world of continuous change. It’s why we hear “tick tock,” not “tick tick.” And it’s why a sequence of follicular erections is a shiver, not a pinch. But then there’s that song stuck in my head. It doesn’t tick tock. And it doesn’t shiver either. It doesn’t even really begin or end. Its comings are as unnoticed as its goings, which is to say that it doesn’t really go anywhere. It also doesn’t really do anything. But isn’t all thought nothing? “Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant.” This is a thought Ann Leckie had. Well, it’s a thought that the character Justice of Toren’s ancillary One Esk Nineteen had in Leckie’s sci-fi novel Ancillary Justice. A thought is nothing unless an effect can be deduced from its being had—”however insignificant.” A song stuck in my head must be even less than nothing, then, because its being had again suggests its being had the first time amounted to nothing. That is unless the mere fact that a thought about a song follows a previous thought about the same song “quasi-causes” the condition of “being stuck.” But if this is so then it’s only so ex post facto. And this would make “being stuck” an event that can only be extracted and expressed from a series of listening-like thoughts about the same song. In other words, “being stuck” can never be presented, can never be now. Like a law or a rule. Which is probably why it’s so difficult to shake the feeling that thought without deed or course of action is still causally efficacious. For instance, that my thoughts of white noise and rumors led to thoughts of flames and psychoanalysis, which in turn gave rise to the idea of a chilling fire, shivers down my back, and songs stuck in my head obviously substantiates a causal sequence. But there’s nothing about this sequence to suggest that it develops according to any rule or law, strict or non-strict. The mere exhibition of causal efficacy is enough to promote the semblance of a law. And a semblance of law is good enough for a corrigible mind. Honestly, who wouldn’t be seduced by the truth-value of “if not ‘p’ then no ‘q’”? It’s a counterfactual truth, but a truth nevertheless. Which is why life understood backwards (Kierkegaard) is always true. Which means that lived forwards life is never true. Which is not to say that it’s false but simply exempt from having to be true. Or obliged to deal with facts, for that matter since facts are a matter of understanding. Sounds great. But without the air of truth life chokes on its sheer happenstance. Which is to say that understanding breathes life into life by sparing it from actually being lived. But then again, who has ever not lived who has understood? Understanding is a kind of living. It’s life lived ex post facto ex ante—after the fact in anticipation. What else could it be? Call this living “knowing,” or better yet, call it make believe. Either way what’s lived as understanding is an abstraction. Like a melody. Which is kind of a lie, or, as Bachelard says, a “temporal perfidy”: “While it promised us development, it keeps us firmly within a state. It takes us back to its beginning and in doing so, gives us the impression that we ought to have predicted where it was going.” I suppose this means that knowing what one’s doing is a perfidy of sorts. What is knowing but a way of keeping oneself in a state of certainty, a state of suspended experimentation that brings one back to statements of fact which give the impression that what one thinks makes sense? So had I known what I was doing when I wrote this, what I was thinking about when I started plotting out one idea after the other, I should have given myself the impression that what I was doing made sense. But here I am, at the end of it, neither firmly in a state nor clearly at the beginning, and I can tell you with absolute uncertainty that this did not make any sense.


Tuning Speculation V (Nov. 2017)

Tuning Speculation V: Vibratory (Ex)changes

17-19 November 2017 at Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave., Toronto (Canada)

Plenary Speakers: Johnny Golding and Rasheedah Phillips

Organized by The Occulture (David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest, and Rebekah Sheldon)

If the din of sonic and vibrational ontologies has catalyzed a salutary expansion of the vectors through which the world is (never) made sensible, it has also risked speaking, echoing, and amplifying the disquieting murmurs and groans of contemporary neoliberal biopolitics such that sounds of the latter are, paradoxically, inaudible as such. If this is the case, then what is the relationship between a vibro-capitalism that is heard in and as contemporary politics and a vibrocapitalist impulse that drives and ratifies the reality of those same elements? Put differently, on what does vibration exchange?

