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Ethnofuturismen (Merve Verlag)

. . . the rebirth of a non-neologism, a heretical transvaluation . . .


Realized in collaboration with Armen Avanessian and published by Merve Verlag Berlin, this volume includes contributions by Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Sophia Al-Maria, Aria Dean, Kodwo Eshun, Steve Goodman, Anna Greenspan, and Karen Orton. It also includes the introductory essay “Ethnofuturisms: Findings in Common and Conflicting Futures” (download here).

This anthology should by no means be considered exhaustive, but only a first step toward a new field of research that might once be called Comparative Futurism.

 

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A Postcard from Tehran

Published in Spike 57.


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Tehran is not only the capital of Iran, but a microcosm of it in many respects. So it’s fair to say that the tension between public and private spaces generates the main spatial drama in Tehran. The codes of behavior can dramatically change when moving from one space to another, and there’s a whole range of often conflicting gestures that a single body should embrace through its daily movements. That’s why preferred publics might be more easily assembled in private –– a party is most often a house party. But sometimes this can make it difficult to determine which space is whose, or where one space ends and the other begins. To host the public of your choice, you are most likely to need a space of your own, but a privately gathered public is still a public and can summon the authorities, as it is and remains de facto haunted by them. The interiors of a friend’s car driving around the city can feel pretty weird in this sense. “Should I behave by the codes of a private inside or the public outside?” Well, that’s just the routine banality of living the in-between. Tinted windows can make the experience a bit more clear-cut, yet the police might stop the car and ask for a look inside.

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So it is in the background of this conflicted relationship between interiors and exteriors that I, among many others, often find myself planning to leave Tehran, to get out. My general impression is that it would make a fantastic city only if you wouldn’t feel stuck in it. And anyone who doesn’t have the immediate means to leave at any moment would feel painfully pinned down. There are all sorts of external obstacles, including structural poverty and the hazards of international mobility, that can turn the thought of a jailbreak itself into an unbearable prison, with walls made of anxiety and inferiority complex. There’s been a certain municipal trend in mural designs over the past decade or so that seems to have been targeted at soothing such feelings. Surrealist trompe l’oeils, fantastical perspectives, openings onto a serene sky, and pastoral sceneries have proliferated across the many blank city walls, sometimes blending with and seemingly extending their architectural support.

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But against the false impression of open skies, there’s the EXIT. Hastily but most legibly written in uppercase, this graffitti has been rapidly appearing on numerous spots around Tehran. I must’ve noticed it sometime in 2015, and soon started archiving it on Instagram, hashtagged #TehranEXITmap. When friends finally realized that I’m not documenting my own work, my inbox kept getting flooded with images of their encounters, and I’d add them to the growing map. Street walls, trash cans, bus stops, roller shutters, and traffic signs have all had their moments of encounter with EXIT. Varied handwritings betray its collective nature. It’s not egocentric or identity-oriented, but a whole attitude exhibited in practice. Although painted out almost every day, EXIT keeps mushrooming, catching the passerby off guard. You might even start looking for them wherever you go. A blunt parody of escapism, this is a silent practice of territorialization, setting the provisional contours of a shapeshifting territory. So there can’t really be a map, as EXIT is not a signpost either. What fascinates me the most about EXIT is that it acknowledges a dire urge while brutally making fun of it. It’s an extremely simple yet profoundly deep gesture, verging on the status of a worldview, which makes it even more ridiculous. Every surface is turned into a means of reflection, redirecting the suddenly engaged passerby toward their own gaze and location. Upon encounter with EXIT, you are again and again placed on the inside, as if any position before, outside, or beyond this territory is rendered redundant. How can you exit a place without ever leaving it? The kind of opening that EXIT suggests is of a rhetorical nature: the only way out is a different way in.

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Tehran Behind the Screen

Published in Domus 1027.


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Photo by Giovanna Silva


Nasr Theatre, located in the back garden of Grand Hotel Lalehzar, was definitely the place to go for a hip night out in downtown Tehran in the 1940s. By the end of that decade, it had already changed name and appearance to Tehran Theatre when, on 5 June 1950, its then manager and Member of Parliament Ahmad Dehghan was assassinated in the Theatre offices. Hasan Jafari, an employee of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, was convicted and sentenced to death during a controversial trial, where the big elephant in the room, a plotted murder or an attempted coup, was deliberately overlooked.  

