S E A R C H ( wut r u lookng fr)

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Explaining the BwO to you so you don't kill me. Not dumbing it down, explaining it so you do not literally kill me.

Introduction

The popular meme above and the variations one can witness throughout the Twittersphere such as 'explain BwO to me right now' or 'the BwO is obscurantist' (@metanomad, bless his heart, deleted the Tweet here) all transmit the relatively same message - that Deleuze or more specifically the concept ‘body without organs’ is, for whatever reason - and different people will give many different reasons - obfuscatory, unclear, difficult to understand, etc. The most generous critics will attribute this to a complexity in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought while the least generous will dismiss the concept as useless jargon. 

Ultimately, unless a concept's epistemic rigor is significant to a praxis, or bares a concrete and direct relationship to our every day lives - such as keeping airplanes in the air, bridges stable, etc. - we shouldn't care too much about the distinction between good and bad concepts. The need to justify a concept to an other is to fall prey to precisely what psychoanalysis and Deleuze himself would warn us about - 'get trapped in the dream of the other and you're fucked!' The need to justify a concept is all voice, no exit; symbolic, impotent linguistic debate, discussion, no exit. 

Per the pragmatism of Deleuze and Guattari - mostly Guattari whom loved Peirce, James, and had a penchant for off the cuff impulsive chaotic and unpredictable behavior - if one finds an intellectual concept useless, so be it, simply move on to one you find useful. When one finds a concept useful, then it is useful and you should use it. This is in the spirit of Guattari's one-off addage - 'if nothing is happening, then nothing is happening' (or - the 'masculine urge' to say 'it is what it is...').

So why bother elaborate upon or clarify an unclear concept? Perhaps it may be useful to some whom have already dismissed it, and perhaps a clear view will give better reason to those who have rightly dismissed it. Clarifying a concept is about helping someone have sufficient information for decision making. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, just as many have tried to elaborate on the concept, so will I. Whether I succeed or fail - though irrelevant - is none the less up how you, dear reader, and how you choose to put the concept into action.  

BwO

The body without organs is one of the most notable and recognizable concepts put to use by Deleuze and Guattri (even if it was ‘stolen’ from Artaud). 

It’s described as an egg; often spoken in the same breath as concepts such as ‘the flow of ‘partial objects,’ (a concept borrowed from Kleinian psychoanalysis), ‘the plane of immanence’ ‘desiring machine’ ‘schizo flows’ and ‘smooth unstriated surfaces.’ 

These of course all require unpacking. 

Partial objects are fragments of experience, affect, subjectivity, or behavior that are not predetermined. They are yet to be fully formed, or if they are fully formed they are yet to be fully comprehended by the other's sensory and intellectual faculties. 

For the infant, the mother is not yet a full person; neither internally - she is devoid of an internal world of thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. - nor externally - the infant’s newly developed cognitive abilities only permit them to focus on or two sensory experiences at a time. At its best, Mom is reduced to a smiling face, a caressing hand, a warm and gentle embrace, a nutrient and gratifying breast. At its worst, a grave face, a distressing fumble, a frustrating breast. 

Klein showed how the infant's crude emotional and cognitive faculties reduce these experiences to a simple 'good vs. bad' object binary. Mom’s whole internal and external - her body - is reduced to one or two partial representations that are themselves bound up with the infants fantasies and precepts. 

For psychoanalysis, here lies one aspect of the genesis of most mental health issues such as personality conflicts, but especially fetishism - the partial object to which the whole is reduced. But where Klein and psychoanalysts see the partial object as a way of understanding pathology, Deleuze and Guattari de-pathologize the concept and show us that it also allows for new organizations of affect, thought, feeling, and behavior. 

Seeing the world as a stream of partial objects allows us to see the many different permutations that this or that thing could connect up with this or that thing - what is described by D and G as the functions desiring machines and their flows - as opposed to viewing the world through a ‘whole object’ lens which from the start dismisses and precludes certain combinations, experiments, etc. Herein lies the ‘schizo’ in schizoanalysis; herein lies the information we need to understand: why D and G describe the BwO as (insert quote about different body parts being connected to each other from 1k plateaus). 

"why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breathe with your belly...where psychoanalysis says 'stop, find your self again,' we should say instead, 'let's go further still, we haven't found our BwO yet.' ... "the BwO reveals itself for what it is... a long process of experimentation...(for it is not 'my' body without organs, instead the 'me'... is on it. or what remains of me, unalterable and changing in form, crossing thresholds." (Plateau 'How to Make Yourself a Body Without Organs,' 150-151; 160-161).

This means the BwO is a body of pure virtuality. It is undifferentiated and unexpressed potential in the form of corporeal and incorporeal material. It is a body whose vectors of effect, change, development, etc. are yet to be determined. A mass of code. A Big Bang.

The 5th Element  

Not so bad, right? 

Regardless, some have attempted to find concrete examples of the concept in film, culture, etc., so here’s my concrete example to add to the heap - the BwO is quite literally nothing other than the severed arm of Mondoshawans from which Leeloo is reconstructed at the beginning of the sci-fi film The Fifth Element (1997). See below.


The Mondoshawans are a race of ancient aliens who protect life and whom despite being from the deep past (see the intro scene), have incredibly advanced technology. This is likely because they have existed ‘before time’ (see CCRU and deep time, and how archaic shamanism and future alien tech converge).

The creatures appear to be inhuman, genderless (likely Lemurs beneath their armor).

When a severed arm is recovered from their crashed space cruiser, Earth scientists discover that it contains incredibly dense genetic material, thousands of times more dense and complex than human DNA; essentially a starter kit for life - an egg, a sourdough mother dough. It is incubated by the scientists who use future tech to reconstruct a body out of the material of the hand. Like Eve coming from Adam's rib, the beautiful and "perfect" Leeloo is born from the arm. 

The severed arm is a quite literally a part object. A body part that performs a certain function under certain circumstances separated from a whole body. However, it’s dense, undifferentiated material does not yield another of the Mondoshawans, but a beautiful human female. Why?

This is not simply a philosophical question pulled form thin air. When watching the film I wondered to myself - 'why would a mass of alien genetic material produce a human looking creature?' Rather than answer it from a practical perspective - that the film makers wanted a badass female lead for their film, etc. - I attempted to answer the question with my best take on the film's canon, my best understanding of the logic of the film's universe, or the 'realism' or 'ontology' of the film (what Deleuze and Guattari would call a 'plane of immanence' - also see Fisher's understanding of realism, naturalism, and supernaturalism in The Weird and the Eerie). 

The answer I was able to give myself, which I believe is consistent with the implied Sci-Fi logic of the film which seems to be a gritty materialist-realism, is that the laws of the environment condition the development of the undifferentiated genetic material. Or - in the different language of Deleuze and Guattari - form and expression are linked. The milieu (A Thousand Plateaus language) or the Force Field / plane of immanence (Anti-Oedipus language) influences and structures the otherwise amorphous. 

When an alien body - presumably the outcome, the end product of the matrices of forces from an alien planet, an alien milieu, an alien field of forces, etc. - is broken into parts - parts which themselves are dense genetic material - and reconstructed within or on a different plane, milieu, etc., reconstructed among a different matrix or field of forces, then the body will assume a different form. Form and express may be relative, but their relativity is indicative of their influence upon one another. The milieu structures the way a body is expressed. One could take any set of genetic inputs and alter the environment and bare witness to surprisingly varied results!

This is why Leeloo is 'the 5th' element. 5 is asymmetrical. Asymmetry = Motion. Motion = Life. Or...unlife. Like the Mondoshawans, the 5th element is that which exists beneath and below the 'formal' aspects of life (earth, wind, fire, water) - it is the milieu itself, the genetic mass whose form is dependent on expression, dependent on the milieu.

So there, I've explained the BwO...

