XENOPHILIA

* This is the text of a presentation given remotely May 3 2019 at the conference A Sad & Lonely Constellation: Navigating the Antinomies of Technological Hope at the Caffè Letterario in Milan. Its prospectus is “to navigate through the thick swarm of hopes surrounding the body of Artificial Intelligence as it accelerates towards us.”

Gina Pane Death Control

Contemporary posthumanisms can be understood as operations of subtraction(McNulty 2013, 32-3). Each suspends or ‘unbinds’ some epistemological and ethical privilege attaching to the human: whether as a vital embodied subject or the free rational subject of post-Kantian thought. However, each posthumanism combines a subtractive or abstractive epistemology with an erotics of alienation, a xenophilic urge to splice a future that does not simply reproduce the present but is – in some still unimaginable way – disconnected from it.

I start from the assumption that this subtractive orientation alone cannot explain the orientation of the posthuman to the future. To understand the posthuman we must understand the erotic or ‘desiring’ aspect that enjoins this production of the new (Roden 2018).

The Filter Problem

Posthumanism confronts the space of technically possible histories whereby posthuman ‘wide’ descendants of humans might emerge (Roden 2014, 53). However, each version of posthumanism has proprietary filters which restrict our consideration to certain portions of that space. [1]

For left-accelerationism (ACC) and Xenofeminism (XF), the idea of sapience or rational autonomy limits posthuman agents to those whose agency and capacities for conception and deliberation are discursive and social (Hester 2019). For a species egalitarian critical posthumanism., on the other hand, it is the capacity for duration and suffering that warrants serious ethical status (Braidotti 2006).

Yet each has unbound, ‘extremophile’ tendencies that dispense with such filters. Nick Land’s unconditional acceleration makes no distinction between sapient or non-sapient forms by which hyper-capitalism might be freed from any organic or embodied substrate (Land 2017).

More pertinently perhaps, I’ve argued independently that the filters fail to constrain the future. They fail to provide an epistemic grip on this time horizon. The sapience restriction, for example, assumes that serious agents participate in shared linguistic and inferential functions. Yet, the best account of such a functionalism is demonstratively incomplete – it assumes an interpreting agent capable of imputing normative statuses in order to explain rational subjectivity.  Unfortunately, this doubles subjectivity in such a way as to unbind it, leaving the constraints on agency unbound. ‘[In] principle interpretability is ill-defined unless we have some conception of what is doing the interpreting’ (Roden 2014, 128; Roden 2017).

The epistemic frailty of the anthropocentric filters implies that such posthumanisms tend towards the unqualified excision of the human, even when sheathed, mantis-like, in a neorationalist carapace or under the friendly smile of the species egalitarian.

Excision Ethics

Such excision necessitates a relationship to time or to futurity. In ACC, Prometheanism and XF this derives from their polemical and programmatic character. The Outside remains to be engineered or solicited before it can be encountered. Xenophilia is not only desire for the other, but a desire to become other; to burn away the present with new forms of production, reproduction or affiliation. To enter a different order of being.

Thus insofar as Xenophilia is satisfied it cannot be. Insofar as Xenophilia is, it cannot be satisfied.

Xenophilia is doubly unconditional. Lacking satisfaction conditions, it 1) does not represent a goal state and 2) cannot oppose a present state on the grounds that it fails to realize those goals.

Finally, if per impossibile, the posthumanist could envisage satisfaction conditions of her desire she would no longer be motivated by xenophilia. Xenophilic futurity need not be posed as radically incomprehensible but its adequate conceptualization must await the event of its construction or disconnection.

How, then, does Xenophilia derive its character as a xenophilic or alienating vector of change if not from its content?

Alien Encounters

One model for Xenophilia is the fascination or allure of the alien expressed in Weird literature. As Mark Fisher claims, the ‘weird’ represents an intrusion of an alien biology or logic into a nominally human world – Lovecraft’s darkling New England or the looking-glass USA of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation (Fisher 2017, Loc 61). Amy Ireland emphasizes that this enclosure can be described in Kantian terms as a subject that regulates and smooths the data input from an inhuman Outside, but which is perpetually threatened its unformed monstrosity (Ireland 2016; 2019).[2]

But while the epistemology of the Weird may work as philosophical recuperation of authors like Lovecraft, it does not account for the X of Xenophilia.[3]

the-thing-spider-head

Weird Aesthetics purports be about the X but Xenophilia is not about anything. Thus the manifest content of the Weird text, with its Kantian integument, is a misreading of its own genesis.[4] It is an effect of xeno-desire that, in its narrowly Kantian form, is incapable of addressing its disconnective syntax: If the Outside can intrude in the Inside, the Inside cannot have been all it was cracked up to be. Rather the X is presaged by the incremental dereliction of an Inside that never had a stable, independent being.

