Objective Hyperreality vs. Hyperobjective Reality

The following is an overrun footnote that had to get expelled from my dissertation-in-progress. Here in exile, may it rest in peace.

Jodi Dean argues that the Internet, on the one hand, “imagines, stages and enacts the “global” of global capital. But on the other this global is nothing like the world — as if such an entity were possible, as if one could designate an objective reality undisturbed by the external perspective observing it or a fully consistent essential totality unruptured by antagonism” (Dean 2005: 67-68). Latent in Dean’s argument is that the reach of capital is beyond “our specific worlds,” beyond the image of the global that the internet puts forth. Then, it can be surmised that capital has captured “an objective reality” beyond the specific worlds of situated experiences. Although the totalizing ruse of the imagined global makes it seem as if “everything is already there” inside the network (69), the foreclosed outside cannot exceed a planetary scale regardless. Put differently, capital has already captured the objective reality of the planetary scale as its launchpad. The planetary scale is where the informatic infrastructure of capital is installed, it is the operative horizon of all the satellites orbiting the earth and all the fiber optic cables spread across the bottom of the oceans.

In this sense, what was surmised from Dean’s argument — namely the planetary scale that capital has already expropriated as its own objective reality — can be better explained if dubbed, following Timothy Morton, in terms of a hyperobjective reality. But we might need to first briefly examine Jean Baudrillard’s conception of hyperreality.

When the real itself, or that which bears the function of the real, is generated by models and doubles that bear no reference to an original reality, all that is left is the “Precession of Simulacra.” Hyperreality is inaugurated by “a liquidation of all referentials — worse: with their artificial resurrection in the system of signs” (Baudrillard 1994: 2). The theory of simulacra is among the first attempts to account for the cultural logics of a new era of capitalist development, for which postmodernism has come to stand as the most ubiquitous designation. This era is marked by “an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes” (2). Here capitalism is exclusively carried on by the symbolic exchange of signs which are ungrounded from any real referentiality that would have hitherto determined their value. Exchange or abstraction itself generates the real of capital. Hyperreality, therefore, is based on the dissolution of the “sovereign difference,” hence the signs of the real being substituted for the real. This makes it a challenge to think about an objective hyperreality.

An aesthetics of the hyperreal is made apparent by visual technologies that attempt “a frisson of vertiginous and phony exactitude, a frisson of simultaneous distancing and magnification, of distortion of scale, of an excessive transparency” (28). Baudrillard charts microscopic vision, pornography, and the generics of An American Family, a 1971 reality TV series, as harbingers of hyperrealistic aesthetics. Such aesthetics presents that which comes across as effectively and operationally more real than what previously operated as reality, or for that matter as sex or as nature. If effective signs and symptoms of the real can be generated and operationalized without the real preceding them, then is an objective diagnosis of (hyper)reality possible any longer? I might not sat objectivity is technically precluded, but has perhaps lost its significance, because hyperreality does not leave anything out. It does not rest on any preexisting territory that could be previously mapped by a logic of “imaginary coextensivity.” It first produces the map, and its territory will be generated thereof. There will be no imaginary, no sign or symptom which is not as real as reality used to be, if not more. And there will neither be a reality as such because “no imaginary envelops it anymore” (2). Objectivity, in the sense of the faculty of distinction between that which can be accounted for as true fact and that which is false, is threatened when confronted by the hyperreal, which is “produced from a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (2). Hyperreality resolves the question of objectivity by invariably enabling it in regard to all the operative elements that take part in an order that functions as same as the real used to.

