Cinema At The End Of the World
By Louis Armand.
Long interstellar voyages – if they are ever undertaken – will not use dead-reckoning on the Sun. Our mighty star, on which all life on Earth depends, our Sun, which is so bright that we risk blindness by prolonged direct viewing, cannot be seen at all at a distance of a few dozen light-years – a thousandth of the distance to the center of our Galaxy. – Carl Sagan, Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective
It’s 1973, the Apollo programme’s been on ice since last December. After Cernan & Schmitt, no more whitey on the moon. Science fiction just turned retro. On Earth, meanwhile, Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars have glammed it up for their final encore at the Hammersmith Odeon. It’s a sign of the times. “See you round, sweetheart,” grins Robert Fuest’s hunchbacked mutant three months later, as he/she/it salutes the camera & lurches forth from Professor Cornelius’s secret Lapland laboratory & ex-Nazi U-boat pen into the icy tundra, fate as yet unreported. It’s the closing scene of The Final Programme (a.k.a. The Last Days of Man on Earth), a loose adaptation of the first of Michael Moorcock’s “Jerry Cornelius” novels (1969), panned by the critics & “shunted into obscurity.” Following on the heals of The Abominable Dr Phibes & Dr Phibes Rises Again, this “psychedelic sci-fi” crossed with “proto-punk” can now be seen as a gleefully ironic Accelerationist Manifesto avant la lettre. Miming Capitalism’s preoccupation with the “end of history,” the film transmutes the atomic doomsday scenarios of Cold War daytime television into a fast-track to evolutionary posthumanism. The dilemma might rather be posed thus: “How to fabricate a new Messiah, harbinger of a new era? A gigantic computer, augmenting the brains of illustrious scientists, gives birth to a hermaphroditic monster capable of reproducing itself.” The eponymous final programme is exactly what it says it is, the ultimate bit of algorithmic voodoo in the transcendence of human frailties to the bio-informatic beyond, which looks remarkably like a throwback to something that just crawled out of a primordial swamp (Return to the Planet of the Apes).
Fuest’s cyborg “fantasy” nevertheless stakes claim to a serious thesis, for if the doomsday box & climate catastrophe both lie upon the plane of progress & the perfectibility of the species, so does the existential paradox of a Human Condition in the wake of an evolutionary process that never stops. Perhaps, though, it may be détourned: the Anthropocene as final solution to the problem of what the future may hold for a species outpacing itself towards extinction. Mate a virile sardonic Jon Finch with a quite literally man-eating Jenny Runacre, zap in a bit of solar-nuclear fusion, brains in jars & a mainframe that thankfully hasn’t been programmed to talk like some sort of vocational guidance counsellor, & you get a preview of what it looks like when accelerated eugenics runs head-on into the whitewashing narcissistic feedback-loop of its own accomplished image. It ain’t pretty. Picture an hermaphroditic Dr Phibes doing a Quasimodo routine – as far from Ultima Thulite visions of Barbarella-esque racial purification as any species which isn’t already a parody of itself could hope to get. Reminding, of course, that the “future” is always by degrees alien, & not merely alienated from the programmatic deliria of every futurism. Which is indeed disappointing to those aesthetes of progress-by-design.
Fuest’s Frankenstinian monstrum would simply be a glitch in need of instant rectification, were it not for the inconvenient fact (it’s a film, after all) that the options have been drastically narrowed, since – like the prevalent doomsday scenario hanging over the heads of the Cold War’s willing & unwilling executioners alike – for this New World Order to be born, the Old must first be snuffed out: a bold evolutionary leap as irrevocable as entropy. Fastforward, but no rewind. Too bad if the Accelerationist gambit winds up resembling an Oedipal travesty of “ontological mutation” without the mascara: the “historical production of the category of information” deformed (of course, we’ve all come to love our “deformities”) into a (Hosanna!) Artificial Intelligence tripping the louvered light transcendent of all that Posthuman Autopoiesis bureaucrats dream of at night. The Algorithmic Subject stumbles on towards the next reflective surface – it might be nothing more than a binary switch, a twinned particle in an ion trap, or a pair of tweezers down a jockstrap. What matters is that it impinge upon something. Call it materialist aesthetics, getting back to first principles (before anyone or anything else can get their dirty little tentacles on it). Call it avantgardism après la lettre – but then what other kind of avantgarde is there? (“Like” Schrödinger’s idiot savant, you never know if the apocalypse switch has been flipped inside the doomsday box until you take that peek: but it always sees you first.) Prepare for the jump to hyperspace, speculation at light speed: all those point-to-point vectors rushing out of the screen in 3D, like an orgy of Cartesianism.