Maybe it’s time to forget the future, which was always a hallucinatory mnemotechnical destiny anyways; instead, the tuning is now and it brings with it questions that can only be (un)heard at scales that never quite sound. We therefore seek contributions from scholars, artists, writers, activists and comedians who take seriously the ethical, political, or phenomenal capacities —possibly impossible, and likely unlikely—that are opened, foreclosed, amplified, attenuated, dampened, resonated, remixed, or otherwise called forth at the nexus of vibration and exchange, however broadly conceived. While several approaches can catalyze our speculations, we propose to concentrate on sounding art—broadly understood—in order to leverage the fated semiotic parasitism, differential production, relational expression, and perceived multiplicity that informs such practices. We also welcome various reflections on sono­distractions, phonochaosmosis, ’patasonics, harmelodic­prescience, audio pragmètics, chronoportation, h/Hypermusic, rhetorical modes of speculation and other invocations of impossible, imaginary, and/or unintelligible aural (dis)encounters.

Please send an abstract (maximum 250 words) to by 1 August 2017.  In addition, given that we will be making multiple funding applications to support travel for all presenters, please include the following with your abstract: short bio (150 words), your affiliation, and a summary of academic degrees. Notification of acceptance will be given in early August.

Tuning Speculation V is generously supported by York University through the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and the Department of Humanities.


Alternating Veracity

Reason, n., an imaginary process onto which the responsibility for thinking is off-loaded.

— René Daumal, A Night of Serious Drinking.

1.0—My two cents—though it’s worth recognizing that in Canada the penny has long been abolished, meaning that what follows is destined to be rounded down to an eventual sum of nothing. The outcome, then, is decidedly less important than the process of rounding.

1.1—The age of intelligible solutions is over … again. It’s as if history is on repeat, only this time it’s not the late-twentieth century postmodernists proclaiming the death of truth out of radical undecidability, but the political flag-waving of an emergent class of proliferating false-sayers. Except that’s not quite right, since post-truth is also post-falsity and the most radical implications of undecidability are phenomenological not epistemological. That doesn’t really make sense, but the situation doesn’t either, so in some ways it’s deeply unclear whether sense is good anymore as a tool for trying to understand the actual dynamics of the political world that is currently in play.

1.2—Foucault taught us that there is no better strategy for population management than uncertainty. Whether oversight is governmental or corporate probably makes little difference. A population whose facts are up for grabs—even if they see and resent those who disseminate the alternative, and even if misinformation and “alternate facts” make no attempt to actually argue their points—doubts their facts. This emergence of doubt problematizes mobilization since uncertainty ultimately interferes with organizational capacity. The point of (politically-disseminated) uncertainty, seen in this way, is not to challenge truth, but to undermine solidarity. In other words, uncertainty is not only an ontological category; it is a social category.

1.3—Only this isn’t really quite right. Let me try again.

2.0—The fact of the matter is that facts don’t really matter like they used to. It’s not to suggest that facts don’t materialize in certain ways, nor that certainty doesn’t certainly weigh-in regarding which facts tend more or less towards mattering. However, at the same time, certainty has nothing but irreverence for the facts, as it must, given that certainty is the lived materialization of fact seen after-the-fact. My point is not to confuse the issue, but to refuse to simply draw a line at the self-evidence of facticity, and to have that be a line drawn well. The point is reinforced by the (arguable) fact that facts, in fact, don’t matter even to themselves, being as they are—or as they declare themselves to be—beyond the matter of interpretation. If a fact is actually a fact, then it precisely does not matter since it informs the context of matter before mattering even gets there. Facts don’t matter because they are ostensibly beyond mattering. Facts care nothing about matter.

2.1—Baudrillard taught us that it’s ineffective to try to fight falsity with truth. This is because truth is—ultimately—a concept whose implementation will always remain accountable to the facts upon which it is proclaimed. Falsity is different, since it’s immanently unaccountable to truth, even as it masquerades as a viable alternative. Falsity is not un-true; it is simply indifferent to the facts. Or, to put it differently, truth cares about falsity more than falsity cares about truth. Think about it as a relationship metaphor—it will probably not end well for truth, the needier partner.

