While recent strains of speculative thought suggest an inevitable rendezvous with excess, total bullshit and failure, something is lacking. Indeed, to the extent that these speculations bank on the articulation of an elaborate metaphysics, a planetary politics, or even the conviction that nonsense always makes sense, they belong to a restricted economy that makes thought servile to the production of knowledge rather than the sovereign of its own expenditure. That is, if late capitalism has taught us anything, it is that any intelligent or useful insight can be instantly coded, co-opted, and commodified according to the seemingly inexhaustible rhythms of exchange. In this respect, any compact with useless ideas, failed ambitions and outright prevarication is as much a salutary development as an exit.
Like the three previous meetings that “tuned” speculation to its more experimental moods, this conference continues to question the (in)utility of speculative thought. Yet, if it’s the case that even something as seemingly unprofitable as dreaming may not be entirely sovereign, then perhaps it’s time to de-tune speculation. Focusing on the resonances between creativity, the unintelligible, and the dubious sovereignty of sheer expenditure this fourth instalment aims to explore the ways in which nonsense, hyperstition, opacity, stupidity and imaginary solutions are capable of generating creative and destructive alternatives to measured and logical thinking. This focus is especially warranted given contemporary culture’s increasingly voracious appetite for an integral transparency (characteristic of both control modalities and rationalist endeavours) that seeks to instrumentalize art, wantonly levelling its native capacities for ambiguity and inscrutability in the process.
It has come to our attention that The Occulture’s splinter group, “violænce magique institutée,” is said not to have won the 2011 World Telekinesis Competition hosted and staged by the Pacific Northwest posse Noxious Sector.
Earlier today, I was tipped off to what appears to be an alternate xenaudial narrative, in medias res. Neither xenaudial nor myself have the foggiest idea who’s behind this, though the latter pointed out that the numbering begins exactly where phase 1 left off last August (and where phase 2 is set to begin momentarily, xenaudial assured me). This said, “xenaudialtwo” does not pursue any thread from phase 1 (at least that we can immediately discern). Predictably, xenaudial was delighted by this stylistically-consistent apparition (after I informed him of it), having long believed in the contagious spread of ideas which develop their own egregoric “body” over time (the amended tagline also received punctual appreciation: “a phonotropic break”). The Occulture, xenaudial devotees, will be watching this site closely over the next few days and will report back when the situation clarifies or opacifies.
UPDATE (June 9): New post on “xenaudial” (two) which fills in details missing in the cryptic opener. Stay tuned.
Putting this up in the spirit of the blog as a place for incompletions…part of a short writing piece I’m trying to finish up this week.
I — NB: Listening and Ecologicity
It almost goes without saying: to listen is to acknowledge the world in its ecologicity, to call the world forth as a constellation of objective conditions and mobile sensual effects (Boetzkes). In this sense, in so far as listening involves attention it is equally (though not more) about misdirections—always more than one at a time—as it is about any conventional understanding of focus; that is, it is about the material misdirections that are called forth as the performative excesses of constellating, objectifying, conditioning, mobilizing, sensing, and effecting. NB: Materiality is always in performance, and performance is always productive of excesses.
In their own ways, musicians will tell you as much, repeating—for example—Debussy’s dictum that music is found in the spaces between the notes. Indeed, the challenge of playing in an ensemble might be characterized in this way too: one must listen simultaneously to oneself and the ensemble in both their collectivity and their distinctness, the former for obvious reasons and the latter because one must nonetheless play one’s part with the specificity that both is and signals “musicality.” Sing it in a round: musicality as circular causality. NB 1: A round isn’t actually circular, it’s one of those cases where we cite something as relatively more complex than it might be—e.g. a round conjures musical time as a spiral rather than a line—and in so doing foreclose on its more radical complexities (e.g. that music may not be spatial at all); NB 2: Circular causality isn’t actually circular, which is why one ends up thinking about listening in terms of ecologicity.