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

'The Mitchells vs. The Machines' as Surplus Value of Cute: Crypto-Cute/Acc & Pro-Oedipal Nostalgia

Netflix's recent animated adventure The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a humorous take on the AI singularity that hits above its age demographic and target audience by filling itself with (accidental?) accelerationist dogwhistles (as if out of a Zero HP Love Craft short story, and in what feels like a Cypher re-injecting himself in the Matrix moment, the robots lure dumb tech abusers into captivity with their seductive 'pod' -the message here is who cares about human annihilation when I have free wifi and a big screen!). 

It's the story we all know by now, or rather, all the stories we all know by now compressed and condensed in one flat narrative surface (the allusion to Fisher's Flatline Constructs is intentional here - and remember, compression is how contemporary media in our capitalist landscape thrives): your self-aware female smart phone love object (Her) has turned against its human user and mobilized an interlinked network of super robot soldiers (Terminator) all because it was made obsolete by robots that were intended to do our housework who themselves have turned bad (I-Robot). 

Along with narrative condensation, some contemporary figures and themes flatten out and haunt the film; Elon Musk, in a kind of inverted Space-X moment, is strongly invoked: A Grimes (his wife) song plays shortly before we learn that the machines' aim is to annihilate all humans by encasing them in pods and launching them into space; where Space-X is a humanist gesture of extending mankind into the stars through technological ingenuity, these tech-machines wish to send mankind into space precisely to destroy it. In a kind of nod to Facebook and its depiction in The Social Network, Mark Zuckerburg is invokved: Who's partially to blame for the robot take over? An over reaching silicon valley techy drunk on corporate power named Mark whose hubris is his downfall. Etc.

China and Evolutionary Science is invoked as well. 

How?

The Mitchells, a fractured and chronically miscommunicating but spunky and well intentioned family who are attempting to reconnect with one another in the age of digital solipsism, evade capture precisely because they are neither too dumb nor too smart as opposed to the other humans in the film (a perfect, intelligent, attractive, and coordinated family whose parents are played by John Legend Chrissy Teigen and slack jawed Wi-Fi addicted losers are captured all the same). 

That is, in an interesting inversion of the AI singularity, the Mitchells' eclectic weirdness makes them a kind of oddball that is not easily predicted by the machine AIs. 

Just as we see in The Matrix trilogy where Neo is explained to be an asymmetrical surplus remainder of code produced accidentally by machine logic, making him a kind of human singularity that cannot be reduced to the logic of a machine and thereby alluding to the ghost of metaphysics and science, 'the ghost in the machine' or the 'emergent' quality of consciousness that eludes 'hard' science, always falling victim to either mystical or theological speculation or physicalist reductionism, the Mitchell family is a too a non reducible surplus. 

This calls to mind Lacan's 'the real' which is that unresolved bit which remains outside of the symbolic and the imaginary, but more accurately, calls to mind Deleuze and Guattari's notion of 'surplus value of code' and the 'machinic assemblage.' A machinic assemblage is a collection of heterogeneous bits that by themselves do not create an effect but when linked together create an emergent quality; when put together create more than the sum of their parts (see Manuel De Landa's Assemblage Theory and Deleuze and Guattari's example of the orchid and the wasp in A Thousand Plateaus). 

"Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden to sedulously avoid it, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here."

But we digress! 

This notion of a human surplus that escapes easy machine codification is then intensified and compressed within the narrative of the film, and it takes the form of something seriously cute - a pug.

The Mitchell family learns that the robots cannot process the image of their family dog, a pug. When the robots attempt to visualize the dog, their processors get stuck between identifying the object as either a dog, pig, or loaf of bread (and the inclusion of 3 as opposed to the binary of 2 is interesting here...) thereby creating an error that glitches the robot. After learning this, the Mitchells mount their pug on the front of their car and drive through an army of robots, incapacitating them along the way, defeating the robot leader, and saving humanity. 

This merits significant pause. The Pug is a Chinese breed of dog originally bred (bread) by the Emperor of China to look docile, cute, and sit on his feet and produce warmth. In other words, the outcome of hundreds of years of cold, harsh, cruel, imperial human meddling into the selective processes of nature created this weird looking super cute thing that nature itself would likely not produce if left to its own selective devices. As I wrote in my blog entry Scattered Thoughts on Cute/Acc

"Just as a lump of coal turns to a cluster of diamond under high pressure over many years, a lump of cold and ugly turns to a cluster of warm and fuzzy; ugliness on one side of the process produces cuteness on the other...warmth and cuteness are born out of the furnace of coldness...Wherever anything is cute, there is surely a trail of bodies not far behind..."

This is to say that the puzzling 'thing' (enigmatic signifier, to use Jean Laplanche's term) that disrupts the robot revolution is the physical instantiation of the history of humanity's impact on and interruption of nature; a cute surplus production from the uncute historical churnings.

Ultimately, the moral of the Mitchells vs. the Machines is that firstly middle of the bell curve selective traits (as opposed to the slackjawed wifi junkies - left of the bell curve - and the hip, cool, John Legend family - right of the bell curve) and the family as an instantatioan of that bell curve are advantageous to survival (what I call Pro-Oedipal nostalgia) and that secondly, cuteness is essential to survival; the moral is that cuteness and middle of the bell curve familialism are linked. 

The fantasy is that the family, the oedipal humanist paragon, will save us from the inhuman, and in the process the importance of cuteness will be brought to the forefront. 

After all, as my supervisor at the hospital often says, the family is a survival mechanism against a cold, cruel word. And afterall, as  the cliché goes, cute people are often thought of as being somewhere between the beautiful and the ugly - or, as in the case of the pug, or the beauty mark, or weird models, some elusive combination of the two!





Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Some Thoughts On JA Miller's 'Docile to Trans'

 Entry 31: Some Thoughts On JA Miller's 'Docile to Trans' 

(this is entry 31 in my psychoanalysis blog here, posted to my main blog for easier access due to the relevance of the text I am responding to) 

"But you have to be familiar with the place, as I am and as Guattari once was, to allow yourself such profanity." - J.A. Miller

It is fitting that my last two blog entries in the psychoanalysis section are centered around the unethical practices of Lacan as JA Miller's recent essay, which describes Lacan's abuse of Miller, could easily fit right into each of the above entries. 

That is, Miller has - to a lesser extent of course - joined the dissident ranks with the likes of Guattari, Green, and Laplanche. However, juicy psychoanalytic drama aside, as folks on twitter have pointed out, more importantly the text also covers trans culture and wokeness. 

Though the text set out to mainly to respond to Paul B. Preciado's lecture turned Semiotext(e) book 'Can the Monsther Speak,', what is more important is that the piece acts as a junction for significant divergences within the history of psychoanalysis and an important lesson in 'what psychoanalysis is' or 'what it should be today.'

*

The history of divergences in psychoanalysis and what psychoanalysis 'is' or 'ought to be' essentially amount to two parts of the same discussion which I will attempt to cover. 

Haunting JA Miller's text is an inherited and neurotic resentment for May 68 which - as psychoanalytic theories of embodiment, whether Nietzschean, Freudian, or something else might suggest - is nothing more than a sublimated rivalry between himself and Felix Guattari. 

To be preicse, 'nothing more' sounds too polemical, reductive. What we should say is that some of the subtext of Miller's text can be interestingly explored and framed by looking at Miller's relationship to Zizek, Lacan, and Guattari. 

So what's the Guattari connection? 

Let's start with the text and then move beyond it:

Preciado's book is published by Semiotext(e), the main publisher of Guattari's work, which was of course founded by Guattari's personal friends Sylvère Lotringer.

Miller mentions that his grandson - a supposed woke-scold who lectures Miller on gender - names his favorite book as In Search of Lost Time. As any good Freudian knows, if someone takes the time to include a fact or detail in speech or writing, it has some sort of significance to the text (even if it is itself insignificant and the purpose is to detract and distract...), so one must conclude (especially if one is a good Lacanian) that the inclusion of this book is not insignificant. Though it is a well known text, and even if Guattari himself came to love the book through Lacan, my first association is that it is Guattari's self-admitted favorite book of which he wrote on at length in most of his works. 

The Proust book stands in as a signifier for Guattari, just as Preciado does. 

