Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis, Sound Studies, and the Culture of Cities

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014


Circa 2003, I wrote the first draft of a piece on Henri Lefebvre & Rhythmanalysis, published in Circulation on the City: Essays in Urban Culture (2010), eds. Alexandra Boutros  and Will Straw. The piece followed from research I had been doing at McGill as a grad student with the Culture of Cities project.

The chapter considered how certain “rhythms” of the city become unobservable due to the phenomena of standing waves. Lefebvre discusses rhythms of traffic, but also other sorts of flows and disruptive rhythms that structure circulation (of all sorts of movement of people, goods, things, but also energies electric, wireless, and those of temperature; and again fluids in sewers, pipes, mains, tankers, pipelines). His reflections in this thin book are quite skeletal, more structural than materialist. Nonetheless he classifies rhythms, providing a schema of rhythm types (arrhythmia, etc), and considers them as fluids or soundwaves.

In Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis, acoustic properties serve as both metaphor for rhythmanalysis itself, as a process of thinking, or critical analytic observation (and I am reminded of Robin James’ recent piece on acoustic dataveillance and the use of acoustic perception as metaphor and process), and also as a method of observing material processes. Thus arises the problem of standing waves, of two superimposed rhythms in perfect antinomy, where peaks and troughs cancel each other out. Such rhythms would be unobservable, and only perceivable through their effects upon other rhythms.

I think Lefebvre touches upon this idea, but only barely (this is his later work; he did not live to develop it). The implication is that it is through rhythmanalysis that one can discuss ideology. By ideology I mean the normalization of the constructed; or one could say the unconscious but contingent preconditions of what is perceived as consensual reality. Ie, I do not mean normative ideology, but structural ideology: the unthought contingent conditions of what appears as normally necessary.

In Lefebvre, psychoanalytic conceptual symbolism, materialism, and Marxism appear to meet in an urban planner who takes to a kind of Zen meditative appreciation of rhythmic environments, listening to traffic on his balcony….

In any case, I presented the paper at a conference at the Technische Universität in Berlin entitled “Time Space Dynamics in Urban Settings” (thanks to Bas van Heur) but never really went anywhere with it. It is only recently that I began thinking of Lefebvre’s renewed significance to sound studies. My own unthought of the piece (or at least the one I am thinking of now, no longer unthought) is how Lefebvre contributes to sound studies, or rather mobilizes it for urban analysis, which includes all manners of a concrete or materialist philosophy of becoming and rhythm, social phenomenologies of flow perception, or on the more empirical side, analysis of cities in the materialisation of flows (such as in Will Straw’s work, included in the Circulation volume). Lefebvre describes listening to cities in the text as a method of observation, conceptual and material, and for thought; but at the same time he presents a theory of ideology in the concept of the standing wave of rhythmic superposition, a kind of conceptual maneuvre, that resonates with work by Deleuze, Stengers, and Whitehead, but also EDMC studies (the “vibe” as the social production of rhythm in unconscious patterns of collective affect), and sound studies (as the turn to acoustic metaphor to comprehend 21st century existence in dataflows, dataveillance, etc).


As a final note, I was quite pleased when I saw this review by Mark Simpson of Circulations and the City in the University of Toronto Quarterly:


meditation iii (exophilosophy)

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum [2006]), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row. — Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?

I agree with this statement in fighting spirit — indeed, don’t get me started on the incredibly ignorant genre title of “world music” — in regards to my research on Afrofuturism, which argues for the consideration of other forms of knowledge as “philosophy.” Specifically, I campaign for forms of thinking that are otherwise excluded from an increasingly professionalized philosophical discourse; and forms of thinking that are materialized in different ways other than argued essays and books. What is philosophy? Here’s a provisional phrase: philosophy is a working form of thinking through thought, of considering the balance of nearly unanswerable questions, of probing deep into uncertainties and impossibilities. This need not occur through its elaboration in scripted forms of writing, and certainly not in peer-reviewed journals and other sites of careerist discourse. It is for all these reasons that I argue for Afrofuturism, or rather, for exophilosophy in general: for all the approaches that ascertain thought through ways that are otherwise in the “margins of philosophy.” Graffiti, rhyme, movement, gesture, beats, art, sampling…

But is this all philosophy? Should it all be flattened to philosophy? Is philosophy still the signifier to be retained? Or should it not be historicized and geographically delimited for a reason?

For philosophy is philosophy. It is not “European philosophy” and “African philosophy” but philosophy. This is not Eurocentrist; it is to respect the Greek origins of the name “philo-sophia.” The signifier of philosophy names a certain history. To argue for philosophy means also to argue with this history. If this is Eurocentrist, it is historically so. Playing with philosophy means respecting its roots.

