Jazz Thoughts

Practical listening

To 7. Affine resonance.

8. Legibility, spectrality, machines

The notion that queer theory is opposed to legibility per se [1] is (at best [2]) an inflection point: Imperial (& so colonial; now neo-imperial) power has been imposing legibility [3], i.e. defining the legible according to its own goals or ability [4] (to read). Such imposition makes some entities or relations appear (or become readable [5]), while making others disappear — at least from some perspectives.[7] (Such power to render visible is thus also power to render invisible, and the latter — including that which is rendered invisible via processes imposing legibility — will be figured here via notions of spectrality.[8]) Modern imperial legibility further implies a (hierarchical) typology [9], and in particular, renders entities & relations into its characteristic machinic assemblages.[10] Moreover, imperial legibility entails violent enforcement: For instance, race is a (typological) mechanism of legibility. Within a regime of imposed colonial legibility, appearance itself [11] can entail or imply violence.[12] (The notion of a "demand for participation" thus suggests exposure & so potential violence.[13]) That mere appearance can be figured as violent places the question of "violence from above or below" [14] into tension: It is perceived immediately as simultaneous — or might be.[15] Indeed, such a tension interrogates sovereignty per se, something (still) denied to many peoples: The latter, a category again rendered legible via typology, traces a rupture.[16] Thus appearance itself, always already via rupture, demands reparation — i.e. motion toward a new commons — by rendering structures of power legible [17] via their crossing.[18] So an ongoing politics of change involves more than (simple, queer) resistance to legibility [19]: It involves the political interrogation of legibility & its machinic consequences.

An actual post-imperial outcome might involve not only disarticulation of the modern machine, but institution of new (machinic) assemblages of power: The modern machine, once imposed, has dramatically (& traumatically) reworked the world by coming to functioning automatically [21] — & with an automaticity that only seems to accelerate with its postmodern (i.e. nominally postcolonial) enfolding. So one (rightly) wonders whether it can be overcome other than by invoking or initiating alternate or competing machinic processes. Or perhaps change is to emerge from the same machine? Under the (thoroughly modern) guise of progress, it is sometimes suggested that (further, specifically) dialectic motion will itself (eventually) unravel the capitalist imperial machine.[22] Given the imperial heritage (& origin) of dialectical thought, this seems like wishful thinking: Whereas desire to engage "the motor of history," to institute large-scale change far beyond micro-resistance, is obvious enough [23], notions of history & institution linger within such a (modern) impetus: History has been instituted as a narrative machine that figures events according to its own characteristic mode.[24] One might further figure history as the legible trace of logos [25], and so interrogate "progress" according to its own presuppositions: Given that dialectic motion is itself an abstraction from biology [26], a hypothetical dialectical resolution to "the capitalist-imperialist problem" still leaves us captured by biology: A filiative, exponential (biological) growth tree marks a specifically modern ideology of history [27], and in turn invokes the (explicitly) historical structure of (modern) exploitation.[28] "Progress" & biologism thus continue to intertwine via the dialectic machine.[29] Further, attempts to study humanity [30] — i.e. to provide input in order to retheorize our situation — quickly come into conflict with the universalizing (& machinic) character of modern (liberal) subjectivity as well.

Quite simply, machines operate on the legible while ignoring or obscuring the spectral [31]: What they "see" is instantiated in their basic function.[32] Yet this is a matter of perspective, and machinic inputs (or objects) are no more "inherently real" than their spectral discards.[33] In other words, the liberal subject is no more real for having been continually reinscribed by modern mechanics, although it certainly appears that way [34] to those of us immersed in modernity (together with its ubiquitous & automatic propaganda): These are all of a piece.[35] (In yet other words, one might suggest that in different contexts, the self differs from itself.) So, whereas machines produce & enforce the spectral [37] — including in matters of subjectivity — outside of its particular machinic context, the spectral might well be perceived & even interrogated [40]: Modern aesthetics thus enters via "lost" enchantment, i.e. via gaps in the machinic veil or context.[42] And whereas modernity figures the spectral — when it figures the spectral — via aesthetics, it also does so in narrative form [43]: Fortunately(?) even ecological crisis (a nonlinear phenomenon) can or has been figured narratively [44]: Tales of "global warming" have thus been grafted onto the (modern, i.e. progress-based) historical machine.[45] So what of an ecological aesthetics — and in turn an ecological subject? If such notions are to function within or against the (post)modern world, they presumably require machinic engagement [46], and so one might ponder an ecological machine: If climate change demonstrates that capitalism doesn't "fit" the physical environment [47], then what does? Despite regimes of denial, such a fit can be interrogated in concrete terms: What are its (machinic) inputs & outputs? How are they made legible? Such an interrogation involves reconsidering the spectral.