Do we expect our posthuman avatar to sit there gushing at the view? That “cascade of Anthrocidal traumas – from Copernicus & Darwin, to postcolonial & ecological inversions, to transphylum neuroscience & synthetic genomics, from nanorobotics to queer AI – pulverise figure & ground relations between doxic political traditions & aesthetic discourses. Before any local corpus (the biological body, formal economics, military state, legal corporation, geographic nation, scientific accounting, sculptural debris, or immanent theology) can conserve & appreciate its self-image within the boundaries of its preferred reflection, already its Vitruvian conceits of diagrammatic idealisation, historical agency, radiating concentric waves of embodiment, instrumental prostheticisation, & manifest cognition are, each in sequence, unwoven by the radically asymmetrical indifferences of plastic matter across unthinkable scales, both temporal & spatial.” The whole array of pathetic fallacies, in other words, dolled-up, like some Faustian Final Pogrom, in so much alchimerical futurama. Which is why Accelerationism is just neo-Humanism in Star Trek cosplay. Remember Doctor Lacan’s snap-o-matic? Positioned on its tripod, H.G. Wells-like, “in a world from which all living beings have vanished,” trained on the reflection of a mountain in a lake (lac – haha)? For “living beings” we need only reinsert “human beings” to inflect (as indeed intended) the “materialist definition of consciousness” posed here as a problem of subjectivity, humanistically conceived. The fantasy of “seeing ourselves” from the position of a universal category: the other “species,” the other form of “intelligence,” etc. “This avenue toward posthumanism is a reckoning with planetarity & its incompleteness… From that outside looking back in, the generative alienations brought about by potential xenopolitics, xenoaesthetics, xenoarchitectonics, xenotechnics, & so on, turn back upon the now inside-out geopolitical aesthetic for which the relevance of human polities (human art, human experience) seems weird & conditional.”
As it was once said, the eye by which I perceive The Man isn’t the same eye by which He perceives me. Nor the philosophical bat, nor Fuest’s Übermensch, nor Accelerationist AI. It isn’t simply a question of switching the terms in some dialectical shell game, like the (deconstruction-never-happened) infatuation with “new concepts” handed down from the ad execs at D&G: “We need a new language to describe emergent forms of commodity economy. It’s not neo anything or post anything. It’s not late Capitalism or cognitive Capitalism. Modifiers won’t do. It’s based on an ontological mutation: the historical production of the category of information.” Back we are in the Pre-Cambrian of onto-linguistics dreaming once more of Post-Historic semanticisms. (I means what I says I does.) Though as Wittgenstein’s mistress put it, “If an idiot could speak, we could not understand him.” So if, getting ahead of ourselves, we could eavesdrop on our own posthumorous evolutionary condition, what would we hear, what would we see, through the scanner darkly of our obliging avatar? Some autoencoded Blade Runner analogue? Some dreary “machined aesthete” to confirm our fondest hopes or worst fears, that après nous, le Deleuze? Or that, in History’s aftermath, it’s Fukuyamas all the way down? Picture again that Kodachrome on the lakeshore, dutifully recording (on His behalf) The Man’s unpaid absence from the picture, a disappearance act to beat the band, elegantly finessed into this most sublimely anaesthetic of all algorithms – namely, becoming God – in which “we” collectively rehearse the role of Judge Schreber to an audience of avid proctologists? Something to jerk a tear or raise a hard-on in any self-respecting non-entity let alone a “neo-Humanist” AI?