In this respect, Dabashi is entirely on point when he critiques the postulate that only Europeans think — as if, in short, philosophy is the only form of thinking. For me this is the stronger argument. Not that there are different philosophies measured against Philosophy (which is what Dabashi critiques) but neither that all is philosophy (which is what Dabashi suggests). Rather, that there are different forms of thinking materialized in different ways. The Greek tradition of philosophia, from which not only Europe inherits but a huge part of the world (thanks to empire, colonialism, etc., but also trades of thought, intellectual spin-offs, exchanges of ideas, and so forth), is philosophy. But exterior to philosophy are other domains of thought just as powerful which claim universalities of application insofar as they advance the question of the question, the principle of the principle, the reflection of the reflection. Yet they need not be wrapped into philosophy, collapsed to its discourse, its rules, its convention, its history — and above all its signifier, meaning, at base, the “love of wisdom.” Other names abound that could mean something else than a love for wisdom: a distaste of unthought, for example; a longing for the alien; a thought of the uncertain.

Delightfully, Dabashi sustains the principle of the universal to begin with, which is also what I like about his argument: that all persons in all cultures have the ability to think in such a self-centred fashion that they consider themselves yardsticks of globality (to paraphrase from this essay). Whereas Dabashi sees this as the universality of philosophy, I see this as the universality of thought from which “philosophy” is but a variant, a stream from the spring.

There are other barriers to break down. Damashi’s article maintains a weak bias toward naming professionalized intellectuals in other countries than Europe as exemplary of philosophy’s globalization. Of course I support this move, insofar as he is critiquing the perennial go-to of European and North American “public intellectuals.” But why should the go-tos also be of the same class of thought?  So, despite his attack not only on Eurocentrism, he (perhaps unwittingly) maintains that philosophy solely operates within certain strictures of academia. In this respect, he is correct: it is but philosophy, a discourse of the tradition of the discourse. But there are other forms of potent thought lurking beyond the campus walls. They rap into place, form beats about space… and perhaps today have more to say about the changes of life actually throwing down.

the pale fox

Friday, October 14th, 2011
Pale Fox --- in hand

Pale Fox --- in hand

Finally—the anthropological source of the popular literature on the Dogon in hand. Why do the Dogon have a calendric system based upon Sirius? What is the meaning of their mythic systems, insofar as they resemble contemporary representations of scientific phenomena from DNA to mitosis? Is it possible they knew of the hidden planets and stars of Sirius, invisible to the naked eye until the invention of 20th century telescopes? How? And why? And from my perspective, from that of a mythos that might extend far beyond its current descriptors, aesthetics, socio-political coordinates: how far back does Afrofuturism extend, insofar as it claims to embody First Contact?

All questions destined to undermine the credibility of an academic career. Excellent.

blind signifiers in the new age

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
No More Potlucks 17

No More Potlucks 17

The seventeeth issue of the illustrious No More Potlucks, edited by Sophie Le Phat Ho, is dedicated to inducting its readers into magic — magie no. 17 | no more potlucks.

The choice of ‘magic’ as a topic came out of a concern – une préoccupation qui semble être partagée, vu la richesse des contributions présentées dans ce numéro – for what we are up against… En effet, la magie relève de la technique, de la pratique, du procédé, de l’art, de l’action. Elle est donc intimement liée à une analyse de la réalité, de l’environnement, et ne serait être de l’ordre du divertissement, de la fantasmagorie… Bref, this is serious. [Sophie Le Phat Ho, editor]

This issue features a brief piece I writ entitled Blind Signifiers in the New Age, introduced by a recent communication sent to Hakim Bey.

Blind Signifers is a condensed text on magick as the art of the slippage between signifers, the minimum distance of which constitutes consensual reality. Magick in this respect is a force in the sense that it generates effects wrought from symbolic subterfuge. Magick traverses the realms of the illusionary and the imaginary; it is precisely that viscosity that allows us to conceive of that which would puncture reality with its surreality or irreality. In this sense, magick (a) is generative through effects of signifying systems and (b) is not to be trifled with. Its underlying principle is that CHAOS NEVER DIED.

on the plains / Hakim Bey postcard

on the plains / Hakim Bey postcard

The principle point is that magick is very much in use all around us: it connects the surface of things; it is especially engaged to ensure consistency of action/reaction in systems of capitalist desire, notably consumerism. It is not magic at work here, not the mere trickery of an illusion, but magick, the technics of signifier slippage, the art of symbolic subterfuge. These be the darker arts when used to deceive.

Any such concept of magick as a praxis of symbols follows from the work of Hakim Bey, whose creative work with chaos theory (and the Mandelbrot Set), connecting anarcho-politics to the folds of physics and geography as well as the deconstruction of semiotics and philosophy some 25 odd years ago is, I would argue, indispensible to grasping semiocapitalism. Yet like all texts, including this one, it is writ with a cleaved-edge. Beware the folds.

There are many good essays in this collection (do read them) but relevant to my own work is Magic, Strategy and Capitalism: An interview with aladin by Anja Kanngieser and Leila, who pose the question “what happens to magic once it is embedded in the languages of business and industry?”. Indeed; this is the fundamental question that founds the dark art of advertising and second order cybernetics. However this question ought to be reinscribed: how is it that magick is the basis of capital? How is it that magick constitutes the language of capital itself?

To this end, I would suggest a deeper reading into the “tradition” of magick, as well as that of Marx. Perhaps magic has always been about entertainment and tricks, but magick operates at ways far more embedded into the technics of perception, which is to say, the way in which value is inscribed and perceived.