3.0—A recent meme showed a group of turkeys dancing in strange ways around a dead cat. The turkeys formed a circle around the cat, walking slowly in a seemingly ritualistic loop—an ironic reversal of the usual scenario in which a dead turkey is surrounded by a family of hungry diners. But circles on repeat are spirals and spirals as diagrams are representations of process rather than outcome. It’s thinking around a situation that cannot quite be determined by evidence alone.

3.1—A cautionary tale: the scientists insisted that the turkeys were circling because they didn’t know what else to do. Circling, then, might be seen as a form of engaging with uncertainty, or, perhaps better, of manifesting a stance regarding uncertainty. The circling dance of the turkeys holds at bay the facticity of the situation, retaining undecidability while incanting a collective response.

4.0—In René Daumal’s tale of the phoenix, the mystical bird does not rise from the ashes, but crashes backwards through time into a burst of flame. The seeming miracle of the phoenix rising is due simply to a misunderstood point of perspective: the fact is that this bird—for whatever reason—actually travels backwards through time instead of forwards. The reality of the phoenix, then, is to move through life in reverse and to unbind itself from the stream of time such that it lives backwards.

4.1—The explanation doesn’t entirely resolve the story of course, since after crashing into a burst of flame—seen from our timeline—the phoenix still rises. Unless, that is, the crash point is reversible such that at the moment of crash, the phoenix’s timeline also inverts. Time degree zero. The phoenix circles the crash, caught in the gravitational orbit of the moment where it periodically bursts into flames.

5.0—Vilem Flusser argued that photographs are post-historical because photographs undermine the fluidity of the timeline that we call history. They claim to represent time, but in fact they betray temporality by pretending to represent it. Alternate time, or the image seen as the crash of history.

5.1—Recent theories of memory suggest that remembrance is not really a passive recall of stored data, but that every time we remember something we also rewrite it, even if only slightly. It’s a computational metaphor in so far as opening a file often involves making subtle changes and then resaving. The new file overwrites the previous one. They are perhaps not that different, but what differences emerge reveal the mistake at the core of the very concept of an interactive archive. Memory is not interactive: to remember is to betray the integrity of the memory itself. Or to change its direction.

6.0—Alternating current (AC) is a form of electricity in which the current in a circuit periodically reverses direction. Unlike DC electricity, the voltage of an AC circuit current can be easily increased or decreased by using a transformer, allowing an efficient high voltage transmission of power that is then stepped-down to lower, safer (consumer-grade) voltages for everyday use. In other words, AC electricity is made to be flexible, interactive, subject to transformations of intensity, and customized to a variety of applications.

6.1—There is a metaphor here that I have yet to develop fully. For the moment, suffice it to say that AC current may have analogical potential for the questions of truth, falsity, and uncertainty. The idea would be to create an AC form of thought that might be stepped-up or –down, reversed or transformed, into a power source for intellectual speculation. Alternating veracity is truth that is designed to be interactively transformed and customized in ways that embrace the needs of a user or community.

7.0—Last week the scientific community announced the discovery of time crystals: periodic repetitions in the fabric of time, once thought to be impossible figments of a technical imagination. The discovery is significant because it demonstrates the existence of a new state of matter: a “non-equilibrium phase” in which matter at its lowest energy state (zero-point energy) moves without any expenditure of energy. Temporal asymmetry—or movement without effort. In the same way as the atoms of a crystal repeat in physical space, the configurations of a time crystal repeat in time, suggesting a sort of (temporally) alternating materiality as a ground state of matter.

7.1—Time crystals break the principle of time-translation symmetry: the idea that the laws of physics will yield the same results at any given moment in time. Time crystals exhibit temporal variation without energy expenditure, becoming an exception to the rule of equilibrium and in so doing rewriting the rules in ways that demand a sensitivity to “non-equilibrium” states of matter (and perhaps, by extension, of mind as well).