The socalled irony here supposedly being that what’s dead already in this picaresque snuff-film of ours is the quaint idea that humanity’s still there, “outside” the commodification mincer (all you need to do is find a way to slip past the spinning blades unscathed); that the very essence of humanity isn’t itself incorporated to the hilt in the engines of “control & value,” etc.; that, in fact, humanity isn’t already “posthumous,” isn’t already that ground-down Frankenstein skinjob we make believe only the least believable future has in store for us. What, after all, is this thing we call Artificial Intelligence if not the very apotheosis of the Human Condition (both en avant & after the fact)? Which is to say, of that evolution of “symbiotic exchange” (language, i.e., in its broadest ramification) out of which the human abstract a.k.a. commodity makes a show of “merging” into Marx’s “paradigm shift”? In other words, so to speak, in a manner of, etc.: from the mists of pre-industrial proto-history into the fully-fledged alienation of automated self-production? And by declensions ineluctable if not unelectable, to McLuhan’s “2nd commodity evolution”: which is to say, from domestic product to classified information? And thus, in turn, to yet a “3rd evolutionary phase”: the commodification of (all) future possibility “as such,” etc., etc., etc. And since what we’re talking about is really a kind of retrospective paradox – an “historical perspective” on “successive disillusionments,” like the paranoiac awakening of They Live or the retro-futurist “devolution” of The Final Programme – this “future possibility” is (thus) always already involved in a regress to “first principles.” Call it “commodifickation at the origine (du monde)”: a recursive future-feedback loop from Gustav Courbet’s birth canal to Adam’s navel to Faust’s fountain-pen, where all the outcomes, no matter how antithetical, are incorporated a priori in a squiggle of quasi-transcendentalism (self-affirming re-obsolescence in perpetuity, no less, like shite off a shovel). Call it, if you must, a God Machine on the Instalment Plan, or simply a godemiché for meta-Capitalism’s VIP event horizon: a Who’s Who from Malthus to Nuclear Armageddon to Climate Catastrophe to War of the Worlds, dot-dot-dot.
All these bespoke permissibilities attesting to the dubious fact that (in the final analysis, etc.) the Anthropocene’s import isn’t the degree of change inflicted on the world by abstracted human agencies (KGB, BHP, DNA), but globalised Liberal Humanism’s dishing-up Fukuyama-like of the s(c)um of all possible future world-states in a free-for-all cornucopia (this “Material World” & not some Garden of Gethsemane ecological mythomeal to chew on). And to the extent that such “agency” – as a complex of pseudo-computable subjectivities – comes packaged with algorithmic pink ribbons on & little copulating ones & zeros, so too “The World” – like a Pacific All Risk wet fantasy of bankable balance-sheets, adding up to a double-indemnified conspiracy engine always demanding its due from a system that’s been rigged from the start. “See you round, sweetheart!” The humanitarian veneer over all this tends meanwhile to reflect with undiminished sameness the question of how to weather the “real” & “psychic” perturbations of this version of the “End of History” (catastrophe amelioration) in a way that’ll permit a maintainable degree of normality in the hereafter (how many suckers does it take to buy a confession from The Man?). Which is to say, in the hereafter of the ultimate “disillusionment” (improbability max: a seismic shitstorm hits the fan, but you’re still prepared to hand over your umbrella if the price is right). All the plots hatched out of this accelerated futurismus are still no more than pale epiphenomena, like everything else, of those “ideological conditions” (cryptoHumanist metaCapitalism) they make such pretence to dumping on the tracks, or in a vat of acid, or firing into deep space. So much for analogies. Confession’s just a short con for a slice of posterity when the chips are down. “Captains log, stardate 2666: We blew it!”