In this sense—which needs qualifying—the language of magic has been, as the article suggests, “put into use for capital,” but only as a secondary effect or diversion from the magick of capital itself.  Reading Marx, magick is that operation which derives exchange value from use value. Capital operates by way of magick. It is that which makes the “commodity stand on its head” in Das Kapital. Marx often discusses capital as “phenomena” and “illusion,” as a “phantom,” but none of these are terms meant in the tradition of cheap tricks: a social relation is masked behind the relations of capital. Violent, dark magick, in other words, the magick of turning quality into quantity, humanity into slavery, world into resource, is at the heart of capital. Capital is no cheap trick; its cost is Faustian.

As Marx writes, capital’s effects are phantomic; it is precisely this haunting effect, this “specter” of capital which, according to Marx, needs to be exorcised. Over a century later, in 1994, Derrida argued in Specters of Marx that the phantom in general—hauntology—cannot be exorcised. In short, the revolutionary magick proposed by Marx (which was famously unthought) against the magick of capital cannot eradicate the fundamental principles (of magick) upon which capital is based. Why? For the principles of capital—magick—are also those of its antithesis. Any possible antithesis. One cannot eradicate the simulacra; for at base, there is only a doubling of simulacra. Or to put it another way: to attempt to exorcize capital would obliterate the very principle of revolutionary communism, the imaginative magick of a collective ideal. To attempt to practice absolute exorcisim only unleashes the violence at the core of all magicks claiming to unveil or obliterate the true origin or the true illusion (the two being equivalent in force). One cannot exorcise ghosts nor dark magick in toto or ex nihilio. The principle of magick is always thus always doubled: (1) magick never comes from nothing; it always draws from another power and (2) thus it always produces unintended effects and consequences that remain in excess to its intentions. As Derrida thoughtfully explored—in a way few have—one has to learn to live with ghosts. To speak with them. Speak to it, Horatio. Learn to speak the language of magick. One does not exorcise magick; one seeks to practice it as the art of samizdat and containment. Infiltration. And other creative arts that destabilize the easy yet dangerous magick of commodification.

Likewise, when Marx wrote that “All that is solid melts into air” as effect of capitalism, he had in mind the magick of substantial transmutation, not as trick or hoax but as the slippage of signs in which an object of use value (the table) is stood on its head, begins to walk, and becomes the commodity of exchange value—out of which evolves further signs:

But, so soon as it [the wooden table] steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was. (Marx, “The Fetishism of Commodities” in Capital Vol 1)

Magick breeds magick; we are deep now in the realm of these wooden, grotesque ideas of semiocapitalism. In the 21st century, magick has revealed itself as operative mechanism of capital in-itself; this is the meaning of the 2008 financial crisis. This is a crisis of the system of signifiers which determines valuation, a crisis of completely speculative levels of capital which are completely estranged from what Marx called “use value.” It is the beautifully complex world where negative effects (debt) are valued as positive on a completely speculative basis of future returns—returns which, as the various complex operations of debt transfer and futures demonstrate, are expended infinitely until “all that is solid melts into air,” completely suspended, and crashes. And the effects of this crash are disastrous.

Herein lies the “trickle down” effect of capitalism: all the debt culled from below and profited from above returns with a vengeance, as it does not trickle but torrents down and pools in the trenches. At the bottom, those impoverished drown in debt. This is what smiling Reagan meant when he sold trickle-down capitalism to the masses. Shit runs downhill. While all shall inherit the debts of the financial crash, those at the bottom, unable to dodge the wreckage, will reap its total effects, as all of semiocapitalism, as all that dark magick and uncollected emptiness, trickles down into a whirlpool of poverty. This is the lesson of trickle down capitalism: those above, unless clinging to the burning hulk as it splits apart, never even have to open an umbrella. The metaphors are pushed here, but you get the point.

A keyword missing from this discussion with aladin would be afrofuturism, where the dark arts of magick take on another dimension, that of the transmutation of concepts such as race. Perhaps more on this soon.

double p/androgyne: s/he is (still) her/e

double p/androgyne: s/he is (still) her/e

I would also highly recommend the evocative Sex Magic in One Act: Exploring the Properties of Extensional Sex by Lolix. The reversal of inside to outside using sex magick’s gendered body from female to male is here rendered explicit in creative sex work. Pan/drogyne, in short. Lolix explores a shift that takes us beyond -x to +x, presence of the phallus/absence of the vaginal interiority, and into the  z/y axes to a third-eye dimensional sense of the chiasmus. This text and its images work on many layers. It brings to mind the latest incarnation of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, as s/he becomes neither male nor female, yet both, as the physical incarnation of Genesis’ now deceased partner. The signifying magick be: S/HE IS (STILL) HER/E, the permutations of which continue to unfold in the flesh.


thought probe

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Marshal McLuhan is a 100 year old media entity today. 100 years of ditching the academes to delve into writing and thinking without restraint, on the one channel, and yet allowing his own odd blend of Catholic conservatism to orient his thought probes into deep media, on the other. I took McLuhan’s advice on reading Understanding Media—I only ever read every second page. His ideas are prescient. The “global village” is a contradiction in terms understandable only through its elucidation of the time-compressing effects of not only electronic media, but the on-demand supply chains of delivery and just-in-time capitalism. The global village is the effect of electronic media coupled with advanced transportation— shifting what I would call the technics of perception from the identity of the “individual” to that of “tribal man.”