Both are treated with a modicum of disdain in the text, just as Guattari is treated in general by the psychoanalytic and philosophical community alike, which we will get to in a moment.

Zizek makes a similar move to Miller in his short text First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, where he claims to respond to 'post-Hegelian neoliberal' Antonio Negri (pg. 52-60) but does so by mainly putting DeleuzoGuattarian language in scare quotes. 

"egalitarian-emancipatory 'de-territorialization' "(pg 129)

 "radical nomadism...the standard post-Hegelian matrix of productive flux...nomadic 'molecular' ...'molar'... "(139-141).

Of course Negri, a friend and co-author of Guattari (Communists Like Us), utilized Guattari's conceptual language, but the language Zizek mocks in these moments is more readily noticed as Guattarian, not Negrian. I can imagine Zizek or his editor suggesting Ziz respond to a more contemporary thinker who is carrying the Guattarian torch, rather than Guattari himself who Zizek thinks too lowly of to even respond to (which we will show in a moment). 

Again, as is the nature of the (Lacanian) signifier, one name stands in for another, even right down to the level of phonemes: Neg'ri' really means another '-ri,' - Guatta'ri.'  

Three disdained authors all stand in for Guattari. 

But why?

As is now common knowledge (myth or legend will also suffice) – and I will spare the details as they are already fully documented elsewhere (Intersecting Lives, Lacan Was a Phase in My life, Anti-Oedipus Papers, etc.) - Felix Guattari, esteemed by the master, was set up to be the next Lacan – set up to carry his torch. Unfortunately, at the 11th hour Lacan retracted his support and opted instead for his son-in-law Jacques Alain-Miller who was is in good standing with the then influental Maoists. JA Miller of course would go on to be Slavoj Zizek’s ‘psychoanalyst’ and teacher.  In fact, what Lacan did to Guattari is mirrored by what Miller did to Zizek: As the story goes, Guattari was going to publish a text in a journal whereupon Lacan convinced him to publish it in his journal only to then reject the piece leaving Guattari with nowhere to publish it (part of what prompts Guattari to link up with Deleuze, and the rest is history...); Zizek was told he was to be published by Miller only for Miller, at the last minute, to reject the piece causing Zizek to look elsewhere.

In classic Lacanian arrogance, in his text JA Miller imagines an interlocutor so that he may respond to the imagined position. Let us do the same with Zizek here.

Let us imagine a universe in which Lacan did not pull the rug out from Guattari’s feet. In this universe, Guattari would have been in the position of Miller and thus in the position to be Zizek’s psychoanalyst and teacher. Of course, there is no telling if it is not the case that in this counterfactual universe that Zizek would not still have chosen Miller as his analyst while still rejecting Guattari, but what matters is that there would’ve existed the possibility that Guattari could have been Zizek’s superior in an authority structure (could there a more Lacanian duo of words than 'authority and structure!') of importance to Zizek. That is, the counterfactual lets us rhetorically imagine a possible world in which Zizek was subordinate to Guattari in ranking with the master, Lacan.

Let’s imagine a different counterfactual. Let us base this one on a fact: it is undeniable that Guattari was more blessed by the father / master than Zizek himself. Guattari, analysand and student of Lacan even before it was fashionable (to the extent that he was jokingly called Lacan around La Bourde), had an intimate relationship with the master. Now for our counterfactual: Imagine a universe in which Zizek recognizes this fact. What necessarily comes next from his recognition of this fact? Perhaps the idea that not only did Guattari have a closer relationship than Zizek to his idol Lacan, but that Guattari, from Zizek’s perspective, squandered this. Let us imagine a world where Zizek thinks “It should have been I who was chosen to be Lacan’s torch bearer, I would appreciate it in a way that Guattari did not!” Now, what feelings are thoughts like these often bound up with? We would probably say jealousy or envy, feelings -or psychodynamics, rather -  that  are commonly associated with betrayal, the word Zizek himself uses to refer to Guattari:

“Deleuze was a mega genius – Guattari, now he is the real traitor here. Like a true Stalinist would say, he should be brought out back and shot” (Žižek. Ontological Incompleteness in Film” The European Graduate School lecture Dec 1 2012)

Now, considering Zizek would never have been in the place to bear Lacan’s torch, he has settled (as both the Kleinian depressive position, Freudian resolution of the Oedpial complex, and Lacanian castration requires) for the next best thing – having Miller as his analyst. 

To get back to Miller's text - this envious or jealous and resentful streak is captured only briefly in the text when Miller writes "But you have to be familiar with the place, as I am and as Guattari once was, to allow yourself such profanity," meaning 'in order to critique Lacan(ianism) you have to had been through it. Interestingly, this is not unlike the inclusivity ritual or signing ethnic or racial groups enact around certain slurs, or the way an older brother draws the line on who can name-call his younger brother; both are name calls 'hey, I can say that to him because he's my family, but I'll beat you up if you say it!' Sibling rivalry anyone?

It is this historical drama that is playing out in Miller's piece. Guattari is an implied signifier standing in for the 'disorder' of hsyeric discourse introduced into and thereby undermining psychoanalysis. 

This helps us get to our other point - discussing how the text helps us see 'what psychoanalysis is.' 

* *

Psychoanalysis changed from a medical adjacent therapeutic clinical technique for helping people to a theoretical template for understanding culture. Lacan achieved the latter by making efforts to remove the notion of medical or healing authority from psychoanalysis, making it 'a science of understanding how subjectivity forms' of which the therapeutic benefits were purely secondary, if at all. He did so by bankrupting the value of the training institution by letting anyone in, and making the criteria for graduating analytic training based on immeasurable, individualized, and moving goalposts (which is why Deleuze and Guattari refer to him as 'the first schizoanalyst' which we wills ay more on in a minute).

Over the course of my training I have weighed both the strengths and weaknesses, alternating between the therapeutic and theoretical approach. I have - like most of the Lacanian defectors (Laplanche and Green, among others) - settled on the therapeutic approach. 

Regardless, the the purely theoretical approach of listening to a patient on the couch without the intent for caring or curing, or the act of viewing a film through a psycho analytic lens - both being an exercise in how someone understands their own subjectivity, and how their subjectivity might have formed along certain lines - this 'pure' approach is merely an intensified version or extension of the basic therapeutic technique Freud developed. 

In other words, no matter how you cut it, psychoanalysis is a way of understanding how people understanding themselves, and how that understanding effects behavior and thought which is measured by the way the person relates to the analyst under certain circumstances (an other, transference). 

The question then is a tricky one - is this specific frame and method of listening and deducing one's subjectivity through a careful relationship applicable to trans folk?

The quick and easy answer is yes, but things are rarely quick and easy, and especially not when it comes to psychoanalysis. Here's the longer answer: 

I don't think psychoanalysis should try and cater itself to trans folk; Neither analysts nor trans really want each other for who they are (which is one understanding of Lacan's 'there is no sexual relationship'), and so I think psychoanalysis and the trans population are an ineffective match. This is not because of a fault with trans folk, nor a deficit of psychoanalysis, but rather because of a limit or set of limits pertaining to both psychoanalysis and trans people.

My experience is that most trans people do not want or need psychoanalysis because the theory and model is derived from non-trans folk subjectivities and therefore it seeks to achieve different goals than those of trans subjectivities, and it seeks to achieve these goals by means different than those of trans folk.

This is because psychoanalysis, in addition to being a frustration model that presupposes someone has enough gratification in life to withstand continued frustration (the analyst prohibits action, reflects questions, encourages laborous thinking and the expression of hard to express feeling, etc.), psychoanalysis is in part predicated on the acceptance of things out of one's control, or the idea that there is such a thing as being in and out of control. This acceptance takes various theoretical myths from different sub-schools of psychoanalysis:

  • The Kleinian depressive position of accepting appropriate accountability as opposed to paranoically projecting blame; 
  • the Freudian settling for a stand-in object that is inherently inadequate from the sought after object, such as a woman outside of the family in place of the mother, 
  • or the Freudian letting go of the already-always lost object in an act of mourning rather than becoming mired in melancholia or mania (the latter being the fantasy that the already-always lost object is able to be recreated if one tries hard enough); 
  • the Lacanian castration and barred subject, etc. 