The loss of an objective reality is therefore occupied by a kind of materialist indeterminacy or, as Morton would say, “a boiling whirlwind of impermanence” that is today’s capitalism (Morton 2010: 130). This loss, however, has always been fundamental to capitalist operations, or to an understanding of the world and its reality after capitalism. “There was no world before capitalism,” writes Morton. Nature only shows up and becomes intelligible as Nature once attempts at terraforming Earth have already been made, when Nature has de facto vanished: “Things are first known when lost” (132). Global warming and the planetary extents of nuclear contamination, among others, shape what we refer to as the world and also bring about the end of the world, rendering the operational capacities of such a concept redundant. In other words, following its fundamental mechanism of dissolution and abstraction, capitalism “creates things that are more solid than things ever were… things that appear almost more real than reality itself” (130). These things are hyperobjects, “things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans… [T]he sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism” (Morton 2013: 1). Speaking of a universe entirely assimilated into the matrices of late capitalism, Morton refers to the most widely cited sentence that Karl Marx quoted from Macbeth, “all that is solid melts into the air,” and continues, “at the very point at which the melting into the air occurs, we catch the first glimpses of the all-too-solid iceberg within the mist” (20). Therefore, that which was previously intended as an objective reality of the world as such can now be only traced in a search for hyperobjective realities.

Important in this transition is also a revision of postmodernism. “The ultimate goal of this project,” writes Morton of postmodernism, “was to set up a weird transit lounge outside of history in which the characters and technologies and ideas of the ages mill around in a state of mild, semiblissful confusion” (4). The confusing indeterminacy of hyperreality, so to speak, gives way to the shocking reality of hyperobjects. Finally, while the simulacra and the genesis of hyperreality were frequently ascribed to televisual effects, their hyperspace seems to be now populated by the all-too-real hyperobjects that, by extension, locate the pursuit of objectivity on the internet and computational networks of various kinds. Nonlocality, after all, is one of the key common properties of hyperobjects. Just like the distributed networks of planetary informatics, “one only sees pieces of a hyperobject at any one moment;” local manifestations that are not the direct equivalents of the larger totality (4). Morton proposes the practice of an “Ecological Thought” that can attend to the future of these hyperobjects, a mode of thinking that can attend to an “Ecology without Nature.” Since hyperobjects or, we could say, the hyperobjective reality of the internet and its distributed networks outscale us so massively that although we know that they are there, we cannot point to them directly (12), the ecological thought needs to stand in as a mode of “irreductionist thinking” that can encounter the “scalar dilemmas” that hyperobjects present (19).

Despotic Ophidiophobia

The following is an overrun footnote that had to get expelled from my dissertation-in-progress. Here in exile, may it rest in peace.

Gilles Deleuze once distinguished the late twentieth century societies of control from disciplinary societies that reached their height almost one hundred years earlier. The latter initiated “the organization of vast spaces of enclosure… Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point” (Deleuze 1992: 3-4).

The “continuous change,” “self-modulation” and “transmutation” are crucial points for outlining the relationship of Iran’s economic order at large to the planetary apparatus of capital since the late 1980s. The neoliberal logic of capitalism, only principally speaking, does not require all the walls to come down. Adaptation, as a mode of conduct, is coded into its coils. Ahmadinejad’s fanaticism, therefore, can be understood as a phobic reaction, a hysteria, in the face of the consistently shapeshifting and “complex coils of this serpent,” as Deleuze called it. Ahmadinejad’s administration, in this sense, was ophidiophobic, to stay with the analogy. We can take a detour here and briefly discuss how ophidiophobia resonates with the issue of survival and thus goes beyond the tradition of modern pathologies.

Snakes originate in the Cretaceous period from around one hundred million years ago. Descending from the now extinct amphibians of the Class Reptilia, their limbs grew shorter and shorter over thousands of millennia, enabling them to overcome the difficulties of life underground — a certain flexibility without which many other reptilians could not and did not survive. This makes snakes the oldest species alive today, meaning that their origins of life precede that of many more recently developed mammals, who had to advance a perceptive ability to focus on environmental threats in order to survive and to follow the path down the line of evolution. Hence a fear of snakes and serpents, and of spiders for that matter, which have been among the most longstanding threats coexisting with the mammalian ancestry.

These extra-pathological aspects of the ecobiological deep time are reflected in certain productions of popular culture in the modern era, including the reptilian humanoids and the Serpent Men, a fictional race created by Robert Howard in the 1920s, which fuel many more contemporary conspiracy theories about the mainstream politicians and their ties with secret cults who can adopt anthropomorphic appearances, manipulate human societies, and roughly speaking, have control over all global affairs.

