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.”ezgif.com-resize

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.

—Priest

Tuning Speculation V (Nov. 2017)

Tuning Speculation V: Vibratory (Ex)changes

17-19 November 2017, Toronto (Canada)

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 torn@asounder.org by 1 July 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.

spiral

THE RESTRICTED AND THE GENERAL

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.

~Cecchetto

 

 

 

[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

 

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(xenophoran)

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.”

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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.)

~r