8.0—We’re all saying similar things, circling the facts of the matter as if they mattered all the while knowing that we care much more about them than they do about us.

8.1—When Rebekah Sheldon  proposes “xeno” as a methodology of thought, I take it not as a comment on the strangeness of thinking as it normally unfolds, but as a challenge to the mystical edge that thought summons every time it makes an utterance. Xeno is the phoenix crashing—it is a moment of temporal reversibility—a statement that comes from somewhere, but that implodes only to become what we already knew it to be. “Meme-magicians of the white right”? Sure. But also the reverse—politics taken aesthetically: only this time conceived as a tool of resistance. Xeno as counter-magic.

8.2—When David Cecchetto suggests the idea of shaving his teeth as a metaphor for the conflation of logic and affect, all I can think of is how it’s so much more than a metaphor. It’s like nails on a chalkboard, or Styrofoam being broken in half. It’s visceral, material, matter-of-fact, even thought there is no fact to the matter. These are things that should not unnerve me, but they do. Without rational cause, but with actual effect. This is an alternate veracity—the effects are real even if the cause is not.

8.3—When Marc Couroux argues that the current political climate is marked by an attempt to garner the greatest amount of attention with the least amount of effort, he is not—in my estimation—making a political observation, but an artistic one. If individuals have become “relays” then the real question is about which forms of information—real or not—are taking hold. We are far beyond an economy of attention; we are in a situation where facts are literally drawn with (our) attention.

9.0—I am circling a cat that may or may not be dead, having crashed backwards in time into the ball of flames that is illuminating the present moment and may periodically return to illuminate future present moments in similar ways. Sensical strategy will be of little use on its own when it comes to navigating this terrain. We could draw it as a spiral, imagining a circle that builds outwards—an imagination crystal whose purpose is to leverage the occulting potential of occluded ways of thinking. Communities bound by the attempt to imagine together are not bound either to fact or to alternate fact. They are tied instead to the engagement that gives momentum to a collective process of circling.



Deep Throat was slouched against a pillar at the north end of the underground parking lot we used to meet in. It had been over 40 years, but the vagaries of chronoportation made it seem like just yesterday that we had gathered in the detritus of the crumbling Nixon administration. When early warning signs began to surface in the folds of the incipient Trump regime—war on the press and an “enemies list”, the Attorney General firing (redolent of the Saturday Night Massacre), vindictive leaks, generalized paranoid disposition—I thought it prudent to flag DT in the usual way, by sending out a tweet I knew would meet its target: “A friend in need is worth two in the bush.”

DT evidently needed to get this stuff off his chest as quickly as I wanted to hear it. He wasted no time. I had missed his familiar nicotine rasp. “The alt-right can’t believe their luck. We’ve witnessed a comedy of errors performed by individuals who don’t realize their status as relays. Pepe was a stupid frog before Hillary, or her campaign rather, consolidated its totally uncoordinated associations into an operational white supremacist meme. All kinds of bad adjacencies came from that particular shout out. Look who’s getting press beyond their wildest dreams. The obstruction of Milo’s Berkeley thing consecrated him as a free speech advocate and hapless victim of censorship. Touching… And thanks to Time, reporting on one insignificant rally, Lügenpresse, a Nazi-era neologism is back in style. Look at it travel now. And on and on. It’s incredible. Such disproportionate attention for so little effort. The network is the intelligent agent in this story. These are people caught off guard by their sudden ascendency to power. But you better believe some of them already have a pretty sophisticated understanding of how… thought-forms gain traction. It makes me sick to admit it… but Trump was right about one thing: people don’t understand the internet. There actually have been fewer executive orders than in Obama’s first month, but everything amps up so quickly now… 8 years makes a lot of difference to a relayist. Heh.”

I mumbled something about the lack of cannily infectious alt-left memes as countermeasures, quickly summoning DT’s devastating eyeroll.

