All posts by Rebekah Sheldon

TSpec VI (Nov. 2018, Bloomington)

Due June 1, 2018

Auscultations | Occultations, Listening to the Occult

Keynote Speakers: Jayna Brown (Pratt) and Joyelle McSweeney (Notre Dame)

November 2 – 4 2018
The Back Door, 207 S. College Ave, Bloomington IN 47404

Organized by David Cecchetto (York University), Marc Couroux (York University), Eldritch Priest (Simon Fraser University), Ted Hiebert (University of Washington Bothell) and Rebekah Sheldon (Indiana University)

“Auscultations | Occultations, Listening to the Occult” is the 6th Tuning Speculation conference, an annual interdisciplinary conference dedicated to bringing insights from speculative sound studies to bear on critical questions about contemporary media ecologies.

This year Tuning Speculation travels to Bloomington (Indiana) to explore the occult dimensions of sound. Sound has long been important as a metaphoric and material resource in occult sciences in figures like the Aeolian harp and technologies like spirit recordings. Sound also plays a significant role in the new materialisms via the vibratory dimensions attributed to the virtual by Gilles Deleuze and his followers. Recent works like Joshua Ramey’s The Hermetic Deleuze attune to the presence of sonic ontologies in both occult sciences and speculative philosophy.

Alongside these philosophical inquiries, the 21st century has also seen an efflorescence in fictional, filmic, musical, and critical explorations of the alter-modern hermeneutics of occulted knowledge systems and other-world-making practices, many of which express as or through sound, music, and the vibratory, especially in the sonic dimensions of ritual. In Afro-futurism and Native futurisms, in feminist and queer rewritings of the sciences, and in the revisionary environmental uncanny of the New Weird, there emerges an occult hermeneutic for the age of the Anthropocene. Yet the occult inheritance is a thorny one. From the meme magicians of the alt-right to the rise of pagan white supremacy, the occult is resurgent in contemporary anti-Enlightenment politics of racial hierarchy. These threads appeared in the later 20th century in the form of underground music cultures, skinhead punks, apocalyptic folk and death metal subcultures most notably, but they have long accompanied occult inquiry.

Tuning Speculation VI: Auscultations | Occultations, Listening to the Occult invites papers that think about either side of this binary but especially welcomes work that will help explore, explain, or interrogate their tangency and the contemporary conditions that give rise to them. What virtual potentialities inhere in esoteric, subjugated, or untimely knowledges? What utopian possibilities do they bring to bear on contemporary ecological crises? What risks attend these practices of knowing and living? How do we situate a posthumanist critique of the Enlightenment now that its dismantlement seems descriptive of social reality? What is the role of digital cultures in these various movements, especially in the figure of the troll and in light of Russian disinformation campaigns? What are the practical politics of pessimism, nihilism, digital refusal, and other forms of nay-saying? Potential topics include but are not limited to: speculative nihilism, the dark enlightenment, accelerationism and xeno-feminism, the new weird, Afro-futurism, indigenous futurisms, object oriented feminism, feminist and queer science studies, queer of color critique, posthumanism, wicca, chaos magic, thelema, spiritualism and ecto-poetics, and children’s fantasy.

Please send an abstract (maximum 250 words) and a brief biographical sketch (150 words maximum) to by 1 June 2018.  Notification of acceptance will be given in early August.

A note on the space: In keeping with our longstanding commitment to inclusivity, the workshop will be held at The Back Door, a local dancehall and queer community space. While The Back Door is a bar, the bar itself will not be operating during any of the academic events.

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.”






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.)