This story serves as the main backdrop to the 1998 memoir An Innocent to the Gallows, a work of personal investigation as well as an archeology of legal reports by Abolghasem Tafazoli, the lawyer who defended Jafari’s case in court. But there are many more unrecorded stories buried behind the sealed doors of old and often dilapidated theatres and cinemas around Tehran. Such an architectural body, one must remember, contains the double spirit of two lines of past events –– that which happens on as well as off the stage or the screen.

Metropole Cinema, for one, was inaugurated in 1946. One of those better-known cinemas on Lalehzar, it was renamed Roodaki after the revolution, and was eventually shut down in 2008. The design of a modest but strictly modern symmetrical grid, with a tall, projecting sign extending vertically across the facade, is only a minor legacy of Vartan Hovanessian. An Iranian-Armenian designer, architect, and civil engineer, his name is now synonymous with cement and Streamline Moderne, distinctive of a golden era in the history of urban development in Tehran.

The building once again met with the cinematic apparatus during the filming of Masoud Kimiai’s 2013 thriller Metropole. A vulnerable widow, escaping a group of hired goons, takes refuge at an old cinema, owned by two chivalrous young men. The space of the cinema is kept barely operating as a billiard club and storage for motorbikes. But Metropole is cast as both the location and a character, incarnated in the others whose stories unfold all over its ruins.

The film was an attempt to release the spirit of drama from within a forsaken sanctuary, to let the cinema live a second life, to animate its corpse, and exert the force of passion and ecstasy on those who are lured into it. Despite checkmarking some Iranian New Wave essentials, including heavy-handed dialogues, as well as crisscrossing good old Noir with oriental machismo, the film was mainly received with jeering reactions during its premiere.

Another landmark of this sort would be Radio City Cinema, which is located on Valiasr (Pahlavi) Street and was opened in 1958. Designed by Heydar Ghiai, whose other works include the former Senate of Iran (now the Secretariat Assembly of Experts for Leadership), this Googie edifice used to be embellished with populuxe neon works on the face of its giant and gentle curve. It was famous for regular screenings of fresh arrivals from Hollywood, also for the red velvet cover of its cozy chairs.

Hosted by Radio City, The Bubble, a 1966 science-fiction by Arch Oboler, was the first 3D feature ever shown in Iran, right after the international popularization of Space-Vision technology. But the transparent shield and entrapping force field that characterize the film seem to still hold the cinema captive, isolated inside a bubble, right where it is and has always been. It survived a fire in 1974, but was terribly damaged during the Revolution and, of course, shut down right after. Before being left totally abandoned, it was briefly reopened as a pharmacy in the war-torn 1980s. Currently, above its entirely glass storefront, a Bowl of Hygieia and another sign that reads “Peace be upon you, Imam Khomeini” are still hanging on the scaly facade.

Almost all of these buildings are technically confiscated properties, occasionally caught up in legal arguments between different (para-)governmental organizations, including the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation or the Foundation for Preserving and Propagating the Values of Holy Defense, on the one hand, and the Bureau of Beautification within the Municipality of Tehran, the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran, or even some burgeoning private art institutions, on the other.

In late 2017, another campaign was successfully wielded by a large group of the culturati for the preservation of Nasr Theatre. The proposal is to turn it into the Theatre Museum, which will also come with a cafe and all the fuss. However, the spectral and the corporeal, as well as the dramatic and the mundane, had, from the beginning, populated these places together. Now the only way out from destruction, or a rusty storage, is to accept museumification. But what would be left of a cinema if the spirit of drama is exorcised? What would raise and fulfill curiosity for a night at the museum? It is the pull of imagination that seems to have vanished, and no museum can simply bring it back.

The Politics of Surplus: An Affirmative Strategy of Resistance

This essay (download here) was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the MA special subject Geopoetics at the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2016-17. Below is Kodwo Eshun‘s feedback on the essay.


This is a theoretically sophisticated essay that demonstrates a confident grasp of its sources and its arguments. Compelling indeed is the opening section of the essay which interprets the post-Revolution politics of Iran through the Marxist notion of surplus. This concept is reformulated as the practice of those that ‘claim the surplus by reorienting the infrastructural means’ of their contribution to the ‘continuity of an exploitative apparatus’ so as to ‘redraw the lines of social forces’ and ‘rediagram the balance of power’. 

This complex formulation of surplus is read firstly through the 2009 protests as a ‘negation of the regime’ and secondly through the student protests of 1999 against the Khatami regime which is understood as the ‘first upsurge of the political surplus since the revolution’, which in turn is analysed as the heir to the post Iran-Iraq War ‘technotheocratic’ government of Rafsanjani.  