The allegory of the serpent suggested by Deleuze as the image of late capitalism, its networked disposition and the accompanying logic of control reflects a sense of triumphant survivalism that relies on a particular anatomy or architecture, that of the flexible, shape-shifting coils that spread across and stretch into and out of dimensions that challenge the validity of an anthropic principle in the face of technocommericial forces of global capital. Hence a reflection, too, of the overarching agency of capital and its nearly unmappable, untrackable reach, of how an inexplicable system operates beyond the aims, intentions and agencies of humans and, as Mark Fisher put it, how seemingly “conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity” (Fisher 2016: 11).

Taking these allegorical attributes seriously, Reza Negarestani suggests the figurative substance of oil to replace the serpent, which therefore eschews the immediately racist connotations of how reptilian survivalism has been reflected in the white racial frames of the Western culture. Capital’s survival is registered by the oil and its “petropolitical undercurrents.” Put differently, capital’s enduring life, lubricated by oil and consummated in the emergence of “war-as-a-machine,” occupies an agency and a timeframe beyond that of humans:

Petroleum poisons Capital with absolute madness, a planetary plague bleeding into economies mobilized by the technological singularities of advanced civilizations. In the wake of oil as an autonomous terrestrial conspirator, capitalism is not a human symptom but rather a planetary inevitability. In other words, Capitalism was here even before human existence, waiting for a host (Negarestani 2009: 27; emphasis added).

David Joselit’s “On Aggregators” in Farsi

Here is my translation of David Joselit’s essay “On Aggregators” (October 146 (Fall 2013), pp. 3-18) published by The Pejman Foundation in June 2017 on the occasion of the first ever exhibit of works by Slavs and Tatars in Tehran.

_ رونمایی از کاتالوگ نمایشگاه «دماغ به دماغ» به همراه مقاله‌ی «درباره‌ی گردآورنده‌ها» فردا جمعه، ۹ تیر، در بنیاد پژمان: کارخانه آرگو. به همین مناسبت تور بازدید از نمایشگاه ساعت ۶ بعدازظهر برگزار خواهد شد. Launch of "Nose to Nose" exhibition catalogue together with an article by David Joselit, tomorrow (Friday, June 30th) at Pejman Foundation: Argo Factory. In conjunction with the book launch, there will be a tour of the exhibition at 6 pm. @pejmanfoundation @argofactory @studiokargah @saamKeshmiri @aria.kasaei #pejmanfoundation #argofactory #slavsandtatars #nosetonose #davidjoselit #saamkeshmiri #ariakasaie

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‘Post-Capitalist Desire’: An Introduction

to rigor, rage and courage…

Written as an introduction to Mark Fisher’s 2012 essay ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’, this text was featured in the accompanying publication to The Fisher-Function public program series.

If Mark midwifed conceptual patterns and clusters of sensibility, this series set out for their upbringing. This attempt was carried out through group reading and listening sessions held at Goldsmiths, University of London from 27 April to 8 June 2017. Read more about the program here.

Built upon the intricately sketched landscape of Capitalist Realism, at the heart of the naturalised order of appearances assumed to render all alternatives impossible, ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’ is a climax in Mark’s commitment to envision a future for the left. It calls into question capital’s long-established monopoly on desire.

Why should a desire for technology and consumer goods appear necessarily to mean a desire for capitalism? The conflation, Mark argues, results from capital’s opportunist aligning of technology and desire. This occurs on capital’s own terms when “anti-capitalism entails being anarcho-primitivist”: finding solutions in a self-organizational ‘organicist-localism’ while maintaining a stance that is anti-technological, anti-mass production. An explicitly antagonist left falls short of gaining traction on the libidinal flows of social drive that are already animated by capital and are further enabling its processes in return.