Flashforward to the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001: A Space Oddity. All these programmatic bugbears about the collective “afterlife,” redecorated to resemble what they are: a “technologically assisted” narcissism accelerated to lightspeed – one that’s always still somehow belated, though, like those decapitated heads in the Place Vendôme getting their eight seconds of hindsight before being sucked back into the video vortex? Just one more rampant messianism dissolved into the mix, with all the other debunked false categories & theoretical fictions: subject, consciousness, history, science, ideology… Hyperstitions of the zero degree or final analysis, where ambivalence teeters on the brink of any narrative but this one (if only for the sake of “causally bringing about its own destiny” ). The whole ideational feedback circuit phasing out to a topology of equivalences, tending towards the disconcerting fact that between a “false belief” & an “idea” there’s only the perverse arbitration of a cinematic deus ex machina, like an occult influence inscribed on Entropy’s forehead (all hegemonic doodads being inherently spectral, in any case). Work the trick fast enough & no-one’ll even notice that, from the preponderance of arbitrary POVs, they’re already dead. Constant acceleration being, after all, the Universal Condition (“every point is already a vector”; “every signified is already a signifier”). From Big Bang to Cosmic Crunch: metaphor machines of the next instalment of the Ultimate Extinction Event (the “Death of God” on interstellar relay fiddling the DEFCON switch, etc.). Weltschmerz commodification. “Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic fistfuck of the first degree.” The credits roll but there’s no-one left watching. The cinema’s empty. In fact, there is no cinema. There’s no screen. No credits, either, just bits of metadata, algorithmic interference coming through the vacuum: EMR signatures emanating & simultaneously ceasing to emanate from a region in timespace designated in advance as The End of the World (Cecil B. DeMille directing from beyond the grave, with a slate of sequels already in pre-post-production: TEotW2: Madame Atomos’s Untimely Revenge, TEotW3: Fahrenheit 2000, TEotW4: The Ultimate Extinction Event, etc., all the way down to TEotWX: Flow My Tears, The Melancholic Godhead Said).
The repeat signature sequence is priceless: Earth in c600 or 6million years, rising out of the black in a single continuous panning shot, as if Lacan’s camera on the shore had magically drifted off, out to the edge of space now, some “Voyager” analogue with its eye still trained on the rearview mirror – & from that vantage, ideally situated to “experience humanity’s destruction” (though whether or not “as an aesthetic pleasure of the first degree” is a moot question: this isn’t Star Wars, kids). For if – as the lacklustre psychoanalyst went to pains to convey to his proxy audience of avid Anti-Oedipustules – this cinemendoscopic Angelus Novus thereby defines a certain condition of what we call subjectivity (being, the assumption of an image, in which a self-consciousness is simultaneously constituted & abolished – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”). Yet the one doesn’t mandate the other, just as the existence of “conditions for life” does not mandate life. And if our celestial cinematograph can be said to experience our own destruction for us, this would simply be in order to constitute a “human hypothesis.” For even in the event of “our” collectively assured destruction, it would remain necessary yet to posit that “interpassive subject” which is the other of the image in which this “technological consciousness” of The End is constituted. Just another mystifying “transcendence” of the socalled Human Condition? Just another wet-wired “prosthesis” to do the job on The Man’s behalf? Give the Other that Big Bang we’ll never get to experience ourselves (because it’s only ever the Other that experiences anyway: the pleasure’s always vicarious)?