“Make your countermemes! You might get lucky. But it’s going to start to feel like a futile activity, upping the ante with no foreseeable end to it. And all that time, you’re training algorithms, fine-tuning them with every one of your contributions. Machine learning. You toss these things into the social media feedback vortex and they either intensify… stimulate other lines of pursuit, or die off when replaced by the next thing. The same tactics Anonymous used in their 4chan stage are now popping up with a distinct alt-right flavor-of-the-month. Same logics, different valencing. People are watching especially closely for how this shit territorializes. Material effects. It’s like what happens when tics escaping from the motor system’s random noise generator unexpectedly become conscious. You remember the Times a year after Shock and Awe, oh so contrite, “sorry about the cheerleading.” Retractions never cut it once the hyperstitional card has been played and effects have multiplied a thousandfold. You think sober rationality is supposed to dial it all back just like that? Heh. Christ, The Daily Show has scads of interns trawling through limitless archives to catch contradictions, and yet the President’s handlers can’t be bothered to clean up the deleterious flotsam and jetsam, like tweets expressing the exact opposites of his current positions? Or are they ordered not to? The paradigm has shifted, baby. Milo got it good though… taken down by a 16-year old girl! I’m not saying things never backfire…”

Gitanes drag. Time to get a word in. “But Trump…

“Pfft, Trump! Trump is a… surface. The first few weeks were pinging time. His handlers feed him key words to emphasize in his appearances, which are carefully scripted make no mistake, and then run some pretty sophisticated analytics to see how they play. His vocabulary is so limited it’s a default position anyway. It’s pure mètis. That’s the Ancient Greek practice of cunning intelligence. Economy of effort. Leveraging existing conditions, to achieve… wildly incommensurate effects. The Muslim ban. A gauche mess, you say? Or did they make sure it was unconstitutional, to see how much pushback would entail? In the meantime, the real game-runners are using these forms of restricted chaos to craft more meticulously duplicitous policy. They and their machines are learning. But that… meatsack in the Oval Office is ultimately uncontrollable. He’ll bury himself. Someone will get hold of his Echo feeds or something heh heh…”

Restricted chaos?”

“Yeah. You know, fake news… disinformation, which is more accurate. There are pingers everywhere, seeing how plausible a rumor has to be to stick around long enough to jump scale. Pizzagate. These incursions are relatively short lived… and their remit is restricted. It’s mostly obfuscation, generating a sea of distracting similes that make it impossible to establish any kind of coherent position. Here’s something to pass around your circles. There’s evidence that exposure to constant low-level meaningless noise actually damages the brain’s capacity to perceive speech subtleties. A few branches have been talking about this. The researchers meant noise acoustically, you know like living next to an airport. But the expression applies. These equivocations, turnarounds, hasty maneuvers—which are perfectly crafted, I repeat—Bannon is a media whiz and don’t forget it—psyops, man… These constant disturbances are causing brain damage. The cut-up artist has to understand that.”

“You can check up on these… reports.”

“Sure, but like I said, the effect has already taken hold. It’s constantly taking hold. It’s a relatively insuperable thing. And debunking takes time, besideswhich.”

“Why not just give as good as you’re getting?”

DT shook his head. “You need something a couple steps ahead… or before. Memes, disinformation, fake news are only the surfaced edge of what I’m talking about. Meanwhile, the deep state continues to chug along. You’re not worried enough. Where are the psychoacoustic tacticians? Where is alt-DARPA in all of this? I’ll give you this: the fact that one of these pro-Trump meme campaigns was instigated and bankrolled, secretly, by a high profile individual in the virtual reality industry, which is already shall we say invested in rewiring perception, should already tell you a lot. It’s the compact between technics, the brain and control that needs your attention. The compact that intervenes before consciousness can do anything about it. Creating the right ambient conditions to rearrange all kinds of concepts. How do you make something inaudible? Now that’s a question. I don’t mean acoustically, but… psyoptically! DARPA is all over the map in terms of what they’re looking at, and they will continue to be, Republican or Democratic administrations alike. And their type of chaos is… more comprehensive. To see these Democrats openly singing the praises of the deep state—‘our brave CIA operatives’—is truly terrifying. Look at Stuxnet, for fuck’s sake! Ugh… And remember too that Watergate wasn’t about dirty tricks, it was about protecting the deep state. The people really running the show are already making inroads to it, even while they berate the agencies publically… Certain factions are keeping information from Trump now. Like I said, it’s increeeedible.”