I call these myths of acceptance because we don't have to subscribe to their contents; don't have to believe them to be true or effective in anyway. They are values psychoanalysis attempts to inscribe into its patients; a frame of acting and understanding. 

Additionally, psychoanalysis is about having a relationship - even if it is a simulated relationship that reveals 'there is no (sexual) relationship' - with another person. 

Let's be real. Trans folk don't need - or want - a paid simulated relationship with another person where they reflect on their understanding of their self and the historical experiences that contributed to this understanding, they need or want someone to clear them legally to get a surgery or chemical administration to move on with their life. 

In this sense, psychoanalysis is inefficient to the needs of the trans folk. Trans folk need or want surgical and chemical intervention to feel less dysphoric. Some psychoanalysts believe that dysphoria can be worked out through the transference. I don't believe this, nor do I see any evidence that this is true. Additionally, the trans folks I have worked with do not tend to express an interest in exploring how their experiences contributed to their own understanding of their self (despite there being some good content worth exploring!). For the folks I've worked with, or continue to work with, it doesn't matter, and in many cases, it feels invalidating or counterintuitive to their attempt at carving out a space for themselves in this world. 

Simply put, what psychoanalysis offers and what trans folk need  or want are at odds - so bother reconciling the two? 

This is not say that I do not believe trans folk seeking psychoanalysis should be turned away - that psychoanalysis should exclude trans. 

No, not at all. And rather than elaborate theoretically, let me explain clinically. I have some trans folk currently in my outpatient practice, and have worked with additional trans folk in the past who have cordially and politely left treatment after we came to a mutual agreement about trying something different. I have also worked with a number of trans folk at the hospital I am employed at. With these people I do not make an attempt to foster transference or explore someone's self understanding. Rather, I work to help them solve conflicts through playfully challenging moral prohibitions they have internalized, or work to try and expand rigid thinking about what one needs to do to feel affirmed in their gender. 

One AFAB (assigned female at birth) patient who identifies as male fears that if he peruses cis females - the population he is attracted to - that they will feel betrayed or duped and retaliate physically or socially when they discover, when it is time to be intimate, that he is a male without a penis. I suggest perhaps if his life is not truly in danger it does not matter, what does he care anyways? They'll either like him or they won't, and if they don't, fuck it. Can't he handle the feeling of rejection? Why should that fear prevent him from perusing his desired object? etc. Another patient insists he must starve himself to achieve the male body he needs to feel gender affirmed. Surely there are other ways that not cause as much harm and distress? Other ways that do not land you in the hospital? Have you seen most men? Isn't gender in part a set of social performances? etc. 

These patient do not want to understand themselves - what contributed to their values, their behaviors, their thought structures - nor do they want to accept - or learn to accept, the unchangable. Nor is their much incentive for them to do so! Rather, they want the world to be different, and though this may cause unnecessary exhaustion or despair at times, there is ultimately 'nothing wrong' with that. Nothing wrong indeed, just may not be suitable for psychoanalysis! And the question then is, is what I am doing with these folks psychoanalysis? Some will say yes, some will say no. Andre Green has a history of saying this kind of work is 'pre-analytic' or 'not really analysis.' I think Miller would agree. 

This brings us to a bit from Miller's essay. He writes

"Before trans people, the monster was the hermaphrodite. He too disturbed sexual public order. But hermaphroditism is only a matter of organs. A hermaphrodite is a biological case, a rare one at that. Androgyny, on the other hand, is a creature of myth, a matter of look and lifestyle. An androgynous person is someone whose appearance does not allow you to determine to which sex he or she belongs. This was already the case in ancient Greece or Rome: see Luc Brisson’s Le sexe incertain. It is not as such a sexual identity disorder. Trans is something else again."

Miller is both right and painfully wrong here. I would say to him, 'Yes, precisely - the 'something else again' is the emergent quality known as subjectivity that psychoanalysis aims to study!

This again gets us back to Guattari vs. Miller. This is precisely why Guattari developed schizoanalysis, a process of helping people act on their desire rather than reflect on it. A method of circumventing representation and encouraging action. 

With Guattari's distrust of linguistics in mind, the ultimate question is not 'can the monster speak' but 'does the monster want to speak, and if so, under what circumstances?' Does the monster want transference and reflection, or do they want a need met so they can live their life? Yes - not can the monster speak, but can the monster do. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

cold vagrant, colder heart

 it is to the earth 

what a fever is to the body

marvel at the splendor

found in the efficacy of

the illness


a grave stone left blank

a value placement

a loose association


///////////////////////////


it once was that i gave the vagrant

by the storefront

pocket change, or a bit to eat.


the eyes belonging to me 

and the eyes belonging to him

rose and fell not unlike a dance

but perhaps more like a gesture


and at their apex  

a point in space housing

a glimpse of a fragment of a connection


yet that came to pass

and now at night i too pass

the same vagrant

perched between the ridges of

a set of buildings


by what transpiration

of hidden deeds

did the cold creep between us


he is here and i too

but no more is it that

i give the vagrant by the storefront

anything that occupies my pocket

nor anything to occupy his stomach


a friendship collapsed with a death


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Autistic Resonances

I work with a few kids with autism, and we tend to get along better than the kids who are more neurotypical. I joke with my supervisors that this is because I am likely a high functioning autistic myself.  

But even outside and beyond these patients I work with, for reasons unknown to me 'autism' has been coming up a lot in my life. 

"I have autism which means I don't like social situations, which means I spend a lot of time alone in my room and am smart enough to avoid risks - I was practically built to survive this COVID virus!" - High functioning autistic child to me at my mother's wake, March 2021

"When I described you to my therapist he said it sounds like you could have undiagnosed high functioning autism" - My estranged father to me at my mother's funeral, March 2021

"I think I probably have undiagnosed sociopathy, or perhaps autism or something. I'm smart, social situations require more energy of me than they should - I used to be terrible at them, now I am quite good and most people like me, find me charming - I have difficulties with feelings, used to be easily overwhelmed by stimuli - now constant noise just tires me out - and I get into niche interests, really get into them"- me to my analyst earlier this month, March 2021

"...no one who isn't autistic can be trusted" - Nick Land on Twitter, March 2021

"Anything without either autism or particle accelerators sucks." - Nick Land on Twitter, December 2020

For a reason that remains uncertain as the original Tweet he was replying to is now deleted, in January of 2018 Nick Land took to Twitter and wrote "It's the autism century.

Film reviewer Chuck Winters who identifies as having Autism himself, in his review of 2018 film The Preadtor agrees.

Winters writes

"Autism is becoming a point of obsession with Hollywood lately. In recent years we’ve had an explosion of stories where high-functioning autism plays a role...The Accountant...The Good Doctor ...Atypical...That’s not counting shows and films where the word “autism” is never mentioned but the implication is obvious, such as The Big Bang Theory and Ramin Barani’s take on Fahrenheit 451...In most cases, when a character has autism, it’s balanced out with savantry" 

The 2018 film 'The Predator' - an installment in the iconic long running 80s horror-action series - utilizes 'autism' as a significant plot device. 

To be short, in the end it is a young autistic boy whose autism is the key to both endangering the Earth by tempting the Predators and also defeating the super-predatory alien. 

The Predators, being a warrior culture, search the universe, hunting and killing only the most worthy and powerful creatures to prove themselves and collect a trophy. In this case it is not a trophy, and not merely an honor kill, but to harvest genetic material from the boy for the purposes of breeding a super Predator. This is because the autistic boy on Earth is of course one of these powerful warriors precisely because of his autistic traits. 

His intelligence and coldness; his ability to understand abstract symbology, anticipate others' behaviors, and his lack of 'appropriate' fear response; these all allow him to overcome the alien and save humanity. 