Even in a more limited field, though, such listening—which is all listening, not just musical listening—isn’t about selection, per se, in that one’s (for example) listening away from oneself to a collective isn’t in opposition to listening to oneself. Rather, listening is listening in so far as when one listens one attends to that of a sound which is not sounded, which is to say one listens to music in its nonlinearity (i.e. as a system that outputs signals that are qualitatively different from its inputs). One listens to and away: the sum of all possible attendances is less than its parts, but that less is precisely also (and more importantly) more in that its resonant affordances continually reinforce themselves. Sounds have plenty to say, but they don’t say it…they say something else. Put differently, the sum of all the musical sounds present in a room is less than its parts, but more so. NB: reality is a room, among other things; a room is also a room, among other things (as Inspector Clouseau’s requests for one reveal).
Listening, then, is (in)attention. Importantly, though, this (in)attentional economy in no sense operates in the sole or even privileged mode of conscious thought. The (in)attention of listening is, for example, played out in and as the physiology of the ear itself: on one hand, it is simple enough to understand the transition of sound energy from the relatively large—indeed, airy—outer ear to the tiny oval window that acts as a threshold to the fluid-filled inner ear as precisely an attentive process. That is, the middle ear functions primarily to concentrate—to focus—the pressure exerted by a sound wave onto an eardrum into an area (i.e. the oval window) that is approximately twenty times smaller than it, thus working rather like a thumbtack. On the other hand, though, the mechanical coupling through which this takes place is rather more complex because it occurs via not one but three, the interaction of which allows for—or, put less psycho-centrically, causes—various regulatory functions. Thus, as one example of many, when the middle ear’s stapedius muscle contracts it reduces the motion of one of the three bones (the stapes) in such a way that affects the transfer of some frequencies more than others. NB: “Transfer” is a term of (in)convenience, purposely chosen over “transduction” because the latter, in being slightly more accurate, might seduce one into forgetting that the entire causal chain—in being called forth as such—occludes the radical relationality that is in play; that is, occludes the primacy of listening’s ecologicity.
We listen in part by not listening. Listening is “the contraction of all sound, the contraction of all vibrations, which gives sense to sound, contracting clearly just this vibration, this sound wave, and letting the rest remain obscure, implicated in various degrees of relaxation” (Evens). And, while one might think—in concert with an informatic logic that imagines communication to consist in point-to-point transmissions of data—of this as a simple filtering process, the physiological fact of the matter is that we rely on the dynamism of the middle ear as much as its filtering profile. Put differently, since we only hear via the contractively transductive process of hearing, and since that process is inseparable from the specific and material misdirections of the middle ear’s dynamism (among other dynamisms), it follows that to listen is to attend to the effects of a reality the cause of which can never be singly determined, even as a coming together of more than one. NB: The proverbial sound of one hand clapping is not the limit case of sound, but rather its basic enabling condition…providing that we accept that every singular hand is itself a multiplicity.
Put differently, the ecology called forth in listening always includes an autonomic oto-acoustic dimension; specifically, it always includes the ongoing and relentless dynamism of intra-ear relations. Thus, while it is true that we break a physical transmission in order to have received it, it is more importantly the case that we conceive a transmission such that we can hear the ongoing relations (the contraction and dilation of the stapedius, in concert with innumerable other processes, the separation of which—i.e. the framing of such processes as distinct processes—is always contingent)…or rather, in order to take part in the transductive energetic constellation that allows for questions of meaning(lessness). The ear functions in communication in the form of an alibi, dissimulating its ecologicity in order to function, with the particularity of any given instance of “functioning” acting to “disclose [determinable] signals of an otherwise [undeterminable] object world” (Boetzkes). Indeed, this is precisely why it is so important to listen well, as this alibic function is as much evidence of its (and, indeed, any) communicative importance as one is apt to hear. NB: Tinnitus is also not an exceptional case with respect to listening, but rather a basic enabling condition. One listens tinnitally to the clapping—the successive impulses—of a singular multiplicity. Listening thus signals sound’s migration beyond its enabling conditions, namely changes in air pressure.
Like I said, this almost goes without saying. Sometimes, though, saying something can work to bring forth what is said as a thing in its own right, which is to say as a before and after of its objective material existence (Boetzkes). What then, is the thingness of listening? If listening is constitutively misdirected—if it is a radically contingent production—then such a question can only be answered according to specific instances, otherwise the misdirection would be relativized. Moreover, to listen to listening would require a misdirection in its own right, a second-order of misdirection; it would require us to listen to our listening, the ensemble of listenings, and their summing that is less than their parts (but more so).
