The Castle

This is a new introduction to this blog.

I.

In loose fluid text chats I tend to use expressions that are oversimplified on the order of “pears are an axiology”. The underlying point, laboriously conveyed over long stretches of conversation, is that there are theories of which pears are preferable and theories of how best to consume them (green? yellowing?); therefore pears can be substituted by an axiology of pears. This is, of course, eminently silly. Pears are delicious edible things and to extract an axiology out of them sounds like a essentializing (ie Platonic) gesture that tries to obtain the “delicious pear qua delicious-pearness” lurking in an outside world of ideas. This is false! Axiologies are apraxic theories indexed to the thing-of-the-world, axiologies are Heideggerean hammers, flamenco guitars. En la guitarra flamenca hay una conversación entre la guitarra y el guitarrista. And yet isn’t it useful to consider the apraxic guitar for its implied musicality and guitar music qua music?

Music theory is the only way in which the ability to understand flamenco guitar music can be decoupled from the indefinitely specific experience of gitano jerezano life. But note how music theory refrains from demoting the qua to an in facultatem — literally any music theorist will tell you there are indefinitely many theories of the valuable ways to arrange musical sound. This is how the civilizational achievements of guitarra flamenca can be conveyed as quability conditions. Despite his payo (non-gypsy) condition, Capullo de Jerez proves himself by fire (and not by theory) quable to gitano flamenco. It’s not that Capullo can be proven adequate to flamenco, it’s that the numinous formula of the duende (the diabolus in musica that at critical moment takes over an artist’s soul in Andalucía) is verified true by him.

Therefore: the “axiology of pears” is really the axiology of pears-qua-deliciousness — a deliciousness that has multiple implementations in people’s desires and technical standards. A deliciousness that in general axiology will mean every thing that can be valued in the system that produces pears.

Let me repeat for emphasis: the axiological turn is not a “Platonism of the pear”. The fact that this point was not emphasized until now obscured the role of satisfiability (the logical stereotype of quability) and frame axioms in the theoretical mood of the axiological turn. Theory down this rabbit hole feels pure and formal and void, and it is so in its scarce moments of clarity. But these moments of clarity are not the product of an algebraic pipeline of concepts building up on concepts. Theory down this rabbit hole is not logically deduced from anything. Deduction is the verification of formulas from a given interpretation of its terms; satisfiability, in contrast, is the fabrication of interpretations that verify a given formula. Satisfiability (and by extension quabilities) should not be confused with the fabrication of instances from prototypes! Valuable as sheet music is, it’s not software code that can be used to 3D print another Capullo de Jerez. It’s also not merely descriptive of flamenco, it actually can’t describe it past a certain level of theoretical abstraction. It’s not a simulacrum, nor an ontology — it’s something else.

II.

The style and organization of my writing here is not meant to invite skepticism or passing dismissal, but nevertheless courts a sub-par response to something I believe to be the “ruminative murmurs of a complex theory yet to be heard” (this poetic expression is due to Malcolm Bowie). This willingness to risk an underwhelming reception has many immediate reasons, many of which have to do with the fragile (but also protean) early stage of theory itself, but some also to a kind of integrity that operates through a protocol of decency by self-sabotage. This protocol encompasses (i) a strategy of deliberate counter-signalling (through the insistence on precise technical terms to learn rather than an effective and gradual pedagogy) and (ii) an effect of automatic counter-signalling (through sheer accumulation of obscurity due to terminology, bad writing, disorganized exposition in blog form, etc.) Some of it, admittedly, is peacocking —  Boolean logic or the complex-valued calculus are way too inaccessible to (the vast majority of) conspirators who grok the Heidegger story at an intuitive or intellectual level, while the (relatively less common) engineers doing SATPLAN work have made pfft noises at philosophy for their entire lives. If this isn’t intersectionality I don’t know what is.

Countersignalling is, as we’ve explained in our prior discussion of bikinis and the dance of the seven veils, at the heart of seduction.