These examples do indeed demonstrate the need for an understanding of state-power in Iran as an ‘intricate patchwork of sovereign privileges.’ More examples treated in more detail would have been welcome. However, the essay develops a detailed formulation of Deleuze’s formulation of power as the relation of active and reactive forces and as the mutual presupposition of the diagram and the strata.

The result is a highly abstract and yet vivid conceptualisation of the surplus as a ‘specifically affirmative  strategy of resistance’ within contemporary Iranian politics. The surplus is to then understood in ‘the moments when anonymity takes over’ and is specified as a ‘living nonorganic social entity’. The emphasis is on the ‘nonorganic life’ of the surplus as a ‘non-organism’ that ‘diagrammatically doubles’ the Body without Organs and ‘seeps through the strata’ as formulated by De Landa. 

At this point, the essay loses focus somewhat. The parallel that is drawn between the Post-Communist transition of Eastern European states to neoliberalism and the ‘contradictory push and pull’ between the ‘desire for economic growth’ and the ‘stubborn refusal of liberal ideals of freedom’ in the Iran of Ahmadinjad, understood as different versions of opening to the Outside is useful but is self-admittedly inexact. It is a comparison that begs as many questions as it seeks to answer. 

The changing signification of the logo of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is more germane to the context and could have been developed in more detail. Even better is the analysis of Ahmadinejad’s ‘ophidiophobic’ regime from 2005 onwards. The analysis of Ahmadinejad administration’s phobic aversion to the adaptive behaviour of the snake whose shape shifting movements diagrammed the mode of power of control society according to Deleuze, narrates a specific political moment in a way that enacts a specific diagram of forces. This analysis of Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions against Iran’s economy eloquently speaks of ‘Iran’s particular history of openness in relation to a range of orientations towards the outside.’ Here the balance between the abstract and the conjunctural, the philosophical and the political is working well. 

In order to analyse the ‘enigma of openness’, the essay draws upon Negarestani’s distinction between ‘being open’ to the Outside and ‘being opened’ by the Outside, which in turn inverts Gibson’s theory of affordance. Negarestani introduces further complications to the location of the outside by characterising oil as ‘the outside emerging from within’ and conceiving of Openness as that which ‘comes from the outside, not the other way round’, This is thought through in relation to Deleuze’s argument that the diagram represents ‘the outside of the strata’.   

The stakes of this analysis are finally clarified in [a reading] of Deleuze’s understanding that the ‘thought of the outside’ is the ‘thought of resistance’. As connected to Deleuze’s notion of a ‘certain idea of life that resists death’, the essay is able to position Deleuze’s affirmative inorganic vitalism of the outside against Negarestani’s position in which ‘life does not resist death but emerges from [within] it’.

To think through the political stakes of this distinction, the essay turns towards petroleum as that which reassembles the earth as an Artificial Geo-Intelligence. Here the notion of resistance and the surplus and the non-organic converge in a geocosmopolitical imagination of the Outside envisioned as an example of Eugene Thacker’s notion of the Planet that has detached itself from Earth and from World. 

The attempt to think through ‘unlife’ at the level of what Lyotard calls the ‘unthought’ is a compelling conclusion to an essay that devotes itself to a patient reading of Deleuze’s formulations of the diagram and the strata and Negarestani’s formulations of opening to the Outside. 

Undoubtedly, the relation between the diagrammatic and the conjunctural could have been better developed. Even Foucault’s writings on the moments before the Revolution, as reformulated by Melinda Cooper’s writings on neoliberalism’s restructuring of the oikos or economy would have provided insights that could have been elaborated upon for a post-1979 context.

Nonetheless, this is a theoretically ambitious essay that is stylistically eloquent and demonstrates a high degree of attention and ambition.

((Un)doing) Art Criticism in Iran

Excerpts from an address delivered at the panel Critics & Criticism: Reflections on Iranian Contemporary Art.


Art criticism in Iran (at least in its modern sense) is tied to a historical lineage of encounters with the outside, namely the (relatively more) liberal outsides of the West. This relationship to the outside can be traced both in the long-standing tradition of translation and also by the early critics who started establishing a verbal engagement with aesthetic practices once their studies abroad were finished. To further tie criticism to the outside, I’d say that critique, after all, is a legacy of Enlightenment and played an integral role in creating the liberal subject in the 18th century. This we know of course from Michel Foucault’s seminal essay “What is Critique?” from 1978. Therefore, art criticism as a companion to modern and contemporary art practice in Iran should be considered as part and parcel of a larger process of so-called modernization.