Lack of fit can be illustrated physically by juxtaposing the pyramid- (or tree-) like growth scheme of modern "progress" with the swirling circularity of the planet: The latter involves not only nonlinear phenomena, but nonequilibrium phenomena.[48] Moreover, an ecological machine requires not only reconsideration of subject position, but of entities themselves: What are entities & what are relations? What is foreground; what is background?[49] (So the "ground" of dialectic reversal ceases to function in such an equivocating context.) Is motion itself legible; what makes it legible?[50] What are the physical forms of the planet?[51] Of course, physical forms are not inherently foreground or background — i.e. they become legible only under some regimes [52], i.e. from some perspectives: The notion that we not "fight against" the "forms" of the planet is a good one [53], but thus not necessarily obvious in its deployment. (One must first perceive such forms.) One might consider an ecology of selves [54], but selves that might be indistinct or equivocate a priori, rather than serving as rigid points of solidity: An ecological machine makes liquid [55], not only (literally) incorporating water, but in terms of entity & relation: The only whole is the whole, within which various relations might (temporarily) emerge.[56] Not only does an ecological machine equivocate entity & relation, but involves & invokes multiple temporalities: Not only do different creatures live in (or under) different temporalities, but there are different temporalities within a species & within selves too [57]: Parts (although I'm being lazy with this phrasing [58]) of our bodies grow or change faster than others, etc. Relations (not to mention non-relations) among temporalities have largely been obscured by the modern machine (since it posits a single, linear time). How might these temporalities align (or not)? What sort of "entities" become legible in turn?[59] What of non-living entities? How might they become legible as voices [60], i.e. as the critical aspects of an ecological machine that they already are?

So the nonlinear & nonequilibrium aspects of an ecological machine are problematic for subjects constructed under the modern regime. Yet modern aesthetics has functioned just well enough [61] that there is some consciousness of environmental issues [62], consciousness (amid much denial) that is, but little impetus toward a new path, due to (imposed, economic) aporia [63]: Such aporia is intensified by overloading the attention market, leading to binary thinking [64] — practically the opposite of ecological thinking. (All of this should be clear by now.) Machinic impulses engage the unconscious in aporia, such that an ecological machine must (further) engage the unconscious (and so, the spectral) differently: How might attunement [65] traverse a saturated attention economy then? This has been a question for the arts (and at least here, especially for music [66]), yet there is always (still) a danger of (further) capture — by whatever one is attempting to study — present in any close investigation.[69] (In this case, such capture yields a cynical realism, i.e. intensified feelings of aporia.) So how might such a — properly pharmacological [70] — interrogation be grounded? And if there is no (stable) ground, aren't we really seeking multifaceted legibility? Per the opening of this section, then, how might one undertake a political interrogation of legibility & its machinic consequences with an awareness of its (pharmacological [71]) dangers? What must become legible? Not only does simply inverting the legible & spectral [72] remain thoroughly within the contours of the (original) modern machine [73], but making (it) legible changes an object: Thus there cannot be a direct oppositional quality to attention ecology, which has no distinct "sides" anyway. So whereas postcolonial identity can be said to emerge through concrete opposition [74], the basic antagonism involved must shift into other dimensions, i.e. engage the spectral — which was always already escaping the imperial regime. In other words, an ecology of relation, i.e. an ecological machine, must embrace non-relation.[75] (Likewise, the machinic debt-inheritance regime cannot simply be deposed, but must be refigured.[76] For instance, ecologic debt is likely inescapable.[77])

At its most basic, at least according to the norms of Western philosophy, legibility suggests ontology & in turn epistemology: What exists, and how do or can we know it? Whereas even imperial philosophy has acknowledged a political component to epistemology, ontology as the "ground" of philosophy has been figured as apolitical [78,81]. The power involved in declaring what does & does not exist has never been invisible to colonial subjects [82], however, and contesting ontology per se is increasingly prominent in postcolonial theory: So whereas it's been suggested that epistemic violence is the most basic — or rather, perhaps, that epistemology is inherently violent [83] — ontological violence comes to define imperialism. So if ontology not only becomes political, but the ground of politics per se, (depending on perspective) knowledge (of the politically nonexistent) becomes spectral or repressed.[84] Moreover, imperial philosophy [85] has long figured words & language as the privileged domain of knowledge expression [86]: Politics thus becomes about forging or coopting language, meaning that terms & concepts are themselves fraught territories, and in turn suggesting the basic pharmacological tension of conceptual innovation in general.[87] Such tension permeates (linguistic) knowledge to its core.[88] If new theory is required to replace or combat old theory, then, how might one cure rather than harm? This is one reason to study the history of concepts, i.e. to avoid pitfalls, but of course one might then fall prey to (conceptual) capture oneself. Moreover theory per se, particularly as fully articulated, is generally behind the tendencies it seeks to inflect.[91] Further, the "objects" of theory suggest not only their own (distinct) ecology, but a relation of distance [92]: Theory tends too easily toward transcendence, i.e. away from (immanent) antagonism [93] — such a tendency being embedded in dialectics, for instance, via reliance on an exterior (unchanging) ground.[94] Demands for legibility generally tend to involve transcendence, then, i.e. the ability to see & read objects from afar.[95,96]