Theory as it stands now is comparable to the elegant and uniformly continuous movement of the matador‘s red cape that conceals his sword and fools the bull once. But the bull is still alive, and the matador would be foolish to self-congratulate for too long. The axiological turn is an elegant move that both exposes the matador to the indefinite complexity that had left him initially quavering in fear and staves the danger for a second and third turns. The misunderstood art of the matador is not “bull fighting”; the creature has been significantly weakened in the tercios de caballo y de banderillas. By the time of the tercio de muerte, the bull is slowly dying in a way that makes him a tragic hero, almost deliberate in its still-awesome capacity for violence. The fate of the matador is not to kill the bull (this happens almost out of mercy for the fatally hurt animal) but to meet his own death. Although matadores could carry pistols in principle, in fact they are very often gored and used to die like fireflies before modern medicine. But that’s a failure: tercio de muerte is only transcendent by grace of the gods of contingency. Likewise: the misunderstood goal of theory is not to replace reality or explain something real by layering abstraction after abstraction — these weaken the real thing and leave us with a creature that’s still complex, but cognitively more manageable.

The axiological turn was born out of the awkwardness of the theoretician faced with singular political events. Ultimately such singular events are surface cracks produced by tectonic structural affairs that are inordinately difficult to describe, let alone present as something other than a partisan mistranslation of a complex matter. The axiological turn weakens the turbulent violence of politics, it performs tercios de caballos y banderillas where praxis and agency are respectively plucked, leaving the mere structures of value and valuation. But although the “Heidegger story” (the Situation) does not vanish from reality by doing this, a powerful technical apparatus (larger and smaller axiologies) emerges; what’s more, general axiology appears as a distant possibility in the (asemic) horizon. A parallel “Tarski story” shows up; quability is declared to be comparable to satisfiability modulo theories (eg integer arithmetic), even though its technical implementation is much more perilous. Because we’re lazy and understaffed and because reality matters, the Tarski story is weakened in favor of having at hand the global furniture of the Heidegger story.  It’s still there, that magnificent Miura bull. It tasks us. Only by facing the bull again and again until the point of transcendence the promise of general axiology can be fullfilled.

III.

The selling point of general axiology is not that it might exist; it’s that it might elevate its conspirators to a place of infinite wealth, beauty, wisdom, ecstasy. (The matador perhaps typifies ecstasy the way sugar typifies sweetness. I would show you videos, but tauromaquia is not pretty to look at). But what theory can actually offer is to elevate the conspirators from their fishlike existence to marine biologists and from there on to alien engineers. The major technical obstacle toward general axiology is the need to explicate the Tarski story with poorly-written text and copious analogies. Boolean (SAT) and logical theory (SMT) satisfiability schemes can be deployed. What’s more, they can be mobilized to solve complex logistical problems. Even more: this is achieved by a clever style of defining frame axioms, which are formulas that when interpreted in satisfiable manner carry forward in time the state of the logistical system. Each of these technical concepts (frame axioms, Boolean algebra, satisfiability) can, in principle, be directly applied to problems of quability, but at the cost of severing their ties to the Heidegger story.

At one point the vaunted space opera, which is password-protected and out of bounds for casuals and most conspirators, was documenting an attempt to actually code a simple quability scenario using basic SATPLAN (logistical) techniques; this quability problem should minimize the loss of its Heidegger story in favor of being a proof of concept. As it turns out, formal verification at this level doesn’t really matter, other that achieving a kind of experiential knowledge with what SATPLAN achieves after all. Understanding in some depth the dynamic world that can be specified through frame axioms can be an illuminating spiritual experience; it’s possible to know in your heart that the ensuing excursion into the nature of time — the times of mr. Süsskind, of tempo and of opportunity — are really implementable in the frame axioms of a would-be SATPLAN-qua-quability program. Frame axioms are ultimately the midchlorians of the  General Axiology story; they were revealed to us in the effort to make clearer sense of a crucial aspect of the Heidegger story (truth-rain, ie the ambient conditions of truth) at a time that we worried that specifying a proper metaphysics of the Situation was the key (deferred, possibly indefinitely) concern. As it turns out, if we were to fret about the philosophical underpinnings of theory, we’d have to find it in SATPLAN.