That is why I’d suggest that an analysis of Iranian contemporary art in general and art criticism in particular needs to register the links that can be drawn between what’s going on inside the country and what we’d refer to as international or global contemporary art. Iranian contemporary art cannot be discussed in isolation and needs to be positioned in relation to Contemporary Art as such, with capital C and capital A and, I’d dare to say, almost entirely irrespectful of local or contextual specificities. This is to, again, emphasize that the so called local and contextual is, as pointed out before, in a constantly inflecting relationship to its greater outdoors. Imagine, if you will, Contemporary Art as such and as itself the context, the global context.

That is what you’d encounter if you visit, for example, contemporaryartdaily.com from wherever in the world you might be based in. This suggestion is also in a way against a particular ideology of Contemporary Art which, I think, claims that there are no overarching rules or protocols that define contemporary art. This ideology insists on indeterminacy and heterogeneity, as if globalization doesn’t come with its own codes of conduct and as if global nodes are connected to each other under equal circumstances. Addressing Iranian contemporary art in relation to global contemporary art would, however, point out many problems, questions and confusions that complicate a sense of smoothly distributed access, a complication that is simultaneously shared internationally and among those who find themselves in some sort of orientation toward the art world, whether as artists, writers, curators or scholars. The art world here is that which is always on the other side, the outside.

[1] One consequence of this attitude is explicitly political. To put it simply, we need to question what it actually means to speak of critique and criticism in the context of a so-called developing country when major neoliberal institutions that used to champion the logics of globalization are now facing their pitfalls, both across Europe and more pointedly in North America? However, what’s important to notice is that this inquiry is simultaneously suspicious of a move to a local scale where matters are discussed exclusively in the sense of a very particular national compound. What is crucial about this particularity in terms of the Iranian condition is its relatively monoracial and  monoethnic setup. Or, more importantly, its denial and non-acknowledgement of its embedded alienness. In other words, the relationship to the outside is both relative (between Iran, for instance, and the liberal West) and internally driven (as it is more consciously in the West). Meaning that the ultimate goal of making some sort of kin or, at least, conscious relationship to the outside is to drag forward the internally alien entity. Whether a national or racial one or not, this entity isn’t to be dropped or done away with while it might not lead to any sort of enablement if addressed initially and in itself… It should therefore be wrestled with as the centerpiece of a larger process of figuring out how to navigate across the different inflections of making relationships with the outside. The internal matter might feel prior. But this priority is in fact an inflection of a sense of lagging behind, that is, coming before… But if it follows the outside, the latter phase, it means that we’re doing something political with time, we’re making it possible for a situation where “the last word… comes first,” as Deleuze put it once. Instead of getting locked up in the retroactive embodiment of an introverted entity which comes late and is left behind and is only sublated to a state of priority in an ultimately conservative concentration on ethnonationalism, for instance, we should look forward to bringing about a historical short-circuiting proactively. This is to engage with global politics beyond a sense of geopolitical schemes, and thusly attend to critique in a more actually embedded sense. This can be understood, I’d suggest only in passing, as an ethnofuturist engagement with chronopolitics which, although irrelevant to our discussion here, comes with its own caveats…

[2] This (chrono)political aspect of critical practice makes it clear that this is simultaneously a question of different institutional formations, and this is the second consequence that follows a reorientation of the underlying relationships of criticism. Institutional settings, of course, produce their corresponding institutional figures. Lacking institutions, then, leave a gap unfulfilled by its demanding figures. In a short essay from some five years ago, the art critic and regular contributor to frieze magazine Sam Thorne pointed out the almost always “hyphenated” figure of the art critic: the artist-critic, curator-critic, gallerist-critic, theorist-critic, scholar-critic, historian-critic and so forth. So who is the critic? What are the institutional intersections that enable criticality by letting the figure of the critic basically make a living off practicing criticism? Speaking of institutional relations, we should remember that for quite a long time, there has been a wide gap between private commercial galleries and state-funded public institutions in Iran. But this gap is being bridged these days by a handful of emerging non-profit institutions that are founded in often large scales on the grounds of the private sector. (An example would be the Pejman Foundation that after almost two years of securing its presence in the art scene by some sort of parasitic strategy of branding, finally opened its own major exhibition space in last December in the building of an abandoned beer factory from the pre-1979 years. The inaugurating exhibition was also a solo show by the French-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa who was also commissioned to produce new works for his exhibition at Pejman Foundation.) So, at the more recent end of the ongoing process of establishing relationships to the outside, a more viable ingredient of the Iranian art scene seems to allude to potentials for a range of institutional practice rather than to a critique of institutions or their productions.

