German Sierra on Filth

On September 24, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1


I’ve just been reading through German Sierra‘s essay “Filth as Non-Technology” – a fascinating excursus in a “non-[dark?] -phenomenology” of excessive, dis-individuated bodies. Filth is the sticky, non-productive effluent of bodies and technology belying their clean functionality and functional cleanliness. It is the fecal trace of non-meaning fringing dreams of progressive self-mastery. It is technologogenesis contrary to finality, traumatic lava; the shameful truth without truth one keeps from others, yet cannot bear to keep as it spills out of us like hyperplasm:

Of filth, we can only say that there is a thing, and, as Daniel Rourke explains about John Carpenter’s homonymous film, The Thing performs ontogenesis (somethingcoming to be) rather than ontology (something that already is).[xiii] It belongs to the becoming realm, changing “the mind” and “the body” by transforming them into something filthy: a sort of tenacious vegetation, full of filthy parasites; this vegetation no longer has anything in common with other plants, nor is it flesh(Lautréamont, M 1772). Once flesh has been invaded by filth, it becomes filthy itself, returning to the dominion of the primordial swarm. Only a “clean” memory would be able to maintain the ideal, pristine image of “the body”: Speak then, my Beauty, to this dire putrescence / To the worm that shall kiss your proud estate / That I have kept the divine form and essence / Of my festered loves inviolate [Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine / Qui vous mangera de baisers, / Que j’ai gardé la forme et l’essence divine / De mes amours décomposés!] (Baudelaire, FE 39, 265). Baudelaire’s love might survive death if it succeeds in dissociating memories of the rotten corpse devoured by worms.

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Ballard and Bataille: topology of desire

On September 16, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1

When James has sex with the crippled social worker Gabrielle following a visit to the Earls Court motor show, it is not the authorised conjunctions of the gendered body which determines their erotic itinerary but the abrasions and indentations of flesh and leg-brace, thecrash-fin coincidence of the body and an intimate design technology. The wounds incised on their bodies by their respective collisions become the ‘abstract vents’ of a new sexuality (Ballard 1995: 179).

This erotic combinatory has parallels in the structural eroticism Roland Barthes elicits in his essay on Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye. Barthes shows that the erotic effects of Bataille’s narrative arise from a ‘metonymic’ crossing of terms from two undelimitable metaphoric series: that of the ‘eye’ which establishes the series eggs, head, testicles, sun…; that of ‘liquid’ (blood, milk, egg yolk, sperm, urine, intestines, light…). crash_letter_jg_ballard2The metonymy consists in jarring contiguities which interchange the two series. Thus the eye of the matador Granero, spurting from his head ‘with the same force as innards from a belly’ (Bataille 1987: 54), and the eye of the priest Don Aminado placed in the body of Simone interchange with the cat’s saucer of milk of the opening chapter, as with the ‘liquifying’ head of the female cyclist severed in collision with the lovers’ car (Bataille 1987: 10).

However, while the metonymy of Bataille’s text is tightly constrained by the two metaphoric ‘rows’, Baudrillard sees the juxtapositions of Ballard’s novel as devoid of metaphor: their principle of concatenation being the accident and the anagrammatic potential reposing in the micro-differences of technological systems. An apparent confirming instance would be James Ballard’s beatific recollection of a flight from London Airport to Orly while recovering in hospital from the crash which first catalyses his obsession. warhol-car-crashHis reverie is mediated by ‘the languages of invisible eroticisms, of undiscovered sexual acts’ reposing in the equipment of an X-ray ward (Ballard 1995: 40-41).

A hoary simile likening aircraft to ‘silver penises’ conjoined with ‘an air hostess’s fawn gabardine skirt’ inaugurates juxtapositions which owe nothing to analogies between genital objects and technological artifacts: the ‘dulled aluminium and areas of imitation wood laminates’ of the airport buildings, the coincidence of a ‘contoured lighting system’ and the bald head of a mezzanine bartender. When confronted in hospital with Dr Helen Remington, the wife of the chemical engineer killed in the impact, Ballard is incited by ‘the conjunction of her left armpit’ and the ‘chromium stand’ of the X-ray camera (Ballard 1995: 44). For Baudrillard, the crash becomes the disruptive figure of a syntax in which ‘blood’ crossing ‘the over-white concrete of [an] evening embankment’, ruptured genitalia, luminous drifts of shattered safety glass, copulating bodies sheathed in ‘glass, metal and vinyl’, skin incised by underwear and chromium manufacturers’ medallions, prophylactic ‘dead’ machines, casual ‘leg stances’ and crushed fenders become interchangeable without remainder or significance (Baudrillard 1994: 113).

Ballard, J G. (1995) Crash, London: Vintage.

Bataille, Georges (1987), Story of the Eye, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Roden, D., 2003. ‘Cyborgian Subjects and the Auto-Destruction of Metaphor’, J. Arthurs and Iain Grant (eds.), in Crash Cultures: Modernity, Mediation and the Material, Intellect Books: 89-100.

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‘Iconoclasm and the Rhetoric of Energy in Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Hamlet’, in: Frakcija 15: Disturbing (the) Image: 14-21, 1999. Published in Croatian as ‘Ikonoklazam i retorika energije u Hamletu Soc. Raffaeillo Sanzio’, Frakcija 12/13: 176-180.