All the techno-Cartesianisms promising their adherents a fast-track to the Holy Mountain are more than happy to take your cache: in the future, everyone’ll have their very own built-in peepshow to be world famous in. What difference does it make to your average Quasimodo if the “categorically human” is really (& has been all along) a flagrant prosthesis of its own devising? “A prosthesis of a prosthesis, my god!” Well, they’ve been queuing up since before Homo Sap2 first slouched out of darkest Afrique for a bit of that authentic separation-from-experience you get banging Neanderthals into extinction. Like an army of pillowbiters sabotaging the Great Creation to which all this is surely a contingent adjunct? Did someone say “sexual ambulance”? So much for the human hypothesis. “From originary technicity to the technological sublime, so said, the immanence of ‘species obsolescence’ speaks to the eschatological view of the ‘perfectibility of Man’ (apocalyptic monotheism),” if only because every schmuck loves an underdog who ends on top. Imagine waking up with a hangover & being handed that “the essence of humanity is nothing human” rap first thing in the morning? It’s bad enough when it’s zombies on the TV. All those “primordial simulacra” passing themselves off as the genuine dingus. On the mindfuck continuum, this scores in all categories. Now comes the part when the eggheads explain to Jerry Cornelius all about his Motherboard Complex. Confronted with this unpalatable formulation, it seems to Jerry that someone’s been pulling the viscose over his eyes. Will there be time to break Capitalism’s purchase upon the near-future Spielberg techno-sentimentalist afterlife?
What Jerry needs is a lusty Miss Brunner with whom to transform into that hermaphrodite cave monster he knows is lurking there inside himself & hijack the nearest space rocket tout de suite. In the next scene, Jerry’s turned into a Bolex-wielding Stanley Kubrick. He looks like he’s surfing one of those black monolith things through a psychedelic timewarp in the vicinity of Jupiter. In fact, he’s really an android, or not even an android, just a computer programmed to “think” it is: in the absence of evidence to the contrary, however, this God’s Eye Instamatic gets to play the Real Deal with the definitive take on the Big Picture down there – no sequels this time round, it’s the final remake in all its terminal glory, the Closing Scene to trump all the closing scenes since light was let be. Our Kosmo Kubrick here’s seen ’em all, so he ought to know. We hear him speak those immemorial words: “And… ACTION!” No retakes, he’ll get this down in one, the whole Technicolor calamity of it. But for all the superdooper array of computational potential, this “apocalyptic scene” might just as well’ve been CGI’d in some barrio backstreet abortion clinic. With no anaesthetic sentimental faculty of its own, the whole thing’d be bound to end up looking like something dredged from an atom-era movie repository, all about the eternally thwarted nostalgias of beings “lost in space” (no more Bluegrass on the Euphrates, no more Pale Blue Dot by comparison neither).
At a certain remove, even this supposed singularity of “final ends” would be cast in doubt, or adrift, or merely off. Diffracted through the cosmic lens, the broadcast news of humanity’s little Extinction Event would bifurcate, trifurcate, “become” plural, separated (at some stage) from itself by factors of lightyears: a perturbation in the universal grammar, the present subjunctive of an “Artificial Intelligence” drunk on a cosmic bender. Our Kubricked Angelus duly computes this apparent contradiction, this “strange superpositionality.” Yet on a sufficiently ambivalent scale, micro or macro, this might be reckoned as no anomaly at all, but the secret elemental condition of Creation Itself! Has our space oddity Angela Nova therefore touched witlessly upon the solemn truth of what we, in a terrestrial fit of narcissistic circumscription, call “consciousness” (out there!)? A consciousness beyond consciousness, & beyond death even? (My god, maybe there is a sequel in this after all!) Could this posthumous impulse be nothing more than the product of a misplaced prefix? A congruous im-probe-ability? A critical mass defined by a singular conjunction of circumstances? Some comic impost only coincidentally farced on “Spaceship Earth” – being a goulash of gravity, an axis of eccentricity, an excess of atmosphere, an overabundant animal magnetism, a too liberal distribution of “sympathetic molecules,” intemperate zones, periodic lunacy, etc.?