That look of blank desolation washed over DT, the one that always surfaced after meeting with Kissinger. Change the subject.

“Did you see the Face2Face ventriloquy thing that was making the rounds a few months ago…”

“Hm! That’s more like it. At the bureau, we call it the rubicon.” He pulled out his phone. “Rubicon. ‘A limiting line that when crossed commits a person irrevocably.’ It wasn’t so long ago that people were saying you can engineer a plausibly real fake recording with consumer software that could dance around any edit detection script, but where visual duplicity is concerned, forget about it. Well we’re there. And you of course know about what they call photoshop for audio, that listens to you speak for a half-hour and then can speak anything in your voice. It can take over from you as long as you feed it a script. Another rubicon. Sound plus image. There you go. The timing… and combination… adjacency of these advances with this particular administration is kairotic… but they’re only the continuation of something deeply abiding. It gets to the point where the average person doesn’t even know what they don’t know in terms of future, or even present capabilities. You’ve got computational models that analyze Facebook “likes.” With 150, it knows you better than your partner. What about a thousand? It knows what you want before you even know it. Bannon’s big data affiliations and dark web obsessions married to a belief in immutable economic cycles worthy of fucking Kondratiev, all suggest a man willing to dissolve the state into a machinic cybernetic operation, without checks or balances. Meanwhile, Facebook—an agent actively carrying out psychological experimentation on you without your consent—wants to be… a nanny state? Oh… I’m exhausted just thinking about it. These enhancements are outpacing… have outpaced our ability to grasp their operation. These are portals. Their xeno—…”

A massive tire screech instantly turned my head. (Machinic interpellation?) In the time it took to fleetingly glimpse the tail of a vehicle careening up the exit ramp, DT had volatilized.

NEXT EPISODE: How To Build an Egregor That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.

Halloween Tooth-Shaving in the Pre-Dawn of the Trumposcene

Halloween Tooth-Shaving in the Pre-Dawn of the Trumposcene[1]


On the last night of October 2016, having already considered shaving my teeth, I found myself at a Halloween party in Washington, DC, USA. I was joking there with a woman who wore a Donald Trump mask and costume. We weren’t laughing about the mask itself or what it portended, but were just indulging in the then typical pre-election guffaws about Trump’s racism and general xenophobia. We were each very different from the other—personally, politically, intellectually, etc.—but easily enough found common ground in the general non-alt-rightness that scaffolded a comfortable left plateau in that time and place.

I’d already intimated a Trump victory three days prior to the Halloween party, when my arrival in DC catalyzed a dream that I re-told to anyone who would listen in the subsequent days leading up to the election. In it, I catch sight of Trump standing alone at a social gathering, and decide to go troll him a bit. As we’re talking though, my jabs are failing to land and, despite my initial comportment, I actually find myself increasingly charmed by him, ultimately to the point of a full-fledged infatuation. Even in the dream I know this is a ridiculous way to feel, but in the manner of such infatuations I simply can’t help it. Meanwhile, Trump is physically growing as we speak, so that the course of our conversation is one in which I am increasingly charmed by him and he is increasingly enormous. It is only when he reaches a height of over 20 ft. that my feelings turn back to my initial distaste, but by that time he is too tall to hear what I’m saying and I am left shouting fruitlessly into his crotch (or rather, small mercies, the crotch of his beige slacks). When I woke up from the dream, I not only knew what was coming down the electoral pipeline, I knew that it was coming via a particular kind of reversal.

The truth is, not a day goes by that I don’t consider shaving my teeth. Not ‘consider’ as in rationally calling the question—who still believes that story?—but rather in the truest sense of the term, the sense in which one pits oneself against a determination of the constellate stars (i.e. [con] sīder-, stem of sīdus star). In my consideration, then, I experience the fated paring away of my tooth enamel, and then deny myself the action. It’s hard to complain about such trivialities in times such as these, but I’ll at least note that this isn’t the most pleasant part of my day.