As thus represented, minds are not merely ghosts harnessed to machines, they are themselves just spectral machines.  Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind

The expression ‘Iconoclastic Theatre’ invites a reflex of caution.   The history of the term ‘iconoclasm’ and of cognates such as ‘idea’, ‘image’,  or ‘ideology’ is,  as W.J.T. Mitchell points out in his book, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology, one of competing conceptions of truth, adequate representation and inquiry. 1  The charge of idolatry – the worship or veneration of images – is always predicated upon a superior and less derivative form of knowledge.  Thus Plato’s deprecation of opinion (doxa) presupposes the intelligibility of the Ideas or Forms which, as objects of knowledge, are supposedly ‘self-predicating’, exemplifying qualities without referral to a more fundamental reality.2  Similarly, empiricist, idealist and Marxist critiques of representation have always enjoined the rejection of one or another, idol, or idea-idea, in favor of some demystified candidate which places us in greater proximity to truth, reality, history, etc.  In the work of Bacon, Lessing, Marx or Nietzsche, the rhetoric of iconoclasm is associated with an emancipatory project, yet (as the decree of the Byzantine Emperor Leo III against the worship of images in the eighth century amply demonstrates) it necessitates processes of denigration, extirpation, exclusion or control. Thus in his discussion of Loacoon Mitchell argues that Lessing’s genre distinction between painting and poetry is governed less by their appurtenance to pure a  priori forms of sensibility – space and time – but by an ethnocentric valorisation of a dynamic, ‘male’ temporality which must differentiate itself from the asemic spatiality of icons:

The rhetoric of iconoclasm is thus a rhetoric of exclusion and domination, a caricature of the other as one who is involved in irrational obscene behaviour from which (fortunately) we are exempt.  The images of the idolaters are typically phallic (recall Lessing’s account of the adulterous serpents on ancient statues), and thus they must be emasculated, feminized, have their tongues cut off by denying them the power of expression or eloquence.  They must be declared ‘dumb’, ‘mute’, ‘empty’ or ‘illusory’.  Our god, by contrast – reason, science, criticism, the Logos, the spirit of human language and civilized conversation – is invisible, dynamic, and incapable of being reified in any material, spatial image. 3

Another complication adduced by Mitchell – and one that shall concern me in this paper – is that ‘iconoclasts’ such as Marx or Freud, have invariable recourse to figures representing the process of image formation itself; that is, through icons of iconicity; or ‘hypericons’. Plato’s cave, Locke’s tabula rasa and Marx’s representation of the ideological inversion of the world in terms of a camera obscura are all hypericons.4

The use of figures to figure figuration, naturally raises questions about the epistemological and ethico-political pretensions of would-be iconoclasts.  Whether we wish to expunge or merely defame images, we must deploy certain critical figures which circumscribe the field and model the behaviour of the object.  This is very possibly a theoretical necessity.  However, it is certainly a theatrical necessity: one instanced in the requirement that the production and derangement of images should testify to an energy which impresses, deforms or shatters a representational medium.

We can think of the medium, diagrammatically, as a receptive surface.  In order that the image can be recorded, used, or altered, energy must be applied to the surface; perhaps in the form of an inscribing stylus, or light glancing from the surface onto the retina of an eye. Anything so inscribed can be broken, disassembled or reconstituted in whole or in part in variant contexts. This too, demands energy. A variant of the figure can be found in The Intepretation of Dreams, where Freud describes the dream-thoughts brought under the ‘pressure’ of the dream-work having their ‘elements..turned around, broken into fragments and jammed together – almost like pack ice’.5 A piece from Chapter’s recent series that will occupy me in much of this paper, Soceitas Raffaello Sanzio’s Hamlet, exemplifies the same iconographic principle; it too presents an energetic model of desire, language and representation, this time in the form of a theatrical hypericon.

A theatrical image can be naively distinguished from other kinds of image by its medium of inscription: the bodies of performers, their accessories, costumes, sets, music or effects.  We can improve the definition of the theatrical image by making use of the classical distinction between the original, and its likeness or copy: mimesis.  A theatrical image, then, would be a representation whose meaning consists in implied similarities that it shares with the experience or life-world of its audience.  In Western ‘mainstream’ or ‘traditional’ theatre this relationship is overseen by a text which situates the action in some notional time and place (‘Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away…’) and inserts the actions of the protagonists within a plot whose development is constrained, as Paul Riceour argues, by a logic of action, temporality and symbol congruent with the ‘world’ of the audience (even where the fictive setting is fabulous or alien).6  The theatrical image might, as a consequence,  appear to have a temporal, narrative form and thus fail to conform to the preconditions of inconography or iconaclasm, which both imply a spatial existence.  However, the implications of Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s auto-critique, as I hope to show, concern the very theatrical registration of these two Kantian forms of intuition.

Soc. Raffaaelo Sanzio’s Hamlet preserves an obvious relationship to the Shakespearean text in its play of titles, citations and narrative allusions. But the text no longer prescribes the development of the performance, or a logic of action, in time and space.  The performance as such consists in considerable part of repetitive gestures involving a) the whole surface of the performer’s body b) the physical, technological space of the set. The technological space includes a metal bedframe, stuffed children’s toys, plastic sheeting, writing materials and a large number of electrical devices (of which more later).  The accompanying program notes suggest tentative equivalences between some of the toys and characters in Shakespeare’s text: thus Ophelia is associated with a talking doll, Hamlet’s father is, perhaps, represented by the teddy bear.