Thanatos and Abjection

That desire (for the unrecognizable) is also the desire to be un-recognized. The ‘I’ that aches to become a thing and, in consequence, is already a thing.

Consequently, xenophilia is formally analogous to Thanatos [the death drive] since this, as we know, is not a desire for death but life, or rather the mutant potential implicated in the existence of an organism. Life is the gradient of our dying. So Thanatos is the condition of desire as such: “the purposelessness which compels all purpose” as Brassier memorably puts it (Brassier 2007, 236). But it is a condition opposed to itself, to the stable content or purpose of its offspring.

This transcendental of desire may manifest itself through the fetishist ideation of death, mutilation, extreme tissue damage, no less than through the images of the Weird text. But paraphilia or thanatropy – whether the desire to ‘be’ a dying sex-object or Brassier’s strange ache for cosmic extinction – is eviscerated and without object. There is nothing it is to be a corpse; not even a stellar corpse.[5] Death is no more ontologically unitary than undeath.

mdt

This is not to criticize or censor erotic fantasies of for objecthood, pain, death and abjection, etc. On the contrary, such ideations enact xenophilia and consequently provide fertile zones of transformation and experimentation. Xenophilia, then, is expressed through multiple contents or ideas, but does not have a distinguishing representational content on the side of the subject which determines its aim. Rather desire for the alien is an alien. It is alien desire.

The Alien Within

Or, it is the alien (process/event) to which categories do not apply. It has no discursive content or aim. It has no phenomenal character and consequently isn’t a candidate for non-conceptual content as this is normally conceived.

It is (in) the nameless, dark affects which punctuate improvisation, rage, agitation or other fluid, open action (Roden 2019, 521). It is (in) the unaccountable stirring of the paraphiliac. Yet if Xeno-desire is, in some sense, already the alien, why does it not furnish itself with its object? Why does it never rest, satisfied with itself? Why does it burn?

I think this is can only be because the X is never identical to its itself. It is fundamentally disseminative, plural, disconnective. Not a state of mind, or of any-thing, but a structural failure of presence: ‘a differential function without an ontological basis’ (Derrida 1984, 16). Yet, it is not for all that reducible to an abstract structure. It is always embodied and machined; which is why it can elicit affects and assemble bodies and thus can be addressed or invoked, as we might a demon.

There are no pure xenophilic contents. Rather its contents are only vehicles enacting and replicating and invoking its demon spawn.

Insofar as there is a xenophilic subject, he/she/it is already the broken thing in question.

References:

Braidotti, R. 2006. “The Ethics of Becoming Imperceptible”. In Deleuze and Philosophy, C. Boundas (ed.), 133–59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Brassier, Ray, 2007. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. Houndsmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Derrida, Jacques. ‘My Chances/Mes Chances: A Rendez-vous with Some Epicurean Stereophonies’, translated by I.E. Harvey and Avital Ronell, Taking Chances: Derrida, Psychoanalysis and Literature, edited by J.H. Smith and W. Kerrigan, Baltimore MD, 1984, pp. 1-32.

Fisher, M., 2017. The weird and the Eerie. Watkins Media Limited.

Hester, H., 2019. ‘SAPIENCE+ CARE: reason and responsibility in posthuman politics’. Angelaki, 24(1), pp. 67-80.

Ireland, Amy. 2016. “Noise: An Ontology of the Avant-garde.” In Aesthetics After Finitude. Edited by Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, and Amy Ireland, 217–228. Melbourne: Re.Press.

Ireland, Amy. 2019. ‘”Alien Rhythms’, https://zinzrinz.blogspot.com/2019/04/alien-rhythms.html (Accessed 2 May 2019).

Land, N. 2017. ‘A Quick and Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism’, https://jacobitemag.com/2017/05/25/a-quick-and-dirty-introduction-to-accelerationism/ (Accessed May 3 2019).

Miéville, C., 2012. On Monsters: Or, Nine or More (Monstrous) Not Cannies. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 23(3 (86), pp.377-392.

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. 2016. ‘Letters from the Ocean Terminus’, Dis Magazine. http://dismagazine.com/discussion/81950/letters-from-the-ocean-terminus-david-roden/

Roden, David. 2017. ‘On Reason and Spectral Machines: Robert Brandom and Bounded Posthumanism’, in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn, London: Roman and Littlefield, pp. 99-119.