Again: due to understaffing and rapid growth and the growing complexity of theory itself (in a matter of months, ambient conditions axiologies, then made larger and smaller; then di/bissected in left and right halves; then time; then scenarios and diegesis…), both the Heidegger story and the Tarski story are vague and deferred. But as already definitely established by Hubert Dreyfus (who happens to be, alongside Graham Harman, one of our key Heidegger references) computers can’t really cope with being-in-the-world; and, on the other hand, putting some scholarly muscles on the Heidegger story wouldn’t add much to what conspirators should really acquire deep intuition about. The usefulness of the vast majority of words committed to this project so far: seduction. I need readers to suspect there is something interesting going on; I need to keep conspirators interested.

Sexy photos omitted, this is the story so far. Yes, there’s stuff about Jair, and in the archeology of theory the unbearable awkwardness of trying to give the Heidegger story (augmented by some sober local analysis that everyone else is missing by running to and fro like headless chickens) of politics. But theory has grown to the point that an introduction that does not digress into Jair and Brazil can penetrate the immediate mental block people have acquired about this subject. There’s an apparent contradiction in this: Jair was never a countersignalling tactic; we see nothing provocative or insolent about this topic’s role as one of our ongoing central threads. But, if as we suspect Jair is extradiegetical, then maybe a presentation of the basic floorplan of theory does not have him in the diegesis. This is the very same reason you read me vacillating between “I” and “we” sentences — that’s me moving in and out of the picture frame. Is the picture frame characterized by the frame axioms? Cue in that Keanu Reeves GIF.

IV.

I’ve been asked: are these post titles just for mood, or are they somehow related to the text? The header images are just for mood; this includes eventual Lacanian diagrams. The titles make sense once you’ve read the whole thing (which may mean a number of previous posts; I’m trying to link them during the text).

I am now answering questions and sharing googly-eyed late-night insights on Telegram; just search for “asemic horizon”. Load that Zizek voice sample: In a perverse way, the space opera is moving over there.

Nausea

I.

Theory is a hard sell because it offers very thin odds for wholesale validation. This is the strategy consultant’s dilemma: at least in principle, he has to reconcile taking the client’s side (listening to his pain) with offering something that amounts to substantive change he doesn’t want. A strategy product where companies’s borked “key principal indicators” are replaced for “axiological scenario systems” can be devised with scarcely more technique than we already have, but how do you sell the idea of value system surgery to pragmatic purseholders with scarce time for philosophical books? It’s not that the theoretician is coming in to take away his power — it’s your axiologies, not mine — but that as the scenario grows more abstract, the opportunity for fine ad hoc tuning that is supposedly the role of the High Priests of corporate HQ starts to vanish. They either stay within the story or become obscurely extradiegetic.

Likewise, even as the ongoing political situation in Brazil appears to align itself with our ongoing belief that the core scenario at hand is the constitutional crisis and the hi-Z status of the Revolutionary Guard, it’s very hard to move beyond “concrete policy issues can’t be discussed at this level of abstraction” — the phrase will show up on my phone’s autocorrect any time soon. What is the appropriate level of abstraction then?

A dizzyingly high one.

People who have continued to study mathematics past the point where it seemed practical have had this experience, especially when guided by professors and mentors: making chalk marks on a blackboard, the master alternates between setting up rigorous formulae that can only be understood after serious practice, and gesturing over the blank spaces, chaining tiny geometrical allusions meant to convey that this makes sense, you can imagine uniformly continuous spaces of functions as… you know this in your hearts to be true. It’s at this point of dizziness that the mind opens up for understanding and you start running the risk of being struck by truth-rain.

Theory in the sense we have been developing has, evidently, reached nowhere this level of confusion. It’s been taking place, after all, over the course of a few months and in response to an emergency; and it’s increasingly taking the form of a kind of ethereal clockwork that at times of kairos will crash and deform against the roughness of human affairs.

Cueing in our Zizek voice sample: in a perverse way the symptom of general axiology is a widespread sense of confusion. It’s true, we’ve said it numerous times, in general axiology the sexism you detest in pedagogical scenarios will have been redefined to something you like. Because general axiology contains every and each smaller axiology, it will (as it crashes with the Earth) have had an effect of convergence. It will deagonize human experiences. But that  has to be preceded by a tempo-click of utmost disorientation, the ultimate tension before the ultimate release that is implied by the basic premises of theory.

At any juncture the important question is therefore — am I sufficiently confused?

II.