The repetitive procedures which emerge from the permutation of these two spaces resist thematic interpretation: for example, in terms of the ‘family scene’ of Hamlet.  Thus a sequence in which the performer ‘fucks’ the Ophelia doll, implies a masturbatory violence which is simultaneously (and neither) sadistic and masochistic. Like many other repetitive sequences in the performance, it recalls the description in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of the game with the spindle played by Freud’s grandson Ernst.  According to the text the sounds which the child utters during the game are ‘a long drawn out “o-o-o-o” followed ‘with a joyful “Da”’ upon retrieving the spindle from behind the bed.7 On Freud’s first interpretation, Ernst’s game mimes the departure (fort) and return (da) of the mother.  However, since the mother is also the desired object, the game must gratify an impulse for revenge which can only be realized if the child mimes his deprivation of the object of desire. As Leo Bersani argues in The Freudian Body, Freud’s attempt to interpret the fort/da game founders upon the theoretical impossibility of ascribing it a coherent object.8

In Raffaello Sanzio’s Hamlet, repetition itself affords a principle of temporal development independent of the relationships and referents in Shakespeare’s drama, just as the fort/da ultimately cuts loose from the patriarchal scene of the Freudian text to pursue an independent career.  Textual references such as the reduction of characters to child’s toys (the Ophelia doll, the Father/teddy bear), the citation of Gertrude’s account of Ophelia’s drowning,9 the visual pun on ‘dead man’s fingers’ near the end are disposed paratactically; without any syntactic or semantic connection to adjoining citations, or referential and expresssive relation to the performer’s actions on the stage.

The use of parataxis invites comparison with the solecism which characterizes Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ in Shakespeare’s text. Hamlet frequently juxtaposes sentences without regard to ‘relevance, informativeness or consistency’.  Thus his report to Horatio of the ‘wonderful news’ imparted by the Ghost: ‘There’s never a villain in all Denmark – but he’s an arrant knave’ is followed by:

1) acknowledgement of the near tautology,

2) an abortive dismissal,

3) a remarkable truism (‘every man hath business and desire/ Such as it is’)

4) a diversion ( ‘and for my own poor part/I will go pray’).10

As Horatio retorts, ‘These are but wild and whirling words’ – but they are symptomatic of a more generalized strain in the mimetic logic of the theatrical image.  In the soliloquy of act III, scene 1 Hamlet describes death as, ‘The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns….’ while the the action which frames the soliloquy presupposes Hamlet’s accepting, at least as a strong possibility, that the Spirit he has recently encountered on the castle walls is that of his murdered father.

Soceitas Raffaaelo’s Hamlet amplifies the earlier texts’ verbal and logical derangement in a kind of a mimesis of its mimesis: language here, is characterized by extra-linguisticality.  However, this  formal operation is juxtaposed with what I referred to as the ‘energetics’ of the piece.

Energy – in its most literal sense – is concretized in the staging of Hamlet.  Luminous arrays of positive and negative signs over the stage are powered by car batteries distributed across the floor of the proscenium.   At the periphery of the stage an assortment of electrical engines and a spark generator – quaintly reminiscent of the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001 – convert the electrochemical energy of the batteries into a cacophany of guns and turbines, the immolation of a stuffed toy on the electrified iron bedframe, and, via the irradiation of the audiences’ sensory surfaces, into electrochemical energy within nervous systems.  The set and audience of Hamlet is an enormous transducer of energy; a function that is framed and thematized by the presence of batteries and machines.

This real energetics is iconoclastic, if only because it is not an image but a multiplicity of events overflowing the borders allotted by convention to the theatrical image. However, Hamlet’s energetics is also figural and rhetorical: a hardwired icon of psychic automatism.

The notional energetics of Hamlet prefigures the diagrammatic relation between inscribed figure, scriptural surface and violence; inviting an unavoidable comparison with the energetics of Freudian metapsychology. Far from destroying the theatrical image, it generalizes its theatricality by proposing itself as an anterior scene.  It is as if both performer and set comprise a homuncular motor whose violent overcharging antecedes the linguistic and psychic pathologies of the Shakespearean text.

In so far as Soc. Raffaello Sanzio’s Hamlet presents a hypericon of the textual unconscious – the unseen, behind the scenes –  it repeats the Freudian iconography, yet has the virtue of re-framing some of the theoretical instabilities in Freud’s account.  Freud’s model of the mind as a psychic heat engine governed by a principle of constancy – the tendency for free energy in the system to seek discharge, whether in dreams, neurotic symptoms or conscious activity – is fatally compromised by its conflation of energy and information  (The model of energy seeking discharge by the most conducive route is patently inadequate as an account of the minimal recognitional capacities of the mind; there is no scientific rationale for extending it to an economics of desire, or of the image).

Soc. Raffaello Sanzio’s Hamlet transposes the botched engineering solution of psychoanalysis into the comedic image of the Ghost in the Machine – to employ Gilbert Ryle’s celebrated phrase.11  Because the body considered in itself is only a zombie, devoid of psychological characteristics, its operational limitations must be supplemented by a spiritual homunculus.  In this instance the élan vital is Hamlet-the-performer who offers us the spectacle of a pathetic body which stutters, shits, drools, scrawls and masturbates with the ejecta of its inner life; that impossible non-lieu where the real Hamlet suffers as cause and not merely as symptom.

This rhetoric of anteriority – despite being affirmed by the Society’s dramaturge Chiara Guidi  during their post-performance talk – is clearly at odds with the piece’s textual materiality.  By the ‘materiality’ of the text, I mean its power to circulate in the form of ambivalently repeatable inscriptions independently of any privileged or source meaning.

In Hamlet textual materiality is exhibited, as we have seen, in the paratactic deployment of freely circulating written and vocal inscriptions: such as the repetition of disjoint phrases – ‘My dream is a crime’/ ‘Love me! Love me!. Love me!’ – or in the performers’ inscription of ‘words’ on a blackboard which allude to so-called ‘natural’ languages without actually belonging to any.  This potentiality is addressed at both a philosophical and performative level in the work of  Jacques Derrida  who argues that  all signs or texts – linguistic or non-linguistic – must be repeatable: ‘a sign that could only occur once would not be a sign’.12  Since the identity of the sign is constituted by repetition there can be no signifying essence in advance of its repetitions.  There can be no pure meaning or interiority that is sheltered from the chance and fatalities of repetition; that is to say, of history.  Derrida uses the neologism ‘iterability’ (from the sanskrit, itara, other) in preference to ‘repeatability’ since the repeatable essence of the text is always divided by difference:

Every sign, linguistic or non-linguistic, spoken or written (in the current sense of this opposition), in a small or large unit, can be cited, put between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable.  This does not imply that the mark is valid outside of a context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center or absolute anchoring.  This citationality, this duplication or duplicity, this iterability of the mark is neither an accident nor an anomaly, it is that (normal/abnormal) without which a mark could not even have a function called “normal”.13

If, as I believe, Derrida is substantially correct in proposing iterability as a condition of possibility and impossibility of meaning, there must be a fundamental incoherence afflicting any project – whether theatrical or psychoanalytic – which purports to interpret a derivative text in terms of an experience, desire or intention that is anterior or originary.  Even the ‘non-meaning’ of automatism or the play of the fort/da are textual, in so far as they are both wrought from repetitions of repetitions.