Roden, David. 2017. ‘On Reason and Spectral Machines: Robert Brandom and Bounded Posthumanism’, in Philosophy After Nature edited by Rosie Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn, London: Roman and Littlefield, pp. 99-119.

Roden, D., 2018. ‘Disconnection at the limit: posthumanism, deconstruction and non-philosophy’, Symposia Melitensia, 14, pp.19-34.

Roden, D., 2019. Promethean and Posthuman Freedom: Brassier on Improvisation and Time. Performance Philosophy4(2), pp.510-527.

 

 

 

 

[1] Posthumanism, xenofeminism (XF), left/right accelerationism (ACC), inhumanism and non-humanism testify to a desire to escape contemporary conditions of production, gender and agency: whether by pursuing post-capitalist hyper-production, an egalitarianism that sees the cultivated life of the human (bios) as but one form of living matter (zoe), XF’s multiplication of sexualities and genders (‘Let a hundred sexes bloom’) or a future posthuman disconnection from the human socius.

[2] As Ireland notes, this incursion is often fictionally represented through the trope of the Zone – a place where our laws of time and space or biological evolution are somehow in abeyance or subject to a different logic that warps and transforms those who enter into its boundaries (Ireland 2019).

[3] The Weird text either represents a punctate encounter with the Outside or documents that record credibly record such incursions such as Lovecraft’s Necronomicon or the archives of the punctilious empiricists and bureaucrats of the Area X trilogy and Solaris. Iconic encounters might include the meeting between Wells’ Time Traveler and the tentacled creature on the shore of a ocean under the swollen red sun of Earth’s distant future, or Johansen’s encounter with the eponymous ocean dwelling god in Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, rising from his tomb in the lost city of R’lyeh – encounters that physically and psychically degrade their human subjects (Fisher 2017, Loc 124).

[4] We might seek the authentic correlates of weird aesthetics in works of dense and radically corporeal avant-garde music, performance or plastic art whose matter seems to defy the analytical or regulative power of the imagination: e.g. the work Xenakis, Merzbow, Raffaello Sanzio, Bacon or Berlinde De Bruyckere. Yet such estrangement is relative to a cultural, not a categorical framework. These works defy habits of interpretation or analytical listening, but their very existence is not a testament to the Outside referenced by Ireland or Fisher. Their syntactic density is of this world but, like Kant’s sublime, allegorizes the Outside by alerting us to the frailty of our perception of objects.

[5] Even if one can imagine undergoing the death virtually, the simulation is not the thought that correlates with its simulated.

8 thoughts on “XENOPHILIA

  1. There’s an in-text reference to ‘Land (2019)’ but nothing of the sort in the reference list. (Is it Crypto-Current?)

    (nice post btw)

  2. reminded of Derrida’s almost theo-logical To Come, a kind of hyped up version of Heidegger’s desire for the mythical return of what exceeds mere calculative reasoning, where we are in the grips of (haunted by), driven by, our desires for Justice, Democracy, and the like which will have to be (to be salvational) radically (categorically?) different than just more of some aspect or another of the same old same old.
    https://deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/nothing-outside-of-the-difference-deleuze-made/

  3. If alien desire is contentless, it’s contentless! There’s nothing essentially democratic, redemptive or liberating about it. So no. This is pretty obviously a misreading.

    Incidentally, think Derrida underestimated the inhumanism of his own position, or perhaps he understood it but sought to contain it. Either way this move betrays his best insightsas I argued a while back in my review of Archive Fever https://www.academia.edu/3636609/Circumcising_Freud. :

    “Archive Feverʼs allusions to the impact of e-mail, artificial intelligence and biotechnology upon the intimate spaces and founding oppositions of psychoanalysis (e.g. in vitro technologies show maternity to be every bit as constructed – hence ʻpatriarchalʼ – as paternity), indicate that the portals may gape too wide to be linked with anything as determinedly anthropocentric as messianism. If Derrida is correct in contending that ʻwhat is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same wayʼ, then his tryst with anarchic technologies is counter-traditional and it is hard to see how the presumed affiliation with Yerushalmi can be maintained. The fact that the importunate metaphysics of Archive Fever proves allergic to some of Derridaʼs more pious sentiments aptly vindicates the good faith of deconstruction.”

    1. was thinking more of the other lines of thought you outline than yer own and yet there is (perhaps as you note here) a contentless quality (in that they are not to be more of some same) to his Anarchetypes, I don’t follow Derrida (or like-minded leaps of faith) here as I see things in terms of bricolage without end and that at best the truly Alien to Come (of our desires?) is a limit concept and the best we can do is it to try to flesh out the parts that are us and not make prosthetic gods out of our project-ions.

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