Even beyond ontological politics (at least in its restricted sense [97]), legibility under postmodern globalization demands further immanent interrogation: As the world becomes "smaller," relations are both increasingly intertwined & less stable.[98] Moreover, as capitalism itself becomes radicalized & nomadic, i.e. transcends the (former?) nation-state [99], and as the "interior" is reconfigured along topologically intricate contours that trace economic hierarchy rather than adhere to geographic borders [100], commerce itself becomes tentacular [101]: Profit no longer derives from large-scale resonance, but rather from (physically) extended & (relationally) intricate supply chains — pursued in a top-down manner (of course) & such that the head [102] has no need to know (or care [103]) what happens at the ends of its tentacles. (They'll probably be moving soon anyway.) Such an approach is increasingly invigorated by (military) logistic science [104] & so has come to emphasize automation & speed.[109] Not only does tentacular optimization undermine geography-based entities (such as nations [110]), but it presents an "open" domain for machinic action: Whereas an opening has been widely sought, (especially) including when seeking an ecological fit, "fitting the planetary" increasingly proceeds in a predatory manner under the logistic regime [111] — just as the modern machine had preyed (more specifically) on biology. Such fluidity (or openness) must be harnessed differently, and therefore an ecological machine demands a corresponding pharmacological politics [113]: Neoliberal, neoimperial capitalism can likely be defeated only by a concerted effort at the global level [114], and that involves not just any planetary fit, but an appropriate ecological machine. (What is "appropriate" is a properly political question, and moreover must involve nonhuman stakeholders.[115]) One might ask in turn how logistics renders a (postmodern) pharmacological politics legible: It already embraces nonlinearity, nonequilibrium, and even liquidity [116] of thought. (One might further note that postmodern legibility involves postmodern modes of calculation.[117]) So logistics is not only something to resist, but a possible means of transforming the (post)modern machine: Simply put, in this context, rehabilitating imperial dialectics is not only dangerous & unnecessary, but useless. So must (queer) theory resist legibility? Yes & no: The question becomes what is legible & for whom.[118]

  1. Queer opposition to legibility was suggested & (partially) explored in section 7.

  2. At its worst, a move to undermine legibility can allow imperial power to retrench according to its own priorities, and so further marginalize the illegible. Such danger is clear enough.

  3. Imposed legibility (& illegibility) was explored by Achille Mbembe in his (recently published in English) Critique of Black Reason, partially prompting this response.

  4. Despite its spectacular & world-defining character, not to mention its oppressive violence, one should not attribute too broad an ability to imperial power: It is often ignorant, and its specific impositions arise as much from weakness as from strength. (Imperialists are a counterexample to the notion that perceiving a disability brings sympathy. Sometimes their "disabilities" are willful, but often not: There's much they simply don't understand, hence their agitation.) Simply put, that imperialists cannot read something does not mean that it cannot be read.

  5. Under the modern regime, readability implies (eventually) assembling into an archive, i.e. a designation of what does & doesn't belong as part of history. (Losing readability hence suggests losing the world [6] — which is always written.) This is a symptom of the general instrumental quality of thinking through words: Language itself thus comes to enforce spectrality via what it loses.

  6. One might further suggest that the Kantian sublime already lost the world. (Such a summation reframes the outcome-intent gap.)

  7. One might simply say that imperial power imposes a particular perspective (per the concerns of section 6).

  8. Adorno's "negative dialectics" was already an attempt to recover what has been rendered (dialectically) invisible. That such a technique embeds an appreciation for dialectics per se is obvious enough.

  9. Western typology increasingly proceeds via implication, in that it is not explicitly considered, let alone explicitly constructed. Rather it is always already embedded in the process of rendering visible. In other words, such visibility is usually relative to a preexisting typology — which had become spectral itself via repetition (i.e. familiarity).

  10. The machinic assemblages of modernity are introduced & summarized in (the recent) Basic Mechanics.

  11. One should note the voice together with (visual) appearance per se.... (One might in turn note other sensory modes, of course, and throughout this piece.)

  12. In other words, someone of the "wrong race" simply appearing in a "wrong" location can yield violence. (This is still very true, as headlines continue to demonstrate regularly.)

  13. And thus section 4 asks whether a "demand for participation ... requires illegibility, i.e. excess over interior thought per se?" (So the illegible is figured there as an excess over what is legible from the interior.) Section 4 goes on to interrogate concepts of noise: Typological illegibility (having one's participation rendered as noise) can then invite or instantiate violence, such that resisting violence can be figured in turn as demand: Thus demand renders legible. (Agamben has recently suggested that demand become a primary ontological category.)

  14. Such a distinction, i.e. whether violence originates with the people at large (i.e. "from below"), or is imposed on them "from above" (i.e. via hierarchy) is associated with Georges Sorel.

  15. In a hypothetically naïve world of the everyday, someone might not know that their appearance will be perceived as violent. However, they are likely to learn quickly enough. (Indeed, such tension is often internalized unconsciously without anything becoming explicit.) Perhaps more to the point, if simple appearance can be constructed as violent, violent imposition of hierarchy in turn is rendered as mundane or even necessary.