On this note, I’d like to evoke a 2005 essay by the theorist and artist Andrea Fraser where she argued for a move from institutional critique, or a critique of institutions, to an institution of critique, to settings that enable and hold together discourses of criticality. I think, the more important task, then, which is a task of the future and its changing sociopolitical and cultural climates, is to situate criticism in a larger landscape and to ask how can we nourish and foster forums, platforms and ultimately institutions that can somehow provide the “conditions of possibility” for critical discourse?

The Double and Time (abstract)

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Chronopolitics and Queer Futurity in the Circuits of Dead Ringers

to be followed by
Ethnofuturism, Chronopolitics, and the Ethics of Time Travel


 

The general concern of this study revolves around the questions and problematics involved in outlining a politics of time. To navigate my sight across the political landscape of time, I shall deploy a cybernetic lens.

An early modern technology devoted to the establishment of a mechanism of control over temporal orders and time patterns, cybernetics was materially and intellectually supported by the U.S. military-industrial complex of the Second World War era. It has since continued a dynamic and transformative relationship with the political elements that shaped the ensuing decades of the Cold War and globalization.

An immediate feature of this chronotechnological means of warfare was, from early on, a differentiating regime of Othering, which dragged closer the previously configured “enemy other” (in a geopolitical sense) and, through reflexive chain reactions, interiorized its alien status into the body of the “enemy within” (which makes sense in chronopolitical terms). My engagements with chronopolitics, framed by cybernetics, will therefore follow embodied inflections of this practice of othering as well as embodiments of the Other/ed, which are, again most immediately and also broadly speaking, differentiated in sexual as well as racial terms.

This study chooses to follow the track of sexual differentiation (see below for the other track). Therefore, the political view and its technological framing will be each assisted by particular focal points: queerness and information technologies of late capitalism. The former will be articulated as a mode of gendered embodiment of an Other/ed chronotopic identity, while the latter will be argued to function as inhuman differentiators of chronotopic dis/embodiment—that is, initiating or assisting modifications in how the space and time of embodiment relate to each other.

CONTENTS

As a double of cybernetics in itself, Dead Ringers, a 1988 film by David Cronenberg, serves this study as a major platform for summoning chronopolitical figures and tropes. The first chapter, accordingly, attempts to map a periodized history of cybernetics and its info-technological legacies on the narrative and transformative course of the film as well as its characters’ chronotopic states of mind and body. The second chapter prospects a queer reading of the “cybernetic double” in relation to the differentiating modes of spatiotemporalization as the film exhibits them. The inhuman, and its deathly pull, will be then introduced as a key interlocutor mediating between queerness and information technology. The third chapter will address the existing literature that has focused on homoerotic turns in Cronenberg’s curvaceous cinema. Building on its preceding arguments, it will discuss sexuality in pharmacopornographic embodiments and consider virtuality in the simulated circuits of third-order cybernetics. This chapter will be then almost exclusively centered around two paranoia-inflected conversations singled out from the film in order to further identify the queer streams of Dead Ringers with the temporal inflections of both machinic drives and symbolic registers for homosexuality. The concluding chapter proposes a particular sense of queer futurity through a theory of death informed by a stance of vitalist inhumanism. It follows the premises descended from arguments made earlier, and therefore attends to the future via a particular approach to chronopolitical engagement, one which draws on queerness, information technology, and their matters and functions of intertransmission. The propositions put forward in the conclusion, however, will also aim to champion the embodied matter of oil, and its leaking inhumanism, as the main role model for queer futurity in a post-cybernetic era. A main ingredient of dominant geopolitical debates, oil demands an engagement, however, with its chronopolitical valences. As mentioned earlier, by the time petroleum politics is discussed in terms of its chronotopic entities, queer futurity will have already been established as a matter of an inhuman politics of time. Another opening for queer futurity, therefore, will be defined in a move from metal to porphyrin, from the “machinic phylum” to “petropolitical undercurrents.”

Put differently, following the death-driven and machinic desires that lie at the core of a vitalist materialist strand of inhumanism, the chronopolitics of queer futurity will be imbued with the informatics of geo-intelligence, the oily vessels of earth’s neural networks, which lay foundations for an ethics of cosmic artificiality. The oiled-up and servile matter of queer chronopolitics, then, serves and is served by the ethical function of an artificial geo-intelligence, that is, another AGI.