All giving rise to that particular tribe of entropophagi some genius baptised “Intelligent Life” & not just that collective neurosis called “Capitalism with a Human Face”? Well, at some point every experiment gets its plug pulled for it. Should this one be any different? Does the end product so far justify an extension of the franchise? Was the idea to can muzak-to-shit-by or a break-out number that’d chart? Or deathless art? Because we can’t do without them, there’re always dilemmas of this kind: What is to be done? Do we wait for the ship to sink while the proles are patching the hull, or scuttle it proactively in hope of bringing about a seachange in conditions (who knows, the water mightn’t be so deep, the ship might come to rest & form an island, ocean levels might drop, a volcano might rise up & bear us Ararat-like above the waves, “GOD” might recognise our plight & take pity, or everyone on board might suddenly perceive the error of their ways & collectively change the course of history by sheer dialectical force of this insight, etc.). Or else the metaphor’s on a wrong keel & it’s all about whether or not to stay stuck in the commuter traffic or take the initiative & hijack the grid, playing Chicken à la Unabomber with the AI up there running the show (THE FUTURE IS NOW) till the whole system crashes head-on or shits itself to death? Mad Max for the philanthropically-inclined Play Station jockey indulging an after-hours hacker fetish. Does he suspect that he, too, might be just another replicant picking a fight with The Man out of a chronic sense of under-employment / impotent self-loathing / incurable Oedipus Complex / delusional grandeur, etc? Maybe he’d feel better if he went out & bought something, a package holiday to Alpha Centauri perhaps? Or bowled for Columbine? Or joined a counterinsurgency in one of those sub-Saharan dictatorships? Or founded a cult south of the proverbial border, with enough Cool Aid freighted in to offset the obesity problem in the rest of the developmentally-challenged hemisphere? Do you think this is some kinda parody? “There’re maniacs loose in this world & the other maniacs aren’t doing (enough) to stop them!” “Well, the only way to deal with a maniac…” Now there’s one kind of maniac you’ll never beat. The maniac within. So our console jockey goes to the hot seat with a sense of purpose & that look in his eye which says, “Buckle your belts, kiddos, coz Kansas is going bye-bye (again)” (just like in the film), & when they switch the juice on, the whole Matrix goes fizz – it was all just in his head (right where the machines’d hidden it, “no-one’ll ever find it in there, hehe”). And so concludes our final transmission (why go on?).
They’ll still be receiving this schlock out in Quasar Country on its return run down the wormhole. Video-waves stirring the dustmotes of unformed future solar systems. Weird theremin music. Now, the authentic aura of humanity’s self-destruction ought to be worth something out there, even if only a first-degree “aesthetic pleasure” for some extraterrestrial squid-in-a-jar. But aura already got snuffed, there went history, too. It was the perfect crime, right out in broad starlight. The constellations crowded around taking selfies with the corpse, which didn’t exist. The only proof was that everything appeared absolutely normal. Far too normal. Right down to every little dysfunctional detail. It was like someone’s nineteenth-century GOD fitting up the fossil record on them dinosaurs & evolution, biggest fake-out of all time. Just to be fair they still gave everyone an opt-out, only they weren’t supposed to use it. Sometimes they’d get enough people in the same place all determined to hit the fastforward switch, give The Man a helping hand (like it says in the Book, GOD advances those who advance themselves). Call it progress by all the right alternative means. Other people just prefer to take their time about it, feel they’re making a contribution to the cause, get the most out of their own suffering & that of others, & do their best to ensure it gets shared around all down the line. “Well if you don’t, someone else will.” But to say that humanity’s obsolescent isn’t only uncharitable it’s a contradiction in terms. A man (& woman also) should own at