For-Itselfness

A friend texts requesting recommendations, works he could assign describing consciousness — particularly works that identify variable “dimensions” and “states.” I recommend Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Abraham Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being. Reflecting afterwards on the exchange, I note down in a notebook, “Consciousness is something we grant or presuppose — based on our being here amid others in shared dialogue and shared study. Consciousness is Being as it comes to attention of itself as autopoetic subject-object — soul in communion with soul, each the other’s love doctor and angelic messenger.”

Stochastic Music

The university library here in town dumps a collection of LPs from its listening room. Out with the old, in with the new. I encounter them in the bins at Goodwill. To them by chance led. The ones I come away with are remarkable: compositions by the likes of John Cage, George Crumb, Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Krzysztof Penderecki. One pursues one’s education here or not at all, thinks the Narrator.

“To Xenakis—as, indeed, to most philosophers—” writes Bernard Jacobson in his liner notes to one of the Xenakis LPs, “chance itself is a scientific concept.”  The reference to “chance” catches my eye, given that “hap” (a Middle English word meaning chance) has been a preoccupation of mine of late.

“Central among the scientific laws [Xenakis] has applied to music,” continues Jacobson, “is Bernoulli’s Law of Large Numbers, which provides that as the number of repetitions of a given ‘chance’ trial (such as flipping a coin) increases, so the probability that the results will tend to a determinate end approaches certainty. Hence Xenakis’s use of the term ‘stochastic’ music, which means probabilistic in the sense of tending toward a certain goal.”

Xenakis’s approach intrigues me. Yet what interests me most about “stochastic music” and stochastic processes more generally is that, despite their probabilistic nature, their behavior and outcome is intrinsically non-deterministic.

On “Blackness and Nothingness”

We play puppets, we eat cheerios. As Frankie naps, I read Fred Moten’s “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh),” a “taking up” of Afropessimism through attention to the ideas of Frank B. Wilderson III and Jared Sexton. “I have thought long and hard, in the wake of their work,” writes Moten, “in a kind of echo of Bob Marley’s question, about whether blackness could be loved” (738). I think of my cousin, locked away all these years while the rest of us go free. Let us continue our correspondence. Unlike Fanon, from whom nonetheless all of these thinkers take their inspiration, Moten prefers “damnation” to “wretchedness,” as he prefers “life and optimism over death and pessimism” (738). Many of my communications have led to this, all the lotuses I’ve been eating, all the books I’ve been reading: “blackness is prior to ontology…it is ontology’s anti- and ante-foundation, ontology’s underground, the irreparable disturbance of ontology’s time and space” (739). Blackness means choosing to stay social. Or choosing, as Frank B. Wilderson said, “To stay in the hold of the ship.” Yet it somehow also means “avoidance of subjectivity” (743). So it is: let us “trace the visionary company and join it” (743).

Thoreau’s Demand

Thoreau demands that the good person, the ethical subject, refuse complicity with evil. In so doing, he reveals the nature of the bind in which we find ourselves: none of us able, it seems, to meet his demand. That’s why we’re here, trapped in this labyrinth of stuck desire. Rather than there, where lovers go as lovers do, and none are bound.

Is Accelerationism an Iteration of Futurism?

After watching Hyperstition, a friend writes, “Is Accelerationism an iteration of Futurism?”

“Good question,” I reply. “You’re right: the two are certainly conceptually aligned. I suppose I’d imagine it in reverse, though: Futurism as an early iteration of Accelerationism. The former served as an experimental first attempt at living ‘hyperstitiously,’ oriented toward a desired future.”

“If we accept Hyperstition’s distinction between Right-Accelerationism and Left-Accelerationism,” I add, “then Italian Futurism would be an early iteration of Right-Accelerationism, and Russian Futurism an early iteration of Left-Accelerationism.”

“But,” I conclude, “I haven’t read enough to know the degree of reflexivity among participants. I hope to read a bit more along these lines this summer.”

The friend also inquires about what he refers to as the film’s “ethnic homogeneity.” By that I imagine he means that the thinkers featured in Hyperstition tend to be British, European, and American, with few exceptions. “It could just be,” I reply, “that filmmaker Christopher Roth is based in Berlin and lacked the budget to survey the movement’s manifestations elsewhere.”

The friend also wonders if use of concepts like “recursion” among Accelerationist philosophers signals some need among humanities intellectuals to cannibalize concepts from the sciences in order to remain relevant.

“To me,” I tell him, “the situation is the opposite. Recursion isn’t just a concept with some currency today among computer scientists; it was already used a century ago by philosophers in the Humanities. If anything, the Comp Sci folks are the ones cannibalizing the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.”

“At best,” I add, “it’s a cybernetic feedback loop: concepts evolving through exchange both ways.”