  16. In other words, sovereignty for a people entails defining that people, rupturing such a category from the world more generally. (Often, however, such rupture has already been enforced: There is already a defined people. They simply have no power, or rather, are defined — or read — as being without power.)

  17. An act of "mere" appearance is thus perceived as violent (i.e. as opposing power), because it illuminates the spectral conditions of power: Appearance becomes the counter-act that renders prior acts legible.

  18. Mbembe suggests that power can only be power through the power of metamorphosis. In other words, there is no static power: It must be constantly rendered, constantly made to appear by changing the world. (Hence the modern, droning propaganda refrain becomes an echo of power.)

  19. Resisting legibility is a basic characteristic of "underground" groups, and sometimes of minoritarian movements more generally. (Such an impetus is even found in crass, commercial spaces where what is "cool" is obscured from those who are uncool.[20])

  20. Whereas fashionable spectrality suggests a perverse appropriation of colonial subjectivity, it also reflects the (relative) oppression of youth within modern society, and so a minoritarian position.

  21. In other words, and in one guise, those at the top of the capitalist hierarchy have people working to support them, without those people knowing them or being paid by them or maybe even being aware of the situation (& vice versa): From many perspectives, it all "just happens." (And attempting to act morally in today's economy quickly confronts one with aporia.)

  22. Much of this section is thus a response to George Ciccariello-Maher, who seems to want to rehabilitate dialectics. Whereas Ciccariello-Maher makes many excellent & worthwhile observations, I disagree with this (titular) aspect of his program: Imperial philosophy has no place in a post-imperial world — other than as an example of how not to think — and that goes especially for Hegel. (And despite my opposition to this particular aspect of his thought, I should emphasize that Ciccariello-Maher & I otherwise seem to share many goals.)

  23. And, after all, the modern machine is known to be effective at producing change. (But what sort of change?)

  24. The particular character of history must be emphasized, given its presupposing structure, the way that it posits & bolsters continuity & discontinuity, and so forges its own assemblages.

  25. One might even suggest Latour's "double click" mode as a quasi-legible trace of history that immediately obscures its own operation. Moreover, I'll agree that double click is indeed emblematic of the modern machine (& its looming certainty, deftly & tellingly equivocated by Latour via humor). One might go further to (partially) equate double click with familiarity per se....

  26. I have already discussed the sexual (biological) basis of dialectical thought at several points in this series, so I will be brief here.

  27. One might thus ponder non-modern ideologies of history according to non-filiative models. (Note further that modern capture of biology has likewise entailed exponential human population growth, together with the problems that situation has implied.)

  28. Exploitation becomes (specifically) historical under modernity via its regimes of (instituted) debt & inheritance.

  29. The legibility of reproduction per se is only becoming intensified as a point of tension (figuring both progress & biologism) in the postmodern era.

  30. Anthropology itself — and I mention this discipline not because of its faults, but because of its strengths — derives directly from the project of imperialist exploitation, and indeed desire for legibility per se. In particular, so-called physical anthropology has folded a progress narrative (called "evolution") onto a general human typology, in a persistent attempt to naturalize the modern dialectic (machine). Whereas there are counter-currents, many of them mentioned in this space, such is the dominant narrative of anthropology to which the (interior) public subscribes.

  31. Revisiting the stratification machine from Remède de Fortune (which operates on time), one might say that it not only produces (& enforces) financial hierarchy, but legibility as well. (Think of how e.g. it spits out numerical credit scores.)

  32. Whether a machine is instantiated simultaneously with its inputs, or produces its inputs (as objects) later, in relational fashion (i.e. from the middle), is a distinction without a difference in this context: Either way, the modern subject has already been instantiated.

  33. Reality is frequently "proven" by repetition alone. (I suggest critical attention to such refrains, particularly in the smallest spaces.)

  34. Of course, the effects of the subject are real....

  35. Without a particular context, it is thus pointless to ask e.g. whether the subject or history or economy or various other concepts come first. The answer depends on the logic one presupposes — and I've already skewed the question by asking it in terms of history.[36] (Moreover, I remind the reader that there is no purity to the primal scene.)

  36. For instance, how does temporality itself flavor the subject? Such a question is re-asked, in different form, (already by [32] &) by Mbembe as well. Notions of multiple times impinge upon subject formation in a variety of (especially) African critiques. One might ask, does the subject have a rhythm? (Rhythm is machinic.) The rhythm of modernity is a march... now double time....

  37. Whereas one might figure spectrality via notions of ghosts or spirits, or alternatively as distinct "bands" via a spectrometer, one might alternately consider it as fluid, i.e. as escaping solid form.[38,39]

  38. Modern machinic inputs have tended to be "solid" because modernity seeks solidity, i.e. equilibrium, i.e. perpetual wealth for those who already have it. (One might figure this process as imposing eternity, which is what the stratification machine — per [31] — does by devouring time.)