least his/her own alienation. The miracle of life is that it always makes more of itself despite us (“What’re you taking about? We’re the only show on this here rock!”), all those additional little Surplus Values adding up, multiplying, dividing, logorithmising in a miraculous orgy of entropy to which someone’s existence at least ought to bear witness. And having born witness mayn’t it thus affirm how the “essence” of humanity didn’t come into being with the first cell division, but with the birth of Capitalism (or vice versa)?! That it is, in fact, symbiotic with the evolutionary process as expressed in the world as such & our front-row seats in it (“Executive Producers,” no less &, hey, isn’t that George Pal?). This “Capitalism” shtick isn’t some bit of transactable artifice imposed willy-nilly on the world, brother (no, no, no!), but the way the world is, the way it was meant to be! Dig, it’s a total, groovy, fully-surround environment, real in every respect, & it runs on nature’s very own pure entropy! Maximised to serve your needs, brother. Why worry about a world reduced to famine, war, slave labour, disease & rampant poverty, when you can sign up to our 3-step plan. It’s bye, bye, bye to the down-&-out doldrums & hello to the mortgage mamba! A body’s soul’s her own to sell, sister! That’s right, just sign on the line. There’s a friendly robot waiting right now to take all those worries off your shoulders in one gentle swoop. Hell, it even looks just like you! See, those’re holograms that’re its eyes…
Well, would you prefer the world to end with a whimper, or tinsel in a snowdome? Because we know that all the kitsch of History ends when we do. But owning a monopoly on kitsch in this Universe, we also know that in a very essential sense we’ll never end! (Hallelu!) The unmortgaged soul will travel outward like Voyager among the heavenly spheres: freed of the frail vessel of its physical body, it’ll journey in the Eternal Image, to mingle in the cosmic background radiation, amplified across the aeons. A pretty picture: you could blink & miss the whole show. Which is why we hired GOD to shill for our All Risk Premium Insurance Package. So that, even if we’re not around to do it ourselves, we’ll have our exclusive all-modcons Angelus Novus to shed a tear on our behalf, freshen the flowers, play back through the family album, pen one final never-ending obituary as deathless as [insert preferred canonical gush here]. It’d be efficacious, after all, for our guardian angel to know how to sing the “End of History” when the time comes, & clock the cosmic significance of it through the interstellar winters ahead (so that, spawning its nth-generation subprogramme millennia hence, it could solemnly say, “I was there”). Maybe toy with the cryogenic genome, see what kind of bio-soft knickknacks it can come up with, till, skidding through space at terminal velocity, the cosmic radiation finally fries its motherboards &, well, who knows, maybe that’s when ectoplasm from Betelgeuse intervenes with preservational cloning tools, for the sake of the archaeological register (call it, “historical thought without negation” )? La-de-dah. Got all that out of your system? Because, at a certain point, you know, all the imaginable contingencies (manned missions to Jupiter, human spores fired in pods at far-off exoplanets in a probabilistic longshot, etc.) get crunched. China Syndrome, Anthropocene, Solar Blow-Out: the after-story isn’t going to win any Oscars. The “post” “outside,” or “beyond” of this inflatable existence of “Capitalist-Humanist form-filling” is a margin of survival so slight it makes the resurrection of public services in Hiroshima four days after the A-bomb look like Ed Wood instead of just national-socialist realism. Who needs escape fantasies, anyhow? They’re all just the same ol’ “woe betide this historical situation that’s befallen us,” & which the little guy from the village gas station turns out to be miraculously qualified to overcome. He knows that the “historical production of information as an ontological reality… trapped in the commodity form” just needs to be zapped back “outside strictly capitalist forms of the mass production of The Thing,” & as soon as the smoke’s cleared they can turn on the uplift music.