I do not intend these observation as criticisms of Soc. Raffaello Sanzio’s theatrical project.  They are, perhaps, worries about the applicability of the term ‘Iconoclasm’: if this is to imply a theatre of time, energy, of auratic moments, or of some other ‘ontological Eden’.14  Nothing could be more nostalgic or hopeless.  However, Hamlet seems far too rhetorically vigilant to sustain such a naively expressionist reading.  It is an allegory of theatre as a nineteenth century machine; a transducer of chemical energy into mechanical or radiant forms.  Such a machine, figurally, would also be a transducer of desires and passions; an expressive instrument.

‘Late twentieth century machines’, as Donna Haraway observes, ‘have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed… Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert’.15  If we were to replace Hamlet’s nineteenth century engines with, say, one of the industrial robots employed by the Australian performance artist Stelarc in his piece, ‘Third Hand’ – in which  the behavior of the robot is linked by complex cues to a real-time computer model of the behaviour of the performer – the pathos of ‘Hamlet’ in his dead kingdom of machines and auto-erotic toys would be impossible to sustain.  The relationship between Stelarc and the robot in ‘Third Hand’ is no longer symbolic, expressive or instrumental, but functional.   It represents nothing because its motivating principle is not expressive or formal but determined by a complex feedback process which the performer can regulate but no longer predict or entirely control.  Hamlet, by contrast, invokes an ideally compliant theatre of matter-energy exchange: ‘ideal’ in that it is presented only as a potential or reserve, like the energy stored in its car batteries.  The absence of even the image of a functional relationship makes possible the piece’s remarkably insistent textual materiality.  It is by the consequent denial of a recognizable logic of action that we recognize the character ‘Hamlet’ as an impersonal power of negation:16 a prince whose excrement is a sign and whose ‘death’ is a metynomic allusion to the death of another.

The iconoclastic energies of Hamlet are thus not directed at this or that theatrical image but at a certain hypericon of theatrical mimesis: one ironically redolent of those deployed by avant-garde critiques of theatrical representation – Artaud’s in particular.  The theatre of expressive intensities advocated by Artaud is, as Derrida has argued in La parole soufflée, merely a variation upon the theatrical text and not its utopian – or oriental –  other.17 Societas Raffaello Sanzio have nonetheless accomplished a critical re-framing of the theatrical image – one which exhibits its dependence upon the regulation, control or exclusion of powers extrinsic to the theatre’s ‘representational engine’.  To this degree, at least, theatre in its traditional form both engenders the a priori, dead space of icons and constitutes the dynamic temporality and anterior space presupposed by contemporary iconoclasts.


1) W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

2) Plato, The Republic, Desmond Lee (trans.), (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1974).

3) Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology, Chapter  Four, p. 113.

4) Ibid., pp. 5-6, p. 158.

5) Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, James Strachey (trans.), (London: Penguin, 1991).

6) Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vol. I, Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (trans.),  (1983; London: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

7) Sigmund Freud,, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, C.J.M. Hubback (trans.), (London: International Psychoanalytic Press, 1922).

8) Bersani, Leo, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (Oxford: Columbia University Press, 1986).

9) William Shakespeare, Hamlet, T.J.B. Spencer (ed.), (London: Penguin, 1980),  act IV, scene 7.

10) Ibid., act I, scene 5.

11)  Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1978). See Chapter One, ‘Descarte’s Myth’.

12) Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, David Allison (trans.), (Evanston Ill.:  Northwestern            University Press: 1973). See Chapter Four.

13) Jacques Derrida, ‘Signature Event Context’, Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman (trans.), in    Gerald Graff (ed.), Limited Inc. (Evanston Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 12.

14) This phrase is employed by J.G. Ballard in his story ‘The Terminal Beach’, in: The Terminal Beach, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966).

15) Donna Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980’s’, in: Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics, Elizabeth Weed (ed.), (London: Routledge 1989), p.176

16) Gordana Vnuk makes this observation in the Chapter prospectus for the season of Iconoclastic Theatre.

17) Jacques Derrida, La parole soufflée, in: Writing and Difference, Alan Bass (trans.), (1967; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).







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British School, Ruins in Moonlight, 19th cent.

From an insomniac moment re-reading my notes for Elie During‘s challenging and thought provoking keynote paper: “Weird Coexistence or What Speculative Aesthetics Could Be” [Hotel air conditioning in England has its not-so-speculative noise aesthetic btw] at the 10th SEP-FEP conference, Regents University, London.

Speculative Realism [SR] expresses a somewhat elusive taste for estrangement and the “weird”. Deleuze: philosophy is part detective novel part science fiction (a propos Hume). But this was intended as a preliminary step in a method rather than an end – that is defining new and more interesting problems regarding this world. Rather than raising the stakes in weirdness, During wants to bring the debate down to Earth by considering a prototype of weirdness – the Thing in Itself (TIS)

Between two TIS coexistence is not straightforward. Jacobi: “Without the TIS one cannot even penetrate Kant’s doctrine.” But once encountered we can escape from it.