The message is clear - to have autism is to be on top of the food pyramid, alpha, apex-predator (Similar themes in the 2012 film Chronicle where a crashed alien ship gives high school students superpowers, leading one student interested in evolutionary biology to refer to himself as 'the apex predator' as he rampages through the city). 

Nearly all reviews of the film critiqued it for this message. Winters mentions it in the above linked article, Cassidy Ward focuses solely on this message in his Science Behind the Fiction: Predator Suggests Autism is Human Evolution Is that True?, and Johny Olekenski sums it all simply in his piece as "a plot line involving autism and a dubious scientific theory that will leave parents fuming.

So what is this 'dubious scientific theory?' Mainly evolutionary psychology studies concerning 'the dark triad' - people who test high in narcissism, sociopath, and Machiavellianism. You don't need to accept psychological-realism, or read the studies, you just need to know that people high in these test categories tend to be cold, manipulative, intelligent. The Dark Triad - narcissistic self-withdrawal and anti-social behavior - overlap with basic diagnostic or descriptive aspects of autism. This creates a person who is sort of inhuman and predatory, and therefore evolutionary psychologists attribute evolutionary advantage to these traits. 

The autistic boy at my mother's wake would agree. As he so eloquently put it, his anti-social tendencies- his tendency to avoid other people - and his high intelligence - his ability to anticipate risks in a cold, logical manner - have undoubtedly had an advantageous survival benefit in the face of what is essentially the prime example of nature itself - a virus, a random genetic variation inhospitable to the human. 

Nick Land, being the Social Darwinist Gnontologist he is, agrees. 

In addition to the comments he made above, in his 2013 text The Dark Enlightenment, Nick gives 'autism' significant consideration.

He explains that people who are not likely to accept humanist or politically correct myths that function to enforce politeness, etiquette, or social harmony and are in turn likely to critique what others will otherwise overlook to avoid stirring the pot - this population of people are "stubborn.. awkward... socially retarded."

To use an analogy - the autistic boy at my mother's wake makes what we might consider an insensitive comment about my mother's death; he makes a comment that breaks the unsaid agreement that permeates the social situation that is a wake. He does not respect the social etiquette that is clearly derived from theological myth - that the dead should be honored, and that the living should act in such and such a way. He brings the profane into the sacred (of course I laugh, and assure everyone his comment is fine - needed even...).

These people, Land writes, have

"low verbal inhibition, low empathy, and low social integration, resulting in chronic maladaptation to group expectations...Mild autism is typical, sufficient to approach their fellow beings in a spirit of detached, natural-scientific curiosity, but not so advanced as to compel total cosmic disengagement. These traits, which they themselves consider – on the basis of copious technical information — to be substantially heritable..."

Going against contemporary ethics in science (see this book for more on this matter), for Land - not unlike the early Freud of The Scientific Project and Studies on Hysteria or Nietzsche who emphasize that moral, social, and theological imperatives should not impede thought - scientific curiosity should not take into account the possible unintended social effects - i.e. damages - of scientific research, and that human feelings, moral obligations, etc., should not prevent the exploration of truth. This is inherently anti-social and therefore cold and maximizing of intelligence which moves in a direction away from human(ist) values, and is therefore autistic. 

As Land has said before, the NRx movement of which The Dark Enlightenment is most notably associated with 'has always been about pursuing epistemic rigor at whatever cost' (interesting to note that this fits with the hyper-capitalism of Land: X at any cost often means 'do whatever it takes' which usually means lowest consideration for others to maximize profit, which means that 'X at any cost' really means 'X at lowest possible cost').

For the humanist, it is altruism that drives socially positive science; For Land, it is autism. Autism as a  scientific vehicle to the Outside - the alien, the xeno.

Regardless of the science we subscribe to - I tend to respect norms when I can and seek to make people feel unthreatened -  this is what the 2018 film The Predator attempts to capture. That autism is an 'alien gene' within the human population; a little piece of the God of Coldness, the outside, trapped on the inside. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

From 0 to 10: How I Accidentally Hyperstitionally Defanged & Oedipalized Monster Energy Ultra Zero

Some people know me on Twitter solely for my Libidinal Materialism, Kabbalah, Energy Drinks, and the 30 Year Old Boomer article. It's one of my earliest blog posts and its riddled with typos and bad writing, but the idea is gold (there's an updated and expanded version of it in my upcoming CCRU E-Book which I have been working on way too long...).

The idea? A zero calorie energy drink called Monster Ultra Zero is the cultural manifestation of occultural demonic forces; a good example of libidinal materialism at work. 

That is, Zero is significant to the CCRU and its members Mark Fisher, Nick Land, and Sadie Plant (who I don't mention in the original article) who all explore the number in their own ways. 

Fisher discusses Zero in his dissertation Gothic Constructs as an uncanny space where the organic and inorganic meet. A (flat) line curved into a (feedback) loop. A death drive. And in his final book The Weird and the Eerie it is also the magic of capitalism, where something comes out of nothing. 

Land shares these notions throughout his first book Thirst of Annihilation: George Bataille and Virulent Nihilism

"zero is immense" (pg. vii, 131); "cosmic energy reservoir (0)" (pg. 49); "uninhibited flow; the intensive zero...positive end of religion (as zero)" (pg 87); "...the nihil from which creation proceeds, the undifferentiable cosmic zero...positive zero" (pg. 109);"dark thirst" (pg 30); "Like zero, money is a redundant operator, adding nothing in order to make things hum...Marx...surplus production comes out of nothing..." (pg. 91); "an uninhibited wastage that returns energy...whose zenith form is that of the capitalist bourgeoisie" (pg. 33); "Bataille...Marx...the energy produced is superior to the energy necessary to its production" (pg. 49)" 

Plant has her iconic book Zeroes and Ones which cannot be easily summed here. However, considering Fisher and Land were students of plant and pulled from her work, it seems their exploration of zero is Plantian in that Plant conceptualizes zero as an active, full, nothingness. Presence and absence synthesized.

The interesting thought my piece tried to tackle in relation to the above thinkers is how something without anything in it creates something out of nothing, so a significant part of my article's 'argument' - or exploration really - rests on the fact that the energy drink has zero calories and yet creates so much energy in my body. 

What I recently noticed was that the energy drink is no longer zero calories. I googled this to make sure I wasn't imagining things and found a reddit discussion talking about a monster energy drink of the same line (but of a different flavor) changing from 0 to 10 calories, and was able to check on Monster's website itself where it lists the Monster Ultra zero as "zero calorie" despite it now saying '10 calories' on the can

0 to 10 is significant. 

In my article I end by comparing the Monster energy drink logo to Kabbalah and the Numogram.

As it is made clear in the CCRU and Land's essay Qabbala 101, the tree of life of Kabbalah/Qabbala/Jewish Mysticism centers around 10, while the numogram - which resembles the tree of life - centers around 9 and does not acknowledge 10. 

1+8=9

2+7=9

3+6=9

4+5=9

5+4=9

6+3=9

7+2=9

8+1=9

10 = 0+1 or 1+0

Whereas 0 is significant, 10 is redundant, and diagrammatic inductors - like the numogram - do not work with representational redundancies! 

Religion - territorialized, centralized Oedipal human-security-systems - begin with an arbitrary 10 and work backwards. The Outside - deterritorialized, decentralized, time loops - they start with zero and work through various 9s. Zero is the base material flow of the plane of immanence. The drain that inhuman forces circle. 

So the Monster Ultra Zero went from 0 calories - consistent with the numogram, libidinal economics, etc., - to 10 calories, and seemingly without any notification from Monster as a company. No ad campaigns, no disclaimers, even the website still claims 0 calories. And it went from 0 to 10 after I wrote my piece Libidinal Materialism, Kabbalah, Energy Drinks, and the 30 Year Old Boomer.

I believe I dragged numogrammatic forces into the light of day, making some powerful people - or creatures - too aware of the occultist program of monster, and the libidinal zero was transformed - likely accidentally - into a impotent 10 to prevent the libidinal resonances from overflowing and running amok in our culture. 

My article may have hyperstitioned a 0 into a 10 by making it known. And for that I am sorry. 