McLuhan’s concept of  tribal collectivity informs  the work of Michel Maffesoli, for example, and to this day continues to provide a lens through which to view the “LIKE” attributes of social media, where everyone wants to know what everyone else is already thinking before they think it through themselves. As I’ve commented elsewhere, the effect of social media’s advanced filtration and aggregating of like-content is that of an echo chamber, a smothering, collective identification of all-alike.

Yet listening to today’s broadcast of Ideas on CBC had me on pause. First, because I hadn’t realised that Paul Kennedy had abandoned a PhD in History under McLuhan at the University of Toronto precisely because the History department didn’t consider McLuhan worthy enough back in the late 1970s. “What would they think in the hinterlands?” asked his History advisor, if he had McLuhan as supervisor? Even after—or perhaps because of—this:

So in 1977 Paul walked across Queen’s Park to the CBC to produce an Ideas documentary on Harold Innis and his seminal work on the fur trade in Canada, in which he analyzed space-and-time compression through the socioeconomic colonization of Canada through, yep, beaver pelts.Kennedy’s The Fur Trade Revisited “took him on a 1,600 kilometer journey paddling down the Mackenzie River from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean.”

Hats off to Paul Kennedy. That should be worthy of an honourary PhD in itself.

Second reason why McLuhan is unavoidable: because I wouldn’t be undertaking my own field of study without him. My  PhD is through the two departments of Communication Studies and Philosophy at McGill. When I undertook the professional seminar in Communication Studies around 2003, we traced a lineage from the pioneering work of Harold Innis and George Grant—on the relations and effects between technologies and sociocultural, economic and political formations—to Marshall McLuhan’s work on the environmental or atmospheric effects of media.

Insofar as there is a distinctly “Canadian” Communication Studies, it is to be found in the nexus between the technology and media philosophy of Innis, Grant and McLuhan and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, imported when Adorno and Horkheimer fled to the United States shortly before World War II.

Today, what is called “German media theory” defines a distinct branch of Communication Studies. The irony is that its chief proponent, Friedrich Kittler, cites McLuhan as a significant influence. As usual, it takes a Canadian to leave this country, be interpreted elsewhere, and return to us in translation before s/he is given the gravitas he or she deserves….

Which is to say that McLuhan has always resonated outside of the academy—and perhaps with greater force than within. Several years ago I DJ’ed with DJ Spooky at SAT in Montréal, where Paul played a McLuhan video during his talk—I recall he had just acquired access to the television archives. He expected all us Canucks to be enthusiastic or perhaps to show him some kudos for his resampling of Canadian culture… but for us McLuhan is a strange figure. He is there, but like the media he studied, a background effect or an atmosphere, a shadow in the great Canadian wilderness of minds. We’re not  taught that much about him; sometimes it feels like he’s a heretic that has to be dealt with because he made some noises down South. Heck, Woody Allen liked him, right?

And though I had always been aware of the influence of McLuhan on Jean Baudrillard, more recently Graham Harman has noted his debt to McLuhan.

So, it is time for a little song in honour of McLuhan’s ghost, and his atmospheric persistence—some might say his disturbance. McLuhan would’ve liked this one. Clap along, now. From my favourite Canadian comedy crew ever:

Once upon a time there was a town
A town where chaos reigned
Lawlessness was everywhere
And there was no cohesive theory existing which properly explained the mass media and their impact on society and man’s thinking
And then one day a stranger came riding into town
And all the townsfolk gathered ’round and asked him his name…
Well, he tipped his hat and he said:
Marshal. Marshal McLuhan

Marshal McLuhan, you’re such a groovy thinker…

Radio Free Vestibule, “The Ballad of Marshal McLuhan” (1994)


for now, for us—yes (perhaps)

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Levinas on top.

So here you have it: something of the reading program I will be ploughing through shortly. I’ve been through Levinas before, but not yet an extended engagement. As for Harman, I am indeed looking forward to Circus Philosophicus, in the hopes it will provide more varied discussion of the hidden world of objects than the rote repetition of thought that makes up Tool-Being. I find him at turns infuriating and liberating, which means I will certainly grow to like him.

I picked up Paul J. Ennis’ Continental Realism yesterday on Kindle, but it is unfortunately nor formatted properly—no hyperlinked endnotes. I did contact Ennis and the publisher, so hopefully they are able to fix this formatting error and re-upload it to Amazon (Amazon removed it; sorry Paul!).

I’ve got Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude on my bookshelf but I’ve only skimmed it. I found Meillassoux oddly authoritarian—since when must philosophers answer questions of the type “does X exist?”  yes or no? Especially under conditions when scientists and laypeople do not? If this is the new form of philosophy, it is an authoritarian one that rests disturbingly assured upon the principle of non-contradiction. I find this disturbing—kind of a philosophy as authoritarian interrogation. But I’ll get to it soon enough.