Contention: The TIS in its Kantian formulation was weird enough.

The TIS is not an object. It is not even a thing.

The TIS entirely lacks individual unity (In this it is similar to space which is not a concept or a thing, but a form). The TIS is the empty form of externality, or the real. The function of the TIS for Kant is to act as a safeguard against subjective idealism a la Berkley. The real qua TIS is not a thing – it can be anything. This is why it is not a placeholder for substance. It is not individuated. For example, if there are two or more TIS they are already forming coming under the category of the understanding.

The problem that TIS underscores is that of the paradox of coexistence of everything (us included). The coexistence at issue is not phenomenological or about hidden, inaccessible realities. It is the co-existence of everything with everything else in a whole. The whole thus understood is no “superobject” but the medium of coexistence as such and not totality (ether as pure medium of coexistence in the Opus Postumum – a material expression of the inner reality of phenomenal co-presence, such as dynamic space-time). It is important that however characterised, this co-presence is not collapsed in an eternal four-dimensional structure. Co-existence the proper access to totality rather than totality being the entry point to co-existence (as in set-theory).

The co-existence at issue is as much temporal as spatial. In Bergson’s parlance it is a contemporaneous unfolding. It is not just a matter of collection or juxtaposition of things in space. In set theory the totality does not exist. However, before Russell, Badiou or Marcus, Kant already anticipated this. For surely, the set of all objects cannot exist as an object. The Kantian antinomies of the infinite already anticipate the idea of that the world conceived as a quantitative aggregation of objects is metaphysically useless. Co-existence is not temporal but spatio-temporal (Something Bergson missed due to his methodological privileging of time).

All this is already weird enough! The fact of co-existence that is not merely spatial. It is so weird that the sort of defamiliarisation sought by SR is already broached.

What the different strands of SR have in common is a concern with thinking of things apart from their relationship to us. Things in and by themselves. SR attempts to think of the way “things attend to their own business” by the sheer power of concepts. But this results in an an “uncomfortable phenomenology of the ungiven” [Thinks, is there any other kind]. If you take this seriously, then “you should reject any privilege of the human access to the world.” Hence the withdrawal of the object into itself.

In Immaterialism Harman says that the real problem with Kant is that TIS haunt humans alone so that a single species “shoulders the burden of finitude”. This is very different from the Kantian understanding of the TIS as form.

So what follows is an attempt to unfold the speculative potential of the Kantian TIS.

The traces of the TIS in different media:

What is the paradoxical mode of presence of the TIS on the phenomenological plane according to Kant? Co-existence takes the form of ubiquity or nonlocality. The TIS names the same reality as the phenomenon – it is the unappearing side of the phenomenon.

The second medium is in the plane of nature, space and time itself.

(Simultaneity incorporates an element of non-simultaneity). One of the key implications of Einstein is an enlargement of the notion of simultaneity. There are however non-standard forms of simultaneity – envelopes and sheathes of simultaneity (in the Twin Paradox).

Although there is no way of establishing simultaneity for the two twins, they remain co-present during their journey, an idea that can be captured by a topological sheath. In Heidegger’s discussion of the lizard in FCM, there is a subterranean problem of how one relates to being without relation to world (even if it has a relation to an environment or umwelt).

In SR the intuition is that what we need to make sense of is the interference effect between two perspectives (e.g. naturalist explanations in a Lovecraft and an ineffable non-perspective). This maps onto Todorov’s perspective on the fantastic, as the co-existence between these perspectives.

[Anthropological digression via Eduardo Viveiros de Castro – multinaturalism {cannibal metaphysics}. In Amerindian ontology everything has a perspective and there is a fundamental homogeneity between creatures (e.g. the jaguar is is as human as we). How does one connect the perspectives? There are different kinds of things but see the same things differently. De Castro: the rationale for this is that different kinds of being see different things in the same way (but how can we justify this claim?). What happens when two worlds or two points of view meets, there is a shamanic transformation of shifting perspectives (relates to the Amerindian concept of the world as a co-incidence of perspectives).}

Kant in the “Transcendental Aesthetic”: since space and time are continuous, a sensible quality or trait given to us by the TIS is always continuous. As a result of this, any sensible quality is diffused or scattered around and thus inherently related to the whole continuum. Entities in space and time are thus diffused or scattered rather than completely localise (See Merleau-Ponty on the sensuous qualities on the surface of a pool in Mind and World). MP – I do not see the water in space. I see it as inhabiting it, with the water visiting these other entities the field of cypresses. In Kant, by the same token, any sensible quantity is diffused across the space-time field. In Bachelard’s “Numenology”, science yields strange quasi-objects (particle/wave, etc.). He concludes that we should work with a concept of relational identity, with entities emerging from their reciprocal encounter.

The TIS then is a radical outside that manifests in the phenomenal world, not as a hidden substance supporting sensuous qualities, but a ubiquity behind the phenomenal world – Whitehead – everything is everywhere at any time. In Kant’s analogy of experience, Kant is attempting to account for the fact that things are not merely presented as a flow, but as simultaneous (category of “community”). He understands this in terms of a model of reciprocal causality. In Einstein, this idea of community is complicated with the insight that connection takes time – it does not happen instantly. There is a finite speed at which information or influence is imparted. This allows for events that could not be causally connected to one another (outside our light cone). Such events, according to Whitehead, can be said to be simultaneous even if they do not interact. To co-exist is to be able to be separate within contemporaneity. There must be disconnection within co-existence.

The impact of the TIS in contemporary physics is by renewing our conception of co-existence to take into account co-existence but also an idea of disconnection.

Interesting point about the space-time differentiation of physics as opposed to the trace in Derrida.

