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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

2011 World Telekinesis Competition

Communiqué:

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.

In our omniscience this is absolutely preposterous and impossible given that our victory was un accomplissement futuro.
Until such time as we will have won the 2011 World Telekinesis Competition violænce magique institutée contests the counterfactuality of this decision.
cecchetto   *pas possible*
couroux   true
Priest   ‘rong

An eldritch manifestation.

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.

– Couroux

UPDATE (June 9): New post on “xenaudial” (two) which fills in details missing in the cryptic opener. Stay tuned.

Listening and Ecologicity

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.

~Cecchetto

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).[1]

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.[2] 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).[3] 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).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsCW2N-6MUM

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

Tuning Speculation (NYC) ‘Maginary Magnitudes and Sonic Refractions

TSPEC NYCposter

FRIDAY, 1 APRIL 1 2016
9:00 AM — 18:00 PM

New York University
Performance Studies Studio
721 BROADWAY
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.

PROGRAM

PRESENTERS

Clown Torture

the occulture

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.

XENAUDIAL serial

HT to Xenaudial for unfolding its speculative psychoacoustical narrative. We will be following it closely. The latest chapter, below.

– Fr. xenopraxis

::::

Soon after the solo experiments mentioned above, X committed a number of exploits with A DumB Raid, his anonymous collective. A frequent method guaranteed to rapidly ramp up attention involved handing out “download tickets”—slips of paper with a unique URL typed on—at random gatherings, usually large-scale public events or occasionally at busy intersections. The ticket was signed: Adam Brady. A further pun. Members of A DumB Raid were all named Adam Brady. If one was brave enough to surf to the address, the downloaded zipped folder simply named ADBR contained a multitude of apps geared towards destructuring features of an individual’s sonic environment, passing the audial framework one lived in through a set of paradoxical filters revealing its ultimate contingency (and thus, the possibility to change it). “We have always been cyborgs,” began one of their admittedly few communiqués. “Anyone who thinks technology is a tool is a moron, dixit Marshall McLuhan. Media work us over completely.”

The apps ranged the gamut from Bait&Switch, a crude image-sound recombiner & mixer wherein one could associate any soundtrack with any imagetrack, and swap out either on-the-fly via a bare-bones interface; to “everyday” apps such as RoomX—modeled on Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969)—which gradually builds up a diagram of the complex set of frequencies that make up a room tone, its acoustical affordances, by recording the resonant effects of a simple action, playing back the recording into the room while recording the resonant effects of the playback, repeated until the room yields its occulted particularities. Labeled a “training app,” it was intended to “improve the fidelity by which you leverage the acoustical idiosyncrasies of a situation”—a mètic declaration if I ever heard one. A second feature of the app was more immediately interventionist, providing options for automated feedback response. You could program it to playback tones into the analyzed room, exploiting its already diagrammed propensities to induce effects on a continuum from mild disorientation to maximal confusion.