I’ll turn to it before I finish Ennis, as I have too many questions that remain quite unanswered, so far, in Ennis’ exposition. For starters, scientists are granted the privilege of answering to questions of the type “is X scientific fact true, yes or no?”, YES, but with the following provision:

These statements will not be considered complete or unrevisable. Falsification is always possible for the physicist, but until a better theory is put forward the scientist will claim that it is sensible to accept the statement as true. (Ennis 2011)

Sure, this is the scientific method, which is entirely contingent: for now, this statement is true, given it has not been falsified. This for now is necessarily open; otherwise the scientific method would resort to the hypostasis of dogmatism. And an anthropologist, as well as a physicist of general relativity and quantum mechanics will add, in various ways, the “for us” as well as the for now. So first off, it is not only philosophers who add this “for us,” but science itself. Second, this “for us” is more complex than simply designating a human observer. Third, I don’t believe that all of science operates upon the assumption that the “for us” threatens “realism”—on the contrary, the “for us” conditions it—that such positions that negate/ignore/forget the “for us” are somehow better than taking into account the complexities of the observer (including the technics of perception), the info-technical apparatus used in experimentation (the very parameters of measurement are subject to change, the technologies of experimentation, and so on), and overall, temporality in its basic open-ended form, insofar as all of these variables may change (even, in certain conditions, the speed of light).

Point being, the for now of the scientist holds the same structural  position as the for us of the philosopher; both are a fundamental position taken in regards to the open-ended futurity of temporality that recognizes the contingency of the observer. And, this observer includes the entire technical apparatus of measurement (the laboratory, the technologies involved, etc., right down to the technics of the theorem and mathemes). So there is a difference here, unthought, between the for now and the for us which is privileged: whereas scientists are granted the for now, philosophers are not granted the for us, despite that, when taken as structural positions of contingency in regards to temporality, both perform the same effect.

This can be explained in both philosophy and science. In general relativity, the position of the observer shapes time. In Derrida, différance is precisely timing-spacing for a reason: time-and-space are variables whose structural positions are contingent and relative. In sort, Meillassoux denies the contingency of timing-spacing and privileges a simple time (of future possibility) over the complex time of its positioning (spacing). Simpler again: Meillassoux privileges time over space. He does so against the grain of all 20th century science and philosophy. Why?

In any case, philosophers are not, apparently, granted the same contingency as the scientific method and of scientists themselves to include pauses or provisions in their replies. Instead, Meillassoux demands they answer like this, kind of like the Spanish Inquisition of philosophy:

“Did the accretion of the earth happen [i.e. the historical record of the Earth based upon carbon-dating], yes or no?” (After Finitude, 16)

Yes, of course it did, I would answer, and just like the scientist: for now, for us. That carbon-dating is based upon a method which was “perfected” in the early 20th century does not preclude changes in measurement or technologies of dating that might occur; it does not preclude warped theories of time travel that might change this record (hey, if Stephen Hawking can go there, why can’t I?); it does not preclude, in short, any possible temporal shift in all manner of technics which would fundamentally alter the trace of différance. To think otherwise would be to trap science (and all observations and truth-statements) into a far worse hell than that of supposed “correlationism:” absolute dogmatism.

So let’s pretend it’s the late 19th century and phrenology is accepted as a science. And someone like Meillassoux comes along and says: “So, are Negroes born criminals, yes or no?” See the problem here?

The temporality of the scientific method cannot simply be collapsed for the sake of securing some kind of fundamental assurance in things. Indeed Meillassoux seems to think that any questioning of temporality, technics of measurement, and so forth, amounts to some kind of “anti-realist” stance (known, apparently, as “correlationism”). I find the entire framework of his thesis unconvincing in terms of the discourse of science itself, which I think is where Meillassoux et. al. are on weak ground. In short, I don’t think there is a fundamental problem with contingency—nor does science. It appears that Meillassoux et. al. think this is some sort of grave error we all desperately need to be rescued from by removing the complexities of contingency and accepting an unconditional YES: it’s ALL Real! This would, it seem, merely repeat all the errors of the pre-scientific method past: dogmatism, refusal to accept change, the Inquisition, etc.

As for the for us, I have yet to read, either in Harman or Meillassoux (and I am not done yet), a questioning of the “us”, which so far, assumes that the “us” is a simplex of the human individual. The error here is not that taking into account the position of the observer, or the technics of perception of the human, is somehow a mistake—on the contrary it allows us to account for this positioning rather than simply ignoring it through the blind belief in our technologies of measurement or theorems of science as providing access to direct truth—it’s mistaking the “for us” as reducible only to the human observer in the Kantian sense.

So let’s grant Harman’s observation that all things are beings—it was already made by Deleuze, Derrida, etc. years ago anyway—and reiterate: all things are observers; general relativity applies to all. So does indeterminacy and contingency. In short, arguments of Meillassoux’s type are more anthropomorphic than they realise: they naively assume that “for us” equates to the human (and that we know what this human is, inside and out), when the more complex understandings of the “for us,” long past Kant now, take into consideration a quasi-transcendental logic, or alter-logic, which deconstructs not only the human-being, but all beings (as becoming, etc.).Sure, the 20th century was occupied with the (human) subject. I’m glad that we’re going to talk about other things now. But is branding all talk of the contingencies of the decentred subject “antirealist” at all helpful or correct? Easy answer: no, not really.