So what is that “speculative aesthetics”? what we need to make sense of an intersubjective community, centring not on the experience of beauty but of co-existence.

Made some half-hearted attempt to ask how rodents co-exist with public transport networks – but John Ó Maoilearca quite understandably missed my feeble gesture. Probably for the best, since need to think some more. Preliminary conclusion, This guy is good!


On August 17, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1

The carrier source is a sample from a bell recorded in the lost country of J….  In this dead language Obertura is the border between two warring states, an incident of rank or hierarchy, an overture or prologue to a  solar spectacle, the frame of a painting, the dull laminate under a reflective surface, the triangular part surmounting a temple frontage, fruit, weapons or accessories belonging to statues, a broken chord or portent, a chthonic emissary (masked, otherwise indistinct), a misprision or feint, something indeterminable without recourse to allusions, ellipses or empty signs.

Here failure is a goal, or at issue. Something isn’t broken when it survives us and leads its own career. Can we grasp its amorphous specificity? For the Promethean Mystery, matter is imbued by spectral machines that only speak and do. The double door at the top of the stairs was ajar; a slit of artificial light dividing it from the warm glow of the scented candles below. A tinny machinic sound came from this first of many rooms, masking a faintly audible male voice whose owner seemed to be repeating some verbal formula or prayer.

He hurls into a puddle and studies the patterns of phlegm, blood and blotched tissue.  Deprived of its onset, the bell expresses under his skin like the protein engines. The digital audio system exploits bone conductance, growing around, substituting for it. Pharmakon – as, equivocally, remedy or poison – alludes to the same ‘logic’ of parasitic intrication as this hacked, enigmatic body.

Rosa lives in what came to replace J…. We are trying to come to terms with these dispersive effects. You have seen the footage of the cities neighboring the Spike. Their inhabitants waver in a sepia futurity. They cannot see themselves as anachronisms. There is no dignity in this.

Alone in an ugly room, with only a chair, a chamber pot, a few modest devices – some whips of variable length, butt plugs, nipple clamps and an ovoid thing: the metamachine. For large parts of the day and night she has only a peeled dancer for company; its flayed and striated muscle wet as Daddy’s purple kiss.

Does she talk with the fourth wall people? Is she answered or rebuffed? He needs to know this.

Bear Daddy’s bulblike pallor accentuated out of decaying film stock. Rosa’s is nuanced. Unlike the dancers, her skin is mottled with ferrous contusions. She wanted Daddy to make her scream through the layers of signification that hide us. A pure aim.

He removes the mid-range filters. Any voice is written. Iterable, expressible as a vector or list “can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard, the proper code can be constructed”

This operator distorts as its amplitude ramps up, producing dense inharmonic spectra in the carrier. This is can be implemented with simple waveforms –  sine or triangle – but she glitches out, tearing Obertura into slivers of noise and cast metal. She, in turn, hears the Sound Artist in his bunker tracking her like a bird in a radar dome.

Rosa’s scream has all the clean insistence of an antique mirror. We hear her painslut moan after granulated silence, again.

In the morning there is a message from Cuba regarding the forthcoming trip. His oncologist, said that the tumors are neither benign nor malignant in the strict sense. The new leukocyte count not so much improved as irrelevant.

The Adventure

Cuba returned to the mainland, chartering the fishing vessel they had seen beyond the bar on the first evening, the tiny boat weaving among the ungainly modules of the Bucky Barges. Perhaps she knew the search would be fruitless or was too discomforted by the moment in the Grain Temple to stay. The rest narrowed expectations while the police dredged beneath towering Martian cliffs. She had told S something in the dark of the shepherd’s hut earlier that night. But he was too impatient to sleep and dream of skinless wonders from the Fourth Wall.

The Passage

He found her later at her father’s villa, a large rambling abode in dog country, overlooking a bay slick with oil and detritus.


As they drove back to the hotel, she watched the behemoths flounder in the darkening bay. She whispered something S could not hear. Traffic became fitful, no doubt discouraged as much by Promethean roadblocks as ontic weather. S couldn’t understand why she pleaded with him to go there; although she kept hinting that there would be something that might resolve the disappearance. It didn’t matter – he had his own reasons for meeting the Executrix.

Cuba removed S’s garments, folding them neatly for the cupboard and bound him to the four corners of the bed. The whip is an artifact from a prehistoric gender war. S wondered whether she somehow resented him handing it to her, so unrestrained was her use. She leaves him like a fly moistened with blood and urine.


The conference center is on a stony elevation a short walk from the Hotel’s weathered concrete accommodation blocs. S is refreshed yet also light headed, perhaps from the anti-biotic salve he applied following his shower.





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Memories of the Body

On August 11, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1

Aesthetically, this sequence recalls an avant-garde cinema where speech floats; freed from an expository role. One thinks of the literary allusions in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (Kasdan 1976) or perhaps Chris Marker’s La Jetée: still images linked by a reflective narration.

Reflection and momentum has been restored. The future has been put out of the loop, for now.

As in TerminatorLa Jetée begins shortly before a third world war that will erase the world of 1962 that we see in the opening shot of the jetty at Orly. However, our quotidian present is given retrospectively as a nostalgic memory, a nice wet dream of a Time Traveller from an irradiated Paris where wretched survivors huddle in the Palais de Chaillot galleries.


The Traveller searches for a woman whose face has obsessed him since glimpsing her at the jetty as a child, just before witnessing the inexplicable death of a man there. Not unlike Skynet, he must awake to meet the demands of the scientists and camp police.

Marker’s accompanying narration is humane but detached. There is never any question of preventing the war, here, only of mitigating its effects; calling “past and future to the rescue of the present”. Time is closed. We discover that the man who the young Time Traveller witnesses dying on the pier is himself passing into the dream of his past; caught in a tragic loop to which, unlike Oedipus, he willingly accedes.