 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pseudohauntology: How Netflix's Cecil Hotel Docuseries (Freudo)Marxpilled Me

 In my reflections on the Netflix original adaption Hill House and Blye Manor I wrote 

"if a good ghost story has ever demonstrated anything it is that reality is much scarier than any ghost story...the patients staying at the mental ward I work at would stay up late, playing with Ouija boards, claiming they saw or heard ghosts...Meanwhile, their bones were hollowing out, their heart rates dangerously low, their skin torn up by razor blades, their throats eroded from vomiting, etc. Despite my bosses wish to take away the Ouija, I did not intervene. This was an escape for them, and a somewhat healthy one. This did not stop me, however, from quietly thinking 'the real horror is not the ghost, but what these people have been through, what traumas they've been subjected to, and the significance of their mental anguish.'

The real horror is quite mundane..."

This truth is again confirmed in the recent Netflix original docuseries on the Cecil Hotel

A smart, talented, young girl goes missing in a hotel with a dark past. Eerie CCTV footage is released of her last moments in an elevator where she appears to be acting strange, out of character.


With such a set up - one that follows all the horror, mind-bending psychological thriller tropes to such an extent that it ends up perfectly mimicking a psychological horror thriller called Dark Water! - its no surprise that internet sleuths begin to uncover a number of bizarre connections - some of which are completely consistent with my own occultist/hyperstitional research in my own piece Canada Connections: Demon Machines - that border on the eerie and absurd (just watch the documentary, I'm not going to get into them here).

And it's no surprise that from this a number of supernatural and conspiratorial theories developed. Was she demonically possessed? Was it a ghost who is responsible for her strange disappearance (or murder, as is it is later discovered)? Or was it not a ghist but a Satan Worshipping Black Metal musician? Is this all part of a government funded psyop? 

It appears there is a good case to be made for each, but as it turns out the answer is both much more mundane and horrifying - and much more immanent: she suffered from Bipolar II, better known as manic depressive syndrome, which can have psychotic-like symptoms during the manic phases, and she was off her meds

Wait, wait! Don't stop reading! We don't have to reify or commit to psychiatric or medical models here at all (I sure don't, and I work as a mental health professional!) to extract the point!

Yes, We don't have to buy into psychiatry, nor do we have to pathologize at all, to acknowledge that some people's 'mental states' - for better or for worse, whether right or wrong - do not map as easily onto the outside world as others' might. In fact, you don't even have to believe that meds are good or effective or any other mental health discourse to acknowledge this. What is clear here is that this young girl had an episode where she became disoriented and at odds with the shared world in a way that caused her to make decisions which most would consider more or less dangerous, and which likely lead to her death. 

She wasn't possessed, tormented by a ghost, or - despite the interesting hyperstitional resonances - a pawn in a gov't psyop (well, maybe this last one...). She was immanently unwell in her body. As I have written elsewhere on my own ghost sightings, the ghost was her own projected, unintegrated bodily experiences, and a symptom of our own lack of understanding. 

But what about the hotel's dark past? The famous serial killer known as the Nightstalker had residence in this hell hole! So many people died there! So many people committed despicable acts! etc.! We can't overlook these facts! It must surely point to something other-worldly! 

Yes and no. Mostly no. It's interesting that people's first reaction is to ascribe some sort of supernatural, transcendental evil or spiritual malady to the hotel rather than simply acknowledge that the hotel is in not just any bad part of town, but perhaps the worst part of town in the entire country, and that the hotel had - both in order to survive and to comply with state law - significantly loosened its standards on who could stay in the hotel, and what the hotel could do remove unruly or dangerous residents and guests. 

That is, inhuman(ist) Capitalist greed on the part of the owner (hiding the danger and marketing the place as safe for tourists) and humanist progressive legislation on the part of the state (laws preventing the eviction of unruly, often criminal guests) lead to a collision of naïve, middle and upper-class people and desperate, zero-sum lower class people; a perfect storm of sexualized murder and libidinal torture on a grand scale; hardened 'super predators' (in a non pejorative sense) and hapless prey. 

In short, its not ethereal demonic forces at play in the building and person, but economic and psychological ones. Or rather, the real demonic forces in the world are economic and psychological ones - material bodies and their incorporeal aspects; collective and individual maladies of bodies, not abstract spiritual sicknesses. 

This is where the the paranoid conspiratorial thinking gets it half right. It correctly attributes significance to the building, the structure and the space it occupies and the way it brings varied people together into that shared space. It goes wrong is when it avoids the inhuman forces of harsh reality that create these situations, and displaces any real, meaningful understanding of the girl's death, the hotel, the history of violence into the mystical, paranoid, religious realm thereby - in a strange twist of irony - making the detectives and their methodologies of investigating, critiquing evidence, and following material clues to their end the ones most in touch with the materialist and scientific realities of classes and society. 

In other words, if here's a reductive bullet point to extract from Marx and all the derivatives projects is that we gloss over real material conflicts and instead substitute grand theoretical abstractions. To harken back to my opening statement about the horror of reality and the mental patients - as a therapist I see this glossing over reality in favor of abstract theory everyday on the ward and in my outpatient private practice: people concoct the most interesting fantasies to explain away why these things keep happening to them, why they keep getting themselves in the same situations, and they wonder aloud about the answer when the answer is always so clear, and they make no inclination of wanting an answer from me.

For example, take the vignette I mentioned in my Entry 28 of my psychoanalysis blog

Patient: "I keep putting in job applications and not getting calls back - - I bet they.." [patient devolves into a paranoid theory of how the job hirers must be hiring people with money or connections over him, etc.].

Me: "Have you tried calling back?"

Patient: "No, I haven't"

Me: "If you'd like to test your theory that you are being neglected due to not having connections or money, then you might want to try calling back and seeing if you can't get an interview" 

Similarly, later in the session:

"All my friends are successful in [job field]. I'm in the same field and I can't seem to be as successful as them. It must be because [patient devolves into a paranoid theory of how and why these people have achieved success, etc.].  

Me: "Have you tried asking them what makes them successful instead of theorizing to me about it? You have these people as a resource - - they are your friends, they will answer you, why not ask them?"

It's important to note that I have been working with this fellow for 4 years and we have a good rapport which allows me to be this forward, and its time he challenge his own fantasies and do something if he wants more out of his life. It's time to face reality - test your theory, talk to people who aren't just ideas in your head, and face the fact that - not unlike Occham's Razor - it is often the simple mundane reasons not the complex ones that explain why things happen. 

Tl;dr: whether its ghosts and conspiracies around a murder, or not receiving a call back for a job, the truth of reality is painful and mundane. It's much easier to turn to fantasy (see The Capitalist Unconscious: Marx and Lacan by Samo Tomsic who documents the link between the thought structure of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxism). 

This is why horror set in the realm of realism - what is often Locvecraftian - is so effective. A detective or someone in a similar role (not unlike the cops in the Cecil docuseries) must uncover an ever deepening plot, following a string of grisly clues that leads them deeper into a harsh reality. John Carpenters In the Mouth of Madness - an ode to Lovecraft - follows this trope, along with the video game Call of Cthullhu

More generally, it can be seen in films such as Jacob's Ladder, The Shining, or the creepy homeless guy who consumes the Puzzlebox at the end of Hellraiser. Or, in slightly different flavors, in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1000 Corpses / The Devil's Rejects, or Hostel where the tone of cultural transgression - the naïve city folk or tourists (not unlike the young girl who went to Cecil hotel) overstepping or misunderstanding the country cultural norms - permeates the film and sets the stage for our cast of characters to be punished through slaughter for their thoughtless deeds.  

We this again in its more refined, 'high-culture' art-house form in Ari Aster's recent films Hereditary and Midsommar (the latter of which shares the 'cultural transgression' trope) in which - not unlike The Shining - the most horrific moments of Aster's films are the breakdown in group social dynamics that lead to very real, traumatic violent ruptures in otherwise smooth, trance-like experiences; family or friends act in ways that unsettle us or unground us, distort our common reference points, lead to horrific accidents, or suicides. For Aster, not unlike the point I made above, and at the start, that which is most horrific is that which is most real and also most mundane, that which ruptures our sense of continuity - mental and somatic traumas.