  39. Following Harney & Moten, one might view the undercommons in spectral terms: Hence their observation that being "without interests" (i.e. illegible to the modern or postmodern profit-seeking machine) is being increasingly criminalized. In other words, one is forced to take a specific, legible (economic) position within the machinic context, rather than remain fluid — in opposition to various other world philosophies advocating for the latter.

  40. Marx noted that the spectral is what is produced (by capitalist imperialism) but not contained. (I consider spectrality to be produced by processes of legibility, but not the spectral per se — although it might be. Such a distinction is worth considering, particularly in a global world.[41])

  41. One might further figure alternatives to legibility, as instantiated in the modern machinic archive, via opacity or transparency: Sometimes these terms come to imply spectrality & legibility respectively, but always basically designate the legibility of something with respect to something else — while taking the context (or ground or perspective) as already given.

  42. One should further note the extreme crudity of the eighteenth century (imperial) aesthetics (per [6]) that continues to be the basis for Western theory (at least as it's taught to the public) relative to the increasingly sophisticated techniques of twenty-first century capture. (Postmodern marketing is, of course, fundamentally aesthetic. However, this is an aesthetics derived from "trade secrets," etc. To reiterate, it involves extensive research on what actually works to capture people: Marketing & propaganda become some of the only remaining "practical" fields of study, as other disciplines become nothing but apologies for power, i.e. propaganda themselves.)

  43. Thus history (per [24]) is grafted to "aesthetic narrative" in an attempt to foreclose the spectral.

  44. I must continue to question the fortuitousness of such a historically-based (i.e. according to a linear, narrative form) critique of capitalism, because I question what lurks behind such a form. However, the effect has been powerful. (One might characterize such power as a shadow of the power of the Earth to reimpose itself on us.)

  45. Global warming is itself machinic in very obvious fashion: Our activity outputs heat (& therefore entropy): More energy use means more entropy.

  46. I don't want to overemphasize a machinic requirement: However, that is the basis for the present discussion (as prompted by Ciccariello-Maher per [22]).

  47. And frankly, it hurts to note that "lack of fit" with humanity itself seems not to have been sufficiently motivating. Of course, there is still a sense of denial from the super-rich, people who believe that their wealth will insulate them even from environmental catastrophe — because, at least to a point, it will. But this is a harder message to sell to many of their collaborators.

  48. Thus planetary fit not only puts infinite growth into question, but perpetual equilibrium (per [38]) as well. (One should also note that modernity itself was not always already in equilibrium. It began with great changes.)

  49. Is foreground-background equivocation legible? (Roy Wagner figures such equivocation via humor, and humor certainly has a spectral component. Maybe that's the point, although my det-ret figuration suggests a rendering legible in the second step.) Such illegibility (or spectrality) might well describe the colonial situation, or at least the anthropological situation — again per Wager, for whom the structure of equivocation (and so communication across great differences in thought) centers on nullifying time.

  50. The human eye is tuned to detect physical movement. As for other motion....

  51. Such a question is motivated by Eduardo Kohn's consideration of "form's effortless efficacy" via geography of the Amazon — and in turn concepts of non-human sentience. (His treatment does remain rather typological.)

  52. For instance, dialectic is itself a form.... (According to Caroline Levine, forms "hang around" for reuse. What might also be invoked by such reuse? This is the spectral, hanging around.)

  53. That human creativity relies on potentials latent in nature is a recurring notion — recently expressed e.g. by Elizabeth Grosz via Simondon. One might frame such a notion in terms of productive constraints. (Grosz also wants to parse ideal-material into non-dual form via "the incorporeal." So how do such notions figure or inflect an ecological machine?)

  54. Such an ecology was motivated by Kohn, who suggests that "representation" is inherent to living, such that the self is a product of semiosis, something all life undertakes. (Leaving aside wording issues that invoke what are for me undesirable hauntings, this is a worthwhile framing. It also fits Stiegler's semiotic-entropic dual, which figures life succinctly & pharmacologically in a global environmental context.)

  55. Kohn prefers to discard machinic concepts — as being related to capitalism per se — rather than interrogate an ecological machine (as is the emphasis here, pace [46]): So he wants to discard the notion of "parts" (implicitly deriving from a machine), and work only with wholes. I must reject any sense in which there are ultimately distinct entities, however, parts or wholes or otherwise.

  56. Ecology thus comes to sound like some traditional religions — not coincidentally, I'm sure.

  57. This particular observation on multiple temporalities, one of many, derives from Anna Tsing.

  58. Beyond the issues raised in [55], Mbembe notes that "the body" is a phantasmagoric assemblage anyway — it wanders, perhaps illegibly. (One might speak in turn of various bodily interfaces being assembled at various times.)

  59. Such a question only seems to reprise or exacerbate a supposed contemporary "epidemic of facelessness." However, particularly from an anthropological perspective (per [49], say), there is a sense in which face has always been illegible. (Moreover, Ciccariello-Maher notes, channeling Enrique Dussel, that "face" reveals a people before an individual. Mary Helms similarly suggests that the band is a more basic unit than the self.) I might further reiterate my previous suggestion that bilateral symmetry is a more fundamental duality than sexual difference. What then of ecological symmetry? Does such a notion make any sense in a liquid environment?