This problem (pro – ballein, or ‘thrownness’) started simply enough: when I bought my first razor I kept it for a single night in a cup, next to my toothbrush. The first time I picked my toothbrush out of the now shared cup I had to actively select against the razor, which wriggled into my teeth-oriented psyche in precisely this moment of deselection: in choosing to brush my teeth, I chose not to shave them, and the bond was thereafter forged. I’ve long since moved my razor to a separate location—a different drawer altogether. But though the results are hygienically salutary, the experience sticks. A toothbrush is forever a nonrazor in my morning ablutions, and that ‘non’ (like most, if not all nons) is experientially parenthetical.

This reiterated (and painful) quotidian experience recalls a key element of the condition of listening, which is always a (compulsive) striving towards something that never occurs. That is, to listen is (among other things) to hallucinate a sound the reality of which is equally as imaginary as it is physical (though no less real for this fact). To be clear, this is not merely an argument about how hearing becomes meaningful, though one could certainly frame musical listening in this way, which is to say as a collective imagination of the type of meaning that is implied by form. More than this, though, listening is materially hallucinatory, in that the physical and neurological activities that constitute hearing do so through processes of filtering and transduction that literally require a difference between the gestalt of what is heard (i.e. inclusive of the imagination) and any grammatization of it (spectrogrammatic or otherwise). This process is also non-reversible, and thus extremely ‘lossy’ from an informational perspective.

The similarities with my shaved teeth are clear enough: if listening profiles an experience that never occurs, the psychedelic adjacency catalyzed by the proximity of my toothbrush and razor to one another likewise indicates an experience that occurs in its nonoccurence. And yet, filtering and deselection aren’t quite the same thing, and the difference is one that matters in this case: to insist on the hallucinatory element of listening is to describe something of the tendency to scale down to one’s perceptual capacities while simultaneously imagining up to the world, which is to say to describe a world that flows from a prior hallucination of identities (human and otherwise) that are compelled to listen. In being dramatically more personal though, my shorn teeth push this prior hallucination to the fore: unlike the filtering I highlighted with hearing, the temporality of deselection is primary: in a very real sense, that ‘I’ that brushes my teeth is produced after the fact of the impersonal though pointed sensation of scraping tooth enamel. It’s the only thing that makes the latter bearable: there is nobody who has to bear it, because it exists in the form of a thought that hasn’t yet landed on its thinker.

At the Halloween party in 2016, my laughter soon enough turned to—or really, was supplemented by—horrified disbelief. The jokes about xenophobia in general led to my derisively pointing out the car outside with two bumper stickers, one promoting Hillary Clinton and the other the local NFL team with a racist name. As happens when one derides at parties, the car was my interlocutor’s. Remarkably, though, she insisted that she wasn’t offended because she agreed the name was “a bit racist.” She felt okay about it because, in the end the racist name was a good thing because it “encouraged discussion about the historical prejudice against natives (sic).” And there we had it: a perfect precession of a simulacrum, spoken from a mask that turned out to be more about its dissimulations than anything else. Masks all the way down, yes, but also something else…something of a relationally constituted (pre)invariant that I’ve often thought about while having not shaved my teeth.





[1] A colleague of mine coined this term in recent conversation, but I expect she’d prefer it not be attributed to her. In any case I’m sure others have used it too.





xeno-, comb. form.

