Time-Space Compression

“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming away,” sings Poly Styrene. “Didn’t you see the thin ice sign?” she asks. What I hear instead, though, is “the thing I signed.” How is one to beware if the message is always misheard?

A Raincoat follow with their spooky funky glam jam, “It Came in the Night.” What is one to do with this energy? Should I unplug myself from Spotify, as Neil Young has done? That would deprive me of much of my library. The problem is, my apartment lacks space for objects that store sound. Hence my dilemma this morning: I woke up wanting to listen to Sonic Youth’s Sister, an album I own on CD. It and the CD player on which I would play it, however, are elsewhere. Should that prevent me from being able to listen to it here and now?

Spotify replies to this dilemma by compressing space-time.

“Time-space compression”: that’s what communications technologies do. Marxist geographer David Harvey writes about it in his book The Condition of Postmodernity. Paul Virilio calls it an essential facet of capitalist life.

Spotify achieves this effect of time-space compression through an act of remediation. The consequences of this act are only just now entering consciousness. Initially, it seems rather simple: an algorithm selecting and streaming recorded bits of sound based on past listens. But not just your listens, by which I mean your listens to it. That’s where it goes strange. For Spotify forms a cybernetic system with its users, each element revising itself into subsequent iterations or becomings based on the other’s feedback — meaning listens occur both ways. Users of course listen, both actively and passively, to Spotify. But Spotify also listens to its users.

A friend plays me a tune — Fassbinder collaborator Monique Zetterlund’s “Ellinor Rydholm” — and the next day it shows up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist. Spooky, eh? What can I say? I love it. Without it, I might not have heard Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Yoko’s voice might not have whispered in my ear, “Remember love.” Buddy Holly might not have entranced me with his version of “Love is Strange.” Thurston Moore wouldn’t have told me, “Angels are dreaming of you,” as he does on “Cotton Crown.”

Bricoleurs can’t be choosers: but here I am imagining in the faces of those angels glimpses of you. I picture us eyeing each other on a dancefloor, approaching as in a circling manner ‘round an invisible pole. Pouts give way to smiles; fingers trace forearms; lips graze lips. By these means, distance is eradicated and contact reestablished, hope reborn.

Happening Upon Hap (An Affirmation)

Feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed happened upon hap by following happiness “back on the route to its root.” Happiness, she learned, is derived from the Middle English word hap, meaning chance. Released as utterance, the word blew haphazardly, “like straw in the wind,” down the halls of time, giving rise to related terms like perhaps as well as happens and happenstance.

“To affirm hap,” writes Ahmed, “is to follow a queer route: you are not sure which way you are going; maybe you let your feet decide for you. You can be redirected by what you encounter along the way as you are not rushing ahead, rushing forward, to get somewhere. You wander, haphazardly at times, but then you might acquire a sense of purpose because of what you find on the way. How we take a walk is not unrelated to how we live a life. To proceed without assuming there is a right direction is to proceed differently. To say life does not have to be like this, to have this shape or this direction, is to make room for hap. To make room for hap can be experienced and judged as snapping a bond” (Living a Feminist Life, p. 197).

‘Tis what happens.

Along our walk I like your post, a toast to turbulence. I brush my thumb to my lip and ponder your handle. To turb is to disturb. What might we disturb today? Seeing before me an unoccupied birdhouse, I imagine it repurposed as a mailbox. That being one of the things we shared for a time, until that, too, was taken from us. I hesitate for a moment, wondering if there might be a way still for me to apologize and make amends. “A partnership for preservation,” says a sign. “Approach slowly: gate will open automatically,” says another. But we’re seated at different benches, zoned apart along different branches, separate streams of time. For now, I’m on my own, wandering uncertainly to and fro as I wait.

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).

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 Course on Accelerationism

“I should teach a course on Accelerationism in the years ahead,” thinks the Narrator, mind already in the elsewhere of a desired future.

“Imagine the writers and texts I could assign,” he writes, handing the assignment over to his Unconscious. “Marx. Deleuze and Guattari. Mark Fisher on Acid Communism. Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Sadie Plant. J.G. Ballard. Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie.”

“Manifestos have been central to the movement,” thinks the Narrator, “so we’ll read three: Donna Haraway’s ‘The Cyborg Manifesto,’ the Laboria Cuboniks collective’s The Xenofeminist Manifesto, and Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams’s ‘The Accelerationist Manifesto.’ We’ll also watch and discuss several films, including John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History (1996) and Christopher Roth’s Hyperstition (2016).”

“Ideally,” he adds, “as those two films suggest, it would be a course that places Accelerationism in dialogue with Afrofuturism.”

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.

Hopework

So thinketh one of our time travelers. The one who relives the past. Let there also be a traveler who seeks and conceives here in the dailiness of his lived experience a utopian future. As Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini note in their foreword to the 10th Anniversary Edition of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, “Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of ‘this hoping’ is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort” (x). The obstacle is a challenge we must both survive and surpass, Muñoz argues, “to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.”

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).

Thursday April 15, 2021

“The kid who’s into Althusser”: that was one of my identities as an undergrad. I read Althusser in my first English course, first semester of my freshman year. Newly hatched from the egg of the family. So coming to “consciousness” has been quite a journey. I spent most of my adult life questioning it or denying it, focusing instead on categories like “false consciousness” or “class consciousness.” Althusser’s essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” knocked me over the head when I read it. The repetitions of Althusser’s prose enchanted me. Yet his story is a tragic one, and so one must become other than Althusser, through rejection of his scientism and determinism. One must find instead a practice of love and joy.