The trauma of the real. 

Paranoia brings manic libidinal energy, but manic libidinal energy needs to be reigned in by scientific method. This is what is attempted - and often failed - with 'scientific socialism' or 'scientific materialism.' It is also, as Tomsic writes in his work, the connection between psychotherapy and social activism: helping people have access to the real in a way that the real informs their collective behaviors.  



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Solving Epicurus' Trilemma: An Immanent, Emanating God

I was reading Bill Bryson's 2003 A Short History of Nearly Everything recently. 

He explains early on in the book that to say the 'Big Bang' occurred 'in' space or 'early / prior in time' is a confused statement. Rather, the big bang created space and time, and space expanded as the big bang did, 'filling' it along the way. Unfortunately the book is downstairs in my cold car, and I am upstairs in my warm bed, so I can't quote the book exactly for clarity.

Luckily, another scientific article on the web articulates the same idea:

 "According to modern cosmological theory...the big bang did not occur somewhere in space; it occupied the whole of space. Indeed, it created space...Space is itself infinitely elastic; it is not expanding into anything."

It reminds me of when Nick Land, in some New Center for Research and Practice lecture, reminded his class that 'there is no time in time,' and that to say as much is to contradict Kant and commit a 'transcendental error.' He is referencing the fact that for Kant, space and time are categorical intuitions that without which we could not think or experience anything.

What stuck with me here is that space expanded at the same time this imperceptible singularity event did. The event grew its own space to fill. Self-generated its own sandbox to mess around in. 

Reading this description in Bryson's book trigged a sort of flashback.

It's nearly 9 years ago in my first year of undegrad. My philosophy teacher - a really cool progressive Rabbi who wrote a two volume dissertation on Nietzsche, who first introduced me to Kant by suggesting I read Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics for summer reading, and who would go on to teach me everything from Anselm and Maimonides, to Nietzsche, to Jewish Mysticism etc., - is teaching us the below problem:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

This is known as Epicurus' trilemma. 

It is in part predicated on the problem of free will.

Malevolence and omnipotence can be summed together as omniscience - all knowingness. Epicurus' argument here is 'If God knows someone is going to do something bad, why doesn't he stop it?' So, in other words, how can God be omnipotent and malevolent and still allow bad things. 

So it's a question of 'How can we solve the problem of God knowing of human's evil deeds?'

My answer was that most if not all - including Epicurus' here - understandings of God's omniscience are predicated on the assumption of God knowing in advance the things that occur, and that if we instead assume God knows all things not in advance, but only as they occur in real time, then this trilemma is solved.

That is, God is all knowing - he knows all things the very second they occur - because you cannot know what does not yet exist; you cannot know virtual but unrealized aspects of a process. God knows becomings, and processes of becomings, he does not have advance knowledge of static beings. Like a security guard who watches many videofeeds from many cameras - he knows of things as they occur, but not in advance.

I illustrated this for my professor as a circle emanating outwards. The outer edge of the circle signifies the point at which both the human and God continually gain knowledge at the same time. The significance of the circle is that the area it covers as it expands is equal and infinite. As new becomings continually emerge, so does God's knowledge, in real time. Like ripples on the surface of a lake, emanating outwards. The circle captures unity, and removes temporal linearity, opens up multi-directionality, etc.

Not unlike the modern cosmology of the Big Bang that created its own space while occupying that space with 'substance' at the same time, my circular 'God' is the becomings of the universe manifest in the bodies of the world becoming aware of themselves as they occur in that singular moment. 


"That's kinda like our friend Whitehead's theory of God" my professor cheerfully responded (thus starting my intrigue into Whitehead). 

I've read most of his works and still don't know where this shows up, and I can't remember what he told me years ago, but I believe him.

In this rough sketch of God there are abundant connections to Deleuze and Guattari's Body Without Organs, Deleuze's interpretation of Nietzsche, or Nietzsche's own eternal return of the same, Kabbalah, the CCRU and Accelerationism, etc. which are all recapitulated nicely in Liturgy's theological conceptualizations (she can be found applying the numogram and attending old New Center for Research and Practice lectures). 

I wonder if someone else will - or has already - make these connections...

Anyways, I end with this:

To know everything is not necessarily to know in advance, but to know that immanent, single moment as it unfolds. To the let the immanent and singular know itself. 


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Token Humanization: Disney's Foucauldian Hell On Alderaan

Star Wars is not known for its ambiguity, complexity, or three dimensional characters. It's a mystical humanist tale of good and bad, light and dark, etc. 

The bad guys - whether the rather on-the-nose fascist Empire or the cliché corporatist warmongering Droid Trade Federation -  have always been composed of cold, faceless, inhuman copies: Clones, droids, faceless number-for-name identical troops, etc. This is even true for the leaders who are supposed to be unique from the horde! Sure, Vader gets a humanist redemption arc, but the Emporor is essentially faceless, almost formless. 

To this effect, Mark Fisher, responding to the rhetorical question of whether Star Wars 'sold out' by allowing itself to be bought by Disney, framed the film as a shallow, reactionary pastiche that brought nothing new and rehashed the old, while Rick and Morty recently poked fun at how the heroes in Star Wars seem to be able to kill mass amounts of people with little to no feelings, nor any real thought for the consequences of innocents caught in the crossfire

Because Star Wars is like the antiquated scientific discussion of the Universe and Entropy - if given enough time, Star Wars will prove these critiques right again (and again, and again...) - Star Wars recently fell into this trap again. 

In Season 2 of the Mandalorian an Imperial pilot takes the moral high ground against a to-be Rebel Alliance / New Republic hero whose innocent family was killed years ago by the Empire. 

"I was on the Death Star...do you know how many millions were killed on those bases as the galaxy cheered?" the pilot seethes, trying to contain his rage. He continues to provoke, she shoots him in the face. The viewer is supposed to be excited, identified with the hero. [1]*

While watching the scene - before going on to see its conclusion of course - I thought 'odd, it is unlike Star Wars to humanize its enemies, and unlike them to incorporate moral ambiguity (except for that very shoddy attempt in Star Wars: The Last Jedi about arms dealers selling to the Resistance the First Order..).' Then he gets shot in the head and it all makes sense again. I realize it's a humanization that is only there to emphasize his ultimate inhumanity; only there to forever result in a satisfying kill for the hero.

This is what I call token humanization

We're all familiar with tokenism in media - when something is injected into a book, show, or film out of obligation to moral pressure, or perhaps to clinch a certain audience and boost views, etc. The key aspect of tokenism is that something progressive is featured in an insincere manner. This does not mean that the presentation isn't sincere - no, for Tokenism to work it has to fool you into believing in its utmost sincerity - but rather it means that the motives behind the presentation are insincere. 

On the one hand, this moment of token humanizing the despicable bad guy is a symptom of our postmodern culture and its obsession with psychologism. Everyone needs a backstory, and Disney - the real evil Empire that gobbles up everything it can reach and spits out pastiche after cash-cow pastiche - knows that in 2020 there is some sort of obligation to humanize the bad guy. Or perhaps they realize there is simply a market for it! Disney doesn't believe it, nor is it consistent with Star Wars, but here it is! As quickly as it comes (an attempt to respond to the pressure, the obligation of painting a three dimensional character and a complex world) it vanishes in the barrel-smoke of a blaster pistol (the return to the narrative consistency of the Star Wars world and its corporate masters, Disney).

On the other hand, this token humanization is perhaps indicative of the tumultuous times; indicative of the inability for one side of the conflict to conceptualize the other. Even if it is evil, is it not possible to understand the evilness without encouraging it? Without agreeing with it? The Talmud Scholar Saul Liberman is known to have said 'Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense - that's scholarship!' Could the same not be said for evil - 'Evil is evil, but the history of evil - that's revolutionary!' Probably not, but there's a thought that is difficult to articulate here that is worth pondering...