A post-capitalist politics begins with affirming that this structural antagonism should therefore be reconsidered because of its being heedless of capital’s programmed reality. But it also refuses to remain caught up in ideology critique, circumscribed under the crust of complaint and denunciation. To strategize against capitalism is to summon and reclaim the possible “Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents to us.”1

Mark identifies the challenges that a future-oriented left needs to face by tying conservative, reactionary statements that hold up capital’s techno-libidinal conflation to a certain strand in the writings of Nick Land from the 1990s. Via Land—the ‘avatar of accelerated capital’—Mark exposes how the prime mandate of capitalism is to capture libidinal circuitries and channel public desiring in certain directions rather than others.

As Mark calls them elsewhere, “libidinal technicians”2 have embedded their parasitic mechanisms into everyday life and grown their ‘semiotic excrescences’ on the bodies of individuals. It is then made clear that a traditional ‘leftist-Canutist’ attitude is incapable of desire-engineering. It is fundamentally opposed to such engineering in its anti-libidinal insistence on conservatism: “preserving, protecting and defending”.

Determined to break from Landian thanatophoric fatalism, Mark incites a post-capitalism commensurate with the ‘inorganic nature of libido’—the death drive. This is not a desire for death or for the extinction of desire, which is characteristic of both the apocalyptic acceleration of deterritorializing processes and of the ‘ascetic-authoritarian’ measures imposed by communist states. Rather, it is a desire to push an organism’s life out of obdurate homeostasis, away from a life forcefully lived along the lines of preservation and protection.

In ‘Utopia as Replication’, Fredric Jameson turns to Marx to restate that destratifying forces of capital tend toward “the centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labor.”3 In other words, capital tends towards the emergence of the General Intellect and the growth of monopoly, of a reterritorialised extremity after ultimate deterritorialisation. Jameson, in a self-admittedly perverse move, tends to identify this monopoly, best exemplified in the post-Fordist context of late capitalism by the largest company in the world, Wal-Mart, as a utopian phenomenon.

Mark argues for a turn from the anti-capitalist ‘no logo’ call to a post-capitalist ‘counterbranding’ via Jameson’s outlining of a utopian method, where a logical operation of inverted genealogy was attempted—a genealogy of contingent futurities. To locate utopian impulses in the preconditions that are already reserved in the present is to target that which was promised by the cultural revolutions of the left and yet was never delivered; spotting the ‘residual’ only to leave it in search of the ’emergent’.

The demand of this pursuit of abandoned promises is to address and rework substructures that lend support to the apparent reality, away from the underlying Real(s) and fundamentally designed against the fulfillment of desires—only feeding and stimulating them enough to be always worthy of capture, ready to be milked. Hence the recovered evocation of ‘designer socialism’, in the absence of which the design of capitalist realism has been made to appear unrivaled.

It is then evident that the Landian take on the death drive and the ‘historical-machinic force of libido’ is biased against taking the reterritorializing turn, deeming it impossible, or its possibility insignificant. However, it is in the course of this turn that the left needs to implement its ‘counterlibidinal’ politics. “[D]isarticulating technology and desire from capital”, while simultaneously intensifying the processes of deterritorialization only in the manner of “de-anchoring […] the libidinal fragments from the capitalist sigils with which they are arbitrarily articulated”, as Mark prefigured in ‘Digital Psychedelia’, an essay on The Otolith Group’s Anathema.4

To march toward and build (around) an Acid Communism requires “a new use of digital machinery, a new kind of digital desire: a digital psychedelia, no less. […] It dilates time; induces us to linger and drift”, as it “rediscovers the dream time that capitalist realism has eclipsed.”5 To host post-capitalism is to expand the presumably unaffordable spans of time from the side of the future. As Jameson maintains, “[s]uch revival of futurity and of the positing of alternate futures is not itself a political program nor even a political practice: but it is hard to see how any durable or effective political action could come into being without it.”6

[1] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero Books, 2009), p. 18.

[2] Mark Fisher, ‘How To Kill a Zombie: Strategizing the End of Neoliberalism’, in openDemocracy. 18 July 2013.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (Penguin, 1976), p. 929.