This is the same kind of argument I have so far with Harman, who also limits language to merely something among humans. If language is the trace of alterity, is alien, and is generative of the effect of consciousness (Derrida), then it cannot be said to be properly human, either. In the language of Heidegger, the things speak—and I grant to Harman that we all—dust to quirks and quarks—be things (which is to say, beings).

So far, both Meillassoux and Harman need to severely constrict their readings to rather straightforward Kantian transcendentalism or linguistic analyses which already presume language as a human construct; neither have yet dealt with the likes of Deleuze (who directly engages science throughout), Lacan (whose mathemes of the subject provide the kind of numerical basis Meillassoux champions) or Derrida (whose thinking of arkhe-writing and the quasi– provide a much more difficult challenge to a simple realism/antirealism diatribe). (I remain to read the rest of their work, so this is a provisional statement; however, so far this thesis has held for a few hundred pages now—we’ll see if there are any surprises.)

What I find particularly odd is that Meillassoux claims to be setting out to somehow defend science, and yet in doing so throws out the baby with the bathwater, trapping science in a simplism of yes/no thinking which is not how science operates (we haven’t even yet begun to discuss chaos theory). Moreover, it ignores utterly the more interesting thought from quantum physics and general relativity, which, by the way, have yet to be “unified.” Just about a century later, these two observable theories of physics have yet to find their common—how does Meillassoux handle this intractable paradox of both the yes and the no, within science?

So a proposed title of an essay, a position which is a position for philosophy itself—For Now, For Us, Yes (perhaps). Ooooh, how Derridean. Indeed: the hard Derrida deserves his return right about now. The difficult, early, very well-read, incredibly thorough, and not-so-generous Derrida. Derrida with the scalpel.

If philosophy now means, under speculative realism or OOO or whatever, being forced to answer yes/no, then all this means to me is that philosophy has been handed over to the police. I’d rather not police thought.

in hiding (from language)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

05 july 2011

To return to Los Angeles [following the Rodney King beatings in 1991], some people have demanded that henceforth all police activity be monitored by video, that everything be filmed, in order to submit police surveillance itself to surveillance. There would thus be “black boxes” recording the police, their movements, their actions and gestures, a constant recording and an immediate archiving of police activity, which itself consists in attempting a panoptikon of civic space—of the political, and of political space itself. If all this in turn is under surveillance by satellite, we would then see the determination of an optimal optification of what could be called the ontopolitological: the totality of what binds the political to the topological and politics to space in the present (on, ontos) would be gathered together in the present, devoid of any shadow, beneath the gaze, exposed to an all-powerful photographic apparatus: no more secret, no more private life, instantaneous totalization: the totalitarian itself, etc. —Jacques Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 47)

Had I know of this quote, excerpted from a short interview conducted in 1991, I would’ve included it, and a discussion of its terms, in “No More Pirate Islands! Media Ecology and Autonomy” (Interculture 6:1, 2009). At the time, I viewed the earth-orbiting eye as the ascendance of an ecotechnics, an entire surveillance apparatus, and mark the dates of Sputnik (4th October 1957) as well as Google Earth (February 8th, 2005—Derrida did not live to see the watched watch the watchers, into infinite regress, filtered and selected, ad infinitum).

Even with the possibility of totalization of the eye, from above, I retain the following possibility of the gap or glitch between map and territory, the delay or deferral between the point of the image and its taking-place, also the inherent possibilities of subterfuge, camouflage, encryption, withdrawal, exodus, hiding, etc.,  as I would, I think, Derrida—that “the TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone] is an event born among technics that undermines if not counters the eschatology of collapse for it demonstrates the possibilility of heterotopic autonomy within a technical worlding” (62).

Whomsoever suggests that Derrida was only concerned with “language” in the narrow sense (I’m looking at you, Harman, and your strange avoidance in tackling the hard problematic of arkhe-writing in Tool-Being) has evidently never (a) read carefully his thetic assertions concerning the autonomy, alterity, and “expansion” of writing-in-general nor (b) taken seriously the thetic possibilities put forward by the undertaking of deconstruction as applicable everywhere, as an analysis of the technics of différance, which is to say, its effects and force(s).

We can no longer oppose perception and technics; there is no perception before the possibility of prosthetic iterability; and this mere possibility marks, in advance, both perception and phenomenology of perception. In perception there are already operations of selection, of exposure time, of filtering, of development; the psychic apparatus functions also like, or as, an apparatus of inscription and of the photographic archive. —Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 15)

—Which is Derrida reiterating much of his work on Freud’s Wunderblock, the “mystic writing pad.” But this is not only about human perception, and the alter-logic of arkhe-writing, the trace of différance, extends beyond the human per se. In fact, as Derrida writes in Of Grammatology, consciousness is but an effect of différance (166). Indeed, language is alien. The consequences of this alterity to language in relation to Harman’s narrow insistence that language is irrevocably human will have to be dealt with improperly, insofar as it complicates Harman’s negation of all differences marked in Heidegger, and the reduction of difference itself, to the opposition between Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit. Insofar as the trace does not exist (OG 167), it suggests something other than the totality of Being that Harman adheres to, wherein Zuhanden/Vorhanden is taken as a difference between two modes of being.