 This contraction most often occurs as an unconscious reflex when one is exposed to loud sounds, thus protecting—though often belatedly, because it is slower than the speed of sound—the relatively delicate structures of the inner ear.
 I have substituted “determinable” and “indeterminable” for Boetzkes’s use of “visible” and “invisible” (in “Interpretation and the Affordance of Things”) in order to avoid certain confusions. While this substitution aligns—to my mind—with her argument in this case, this is not to suggest that it obtains more broadly. Clearly, Boetzkes’s work—in the cited chapter and elsewhere—works through the operations of (in)visibility in concert with specific aesthetic regimes of visibility as well as specific ocular and neuroscientific discourses related to the eye, none of which nuance would be captured in terminological substitution I’ve made here.
The first keynote of Tuning Speculation III! More to come forthwith!
This presentation sketches a speculative ontology of magic. It is a part of a broader investigation into 20th century Anglo-American queer magicians influenced by Aleister Crowley. In its fullest ambitions, the project looks to the nonrepresentational qualities of theurgic practice such as composition, movement gesture, sound, and rhythm to unfold a theory of and method for nonrepresentational criticism. Ritual practices such as these are explicitly calibrated to produce future effects. I argue that they implicate a performative causality markedly distinct from either representational modes of persuasion commonly employed by scholarly exposition or the embodied performativities theorized by queer studies. My project is not to produce knowledge about esoteric or scholarly traditions but to generate new intuitions from out of existing philosophical, literary, theoretical, and aesthetic modes and schemas.
My more limited remit in this talk responds to the following questions: What ontological conditions are necessary for us to be able to affirm the productivity of magic (and its nonrepresentational qualities) on the unfolding of the future? With what notions of causality and historicity? To think these things, I propose reconsidering the presumptive emptiness and passivity of the future. Rather than understanding the future as a necessary entelechy or as container for the present’s consequences, I offer a conception of the future as an active plenum rippling with the forces of distortion, iteration, resonance, and distribution. Giving flesh to this claim will occupy the first part of the talk and will lead me to topics as ostensibly distant from each other as feminist rereadings of the chora, philosophies of immanence, quantum physics, and sound studies. The second half of the talk will take up Kenneth Anger’s short film “Invocation of my Demon Brother” as a case study in the aesthetic-cum-magical torquing of the future and as an apt location to make good on the title’s promise to theorize the role of queer sex in ritual magic.
This image was taken at ‘Maginary Magnitudes. I have no idea what it is, but the audio from the event is HERE. (!)
FRIDAY, 1 APRIL 1 2016
9:00 AM — 18:00 PM
New York University
Performance Studies Studio
6th Floor, room 612
This one-day symposium approaches such things as sound writing, auditory apophenia and “exploding head syndrome” as critical techniques of existence that dramatize the conditional gap between what a life “is” and what it “could be.” In other words, when taken as speculatively pragmatic ways of being rather than simply impassive fantasies, these techniques can be understood to articulate imaginary magnitudes that refuse not only a single scale of relation but a single relation of scale. In this respect, the ludic urge that informs the sense of sound’s being written, (mis)heard, and hallucinated links itself to activities that are more intensive then they are extensive, more expressive and contingent than substantive and determinate. This engagement with what might be called the abstractions of scale is particularly important in a time when capitalism is beginning to draw surplus value from our cognitive and affective faculties, and as new media technologies extend their reach into increasingly imperceptible and seemingly unthinkable domains. Accordingly, the presenters in this symposium employ their own speculative-pragmatic techniques in order to both interrogate the occult economies of abstraction and to advance forms of critical enquiry that scale between conditional and factual modes of being.
This is the last sentence of the story that I said I would tell you, but it’s out of place. This is the next sentence of that story, tho since it follows the last sentence it should be the first sentence of the next story, unless “last” in this sentence means “previous,” which would make this the next sentence of this story. This is a demonstration of a sentence demonstrating its capacity to demonstrate its capacity to demonstrate. This sentence is already bored of itself and it’s only the fourth sentence of a four-sentence story. This sentence is only here to make the previous sentence tell a lie.