  60. Notions of non-living voice here are (most recently) prompted by Elizabeth Povinelli. (I hesitate to contrast with the coming, terrible "internet of things.")

  61. Let's recall that Kant's "sublime" already figured the "natural world." This might be the only regime in which his aesthetics can actually function (per [6])!

  62. And I do suggest that it's specifically aesthetics that enables such consciousness: Scientific exploration follows awareness (or attunement).

  63. Thus questions of authority & aporia continue to animate this entire project: And hence a desire for machinic change, i.e. to rewrite the structure of thought.

  64. The suggestion that attention overload (also figured by the opening discursus to this series) yields binary thinking is from Franco Berardi — who further suggests that specifically linguistic competence (automatically) invokes mediation, and moreover, erodes empathy (by bypassing mirror neurons).

  65. Let me repeat an operative question for this series: "What is being assembled in any particular situation, and what specific relations are involved?" (Sara Ahmed also notes simply that "attunement matches an affect with an object." The affective object relative to the ecological machine is obvious enough, in a general sense, but how does one finely tune affect to a liquid situation, i.e. without even momentary object permanence?)

  66. Let me recapitulate a few remarks here about music [67] & listening [68]: Agamben has suggested recently that music marks a split between humanity & language per se, i.e. that it equivocates between voice & logos. (He further observes that bad music is inseparable from bad politics: I haven't framed things quite that way, but political interrogation of music does occupy much of my time.) This seems like a departure for him....

  67. I've already defined music as the sonic organization of affect (perhaps done by the listener), and wondered if the primal scene might be extended indefinitely via sound manipulation. Contemporary explorations of such facets include use of drones & "process music" with their implications of inevitability (thus, at least potentially, validating the modern machine), as well as so-called spectral music (which injects its own typology — a seemingly paradoxical situation, given that typology is generally a tool for making legible, but here one thinks of tracing bands per [37]). Such explorations become problematic if their machinic context is undertheorized, much as tonic-dominant harmony instantiated the imperial mentality in sound. Yet such explorations can also be pharmacological, in that "touching" these machinic qualities facilitates their interrogation.

  68. I've also already noted that listening modulates relations, and raised issues of generic (versus universal or singular) listening elsewhere in this series. So is generic (or impersonal?) listening a means of interrogating ecological attunement?

  69. Tangentially, one might consider the parallel embodied non-relation of labor (i.e. as worker & as consumer) — a non-relation (i.e. these aspects are formally separated by modern economics, despite occurring in the same body — but see [58]) that can be interrogated further by concepts of use (per Agamben), i.e. by subject-object equivocation. (One might further trace such equivocation via the unfamiliar, as here.)

  70. Note that Stiegler (who is my direct, recent prompt) grounds his notion of pharmacology in Plato & Socrates. It is not new. (Note further that Agamben's most recent interrogation of Plato is similar to my own in this series, although he traces far more interesting details — which I neglect. If I may indulge my own vanity, it's gratifying to see someone get it right: What is called Platonism in the modern era most often features the very absurdities that Plato was rejecting! Such are the dangers of pharmacology.)

  71. Of course, one should probably also take a pharmacological approach to the entire "master's tools" conversation (of which this section is an aspect, specifically regarding dialectics). Similarly, per De Man, one might characterize theory as resistance to theory — and even such that deconstruction might simply reinstate what it uncovers.

  72. Such inversion is often called figure-ground reversal, whereas I've been using foreground-background here instead (largely prompted by music) — as well as emphasizing equivocation, i.e. holding the duality in tension, rather than heralding simple reversal or resolution.

  73. Simple inversion remains a popular tool of fascist politics today. (And Hierarchy as rupture was explicitly constructed to resist inversion.)

  74. In other words, identity in the postcolony is constructed (and this is already implied by the term) as specifically opposed to identity in the colony (which was in turn defined according to imperial identity, although not precisely in opposition): In that sense, it is an overcoming, but also only preliminary: One must not continue to define oneself only according to what one was. (This seems obvious.) So how might one do otherwise?

  75. For Alenka Zupancic, for instance, emancipatory politics requires a negative ontology, i.e. an embrace of its inherent antagonism to be traced via non-relation. In other words, emancipatory antagonism cannot be defined oppositionally, because it overflows any supposed oppositional relation. (Harney & Moten suggest more succinctly that "general antagonism cannot be tamed," whereas Ciccariello-Maher observes that notions of "multitude" merely invert Hobbes.) Zupancic also suggests that whereas theory generally relates to imperial philosophy, even today, we must continue to confront the same questions, since not to do so is to concede: I cannot accept this sort of stasis, let alone so much "respect" for imperial philosophy. If it is to be engaged, do so contemptuously, i.e. with true antagonism (& so far beyond mere reversal)!