The hard argument from Derrida is, in part, this: that language, taken as arkhe-writing, as the technics of the trace, is precisely that which articulates cucumbers, dust, and blades of grass, in which all Things speak. The nature of this articulation is that of “prosthetic iterability,” or “supplementarity as structure” (OG 167). Harman’s  desire to elevate the primacy of one difference above all others—objects and tools as first philosophy—needs to be critiqued for the dogmatic return it is to precisely the logic of a transcendental signified (“we cannot know Zuhandenheit; thus it is First, to which everything else is Second”) he elsewhere wishes to subject to an intriguing, refreshing and stimulating speculative realism. In short, Harman’s conception of the radical difference of Zuhandenheit is impoverished, and it is strange indeed that he draws so much from Levinas—who requires God to hold steady—and not Derrida, who delves much farther into the “infinite regress” to which Harman admits to (in his passage on Rorty in TB), yet with much more interesting result, namely, the thesis of supplementarity at the origin and the origin as the effect of prosthetic iterability. (Yet perhaps not so strange that Harman prefers Levinas, insofar as, in Tool-Being, Harman retains the pyramid of power in which some binary needs to occupy the top spot.)

So the second thetic effect of Derrida’s hard argument is this: language-objects-tools-etc. constitute a string of substitutions, not a hierarchy of precedence in which all differences ought to be submitted to the authoritarian pair of Tool Beings. Will Harman be able to contend with the hard arguments from Derrida, and not just the soft “linguistic turn” he posits, in the narrow sense of a consideration of language only as equivalent to human speech? Can Harman handle the trace and how its inexistence nonetheless generates “real effects,” which is to say, the objects Harman loves to offer in nice, contrasting lists, but so far in Tool-Being, has nothing to say of? (I will grant him this chance in his later work.)

If the thought of différance can be introduced into speculative realism, it offers a fascinating bridge between the media ecology of technics, and media studies in general, and that of object-oriented philosophy. Why? Because différance, as in my essay above and Derrida’s work on photography, has offered an interesting way to take apart and rethink all kinds of fields, from photography to art, physics to architecture, politics and the political to gender; it has proven incredibly fruitful, not to introduce “language” in some narrow sense but to focus on the technical specificity of substituting difference—which is where Kittler and media theory comes in, as well as Latour, for that matter (I have yet to pick up Harman’s earlier essay and newish book on Latour).

A philosophically robust concept of timing-spacing-difference—différance—also offers a bridge between physics and other sciences of time, space, the universe, and so on. But if Harman rejects différance as “language”, then he also tosses out the very interesting correlative work between this thinking of spacing-timing and that of Einstein’s general relativity and Bohr’s quantum physics (as writ explicitly by Arkady Plotnitsky in Complementarity). I need also mention the immense work done by Deleuze and the entire field of studies surrounding Deleuze and Guattari to think science and philosophy here. But perhaps Harman’s speculative realism has no interest in correlative work between science and object-oriented philosophy whatsoever? Is such science—the thinking of numerical logic and probabilities, constants of light and relatives of timing-spacing, for example—”merely” all Vorhandenheit? Indeed, how convenient that would be, being able to leave reality behind entirely, so that philosophy can once again ensure its complete seclusion from the world. A true philosophy of the Zuhanden! I would hope this is not the real effect of speculative realism.


Dancecult 2 (1): we’re back

Monday, March 21st, 2011

For many moons now I have been toiling away on Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture as the incoming Managing Editor. Lo, this is volunteer labour, and a hearty dose it has been, from taking over the reins of our Open Access publishing platform, OJS—which is a cranky beast indeed—to completely upending the Dancecult StyleGuide (DSG) so that it conforms—well, almost conforms—to the Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed.. The kind of labour I perform is exemplary of the overeducated precariat: technical server administration; web production; design and layout production and direction; editing and copyediting; technical manual writing and production; human resources; workflow management; all-around tinkering & troubleshooting.

Here’s a slice into a typical Dancecult session—begin with double-espresso and/or late-night wine. Chat with Operations Assistant Neal Thomas as I edit PHP, tinker with TPL, use root SSH to get all CHMOD, manage a CPanel reinstall and transfer, setup MySQL databases and fix CSS, and do all manner of technical support for the Journal as we try to figure out how to upgrade this stubborn beast. At the same time, I am engaged in an email storm with Executive Editor Graham St John and the Copyeditors as we overhaul the DSG, where I act as a a senior copyeditor and the last pair of eyes for every single piece of text you see published. As my mind approaches meltdown, I run next door and meet with Art Director Cato Pulleyblank. We are transferring over the existing workflow to Adobe InDesign, redesigning the entire publication layout, from fonts to margins, styles to protocols, in the process. Cato redesigns Dancecult’s logo with Graham and I’s input, drawing up visual conventions for web promotions and style protocols, throwing down hours of pro bono in the process. And that is still not all. To get this beast underway, I check in with the Production Team, which has been assembled from a call for precarious labour. I check in on Director Gary Botts Powell to see how our new Production Assistants (Luis-Manuel Garcia, Ed Montano and Botond Vitos) are doing with the HTML conversions. From their feedback I improve the HTML production guide which I have writ to explain the rather complex process involved in converting Word’s garble to appropriate XHTML (Transitional, of course). Meanwhile I carry out all of the Journal’s InDesign layout for PDF production, and draw up a Guide for that too—though I doubt anyone else will be touching it for awhile, due to the complexity and attention to detail involved. As the midnight hour flips over into morning, I edit and fix all HTML returned from the newly-minted production crew. Eventually, after a few weeks of such routines, I publish it all on OJS and fix all the broken things. Graham and I celebrate over Skype. It is early afternoon for him, and a late night for me. We virtually clink the beers.