In the typical setting, economics is a two-piston engine comprised of two axiologies we will call M and U. Axiology M is as theory of the value of costly things. Along with all the material goods this includes human effort, sinew and misery; in effect, all affairs on which the bare partial order induced by the prevailing system of exchange (even in communism things had prices and wages) is defined. Axiology U comprises the generalized “field”(not a technical term) of human subjectivity (but remember always that subjectivity is a partial (curried) application of interfacticity-towards-X) in its relation with all material and most immaterial things.

Axiology U is strictly larger than axiology M: the stuff of economic life is valuing the means of obtaining type-M values; when e.g. factories obtain M-dominant ways of achieving U-outcomes, “productivity” is said to have increased. The typical setting of economics is a two-piston engine because it sees this interplay as the composition of two counterfactual movements. In the first, U-outcomes are considered frozen and universal, and the M-improvement (the reduction in costs for a fixed industrial output) taken in isolation. In the second, M-outcomes are universalized and U-improvements (the increase in output for fixed costs) are foregrounded.  Economists see this decomposition of actual motion in “ceteris paribus” (their technical term) motions as an act of theory. They need it because U is mostly invisible to humans (which industrial outcomes are more valuable?). Normative discourse is not eliminated by this procedure, but many popular issues are revealed to be bogus and others crucial (while indiscernible to humans) can be seen in black and white stark pencil formulae.

What’s interesting here is that each “pause button” (ceteris paribus) is a full counterfactual with all the logical issues involved in modal reasoning, but in concert they add to something fully observable in axiologies M and downwards. Each of these motions is a click (a step in tempo) but they cancel each other a little. In effect an adjustment process goes on — economists are often, but not always, silent on the temporality of this process — across a self-crossing of the time of kyklos (and here the connection with economic and political cycles is complete). Not physical time, mr. Susskind, big fan of your lectures here, not chronos, tempo, the time of praxis.

Life pro tip: if you find yourself at a club trying to pick up an attractive woman (men are much easier to pluck) — remember this stuff. Tempo folded over itself.

III.

 

I’m well aware that “truth-rain”, “chrematistics” and “switcharoo” are some goofy words, but what to make of “acceleration”? What, in mr. Susskind-time or in praxis or…? How do we even give teleology an index of dimensionality, let alone d=1? A pendulum in 3D space has a phase space of dimension 2 because that’s what the differential equations bring out. A pendulum, a pebble hanging from a string.

There’s more: teleology since Aristotle (maybe even before) has always conflated goals with limit points. Thereafter we should think that every teleology is subsumed by a “teleaxiology” that induces an orientation on the general “field” (tantalizing, but not technical term) of reality. If there was such a monster it would be trivially identified with general axiology. But this, in my evaluation, is both too poor (too generic) to be valuable and too big (too general) to take at face value.  Such teleological claims are pure meaningful gestures at a level of abstraction that cannot but chop off the legs of guests that are too tall.

We must instead consider the scenario of teleology as an open (topological sensu strictu) space in all directions. This open, horizontal, unmarked field on which eventual-becomings (something like “particular teleologies”, if the word would admit plural form; eventual-limit sequences of events) run free like wild horses. Either a teleaxiology exists and it reveals itself eventually as general axiology, or it does not. But at the moment (this moment) of such a bracketing operation, the central question is: can we postpone implementation? Can we not decide what happens here?

This question must be asked because that’s work of theurgy to be done: genericization past the point of comfort. It depends on a basic virtue that was once called Socratic but may come to be renamed after Jair: the renunciation of wisdom and the surrender to the soteriology of a Truth that is not held by Man but covers him like the rain. It depends also on a great deal of book-keeping (much of linear algebra holds in spaces of infinite dimension but you have to re-check what the proofs were assuming) to perform the switcharoo at the point of ultimate confusion. We may be significantly botching this book-keeping in the current iteration, but as we move outwards each previous quavering misstep will reveal itself either as a fully void formula or point to its quability conditions from where the real book-keeping has to take place.

And if it does not, maybe there are other horses that are adventurous too.

The magic leap

I. 

The presentation of a story is made of two components: the elements of presentation and the element of the story itself. Rigorously speaking, this can easily become a recursive formula (the presentation of the presentation…. of the presentation of the story), and experimental storytellers have long been trying variations of this scheme. Still, in the most common cases, the story is most often (structurally) large enough that it constrains the span of the presentation.

