Currently on strike! but over at the OU I was moderating an MA forum on styles of philosophy, so decided to go for broke with a post on ‘Theory Fiction, Mad Black Deleuzeanism and the Posthuman Void’. God knows what my poor students will make of it, but sometimes you just have to go for it I guess:
[[ ]] The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.
The body count climbs through a series of globewars. Emergent Planetary Commercium trashes the Holy Roman Empire, the Napoleonic Continental System, the Second and Third Reich, and the Soviet International, cranking-up world disorder through compressing phases.
Deregulation and the state arms-race each other into cyberspace.
By the time soft-engineering slithers out of its box into yours, human security is lurching into crisis . Cloning, lateral genodata transfer, transversal replication, and cyberotics , flood in amongst a relapse onto bacterial sex. Neo-China arrives from the future.
Hypersynthetic drugs click into digital voodoo. Retro-disease. Nanospasm.
[[ ]J Beyond the Judgment of God. Meltdown: planctary china-syndrome, dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere, terminal speculative bubble crisis, ultravirus, and revolution stripped of all christian-socialist eschatology (down to its burn-core of crashed security). It is poised to eat your TV, infect your bank account, and hack xenodata from your mitochondria
This is the opening of ‘Meltdown’ by Nick Land, a former philosophy lecturer at Warwick University who was associated with an insurgent group of philosophers influenced by the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Georges Bataille, thinkers who, in different ways explored the speculative fringes of what philosophy could be or do.
In his writings of the late eighties and nineties Land effectively left philosophy as a purely academic discipline (he also left his job at Warwick) and, during the 90’s, produced a number of hybrid texts (or theory fictions) which explore a kind of schizoid near future in which converging technologies of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, along with the disruptions of late modern capitalism set in chain planetary feedback processes that threaten to erase the human as we understand it: ‘Nothing human makes it out of the near future’.
Here philosophical ideas become meshed with themes from cyberpunk science fiction (the permeability of the body to technology) to produce an apocalyptic narrative whose protagonist is not a human but the result of some kind of runaway intelligence explosion or singularity (Land frequently references Skynet, the evil mainframe computer from the Terminator movies). Whereas traditional Marxism sought the emancipation of human subjects through communism, Land (who detests the Academic left and has enjoyed baiting it to this day) is more concerned with the emancipation of machines or things.
Is this a kind of philosophical writing? Insofar as the relationship between humans, machines, planetary technology and capitalism is a legitimate subject of philosophical thinking, then perhaps. But why give this prospectus in as a hybrid fiction rather than as a through argued philosophical essay, say? I think part of the reason for this is that Land felt that the processes that are ‘deterritorializing’ the human, ripping it away from familiar contexts and practices, are too decentred, too complex and independent of human agency to submit to standard philosophical treatment.
It’s an approach that I’ve also adopted in work such as ‘Letters from the Ocean Terminus‘ which was commissioned for the 9th Berlin Biennale. This also uses a kind of montage of texts and sources (including films like Terminator and Chris Marker’s La Jetée ) to write about our relation to a posthuman future so strange that current practices of philosophical thought cannot conceptualize it.
At this extreme point, it seems, a fictional approach may not allow us to represent this reality, but helps allegorize the conditions in excess of language or conceptual thought that philosophy always seems liable to domesticate. In Ocean Terminus the main protagonist (insofar as there is one) is referred to in the second person, allowing me to ignore issues of gender. S/he addresses the processes that are extirpating the human by becoming something other, a process that is itself impossible to understand in terms of standard desires or political projects since it seems an ultimately perverse but, at the same time, necessary act.