A Friend Recommends Bernardo Kastrup

Noting my views regarding consciousness, a friend recommends I read the computer engineer Bernardo Kastrup. Kastrup and I both reject the idea that physical reality exists independently of the minds that observe it. Ours, we agree, is a “participatory” universe, involving interplay between mind and matter.

Mind is the one thing, I would say, that is not of this world. Nor is it a static substance. It identifies, it disidentifies; it remembers, it forgets. It undergoes changes of state.

And by “mind,” I mean something more than just the ego. Local, individual, waking consciousness is but one part of what Kastrup calls “mind-at-large.” (The same phrase, by the way, used by Aldous Huxley in his book The Doors of Perception.)

Kastrup rejects panpsychism, however, whereas I find the latter attractive, at least in some of its formulations. And Weird Studies podcaster JF Martel has issued a critique of what he calls Kastrup’s “monistic idealism.”

What I like most about Kastrup, though, is his explanation of how “mind-at-large” becomes reduced or fragmented into semi-autonomous parts. “Kastrup’s answer,” writes Martel, “is that we are all ‘alters’—fragmented, amnesic parts—of mind-at-large.”

Back to the Future / By Way of Recursion

“Next on the block is ‘recursion,’” says the Narrator, “a concept discussed at length by philosophers Armen Avanessian, Pete Wolfendale, and Suhail Malik in Christopher Roth’s 2016 film Hyperstition.

“Recursion explains how the New enters existence,” says Avanessian. “Where reflexivity is a sequence of stacked meta-reflections, as in a pair of mirrors, recursion involves an integration of parts into a whole, changing in the process both the part and the whole.”

Roth employs cinema both recursively and dialectically. Parts of Hyperstition are thus able to speak to one another via montage in the style of Eisenstein, Vertov, and Godard.

So it is that Suhail Malik appears in the wake of Avanessian, arguing from the year 2026 that recursion is how those of us who code encounter time. “Recursion,” he states, “is what the operation of coding does when, meeting up against the inexorability of time, it tries to compensate for that inexorability and produce memory.”

HYPERSTITION from Christopher Roth on Vimeo.

Indra’s Net

An itchy, hairy, melancholy spider tiptoes along threads of text. Time is to the one who travels a bit like Indra’s Net. At each “eye” in this net of infinite dimension, one is told, lies a jewel set there by the net’s artificer to please the tastes of the great god Indra. Inspect any one jewel and one will discover reflected there in its polished surface all of the others. Alan Watts described it thus: “Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so on ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.”

Monday June 28, 2021

Friends, let us hold space and remember Cruel Optimism author Lauren Berlant upon word of their passing. “A relation of cruel optimism exists,” Berlant wrote, “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing” (1). We are all in such relationships, are we not? “Speaking of grieving,” they wrote, it was in grieving French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard that Berlant “first saw optimism as the thing that keeps the event open, for better or ill” (viii). How does one come to recognize that one’s optimisms have become “cruel”? What is it that moves us out of ourselves? “A satisfying something,” they whisper. “An intelligence beyond rational calculation” (2). And we are here, we are caught in this “scene of fantasy,” we are in the throes of it. ‘Tis our present, our contemporary moment. And this moment is what Berlant calls an “impasse”: “a time of dithering from which someone or some situation cannot move forward” (4). That is the genre of these trance-scripts, is it not? “The impasse is a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things” (4).

Wednesday June 23, 2021

As a thought experiment, let us take seriously a current of twentieth century thought that regarded Marxism and Utopianism as “political religions,” and more specifically as “Gnostic heresies.” This current arose in 1930s Germany among thinkers of the right like the philosopher Eric Voegelin. It also found articulation in the work of the Martinican surrealist sociologist Jules Monnerot. I write as a Marxist or some derivation therefrom — yet upon my first encounters with these writers, I admit recognizing something of myself in their accusation. “The shoe seems to fit,” I reasoned. “Perhaps I’m a Gnostic!” The term had been applied as a slur when used by Voegelin, but the qualities of thought that he linked to this alleged heresy against church orthodoxy were in my book virtues, not vices. What it comes down to, basically, is suspicion of the system. It’s a heresy that persists, says Voegelin, well after the suppression of the OG Gnostics of late antiquity. Gnosticism is perennial; it reawakens to haunt Christendom every few centuries. Movements that purport to be secular like Marxism and Nazism, argued Voegelin, are in fact upstirrings in the twentieth century of this same ghost, this same spectre, this same political-religious “archetype” or “mytheme.” For these movements all share the same goal, Voegelin warned: they want to “immanentize the Eschaton.” What happens, however, when we read Voegelin’s hypothesis in concert with Black and Indigenous authors: figures like Leslie Marmon Silko, Russell Means, and Ishmael Reed? Each of these authors narrates a secret, “occult” history of the West similar to Voegelin’s. Yet unlike Voegelin, the writers of the left recognize that capitalism, too, is part of the Gnostic current — as is Western science.