In what’s known as the Classical Narrative film, the final presentation of this large-enough story is given the name of diegesis. Film is the interesting case because it brings a quantitative explosion of non (or rather extra)-diegetic storytelling tools; whereas in previous forms out-of-story storytelling elements  were inextricable from the fact of the storyteller (Proust and Kafka swallowed by their work), in Classical Narrative film the storyteller was pulverized.

In other words: diegesis replaces the storyteller in favor of the conditions of storytelling; at the very least, this vibes with our current strategy of replacing truth for ambient condition of truth, banal actions with quability conditions, social praxis and legitimacy with axiologies, seduction itself with scenarios of ecstasy. But there’s an additional component to the scenario of diegesis that interests me: the conditions of storytelling are heavily technical. And you know how giddy we are in the presence of any conceptual breakthrough bearing a technical implementation.

There are rules for for disappearance encompass a fine control of tempo and duration; depth-of-field and focal length dynamics; scene geometry,  rules for bringing sound in and out of diegesis. It would be an impressive achievement of mankind if, like computing, these rules had gradually evolved throughout maybe two to four decades. But it’s weirder than that: almost everything of this disappearance technology comes up, as if whispered by aliens, at once — the era of silly pie-in-the-face shorts of uneven duration suddenly stops with a single  (extremely racist) generations-spannning three-hour epic about the Ku Klux Klan — which interrupts the age of trivial shorts and  introduces in one master brush stroke the entire language of Classical Narrative film. Poet James McAgee said – “To watch [t]his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel…and to realize that this is all the work of one man.”

This almost poses a trolley problem — hey, the KKK has caused untold death and harm, but would you rather not have had the miracle of diegesis?

II. 

It’s hard not to spend an entire essay detailing the sheer discontinuity — the magic leap in technical power gifted to the world by the Klan through the artistic genius of D.W. Griffith. It’s also practically unnecessary, since otherwise nonwrongthinking film theorists and critics have had no choice other than lionize it and explain it in their classes. Suitably depersonalized: there has been no conflict between the small-axiology-of-antiracism-contained-within-the-large-axiology-of-common-mores (from now on we might just say “small axiology” and assume a sufficiently large axiology around it) and the small axiology of aesthetics — possibly a number of parallel aesthetics, one of rapture and sublime, another of technical astonishment, etc.

Indeed in some cases this conflict of axiologies is set up in interestingly nonconflicting ways — consider the critical trope that Griffith created diegesis in order to give truth-content to his racist lies. We do not discuss such horrible words as “lies” (it’s either within or without the truth-rain “which shall save you”) but can pivot that trope to focus on the disappearing storyteller. This is the Zizekian picture of ideology: the racism inherent in wanting to tell that story is dissolved in a technology of non-authorship. Therefore a hundred years later a bank heist set in an odd version of the 1930s where blacks have been erased  can be made more exciting by music that is explicitly the historical complaint of slavery. Note the explosion of the frame — in this case it’s diegesis that resignifies an extradiegetic tool; the beast has swallowed its own “frame”.

III. 

Diegesis may have the potential of becoming a hearty, nutritional version of what Scott Adams calls the persuasion filter. From what I’ve been able to gather (for a cartoonist Adams is very wordy and roundaboutly and who says this is someone who reads Derrida on his lunch breaks), the persuasion filter is an outlook on the world that foregrounds the fact that no one really thinks all the time and most people very rarely do so; from that fact, it should follow that reality is best understood if we understand that people don’t understand reality. (The author, of course, flatters his readers as the select few that do…)

We need, of course, to begin by effacing the idea that there’s people and the twin possibilities of rationality and irrationality to arrive at something sufficiently generic and able to flow through the various layers of theory to absorb it. But on its own, diegesis eliminates some of the cowlickier ideas of the persuasion filter: it is the effect of a demiurgic technology that vaporizes the demiurge; it needs no “master persuader” (more on that soon). More subtly, it does away with the dependence on truth-as-nonfalsehood that underlies the idea of “truth as one possible narrative” — diegesis is ultimately the effect of presenting of a scenario, which can be anything from the metaphysical characterization of capital as an alien invader to a 10-second loop of beautiful college-aged girls making out.