Now that would sound like a lot of self-aggrandizing hype if it wasn’t for the fact that all of us involved do all this unpaid and yet—damn straight—produce an extraordinarily professional Journal. Meanwhile, I watch other academic funding agencies throw down bloatware cash to pay the poorly-trained to pump out some pitiful excuse for a research platform. I’m not sure what my point is here, though I am looking forward to seeing some capitalist renumeration for such a plethora of skillz. Bring on the meritocracy, I say.

* * *

DANCECULT | Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture
Volume 2 • Number 1 • 2011

Dancecult returns with two themes: the dystopian and remix aesthetics of Detroit and a special section on the Love Parade.

While you read, take a look around. Dancecult has taken a new step forward in the visualization of the Journal, with a complete redesign of our PDF publications and logo. It is also our first edition featuring the volunteer efforts of our Production and Copyediting Teams. Congratulations to all for their efforts.

Graham St John
Executive Editor

tobias c. van Veen
Managing Editor


## Feature Articles ##

Disco’s Revenge: House Music’s Nomadic Memory
— Hillegonda C. Rietveld

Hooked on an Affect: Detroit Techno and Dystopian Digital Culture
— Richard Pope

Maintaining “Synk” in Detroit: Two Case Studies in the Remix Aesthetic
— Carleton S. Gholz

Festival Fever and International DJs: The Changing Shape of DJ Culture in Sydney’s Commercial Electronic Dance Music Scene
— Ed Montano

## From the Floor ##

Nomads in Sound vol. 1
— Anna Gavanas

# Special Section on the Love Parade #

Where is Duisburg? An LP Postscript HTML
— Sean Nye, Ronald Hitzler

Party, Love and Profit: The Rhythms of the Love Parade (Interview with Wolfgang Sterneck)
— Graham St John

Pathological Crowds: Affect and Danger in Responses to the Love Parade Disaster at Duisburg
— Luis-Manuel Garcia

## Reviews ##

Hip Hop Underground: The Integrity and Ethics of Racial Identification (Anthony Kwame Harrison) PDF
— Rebecca Bodenheimer

The Local Scenes and Global Culture of Psytrance (Graham St John)
— Rupert Till

Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Tara Rodgers)
— Anna Gavanas

Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (Graham St John)
— Philip Ronald Kirby

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Steve Goodman)
— tobias c. van Veen

Music World: Donk (Dir. Andy Capper)
— Philip Ronald Kirby

Speaking in Code (Dir. Amy Grill)
— tobias c. van Veen


fanclub theory — and, like, what, again?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

All innovative works in words have their devout followers. In academia, especially in the discipline of Philosophy, or in the fields that comment upon philosophical discourse, the proper name of the author is propped up by an entire phalanx of scribes who are kept busy in the near limitless exegesis.

While such interpretations may be enlightening, 90% of it comes out as so much rotten praise. At its worst, fanclub theory amounts to a dreadful repetition of unexamined phrases, and despite its rhetorical claims otherwise, produces not the unthought crevices of this-or-that, but a text of dead concepts floating in a morass of jargon, without connection to a thesis, and without hope of breaking free from its tethers.



Monday, August 2nd, 2010

the gonzo academics of soniculture return

Without too much further ado I would like to point you toward issue 1.2 of Dancecult, which features – among other gonzo academic explorations of soniculture and the rave underground – “Technics, Precarity and Exodus in Rave Culture.” This piece of mine, under works in various forms for approximately a decade, explores rave culture from the perspective of political theory of autonomia, the political economy of contemporary labour, and philosophy of technology, proposing that rave culture – which I consider deceased as of 2000 – be considered one of the 20th century’s greater movements of exodus from the constraints of consumer capitalist monoculture, by way of precarity of labour and the technics of its soniculture. Undoubtedly this thesis requires all the more exegesis. La lutte continue.

edition 1.2



Making a Noise – Making a Difference:
Techno-Punk and Terra-ism

*Graham St John

Technics, Precarity and Exodus in Rave Culture
*tobias c. van Veen

The Aesthetics of Protest in UK Rave
*Ramzy Alwakeel

Memory and Nostalgia in Youth Music Cultures:
Finding the Vibe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rave Scene, 2002-2004

*Eileen M Wu