[4] Mark Fisher, ‘Digital Psychedelia: The Otolith Group’s Anathema’, in Death and Life of Fiction: Modern Monsters – Taipei Biennial 2012 Journal (Spectormag, 2014), pp. 160–166.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic (Verso, 2009), p. 434

This Is the Sea, Isn’t It?

The CIA World Factbook has listed one Belgian-owned ship that flies the North Korean civil ensign.

Even the two largest landlocked countries in the world, Cambodia and Mongolia, have been offering flags of convenience to foreign-owned merchant ships since the mid-1990s.

Registries are often run out of office buildings in countries other than those nations whose colors flag the vessels, managed by corporations that specialize in engineering legal leeways and anonymous mobility like no wishful cyberutopia could promise.

There is a history of how compositions of venue and vicinage can pave the way for a walk, arranged to escape trials, right across the narrow strips of near-impunity.

Before 1548, the English jury did not have the power to pursue cross-county homicides.

The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice or, simply, the Murder Act of 1774 secured Britain’s supreme authority over the American dominions, maintaining the principle of local jury trial.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the first of its kind, overflows the almost impeccably rectangular territories of Wyoming into the neighboring Idaho and Montana, preserving a potential death zone, a federal enclave immune to the enforcement of state law, reserved for the perfect crime (Brian C. Kalt, “The Perfect Crime”).

The suspension of legal command is still looming in the loopholes that, 370 kilometers away from the shore, float in the high seas of evasion and efficiency.

A shade of gray folds back on another, waves of indeterminacy stratify into zones of exception.

On the horizon rests the utopia of independent jurisdictions, looping whirlpools of self-regulated counter-sovereignties, proxies for secrecy…

The platforms of floating seasteads are raised to let the consequences of every action or transaction exceed the limits of maximum entropy, leave behind the retroaction of an ex post facto law, deviate and descend, discover new regions of disorder, dissolving in the patterns of the wild tides.

A company’s solid performance should match a solvent’s molecular capacity to dissolve the grains of debt into smooth solutions.

The logics of fluidity through the ducts of global capital often recommends meeting insolvency with enforced liquidation. The logistics of flux necessitates an extended process of molecular intensification, passing through unheard-of potentials for full-fledged sogginess as phase transitions that pursue the principal ends of entropy dissipation.

Planting loopholes into the ducted network is an alternatively oversaturated solution, formed by flowing in directions more varied than those defined by entropic tendencies, which slide into an equilibrium of perfect internal disorder.

Loopholes are isolated infinities. Popping up infinitesimally and folding inward infinitely, they stir the network, further complicating its whirling turbulence to no foretold end.

A system too loopholed to stay inside its enclave, or to remain well demarcated from a surrounding environment, spills over into the looping infinity of sub-spiraling special administrative regions.

Growing complexities take advantage of defined boundaries, displacing them not by pushing back or forward, but by folding them deep in or far out.

The high seas warp the mainlands.

Trafficking slaves from the Swahili coast to the Arabian Peninsula, Omani ships sailed off into isolation, at the height of the Sultanate in the 18th century, unmoored into independence from land-locked state institutions, and developed on-board tendencies, whether cultural, idiomatic or sexual.

Xaniths in Oman, Hijras in Pakistan, Mashogas in Kenya… Washing up on coasts that border on the Indian Ocean and turning inland, gender fluidity is a feature of maritime identities. Not mermaids springing from the shape-shifting volume of the sea, fantasies stemming from heterosexual frustration and melting away into watery fairy tales, but exercising their being as doing, they originate in the characteristic versatility of marine societies (Ahmad Makia, “Treading Gulf Waters”).

Carried over to shore leaves and pouring into the land are relationships and practices born at sea, the registered birthplace of lives delivered on the ships surrounded by water.

Some would say that amidst the transoceanic nightmares that colonialism induced in and out of wakefulness, certain gifts were also granted, right on the deck, an “anarchic mix of sailors and slaves and riff-raff plying the waves… humming with creolized languages and music and preindustrial visions of the Rights of Man” (Michael Taussig, “The Beach (A Fantasy)”).