For a makeshift bibliography click here


>>> ETHNOFUTURISM, CHRONOPOLITICS, AND THE ETHICS OF TIME TRAVEL >>>

The more particularly racial and ethnic aspects of the cybernetic doubling and its chronopolitical practice of othering will be addressed in a sequel to the above study. There I will expand my discussion of Dead Ringers’ Siamese Twins to the transgender performativity of a Peking opera singer in M. Butterfly, another film by David Cronenberg from 1993, in order to articulate the modes in which ethnicity and race attend to the thought of the future. An inquiry into the matter of futurity, in this regard, will follow an overview of existing studies that help setting up an ethnofuturist discourse and, therefore, enable an interference with its ethicopolitical premises. This will include academic and artistic projects that have worked toward a sense of afrofuturism, sinofuturism and gulf futurism, among others.

Out of the many in a whole range of these political and cultural modes of ethnotemporality, whether already articulated or waiting to be (like the contingent indofuturism, persofuturism, austrofuturism, slavofuturism and so forth) here I would give the example of only one rather dark instance. To follow or prospect a chronopolitical (and not necessarily chronological) lineage in a rather simplified diagram, I shall begin with Nick Land’s formulation of Neoreaction (NRx) as a “time-crisis.” This rather peculiar brand of political ideology is closely associated with the Alt-Right movement whose stigma on the face of mainstream politics seems to be getting globally much thicker in the recent years. “It not only promotes drastic regression, but highly-advanced drastic regression. Like retrofuturism, paleomodernism, and cybergothic, the word ‘neoreaction’ compactly describes a time-twisted vector that spirals forwards into the past, and backwards into the future. It emerges, almost automatically, as the present is torn tidally apart—when the democratic-Keynesian politics of postponement-displacement exhausts itself, and the kicked-can runs out of road,” writes Land of NRx which “was a prophetic warning about the rise of the Alt-Right” ().

The Iranian-American Jason Reza Jorjani, a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and one of the three co-founders of AltRight.com, seems to have a clear vision of reactionary futurity, whose charge lies in the intensity of splices that push to hold such temporal anomalies together. He argues for the sociopolitical realities that should follow the alleged ties between his self-proclaimed “Aryan” origins, as a “native New Yorker of Persian and northern European descent,” and the promise of an “Iranian Renaissance” to be fulfilled in the future. For this, he works closely with a diasporic organization named after this messianic promise in order to bring about “a cultural revolution in Greater Iran on the basis of the pre-Islamic Persian heritage,” as well as certain social formations of sovereign power.

On 28 October 2016, a big crowd gathered in the city of Pasargade, in the Fars Province of Iran, where the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BC), is located. This collective tribute, which did not seem to be the first of its kind, soon turned into a protest against the current Iranian regime and in support of its preceding monarchs, expressing a certain chronopolitical tendency inside the country that well corresponds to Jorjani’s neoreactionary vision of Iranian futurity.

This lineage simply manifests the necessity, if not urgency, of recuperating the sociopolitical visions of a burgeoning ethnofuturistic discourse away from sympathies with despotic supremacy and toward programs and strategies for a reinvented sense of chronocollectivity.

perfectlovers

Instrumental Xenotation

H. P. Lovecraft, Susan Sontag, Linda Trent, Walter Benjamin, and Tom Ford


An uncharted island in the Pacific is home to the “nightmare corpse-city” called R’lyeh. Earlier, “measureless aeons behind history,” alien beings descended from the stars high up in the sky and “died vast epochs of time before men came,” but survived ever after below the abyssopelagic zones, lying in the nether wastes of the earth. The Great Old Ones live a germinal death, through which they haunt and possess the sensitive by molding strange dreams of great Cyclopean cities, “for only thus could their language reach the fleshly minds of the mammals,” who would then get infected with feverish hysteria and lethargic delirium. H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” as aligned as it is along the meteoritic tail of his other weird stories, is an arcane tale of openness. Dank and cracked stones, fragments of rotting walls and the cancerous rise of morbid flora and fungi near the swamp and lagoon country south of New Orleans, where the cultists gathered in response to the call of the Great Old Ones; the abnormal and non-Euclidean geometry of the dream-place with its “vast angles and stone surfaces too great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth” and “loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours;” the monstrous stone pillars sticking out of the sea and “heaved to the sun and air” near the muddy and weedy coastline of R’lyeh — these all correspond to the dimensional wreckage and interphyletic collisions of the necrotized geospheres that characterize the exhuming pest of life and the ungrounded death, while the disterminalized becomings of “dead Cthulhu who waits dreaming” incarnate in verses of a language shivering at its extremes and, more remarkably, in documents, objects, bas-reliefs, statuettes, fetishes and idols delivered in dreams.