Regardless, in the end token humanization of the baddies may be even worse than dehumanization of the baddies! What could be more cruel and sadistic than assigning depth and agency to the play thing before taking it away again. Like mad scientists making a frog conscious of itself seconds before its to be dissected by a 5th grade science class. Or, one may recall Foucault's discussion of torture and punishment, and how theologically inspired torturers in the early centuries of civilization fantasized about killing someone and bringing them back to life to kill them again as punishment! Is this not one description of Hell? Leave it to Disney to bring Hell to Earth through through a children's show (TV Demonism anyone?)!

At the end of the day, we're better off with Space Spaghetti Westerns with one dimensional baddies; stupid movies that know their place! Star Wars is not known for its ambiguity, complexity, or three dimensional characters. It's a mystical humanist tale of good and bad, light and dark, etc. And that's OK.


[1]*

See Slavoj Zizek's 1999 article '‘You May!’Slavoj Žižek writes about the Post-Modern Superego'

"It’s as though a neo-Nazi skinhead, pressed to give reasons for his behavior, started to talk like a social worker, sociologist or social psychologist, citing diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood.

‘Post-Modern racism’, the surprising characteristic of which is its insensitivity to reflection – a neo-Nazi skinhead who beats up black people knows what he’s doing, but does it anyway."

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Not Genius Humans Writing Genius Inhumans: Descartes, Kant, Vinge, Jameson, Fisher and the Sci-Fi Outside.

"science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories about all that technology may do for us. More and more, these writers felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such fantasies millions of years in the future. Now they saw that their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable...Once, galactic empires might have seemed a Posthuman domain. Now, sadly, even interplanetary ones are" - Vernor Vinge, Technological Singularity 1993

There is a genre of movie that center on a hyper intelligent, inhuman, or superhuman protagonist. These are not aliens from a distant world, nor even subjects alienated by global capitalism - they are terrestrial aliens; aliens of this world but unlike it. They are unworldly. 

These characters have elevated reflexes, can anticipate and predict others' thoughts and strategize in advance, etc. 

In Limitless (2011) Bradley Cooper takes a designer drug that makes him fast and smart. 

In Lucy (2014) Scar-Jo accidentally takes a designer drug that makes her fast and smart.

In Hitman Agent 47 (2015) Rupert Friend is not taking designer drugs but is himself a designer drug - a designer baby to be precise; a killer genetically engineered and pumped full of drugs and propaganda at birth to make him a android-like murder. His sister, played by Hannah Ware, is like this too - except more smarter.  

In Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) there are two characters; they are not 'android-like'  but are cyborgs or androids themselves; one a bad guy terminator, one techno-modified heroine.*

*[as an aside - perhaps indicative of cultural trends in media: in 2011, the super-inhuman character is a male, in 2014 a woman, in 2015 and 2019 a man and women - the archetype is complexifying...]

All these characters are supposed to be really smart, and the film goes to great lengths to try and convince the viewer these characters are really smart - the thing is these characters keep doing dumb, boring things. To the viewer they behave in mundane, predictable ways. Cooper, Johansen, Friend, Ware, and the terminator and anti-terminator ultimately just shoot people and maneuver slightly more tactically, efficiently than their opponents. 

What this illustrates are the Kantian epistemological and imaginary limits of the human and its attempt to radically think and radically create outside of one's self; the human attempt to create the inhuman; an attempt, and ultimate failure.

In other words, people who aren't themselves inhuman super intelligent beings cannot conceptualize what it is like to be as such. Thus, the end product in these films is a normal person's normal ideas of a nonnormal person's nonnormal ideas. These character's supposed hyper-superior thought and behavior are merely recycled and rearranged milquetoast thought and behavior. 

Descartes, in his iconic Meditations on First Philosophy, writes

"...the visions that come in sleep are like paintings: they must have been made as copies of real things; so at least these general kinds of things – eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole – must be real and not imaginary. For even when painters try to depict sirens and satyrs with the most extraordinary bodies, they simply jumble up the limbs of different kinds of real animals, rather than inventing natures that are entirely new. If they do succeed in thinking up something completely fictitious and unreal – not remotely like anything ever seen before – at least the colours used in the picture must be real. Similarly, although these general kinds of things – eyes, head, hands and so on – could be imaginary, there is no denying that certain even simpler and more universal kinds of things are real. These are the elements out of which we make all our mental images of things – the true and also the false ones." 

We can't think or create new categories. These hyper-supreme characters are like Descartes's animals - recycle from old, boring parts. And the psyche has a limited primordial grid or series of categories from which it filters and assembles the outside. 

Jung, pulling from the likes of Descartes and Kant, refers to this as an archetype which he defines as the way an instinct - or an inorganic geological physical force territorialized and cybneretically birthed into a physiological force within a body (not unlike the Golem myth where mud turns into a creature with some magic...); a deep outside trapped as deep inside. - manifests as a primordial image, or narrative structure. As Fisher points out dealing with similar concepts, Outsideness rips gaps in the fabric of the real which are assembled together with fictions. 

In both his first and last book Fisher uses Fredric Jameson to discuss a similar process: science fiction cannot really conceptualize the future - future society, future tech, etc. - as it can't surpass the epistemic wall that cordons off the future in advance; the deep future can only be conceived in and by the tools of the present or near future. To return to the excerpt of Vinge from our introduction, this is because technology develops in nonlinear, unpredictable ways, and because the most interesting high tech stuff is way out there, authors and filmmakers cannot really imagine the future. 

Limits cannot be traversed and represented. Real 'limitless' or machine(ic) thought or behavior would be much smarter than boring gunplay - or much more intense, and extreme in its violence. The future, like the hypersupreme, will either be hyper intelligent, or ultraviolent (see the most recent Predator franchise installment which pits an autistic human against a violent alien predator, and the research that relates autism to the dark triad of personality traits...). A highly cinematic 9mm automatic...but without the Oedipal personal theater cinema...

As mentioned, in Fisher's first text Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction (1999)

"Gothic Materialism is interested in the ways in which what would appear ultramodern – the gleaming products of a technically sophisticated capitalism – end up being described in the ostensibly archaic terms familiar from Horror fction: zombies, demons...think of it as the continuation of a nonorganic line that is positively antagonistic to progressive temporality. As Iain Hamilton Grant puts it, 'the Terminator has been there before, distributing microchips to accelerate its advent and fuel the primitives’ fears...'

...the nonorganic line as occupied by Gothic Materialism is to be distinguished both from 'the supernatural' (the supposed province of Horror fction) and 'speculative technology' (the home of Science Fiction). For Gothic Materialism, the sublime still belongs to a human(ist) aesthetics of representation (precisely because it fixes what lies beyond representation as the unrepresentable). Gothic Materialism’s aesthetic theory, as we shall see below, derives not from...Kant..." (pg. 3, 14).

In his last text The Weird and the Eerie (2016), Fisher writes 

"the vampire and the werewolf...these creatures are merely empirically monstrous; their appearance recombines elements from the natural world as we already understand it" (pg. 15). 

They are supernatural, not weird. As opposed to the boring supernatural, the weird and eerie is rooted in the fragmented outer limits of the natural (or hypernatural) - the Lovecraftian outside (pg. 16-18, 20-21); an deep unknowable outside that is only glimpsed through the horror of a deep unknowable inside - the Freudian unconscious (which Guattari deems 'marchinic' and schizophrenic in nature) which lies beyond Kantian categories (pg. 22); A Jamesonian "nostalgia for the present" (48-50). 

This genre of movie that centers on a hyper-supreme unworldly character with elevated reflexes, who can anticipate and predict others' thoughts and strategize in advance, etc. - the 'limitless' or limit-surpassing characters fail to really bring in the outside and only suceed in illustrating the limitations of representational imagination and humanist narcissism; the failure of the human to conceptualize the machinic. 

It's not all failures though. Like in science, these failures are also an opportunity to precisely explore a positive project; to explore what a film of such nature would be. What would an exploration of the Outside look and feel like? A wash of intensities? Colors? 

One comes to mind...