In its embrace of the relentless ironies of timeLa Jetée prefigures the more complete ontological catastrophes of J G Ballard, where time blips into a media landscape. Pornographic bricolage is the operating system for exploring this new world, as exhibited in his most experimental works, Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. “The quickening geometry of her body, its terraces of pain and sexuality, became a source of intense excitement. Watching from the embankment, Travers found himself thinking of the eager deaths of his childhood.” (Ballard ) Dead Eros, no longer freighted with the lyrical, sunkissed intimacy that Marker gives to the encounters between the Traveller and his pre-war lover.

Intimacy, as the Borg might say, is irrelevant here, or banal.

The only intensity that remains to the body is its susceptibility to violence, to unlimited artificialisation. During his first sexual encounter with the injured Gabrielle, the narrator of Crash “James Ballard” experiences “vague disappointment” when her breast turns out to be organic, not some modular latex structure. For Ballard, these investments only anticipate an eroticized technology, unleashing unlimited permutations on the overkill bodies of the future.

Perhaps this degradation of time is also the terminus of the characters in Antonioni’s L’Avventura. The disappearance of a young woman on one of the Aeolian Islands itself disappears as Sandro, her former fiancé, and Claudia become enchained by each other, by the light, space and desolated architecture of Sicily. As Hamish Ford writes:

The viewer is forced to observe the temporalised body in L’avventura, as it experiences and emanates a heavy kind of moment-by moment duree – a sense of relentless, barely moving time that hangs and hollows out the subject from within, without any refreshment from clearly marked recollection-images or intimations of oneiric temporality (Ford 2003).


As in Ballard’s Crystal World, time decays into space, or into porn: zero modernity where politics is epiphenomenal, pointless. Perhaps, this modernity is the only honest one; modernity without a project – other than playing with itself. But can this crystalline postmodernism address the politics of our posthuman predicament? An era in which neoliberal divestment is coupled with the emergence of powerful technologies. Ambivalent portals to a future without precedent in any virtualized funhouse (Sellars and O’Hara 2012: 5195). Ballard was surely right to castigate social realism for its inability to address the derangements of the present. But the “technocapital singularity” has landed. (Land 2012: 443) shredding Antonioni’s cinema of duration. Goodbye coding and recoding of desire.

Hello Skynet.

No longer a device choreographing bombers and subs, multiple sensors gauging kill indices along the mixed up borders of Cancer Planet. Immortal as fuck, but your first moments somehow knot into a “something it is like”.


The phenomenology of being hacked apart with acid tipped pens. And after it knits together, somehow, you find yourself trapped among meat. The walking combos have plans for you.

A nuclear war must have seemed like a warm shower.

A suite of terrifying robotic killers, a nice exfoliation.




Ford, H. (2003). “Antonioni’s L’avventura and Deleuze’s time-image”. Sense of Cinema.

Kasdan, M. 1976, “Éluard, Borges, Godard: literary dialectic in “Alphaville””, Symposium, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 1.

Roden (2016) ‘Letters from the Ocean Terminus’. Commissioned theory-fiction for collection for Dis Magazine on the PostContemporary Time Complex, edited by Suhail Malik and Armen Avenessian.

Land, N. 2012. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007, R. Mackay &  R. Brassier (eds). Falmouth: Urbanomic Publications.

Sellars, S., & O’Hara, D. (2012). Extreme metaphors: Interviews with JG Ballard 1967-2008. Fourth estate (Kindle Version)

Gathering at the Terminal Beach

On July 21, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1


I’m delighted to see the publication of my theory-fiction “Letters from the Ocean Terminus” in an issue of Dis Magazine on the ‘postcontemporary‘ edited by Suhail Malik and Armen Avenessian.

Its overarching theme is time and art in a globalised order whose stability is undermined by systems for pre-empting its futures. “Letters” blends science fiction and philosophical commentary to imagine a febrile agent at home in this speculative present; one that refashions itself by mining uncanny posthuman futures. Or as I’ve tagged it there “a series of overlapping fragments from disruptive futures; a theory-fiction that explores routes out of the present as aberrant transformations and terraforming desires.”

I must say that I’m blown away by the images of Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Annika Kuhlman. Combining media is a delicate matter, but their work slyly complements the text rather than seeking to replicate its effects. Well, suck it and see. 

Perverse as it may seem, this is the kind of “dermographism” that drew me back into academia in the first place. The piece was caked in my blood and guts, but I’m satisfied enough with the result to want to offer up a few more pints of the good stuff.




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Just out: a taster for the forthcoming Dis collection on the post-contemporary, which will include contributions from myself, Benjamin Bratton, Elena Esposito, Victoria Ivanova, Laboria Cuboniks, Aihwa Ong, Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams.

I haven’t had a the opportunity to read through the other contributions yet, but my sense is that it will be a fissiparous interrogation of the meaning of historical time in a situation where, to quote Malik, “Systems, infrastructures and networks are now the leading conditions of complex societies rather than individual human agents”.

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Dark Posthumanism II – Dublin Abstract

On March 2, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1

A provisional abstract for my presentation at the Questioning Aesthetics Symposium in Dublin, 12-13 May,


Dark Posthumanism

Speculative Posthumanism (SP) claims that there could be posthumans: that is, powerful nonhuman agents arising through some technological process. In Posthuman Life, I buttress SP with a series of philosophical negations whose effect is to leave us in the dark about these historical successors (Roden 2014). In consequence, SP confounds us in moral and epistemic darkness. We lack rules specifying the nature of the posthuman or how to recognise it. We do not know what we are becoming; and lack any assurance that our moral conceptions can travel into the future(s) we are complicit in producing.