But “the dream is in fact the telling of the dream,” said Susan Sontag while conversing with John Berger about storytelling in a 1983 episode of Voices on Channel 4. Berger had previously said that “stories begin at their end; the story of Romeo and Juliet, in a sense, begins at their death, that is when the story is given form. The end is not always death, but it quite frequently is… A life gains its full meaning in death, it is only then that a life is readable,” hence narratable. Sontag, of course, could not disagree more. She finds this way of storytelling fundamentally dependent on true lives, having been lived as precedents for stories, and utterly concerned with truth, thus hindered by it. There are no people and no lives outside of language, before the writer writes the story, as there is no experience of the dream before one accounts for it. Commenting on death as the vindicating telos of life and as the condition of fiction, Sontag suggests marriage as an equivalent to death, “that is, if one sees life only as having a meaning because it leads up to something, then it could be that it leads up to its end or it leads up to, at least, its transformation,” as marriage was traditionally viewed as a transformation. “Life is seen,” she says, “as whatever that leads up to this [ending or turning point] and what happens next is considered as another life, or another kind of life.” Shakespeare, again, is the model, whose tragedies end up in death and whose comedies end up in marriage. Against this teleological conditioning, obviously loaded with sociopolitical exigencies too and not only demands for literary novelty, the function of storytelling, she says, “is to introduce a sense of the fantastic, which might include the absurd,” to let the prism of reality keep receiving and refracting all the meaningless and absurd particles too, that is, “to establish the rights to intensity… to restore the claims of intensity.” She is pointing to the kind of feature found in the works of Edgar Allen Poe, which do not tell posthumous stories “but… real stories… stories of generally a disaster, which may or may not end in death… they are terrifying stories, they are fabulous stories…” These ideas, more or less, resonate with those of the fashion designer Tom Ford as told in an interview with Vogue Voices, where he says that although his “heart lies in reality,” but film also is reality for him, because actors and actresses did actually say those words, they did actually walk through those sets, and that film did actually happen, in a parallel reality, “forever sealed in film.”

“The Call of Cthulhu,” too, reads like a posthumous story. Purportedly “found among the papers of the late Francis Wayland Thurston,” it thus begins not with Lovecraft himself, despite the mainly first-person narrative, but with his invented character, Mr. Wayland Thurston, going through the notes left behind by his granduncle, a professor of linguistics, after his death. And at the end of the story, the narrator himself is convinced enough to anticipate a strong sense of ensuing fatality, after obsessively having studied and researched the notes, objects and stories that all revolved around Them. In a way, They have always been beside him, their affective presence always too close, and it is only then that he knows this, at the end of the story. This fascination with or attraction to horror is a mix that, as Mark Fisher points out, should be counted as the particularly “weird” characteristic of Lovecraft’s stories, which also dovetails with the fondness and danger that are simultaneously driven through necrophilic bonds. But the more important indicator of this characteristic weirdness is the quality of “real externality,” as Lovecraft himself notes on writing weird fiction. Such reality is the fruit of Lovecraft’s obsession with the outside but is entirely and exactly different from Ford’s “sealed” reality. The really exterior manifests its exteriority by making irruptions into the spatial dimensions and temporal coordinates of the familiar interior, that is when the recognizable here-and-now gets punctured by the unknown then-and-there (Fisher 2016). The outside is, once again, rendered in an extra-proximal relationship to the familiar world.

The effects of extra-proximity on reality are best traceable when concerning the Necronomicon. Endowed with mysterious and dangerous dominion over those who study its esoteric words, this written contagion is not merely a fabulation, in contrary to, say, Poe, but an instantiation of exteriority (Fisher 2016). Similar to other Things in other Lovecraft’s stories, it is more than occasionally discussed and meticulously but not fully described in details as a para-fictional entity that makes it then possible for other elements borrowed from the objectively familiar reality, most remarkably including places, geographies and institutions, to collapse onto the fictional side — simply because it pushes against the membrane of the extra- proximal sphere and spreads it out across the parcels of reality, where it is invoked. And it does so in a very particular manner. “Lovecraft generates a ‘reality-effect’ by only ever showing us tiny fragments of the Necronomicon. It is the very fragmentary quality of his references to the abominable text that induce the belief in readers that it must be a real object… [He] seemed to have understood the power of the citation, the way in which a text seems more real if it is cited than if it is encountered in the raw” (Fisher 2016: 24). This “reality-effect” is the hyperstitional potency of a fiction, by which it can be effective and make itself real. The main reason why fictions become hyperstitions is the “consistency of the fictional system” (Fisher 2016: 25), a network of multiple tales, to which the initial author loses control. In fact, it is this consistency that enables the “collectivization of the fictional system” (Trent 2004) — because of the fragmentary eruptions of the reality-effect, conveyed by the prismatic Things, a multitude of readers and authors have explored the Cthulhu mythos and released unshed stories welling up in its many undiscovered corners beyond the journeys of Lovecraft himself.