They’ll peer out from the ruins & see a bright future beckoning. Anarcho-syndicalist pods on Mars, perhaps. Does the little guy need to worry about “abstraction,” “surplus-value,” “commodity” in order to get the job done? Does he need to grasp how all aspects of human life are governed by ideology? That he himself exists on the same evolutionary path as “all forms of symbolic exchange,” from “primordial” enzyme transcription to the mass market in “libidinal economy” of the technomutational present? No, because the little guy intuitively grasps that the poetics of “Capitalism” constellates the world, both as we know it & as it is possible to be known. It helped that, when they zapped whatever it was that they zapped into outer space, the EMP took down the instant media replay text-scroll commentary. They’ll have to think for themselves now, re-invent the first wheel in low-gravitational orbit, build a familiar future out of the onto-epistemological chiasmus of the rock they’ve left behind! They’ll only have positive things to say about “the aporia of the Post-Anthropocene,” making a fist of it, so to speak, battening the hatches, taking in the view from the periscope of that Promised Landing waiting just beyond the horizon of space itself! New worlds! Vast tracts of most immaculate Virgin Real Estate! Dvořák on the shipboard sound-system. They’ll pilot this “re-integrated spectacle” of the lost world’s own-most im/possibility like “the somewhat hallucinated texts of Nick Land, which saw Capitalism as a sort of alien species invading human time from the future.” Timeslip dead-ahead! And now we see the USS Adam Smith crash-landing on the lone & level sands stretching away from Liberty’s clenched fistula. “Something kinda familiar about this place. Sure we hit the right co-ordinates?” An anachronistic sun “rises” & “sets” over McLuhanesque data-drifts, like a rehash of Deleuzo-Guattarian categorical inflation turned to Soviet satellite bureaucracy in arrested come-down. Call it, Wie das Universum sich selbst als Arschloch neu erfand, as performed in its own prospective rearview mirror. Or else, somewhere along the line, our Angelus Novus, who’d always given the impression of heading in the other direction, re-arrives out of the blue with its Betacam pointed straight at us & that fatal image, which wasn’t supposed to’ve happened yet, reflected in the lens like a cinema screen filling up the sky. Lightening flash. Ah-ahhhh! But we’d already dreamt it, already lived that film a million times before.
Per “Accelerationism”: “Roughly speaking, there’s two camps: those like Nick Land who think Capitalism will speed up & evolve into something else out of its own internal differences; those like Benjamin Noys who think that Capitalism has to be confronted & negated from without by a radical social force. Where I differ from both schools of thought is that both seem to think this can still be described as ‘Capitalism.’ But what if the leading edges of the social totality were already something else? Still a commodity economy, to be sure, but one based less on land or products than on commodified information. I think it’s worth trying to use language more speculatively to come up with more adequate ways of describing what is emerging.” (“McKenzie Wark, “Accelerationism,” Public Seminar
For Walter Benjamin, the dissolution of aesthetic autonomy is less the work of the historical avantgarde than an upheaval in the techniques of mass media. (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Fontana, 1995).)
Benjamin H. Bratton, “Some Trace Effects of the Post-Anthropocene: On Accelerationist Geopolitical Aesthetics,” e-flux 46 (June 2013)
See Jacques Lacan, “A Materialist Definition of the Phenomenon of Consciousness,” The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory & in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955, trans. S. Tomaselli (London: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 46.
Not quite Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen), trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (London: Macmillan, 1953) 223.
Not quite Nick Land interviewed by Delphi, “Hyperstition an Introduction” (2009): xenopraxis.net/readings/carstens_hyperstition.pdf. “Functioning as magical sigils or engineering diagrams, hyperstitions are ideas that… engender apocalyptic positive feedback cycles” (Carstens).
They (D&G) couldn’t help themselves, they had to know what daddy thought of their little castration joke – so of course they sent a woman to find out.
The “pure historical consciousness” of The Thing as such?
Land’s quasi-paradoxical future-as-thanotonic-afterlife was indeed already anticipated in Marx’s Grundriese, & is simply one more anachronism in the belated form of an “accelerationist” rhetoric, leaving the passing impression of a déjà vu like a crank on the corner with handpainted sign proclaiming THE END IS NIGH. Which of course it is, & always has been. But some ends are more nigh than others. But what if we gave the crank a quantum computer instead, with a built-in improbability drive & virtually infinite horsepower?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
LOUIS ARMAND is the author of eight novels, including The Combinations (2016), Cairo (2014), & Breakfast at Midnight (2012). His most recent collections of poetry are East Broadway Rundown (2015) & The Rube Goldberg Variations (2015). His critical volumes include Videology (2015) & The Organ-Grinder’s Monkey: Culture after the Avantgarde (2013). He currently directs the Centre for Critical & Cultural Theory at Charles University, Prague.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, April 4th, 2017.