  76. So as to illustrate the stakes, I'll note that Mbembe insists on debt (albeit a more generalized notion of debt than the financial debt produced by the stratification machine) as the basis for social exchange (according to African norms) — and even as another name for life itself. (One might consider the gift here, and the eschatological obligations it unleashes.) Thus, pace [28], all outputs of the modern machine cannot simply be equated with machinic violence per se — nor should they be directly inverted.

  77. One might also suggest that ecological debt — eat or be eaten — is inherently antagonistic (as opposed to the human sociality invoked by [76]).

  78. Ontology has typically been grounded in transcendental logic. (The "ontological proof" of the existence of God is a paradigmatic example.) Such transcendence is an attempt — via subterfuge or sophistry [79] — to remove politics from questions of existence. Circumscribing politics — rendering the status quo as (logically) incontestable — has always been the basic goal of imperial philosophy. This remains the case with neoliberalism (& its bastard philosophy, economics) today.

  79. One might figure such a move, generally speaking, as one of abstraction. And so, per section 6, one must be suspicious of abstraction (particularly pace the pharmacological concerns of [71]): Moreover, also as previously discussed, abstraction suggests a kind of speed & only accelerates in the postmodern era.[80]

  80. I have yet to articulate an actual politics of speed. However, let me suggest that speed increasingly articulates the legible-spectral dual in the contemporary world. Indeed, one might refigure it (again via speed) into an assemble-obscure dual, such that assembly now occurs at at a breakneck pace — while casting shadows at least as quickly. In this context, the opposite of speed becomes relaxation: How can one relax & see?

  81. Absent assertions of a transcendent ontology, once again then, since ontological ground does not properly exist, dialectics loses its footing — a footing it never actually had.

  82. Ahmed succinctly states, for instance, that "what is hardest for some does not exist for others."

  83. The paradigmatic example of epistemic violence is destruction of a "laboratory sample" in order to know it. (I've also previously discussed the violent drive to knowledge — or legibility — involved in contemporary gambling, gambling per se as divorced from divination.)

  84. And in the extreme, Lacan notes simply that unconscious knowledge is knowledge that does not know itself: One might recall the primal scene, of course, but such unknowing knowing is also the result of ontological violence.

  85. Per the concerns of [70] (parenthesis) & [66], such an "imperializing move" can be detected in the earliest philosophical writing, particularly as it contests language (logos) per se.

  86. I've already discussed such a figuration of knowledge & words (& already reraised a similar issue in [5]).

  87. Particularly with the concerns of [79], the present undertaking is therefore itself fraught (regardless of, or perhaps intensified by, the vanity displayed by assertions such as that of [73], not to mention the mediation concerns expressed in [64]). Of course, any poet (including per [85]) already knows that words are fraught territories....

  88. Agamben suggests not only that Western epistemology rests on the notion of a voice that is immediately removed (analogous to the "view from nowhere" that defines so-called objectivity), but that this is its founding myth. Further, alphabetic writing provides the illusion of capturing a (i.e. that disembodied) voice per se. And since "being is said in names" (particularly pace [79]), not only does (shared) knowledge of existence rely on a translation machine [89], but we even claim the right & ability to name the non-human & what we otherwise fail to know: Such impositions figure the inverse of the transcendent voice-removed subject, i.e. the voiceless subject.[90] (In other words, attempts to obscure & objectify the contextual basis of knowledge effectively undermine & partition that knowledge.)

  89. One might in turn figure translation pharmacologically (including pace [18]), particularly relative to the modern machine itself: What is obscured & what is illuminated in translation? (One might ponder the popular online humor genre of recursive machine translations, for instance.)

  90. To answer Spivak (& others) in these terms, then, the subaltern can only be figured as speaking with our (i.e. that of the imperial interior) voice: In other words, we hear only our own thoughts. (So this is not a failure of being, but a failure of listening — to refer to the present series title again.) One might, of course, think also of the inanimate object (i.e. the inanimate stakeholder per [60]).

  91. Theory is much better at explaining after the fact than it is at anticipating (tendencies) & inflecting (them). (After all, hindsight is twenty-twenty, as the saying goes.) Of course, "behind" is also a kind of distance.

  92. A sense of object separation, at least if it is to be generalized, can suggest the "view from nowhere" (per [88]) once again. (This is rupture per se.)

  93. Whereas resistance might benefit from a play of exteriority (i.e. different leverage) — which, paradoxically, might be from the interior in this context — it simply cannot proceed (only) at a distance.

  94. The various uses of "ground" in this paragraph suggest one thing: There is no ground. (There were & are no grounds for what has already been done, and so the notion of basing further decisions on outcomes of prior bad acts is clearly invalid.) Or rather if there's a ground, it's literally the entire planet.

  95. Such an epistemological critique of transcendence tends to bring a sense of loss for Western subjects, particularly loss of confidence. (The transcendent position is, after all, very confident: It believes it sees all.) The resulting "crisis" — of authority, one might say — must be overcome, likely by overcoming the Western subject.