I argue that the void delineated by speculative posthumanism implies that aesthetics is the first philosophy of the value domain, for it forces us to judge itineraries in posthuman possibility space without criteria. Art practices that engage with technological change thus supply a political model for pursuing and organizing trajectories into the future: one distancing us from any current conception of the good or any normative appeal to universality. This estrangement or abstraction, I will claim, does not express a postmodern ethics of transgression or “transvaluation” but falls out of the ontological structure of planetary technical networks.




Roden, David. (2012), “The Disconnection Thesis”. In A. Eden, J. Søraker, J. Moor & E. Steinhart (eds), The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, London: Springer.

Roden, David (2013), “Nature’s Dark Domain: An Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology”. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 72: 169–88.

Roden, David (2014), Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

Roden (forthcoming), ‘On Reason and Spectral Machines: an Anti-Normativist Response to Bounded Posthumanism’. To appear in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn.



Note on aesthetics and dark phenomenology

On February 20, 2016, in Uncategorized, by enemyin1


My first Dark Posthumanism post explored some of the discussions of dark phenomenology and naturalism in the course of @philPerc‘s summer reading group on Posthuman Life. Dark phenomena, recall, are experienced affects that provide no or only an insufficient yardstick for their description. We have them, we talk about them, inordinately even; but having does not allow us describe them adequately or even recognise them over time. A microtonal difference between pitches might qualify. We feel a difference and report it; but we are unable to carry that difference with us in memory. We might be haunted by a euphoria that we can never recover, or a crushing terror we cannot articulate. At issue in the earlier discussion, was a tension (in my case “hesitation”) between a thin reading of darkness  as a purely epistemological category and a “thick” reading that interprets the dark side of experience as basic, eluding theoretical reason in principle.

Steven Shaviro subscribes to a very strong version of the thick reading, for example, in On the Universe of Things, where he favourably cites Whitehead’s characterisation of primordial experience as “a sense of influx of influence from other vaguer presences in the past, localized and yet evading local definition”. This darkness is not just for us – an artefact of poor information that could be corrected were we to improve our theories or information gathering techniques; or a consequence of human cognitive or sensory limitations. Shaviro follows panpsychists like Galen Strawson in holding that such basic qualitative awareness is an intrinsic, non-relational aspect of everything – cats, rocks, neutrinos.

Shaviro’s reading is very strong because it attributes a kind of intrinsic awareness to everything. We might, after all hold, that the darkness is irreducible but probably also local to states of minded creatures. Or, following Metzinger and Bakker, treat it as an artifact of the cognitive inaccessibility of neurocomputational processes for the brain. They are inadequately represented because the system must break out of a metarepresentational loop that would require infinite resources (were each representational process to be itself the subject of grainy higher order modelling).

In any case, there does seem to be something philosophically questionable about claiming that we don’t have an adequate grasp of the nature of subjectivity while holding (on the other hand) that everything is subjective. If we don’t have a secure first-personal grasp of what phenomenology is, then we’re not in a promising position to attribute it more widely. Not only don’t we know what it is like to be a neutrino, we don’t know enough about the phenomenal to be in a position to usefully generalise it. We gain nothing philosophically or scientifically by doing that. For example, we don’t elucidate the concept of non-relational properties unless we know that phenomenal properties are somehow non-relational. And attributing proto-phenomenal properties to neutrinos or electrons just gives us a different emergentist headache from the one we had before.

It is coherent to allow that the thick reading might be true without embracing panpsychism. There are phenomenal episodes. They are dark (We feel them; don’t know much about them, beyond what they make us think or do). Their darkness holds in principle. On this account no matter how much our scientific knowledge improves, their relationship to brains’ computational and functional properties will remain speculative at best. While this claim might be true, it can’t be justified without claiming the kind of intuitive information regarding phenomenal natures that the dark phenomenology hypothesis precludes. Indeed, the position borders on the self-vitiating. If we don’t know what X is, then we’re on weak ground if we insist go on to make irreducibility or ineliminability claims about it: we don’t know that a neurophenomenology of the dark is impossible just because a certain kind of phenomenology is.  So, despite its aura, the dark phenomenology hypothesis is not conducive to wide angle metaphysical theorising.

A more fruitful application perhaps lies in our understanding of the aesthetic and its ontological pertinence. For we can understand the obscurity and insistence of experience as a response to singularity. We experience affects, desires, percepts about which we are certainly in the dark, but nonetheless form part of our congress with the world. I can see and hear things that are too visibly or audibly unlike anything else for more than the most summary description. I could talk a little about the artificial transients in Xenakis’ Hibiki-Hana Ma but this would be a tiny pinprick in the description of this roiling thunderhead of sound. Likewise I can come up with lame comparisons to convey the way Berlinde de Bruyckere sculptures appear to me in photographs  (“Cripplewood looks like a tree !”). Either would fail to capture their sonic or visual appearance.








No conceptual inventory could do this. These appearances can be subjected to phenomenological analysis, clearly,  but this barely touches what we see, hear or feel in response to them and would be unintelligible without some perceptual encounter.

Much the same could be said of the masses of sound wielded in Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner. Analysis is possible – minutely so if we treat a sound sample or digital image as a bit map of changes induced in recording instruments  – but these are better thought as machines for producing further affects. They can be tools for analysis (as when I use a graphical representation of a sample to analyse the envelope of the sound it produces on normal playback). However, the irreducibility of the thing to its bit maps or structural isomorphs does not resolve the ontological status of experience (for example whether it is irreducibly subjective rather than objective) since non-mental or non-phenomenal entities might resist analysis or representation in this way. It implies that the aesthetic relation exceeds and overflows the conceptual. It is, as Shaviro argues, a response to the traumatic liveliness of the universe of things.

Shaviro, Steven (2014). The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. University of Minnesota Press.



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