The water gleams in the first rays of a rising sun. What else is carried over to the shore by the approaching waves?

For the slightly indeterminate purposes of this text and the context it shares with the contemporary state of plastic arts, it would sound almost nothing short of corrupt to invest even a single line in a vain attempt to engage with the ruthless currents that fatally devour the lost futures of millions of tormented souls on the run and in search of a refuge, whose bodies often end up washed up on coasts.

Not a message in a bottle, but the plastic bottle itself is plastic enough. Although lauded as the very idea of its transformation, branded by the promise of tracing the movements of a shape in flux, plastic is nothing but a container, acting as “a sealant, a barrier… materializing the desire for impenetrability, for objects, bodies, and selves to be discrete, for categories not to mix, for a monadic identity separated from its environment” (Heather Davis, “Life & Death in the Anthropocene”).

The pressures of molecular obduracy exceed the excitations of formal versatility. This is a war of polymers, waged by a more commercial than scientific matter that is best deployed by the chemistry of biofinance.

The only shape traceable in its reluctant footprint is that of a still extractionist capitalism, rejuvenated in the substrate spirit of a cheap substance and the conditions for a commodity society post WWII, which is still struggling with the sporadic waterspouts of the neo-Empire — surely more frequent than their meteorological counterparts.

The will to conquer distant territories, once resisted on an unprecedented scale, folded back into a river of black-boxed vortices, unpredictably flooding its banks.

If fluxional self-regulation bounces off the “inmost end” (Brian Massumi, The Power at the End of the Economy), if the molecular scale is where the capitalist frontline is drawn, then what are the chances for bypassing the middle phase of liquidity altogether? What does it take to organize more directly across the full spectrum of intermolecular extremization? The seasick dream of phase transitions: a politics of deposition, a politics of sublimation.

Identification Contract with Pain or A Child’s Instantaneous Desire for Aging

About Time, Wounds and Legibility

A weekend break to Oxford earlier this month cultivated in a conversational reunion with a wise man who elevates the typical boredom of a midlife crisis by a very peculiar touch of dead serious pragmatic optimism. He hates binary fluffing, though. The post below is retrieved from 2014. 

Time passes and wounds won’t heal — never forgotten. Scratches made into the skin of a tree, in remembrance of a thing and in the form of a word, tend to deform as time passes by. The trunk grows and its dried skin stretches out, marks deepen and strokes broaden. Years go by. Opened up into the flesh of the tree and in remembrance of a thing, letters and words, the hollowed out displays of a name, a date or a lucid phrase or sentence, are now disguised into a contorted mound, one with no clear message, no words to spell or any names or dates to embody. What remains is the wound itself — testifying, as an index of a years-old injury, to a deed in the past. The fresh wound is clear and intelligible. It speaks, carries a message. When grown older and if not healed — and it will never fully heal — it transforms to an obscure mass, extremely hard to communicate with and receive replies from. A mute mass that never leaves and, at any moment, can pull out its identification contract with pain and stab it into a soul. Therefore there’s a correspondence between incomprehensible characters and the years-old injury. Pointing at their contrast would crystallize their affinity: Incomprehensible characters should not be considered as straightforward signs of an old pain since this is to reinterpret their obscurity in terms of significance, this is to entangle them once again in a trap of content. The power of an incomprehensible character lies exactly in its relationship to time. Without having to maintain ancestral dependence on a source of pain, the incomprehensible character, untied from a chain of past significance, develops to engender a sense of senescence, a painful depth of time, and projects it along the timeline of reading, one that is always facing the contingency of an ever haunting future. Such articulation is different from that of the relationship of a text to its eventual subjection to future, to being read; it is instead that of the creation procedure of the instantaneous phantom of history and its transmission into the phantasm of future. This folded articulation of the past, the present, and the future should be considered as the sudden thrill of a future desire libidinally pronounced in past tense: The incomprehensible character, the obscure language, is a child’s instantaneous desire for aging.