  96. Note, moreover, that the (modern) imperial position arises (geographically) from afar with respect to the colony.

  97. In its most capacious sense, of course, ontological politics can be taken to encompass everything. (It might even figure life's basic semiotic-entropic duality — as broached in [54].)

  98. The modern machine, even as enfolded into the postmodern, continues to posit stability — to the point of declaring that history has ended (per [38]): This is a desperate move — i.e. one at odds with machinic progress, the motor of modernity itself.

  99. I follow Braudel in linking the development of capitalism per se to the emergence of the modern nation-state. (Note that national boundaries continue to be increasingly leveraged as capitalist advantages, due to those borders being differentially permeable, especially by capital & people, and so prone to gaming.)

  100. So whereas, per [99], one might imagine that removing capitalism from its nation-state "habitat" might cause it to wither, the opposite has been the case: National governments have only become weaker. One must therefore take a pharmacological approach to reconfiguring the interior, despite (or because of) the obvious social justice issues involved.

  101. The tentacle image derives from Donna Haraway, here transplanted into somewhat different terrain.

  102. Such a "head" is also suggestive of patriarchy per se, and indeed, tentacular logistics mirrors & harnesses various clan-based methods of accumulating & bolstering power — particularly when & where those methods have operated transversely to a local government perceived as of foreign origin. (In that respect, tentacular logistics can be viewed as old-fashioned relative to the modern machine.)

  103. Indeed, "plausible deniability" for whatever atrocities might occur is welcomed.

  104. These observations derive from Harney & Moten, supplemented by Tsing.[105] (Note that it is not coincidence that such interrogations are linked to East Asia, where Harney has been a professor: East Asia may have long been "postmodern.[108]" One might consequently note that there is something of a "becoming minoritarian" edge to this logistic regime, and certainly a nomadic quality, as already noted.)

  105. And Tsing notes explicitly that an emphasis on "supply chains" in the West has involved a move away from biopolitics per se. In other words, human labor is no longer prioritized: Whatever works. (Harney & Moten similarly suggest that capitalist logistics wants to eliminate the subject.[106] So again, one is presented with a pharmacological situation.[107])

  106. Per [58] (& even [74]), Mbembe suggests it is true identity that makes possible the traversal of such disrupted — & now topologically dense with logistic filaments — spaces. (One might further note that sound vibrations cross space, perhaps as a sort of mediation.)

  107. A significant aspect of such pharmacology involves the (modern) population explosion (per the parenthesis of [27]) & how to reconfigure its dynamic. Obviously, this is both a crucial & sensitive topic — one very prone to hierarchical manipulation & oppression.

  108. Hence one might ponder not only multiple temporalities, but the deactivation of history per se via postmodern logistics, particularly as "places" become topologically complex.

  109. (Blitzkrieg was an innovation.) One might also ponder (& this is quite speculative) a so-called "fourth retention" (following Stiegler) of dis-automation, i.e. machinic undoing. (Terminology aside, this has been a basic question here.)

  110. And so the postcolonial nations of the independence movement, in particular, are immediately undermined by new forms of exploitation! (This was the specific, timely impetus for neoliberalism.) Of course (following the parenthetical remarks of [104]), China had already been totally porous as a nation for a time....

  111. In other words, knowledge of planetary "forms" is used in order to exploit them. (That much is clear enough.) However, and this is crucial, such knowledge is exactly what is needed in order to reconfigure the world order. (Whereas forms suggest discrete categories, even a typology, logistical chains are not stable enough to be fully discrete in this sense. They are much more fluid.[112])

  112. The "insubstantial" character of logistical optimization allows various worlds to pass through each other, or operate simultaneously — even in different temporalities. (Tsing suggests that the result is not clashes between worlds, but "friction.") This is what we require from an ecological machine, pace pharmacology.

  113. In yet other words, politics is our only means of demanding a cure rather than more harm.

  114. Absent a coordinated effort, the vermin simply move to a different location (with my apologies to ordinary vermin for the image). Can we rely on boundaries to contain them? Perhaps with new boundary forms? They might be functionally excluded from many areas, even without a truly global effort, but it's difficult to believe that they'd not recover & reassert themselves if left with any real base of operations. (And of course e.g. climate change, in general, can likely be produced from any location, even if limiting the geographic scale of extreme ecological behaviors would reduce their global impact.)

  115. Ecological politics therefore cannot be conducted entirely in (human) language: Nonhumans, even non-living beings, do express. (Melting glaciers are an expression.)

  116. The liquid quality of (nonequilibrium, non-discrete) ecology is eerily (spectrally?) paralleled by use of the notion "liquidity" by financiers.

  117. Modern economics has been restricted to what is calculable, which has been restricted to what is measurable, which has been restricted to what is closed. Moreover, since ecological legibility is often only momentary, the modern machine has constantly sought to impose equilibrium (as already noted) & so perpetual legibility. So, pace postmodern logistics, what are some other modes of calculation? (One might begin to list modes, values....)

  118. After all, an ecological machine negotiates its entire, fluid situation amid many perspectives (contra that of [7]).


Todd M. McComb
5 November 2017