Posts Tagged ‘technics’

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.


cyclists are commies

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Bixis everywhere for all...

Imagine a city dotted with rental bike stations… where bike lanes lead in nearly every direction… protected from traffic, with cement barriers, ploughed for year-round access… smartly done too… some lanes with removable poles, so that the road can be used for parking and snow clearing during winter… with networks extended by painted lanes, like in other cities… the biking network extends everywhere.

Imagine this bike rental service being affordable and easy, thrilling and useful… and you have Montréal’s BIXI network.

Bikes are revolutionary. There are more people on bikes in Montréal now than I can ever remember from living there for seven years. Bikes are changing the patterns of circulation within the city. The city itself is changing. With many streets of Montréal routinely closed for summer festivals, the car is shortly becoming a liability within the downtown area.

And people are everywhere. And they smile. They’re happier… and becoming fitter.

Happy people on bikes don’t feel isolated. They feel part of something. Cyclists feel part of the city around them, which is theirs. And this is why they don’t vote for xenophobic policies. They vote for people who like people on bikes, which means supporting the environment we all live in through policies that look at the city as a holistic environment, a complex and thriving ecosystem, and not just a traffic thoroughfare with a series of linked parking lots.

Unlike Vancouver, the political fallout of BIXI in Montréal has been minimal. Vancouver has an organised business organisation trying to undermine cyclists, trying to do away with all bike lanes. The Vancouver Board of Trade and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association rejects bike lanes because they impede the flow of traffic, disrupting the “traffic network” and “hurting the bottom line of business” by removing automobile parking.

Cars, traffic, parking. Apparently this is a machine that need not require humans. It would be easier to eliminate the flesh entirely, were it not for the economic placeholder in which flesh consumes flesh. Placing humans into isolated metal boxes produces a significant distancing effect, enough to block the sensory perception of a complex and ever-changing environment. The taste and feel of a place are kept at bay. Immersed in the box, in the screen, my car is a just like a videogame.

Never step out of your car save to shop. Never bike on the road—you might get hit. Drive a bigger SUV to keep safer. Buckle your kids in with crash helmets. Only crazy people bike. You are not like them. They are outside the window. The window is a movie screen. The city passes by like a movie made just for you, but interactive, like a videogame. The best interactive game ever. A cyclist interrupts that drowsy flow. Swerve and negotiate. How dare they bike in traffic! Hold on now. Something is going awry… a light blinks… you need new pharmaceuticals. The haze of dumb acceptance is wearing off. Anger and frustration are coming. You have to watch out for “pedestrians” and “cyclists.” The laws won’t change until next week… then you can run them over and collect the reward points. More petropoints. Park over there, step out, and buy something. Some more pills. Mmm. A new shiny thing. A greasy thing. Eat and swallow. Don’t move too fast. You might have a heart attack. The doctor gave you pills for that. Get back in. Drive away.

What the grey room wants is unhappy, isolated and cloistered individuals, getting fat off bad foods, polluting the atmosphere in their cars. The grey room of control, mute in their deadness, amassing piles of coin. Cyclists are the enemy. Why? Because unhappy people buy more consumerist crap as a band-aid solution for their constant depression. They wallow in a potpourri of pharmacopia. They burn more fuel. They support bad business in their despair. The car is an isolating, depressing way to travel through the city… a beautiful, seductive ride. Step right in. Never leave.

In Montréal, on the contrary, cyclists are seen as the people they are. Cars don’t buy things. People do. And people, given the chance, will ride bikes, and invest in good things. People on bikes change economies, patterns of consumption and circulation, which is precisely why they are a threat to the established order of consumer complacency.

Because there is nothing more beautiful than biking home with the wind…

Sounds all too simplistic, eh? Indeed. It can be.

Heard on CBC Vancouver this morning from the right-wing “develop it all” and anticyclist NPA — “we shouldn’t focus on becoming a green city — we already have green industries — forestry (which is a renewable resource)… and mining.”

When will Vancouver finally cast out these rejects?

Montréal is decades ahead. May Québec nationalism never die. For it provides the bonds of a collectivism that has all but been eradicated in the rest of Canada—or manipulated into isolated xenophobia, such as with Rob Ford’s Toronto Fat City, where bike lanes are being ripped out so as to save the city “billions” in lost consumer spending. Remember, getting somewhere in a car is the only metric of happiness. Happiness is only measured in spending. Spending is all that matters. Spend some more. Take another pill. Keep on drivin’.

Cyclists are commies.

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.



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


Unmalleable Mob Mentality: the technical exclusion of politics

Monday, March 29th, 2010

576 members of a political mini-mob, save for one: the Tennis Court Oath of 1789

Over on Scobleizer, Robert Scoble is throwing down some analysis on malleable social graphs and mini-mobs after witnessing the social media infiltration of SXSW. He is primarily interested in check-in locative services such as Foursquare and Gowalla that recommend to the mobile user useful services and businesses based upon aggregated social metrics. To the Web 2.0 economics crowd, Scoble suggests that Facebook has the potential to sweep the locative market based upon its infodemographic storehouse. Facebook’s accumulated social metrics of associations, networks, fan clubs, likes and dislikes can form locative-informed “malleable social graphs.” For example, if I want to go see Off Broadway theater in NYC, I check-in to FB’s locative service and it puts me in touch with friends (or friends-of-friends) with similar interests in the area (along with businesses, locations, services, and so on). Point being, through localized search criteria I see what I want to see based upon the service already knowing the aggregates of my interests and indexing that to my location (as revealed through social metrics I have given such services and from which such social metrics algorithms have deduced — i.e. Amazon’s “you might also like…” suggestions).