Before a vowel xen-, repr. Greek ξενο-, ξεν-, combining form of ξένος a guest, stranger, foreigner, adj. foreign, strange; used in various scientific and other terms including, e.g. peculiar accessories; cross-species disease; symbiosis and parasitism; a snake genus; metamorphic mineral defacement or partial fusion; foreign rule; disease vectors allowed to feed on pathogens in sterile laboratory environments; a type of diagnostic comparison; cross-fertilization; germline engineering and the products thereof; taking its origin from outside the body, as in a disease or a tissue graft; glossolalia; emotional or sexual obsession with the foreign; a gastropod mollusk; a kind of fish with spineless fins, scaleless skin, and a complex sucking-disk between the ventral fins; mineral deposits found at high temperatures; an inactive virus; an armadillo; extraterrestrial life forms or the study thereof

Etymologically, XENO is trans. As graft, cut, intrusion, or excession, XENO names the movement between and the moving entity. It is the foreign and the foreigner, the unexpected outside, the unlike offspring, the other within, the eruption of another meaning. If the uncanny marks the hideous return as if new of what was always already known, the groundwork whose repression allows the enclosure of a domestic interior, XENO is of its own order. It is a foreign agent, speaking its own tongue, keyed to its own purposes. XENO may be incorporated, manipulated, solicited, seduced, and emplaced, but it would be a mistake to imagine that it is known. Snake, fish, mollusk, armadillo, heat changed rock, inactive virus, XENO slithers, swims, slides, infects, inhabits, holds up and withholds. It moves across; it infects as it moves; but it is not infected in turn. It generates transitions from which it itself is immune. It is trans-obdurate.

Trans-obdurate, XENO neither fools nor colludes; XENO gifts. What then of XENO as method?

I’ve been stuck on this question. It is, after all, quite a moment to be interested in the occult(ure), when even the U.S. Democratic nominee for the presidency finds herself responding to the meme magicians of the white right. XENO forms one part of the name of Nick Land’s neoreactionary blog; it’s one appellation of The Occulture; and it is the name the feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks gives to its manifesto. In this matrix of reference, XENO appears side-by-side with hyperstition, techno-culture, Cthulhu, and the occult; they travel together. Meme magic works by invocation, image dissemination, and gematria. When Hillary Clinton’s team took to their webpage to explain the racist implications of Pepe the Frog in the Deplorables meme circulated by DJT Jr. on Twitter, they cited the hyperstitional character of Pepe’s reclamation by fascists.

“We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda,” wrote an anonymous source quoted in the story. “We built that association.”


The story didn’t describe the further occult association of Pepe with Kek, a frog-headed Egyptian deity of chaos and darkness. A  hyperstition in its own right, the Pepe-Kek connection further sediments the anti-Semitism of the original by aligning Kek with the denial of the enslavement of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. In this yet further twist, Kek repudiates the Passover story as itself an elaborate hyperstition designed to discredit the Old Gods of polytheism.

So what’s a fat, queer, half-jewish, antiracist, anticapitalist feminist theorist to do with her project on queer magic now that the whole boodle has been taken over by neofascists? This is obviously not anywhere close to the most pressing question of this political moment. But it is mine.

That’s more or less why I’ve been thinking about xeno- as method. To open to the outside, to work what is itself trans-obdurate, as method, is always also to welcome chaos and darkness. Chaos and darkness, though very often used as empty signifiers of defiant resistance, can be given quite precise specifications in this context, and ones that have little to do with the sort of masculinism that takes the autonomy of the willing individual as its ideal. XENO as method implies a horizon of action that cannot be determined at the outset. It is dark in the sense that it operates without the assurance of full knowledge and it is chaotic because it presumes that the force of the other is always wholly other.

The hateful, supremacist joke of Pepe-Kek meme magic is just another in a long succession of patriarchal projects aimed at controlling the outside, strapping down its meaning, and dictating its future.

In her quiet, precise way the astonishing Amy Ireland said all of this at the 2015 Tuning Speculation.

“The phallic law, logos, the circuit of identification, recognition, and light thus generates its occult undercurrent whose destiny is to dislodge the false transcendental of patriarchal identification. Machines, women–demons, if you will–align on the dark side of the screen: the inhuman surplus of a black circuit.”

The sons of Kek may repudiate the one of monotheism and the light of enlightenment, but they do so in what can only amount to a rearguard attempt to capture the force of the black circuit and bind it back to mechanisms of command and control.

They forget that XENO is trans-obdurate.

(The video is here. You should watch it.)