But note the effect — the magic of movies is not that a frame exists and influences the content, is that the frame has vanished and what you see is what you get. This is how we’re able to take the scenarios of Blackbeard or our so-oft-mentioned faux-lesbians without worrying for their frame — sure, maybe it’s sexist, in general axiology sexism will have been redefined for something that you want.

Most important of all: it introduces into our vocabulary the question — is this diegetic? 

IV. 

One problem about writing stories about Jair is that it’s very difficult to acquire a theory-of-mind about him. Being lifelong public figures, each previous president of Brazil (possibly excluding goofball Jânio Quadros) have had clear public personas on which they had to campaign — even during the military intervention of the 60s and 70s. But as we’ve said before and will carry on repeating, what is most disconcerting about Bolsonaro is his embrace of the very idea of truth-rain. By the story local media increasingly fails to tell convincingly, Bolsonaro is erratic, moody, changes his tune every time; I have seen him on TV reasoning like a trained philosopher and stuttering like a 20-year old dummy. A reasonable question that the local media has yet to pose would be — is this man on drugs?

There’s an alternate hypothesis — one that appears to have a far greater explanatory power and simultaneously much, much deeper implications for the scenario of Brazilian crisis and for theory as a whole: maybe Jair Bolsonaro is extra-diegetic. Maybe he’s not of the story; maybe he’s part of the dizzying array of lenses and sound effects and camera movements that tell the story of the great Brazilian meltdown.

The sticking point of Scott Adams’s “persuasion filter” theory is the figure of the Master Persuader. In his book, this role is played by Donald Trump, but it may as well have been Osho: through a combination of a heightened intuition about other people’s cognitive biases and incessant, shameless A/B testing (and maybe more, I didn’t finish the book), the Master Persuader captures the frame and proceeds to “urinate on the press corps. from a great altitude“.

But the novelty of this is not that the Master Persuader has destabilized a dominant frame like a critical theorist and brought on the onset of postmodernism — this is a distraction, each time an element of diegesis “breaks the fourth wall”, the self-awareness is reabsorbed into the diegesis. To function, Adams’s Master Persuader would have to be nondiegetic, i.e. almost invisible. And of course, what enables diegesis is a pulverized array of nondiegetic technologies that fully displace the Master.

V. 

What does it mean “to be nondiegetic”? Osho is close to a paradigmatic case. Physically absent most of the time, he’s best understood not by his own movements (despite his brush with la Migra in the 80s) but by the brand-name hysteria. It’s not important whether he was could confabulated into existence or manipulated by his secretaries or men behind the curtain: Osho is but the point of capiton (the crochet “button”) that aligns all the the pulverized technologies that comprise the Osho movement. This is how he remains a notably prolific author long after his body was incinerated in his ashram, his flesh commemorated by a plaque stating that he was/is “OSHO – NEVER BORN. NEVER DIED.”

For American authorities who might wanted him for tax evasion might look at a biological man with persuasion powers who exploits… but oh my god, who even cares. Likewise in the scenario of the faux lesbians, feministologists may argue that the dudes who stare in delight are somehow agents of a social structure that push the girls into this, but none of this matters, not in light of swimming upwards toward larger and larger axiologies: within the context of the party scene there is enough power in the scenario where two girls start making out that the dudes, problematic as they may be, recede into the background — and most importantly they become the extra-diegetic technique by which we recognize this as a scenario of ecstatic desire.

This is a critical point: are you, patient reader, into watching faux-lesbians make out? Diegesis won’t work if we have to assume fetishes and secret desires and other small-axiological features; the extra-diegetic cloud of alien technologies tells you what is sacred and despicable and sexy, thus establishing diegesis-wide axiology. And this is how a scenario is constituted: a bubble of axiological sustained by alien hypnosis.

To recapitulate — in those scenarios desire and sacredness were diegetic. They worked through an array of self-effacing non-diegetic technologies. What is their net effect (in whatever axiology you have at hand while reading this)? If you had the firm conviction that kairos had come for revolution and the realization (meaning: a perception brought back from reality) that you had to be the initiator, would you rather be inside or outside the diegesis?

What do you think happens to the diegesis in general axiology anyway?