Walter Benjamin, one of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, also happened to leverage great importance on citations. Benjamin wrote at a time when what the future held was the impression that “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy, if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious” (Benjamin 2007: 255), an extra-proximal horror from which no distance is attainable, haunting both those who are gone and those who have not yet come with equal valence. Benjamin is preoccupied with alternatives for transmissibility across history, a way for seizing the past from the present standpoint other than by clinging on the ladder of an instrumental tradition whether with a prospective or retrospective inclination, both dependent on linear filiation. Against this fabricated continuity, inadequate to the ruptures of modernity, he poses the idea of cuts and breaks, wrenching the phenomena from the continuum of tradition and making them transmissible again. It is by the shock of citation that “disturbing strangeness of past vestiges” make eruptions into the present (Simay 2005), “arresting thought and allowing reality to collide and roll over it in search of another and until then unacknowledged history” (Taussig 2000). This is a fight over the past and its true meaning. And for Benjamin, as he writes in “Convolute N,” truth is not to be revealed but manifested in a “flash” of recognition, a fleeting image stitched together in a flickering constellation (Benjamin 2002). Lovecraft would not have been too surprised if had heard of the momentary constellation or the figure of the lightening, writing of the “day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality,” or more literally, of “all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things.”

However, as much as the lines of filiation and the bonds of philia configure dissimilar epistemogeometries, neither “the past from time immemorial” (Benjamin 2002: 464) should be mistaken with “measureless aeons behind history,” nor “the eruption of a prehistoricity into the present” (Taussig 2000) with “an irruption, through time and space, into an objectively familiar locale.” The distinction lies in Benjamin’s attempt to formulate a moment of historical awakening, when the fantasy of tradition is shattered and its instrumentalization is manifest, while Lovecraft, quite to the contrary, deepens the dreams, endorses instrumental transmissions and actually “traditionizes” the objects (Simay 2005). That is the birth of the tradition of hyperstitional actualities, a weird genesis that is always open to further fabrications and projective extensions to prior or later points of origin, exactly as Benjamin described it: “Origin, although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis. The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance” (Benjamin 1998: 45). This “process of becoming and disappearance” is critically diagnosed and laid bare when the dialectician flips it into “a specific mix of repression and of expression,” that is, the instrumental basis for becoming a social being who learns to know what not to know (Taussig 2000). But that same process is intensified and hyped up toward further actualities if “the production of the new,” the becoming, is “disclaimed and disguised by the author,” as writes Fisher. “Lovecraft’s retrospective projection of newly minted mythos into the deep past,” his strategy of “retro-interring” (Fisher 2016: 22), molds the dark matter of dream into objects of hyperstition. Eventually, by setting up a paradoxical but consistent strategy, Lovecraft takes creative advantage of what Benjamin, in the name of truth, rigorously tries to criticize.


All citations, if not specified otherwise, are from Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”.

CITED WORKS:

Books and Articles:

  • Benjamin, Walter. (2007). Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books
  • Benjamin, Walter. (2002). The Arcades Project, trans. H. Eiland, K. McLaughlin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Benjamin, Walter. (1998). The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne. London: Verso
  • Lovecraft, H. P. (2011). “The Call of Cthulhu,” in H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction. New York: Barnes and Noble (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.aspx) [10/12/2016]
  • Lovecraft, H. P. (2011). “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, in Supernatural Horror in Literature and Other Literary Essays. Maryland: Wildside Press (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/nwwf.aspx) [15/12/2016]
  • Simay, Philippe. (2005). “Tradition as Injunction: Benjamin and the Critique of Historicisms”, in Walter Benjamin and History, ed. Andrew Benjamin. London: Continuum
  • Taussig, Michael. (2000). “The Beach (A Fantasy)”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 249-278
  • Trent, Linda. (2004). “How Do Fictions Become Hyperstitions?” Hyperstition Blog, 19 June 2004 (http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003345.html) [3/1/2017]

Web and Television Productions: