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 Terminator, La 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.
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. http://dismagazine.com/discussion/81950/letters-from-the-ocean-terminus-david-roden/
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)
Nick Land channeling young Manfred Macx here:
NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!” Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: “Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn’t even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long-term, it’s the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn’t thinking, it isn’t working. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use. Dismantle the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flying nanocomputing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian doll Dyson spheres the size of solar systems. Teach dumbmatter to do the Turing boogie! (Stross 2006, 15)
See Ben Woodward splice Land, Stross and Warhammer 40K over at NaughtThought here!
I’ve just been listening to Ray Brassier’s presentation on Nick Land’s work at the recent Accelerationism conference at Goldsmiths, University of London with an appropriately night-black, supercharging Lavazza in hand. Here, Ray patiently anatomizes tensions within Land’s ‘thanatropic’ politics. This advocates intensifying the deracinating power of Capital to generate pure, unbound intensities beyond the scope of human phenomenology or representation. This is anti-personnel, overkill leftism with a grisly Terminator affix on its multi-segmented carapace. More intense than a sub-dermal Lavazza, then, and, in the wake of 80’s/90’s cyberpunk masterpieces like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Bruce Sterling’s Schizmatrix, it made it seem as if philosophy could be compiled in an altogether new machine code .
Problem: death – as pure uncanceled intensity – is not only beyond any phenomenology (human or otherwise) but, arguably, there is no such thing. There are processes which – in Manuel DeLanda’s terms – involve the successive cancellation of intensive differences (energetic or chemical gradients, say) and these are important drivers in the morphogenesis of ‘things’: cellular boundaries, the partition of self-organizing maps, etc. But such processes are quantifiable empirical particulars, not the shark-like denizens of the noumenal depths we might imagine if we took our cue from Freud’s steampunk ontology. Perhaps what has gone wrong here is what goes wrong with humanism when it is read exclusively in transcendental terms. If there is some necessary limiting structure to human experience (linear temporal order, embodiment, intentionality, whatever) then it becomes conceptually possible to speculate about its theological, intensive or posthuman excision. If we adopt a flat ontological approach which abjures such schematizing structures, then the excision of the human cannot be understood through conceptual analysis at all since there is no a priori anthropology to subvert or negate. As I argued in a recent paper in the Journal of Evolution and Technology: “we cannot exclude, a priori, the possibility of a posthuman alterity. We can only preclude an a priori conception of what that possibility entails.” The posthuman point of excision from Capitalism is not a semantic void or empty signifier or a pure noumenon, but unrepresentable only in advance of its empirical actualization. Understanding the excision of the human (or Capital) is thus a matter of productive engagement with the world, but there is no reason – beyond a misplaced obsession with post-Kantian dualisms or steampunk – to eschew the guidance of theory in bringing this about.