A glossary

 

I wrote this for a friend.

This overview of asemic horizon’s technical terminology (known as “space opera” to earlier readers) follows an order that’s specific (such that it supports a series of contrasts and comparisons) but not special (in that no particular concept or term is anterior to others).

THEORY is the theory of generic structure. This is a recursive definition (the theory of the theory of the theory….) — and also defines GENERICITY as the remainder term in a truncated infinite series. Grosso modo, theory works by appealing to higher and higher orders of genericity: it therefore saves us the pain of working toward particulars. Before the Hölderlin story emerged, the motto of asemic horizon was “notes on structural affairs”. This remains a decent description of the functional role of theory throughout our project.

The SITUATION is the Whole Thing. Up to a certain point in time there were attempts to codify a “metaphysics of the situation”, something that still litters the earlier texts; by now, the word refers to a generic stand-in for metaphysics — a protocol — establishing certain desiderata for metaphysical theories. These desiderata are also not specified in technical terms, but revealed allusively across theory. Meta-level discussion of the Situation is often referred to as the “Heidegger story”; but this name implies fewer and weaker links to Heideggerian thinking proper than “Heidegger theory” would. Instead, this word pattern (the Tarski story, the Hölderlin story, etc) points to something that emerges as a presentation of theory rather than something that flows from theory itself.

The key “Heidegger story” feature of the Situation is INTERFACTICITY. Facticity is a sister word to contingency. My facticity is that about me which is fact (and mere fact); this glossary’s facticity is characterized by its linguistic infrastructure, the technology that supports it, the particular situations in which it emerged. One way of characterizing interfacticity is seeing it as the machinery of interactions between particular facticities, i.e. the infrastructure that supports the apparent merger of all facticities. But each facticity is also pure infrastructure: the interfacticity is the machinery of the world. A less clear (and possibly easier to grasp because of it) way to approach the subject is to start from intersubjectivity (maybe following Buber) and expand into the entire world through a kind of faux panpsychism — while at the same time removing agency and protagonism from everything in touches. There’s also the option of building from Heidegger 1927 directly, but that would seriously derail us into philosophical analyses no less important for theory, nor more critical than the water plumbing amenities that make writing theory possible at all.

If we continue to (somewhat embarassingly) stand by the name “Heidegger story” we might analogize interfacticity to the “Being” of “Being and Time”. Thus we sometimes decorate references to the Situation or situations with timely terms like “ongoing” or even “actual ongoing” (which is to say, taking place in a time structure that has already been actualized and produced). This doesn’t imply that the Situation is equipped with a global timeliness — despite the empirically-supported existence of something that flows at the rate of 1 second per second, simple phenomenological examination tells us that all that we now call infrastructure (electrical currents, currency speculators, geological folding, the wind in your hair) to take place in idiosyncratic TEMPO structures, not flowing but CLICKING. A vague, luminiferous awareness of interfacticity can then be developed by documenting (for the next few seconds in which you look away from this text) the polyrhytmic interplay of clicking tempos.

More generally, interfacticity (and, therefore, the Situation) is fundamentally de-presented. By this we mean: like infrastructure in the classical sense, interfacticity is fundamentally invisible (until something breaks down). In contrast, a SCENARIO is fundamentally presented; in the generic case it is PRODUCED (a technical term: to produce is to make appear) by presentations as disparate as ideologies, narratives, lecherous fantasies, theoretical claims. The infrastructure that supports a scenario is known as DIEGESIS (a term appropriated wholesale from film theory); we’re aware of it because it so often chokes or breaks down, at times even on purpose. Diegesis is necessarily supported by a dizzying array of self-effacing technologies. This machinery produces, as a free bonus, a dialectics of storytelling tool/story being told that might become important as we try to place agency-presentations in or out of the diegesis.

Diegesis also gives us a method and system for appropriating bits and pieces of Lacan (genericized into a theory of reflexive structures equipped with a mirror stage); we can explain more accurately and succintly that interfacticity is de-presented by hanging the Situation on the order of the Real and scenarios on the order of the Symbolic. The major task of social theory then becomes to produce (gentle reminder: to make appear) a genericized Imaginary in the EC-STATIC (that stands beside themselves) scenarios that engage the lecherous desires, intellectual curiosity, political motivation (cue Zizek voice sample: and so on, and so on) that push people, these particulars we try to avoid, into engaging with AXIOLOGIES — and that may push them, in the limit, to engage with GENERAL AXIOLOGY.

Simply put, general axiology is the largest possible axiology. An axiology (classical ones include aesthetics, ethics, economics, etc) is a theory of what is valuable and how to valuably obtain it. Axiological thinking enables us to abstract away human action entirely and operate at the level of governing dynamics. The axiology-centric theory of asemic horizon is therefore said to be APRAXIC. It’s not concerned with particular events taking place in the world, but with the structure (axiological, diegetic, interfacticitous) that enables arbitrary/generic action. Being a full axiology, arriving at general axiology also implies a theory of how to valuably obtain everything valued by general axiology — something we call the get-rich quick scheme.

General axiology is the main story of theory — the praxic program that balances the apraxic character of theory is that general axiology may cease to be mere story and metastasizes over the Situation. There is some significant methodological irony here: theory goes through effort and anxiety to remain decentered, but suddenly acquires a North Star, an asymptotic utopia. It’s furthermore ironic, given the standoff-ish attitude of asemic horizon toward metaphysics, that this centerpiece comes to be coated in a kind of quasi-religious pomp. Indeed at some point a major story was the eschatology — how a limit point of total genericity was to flip over (a “switcharoo”) to total generality; but this should be considered deprecated by now; the core texts have been retired but some references may survive.

Talking about eschatology was fun, but it didn’t jive with our expanded awareness of time. The coming of general axiology was to come in the future, but we were fully unable to gain systematic awareness about clicking in the future. The future does not hang in tempo — it flows at 1 second per second, we’re told, but it’s made of contingency, not event. An interesting collision helps us here: in many languages, from ancient Greek to modern Romance languages, the words for “weather” and “time” are the same. The Greek word is KAIROS; because naval battles were such a core exemplar of contingency for ancient Greeks, it came to signify a kind of time related to opportuneness for action — finally, metaphysicians were caught dichotomizing CHRONOS (the 1 second per second thing) and kairos.

One might observe, finally, that time-chronos is useful in human affairs because it approximates tempo in reasonably regular scenarios: rathen than record particular raindrops orchestrating a downpour, you can measure an aggregate quantity of rain in an aggregate time interval and react accordingly. Search your hearts, you know this to be true: the use of time-chronos in, say, applied science and engineering, has nothing to do with the eventual discovery of an “arrow of time” by abstract physicists. Worse yet, the use of flowing time in practical social affairs is a weird appeal to quantitative science where in reality social convention dictates an ambient tempo (seven days a week, only five of which are good for trading).

This discovery of ambient tempo brings us finally to the initial insight that bought me (the interplay of “I” and “we” over the course of the texts is important; this is me now, a writer) a way out from uselessly trying to discuss particulars — something that’s extremely inefficient given my limited time for this project — and into “structural affairs”: the AMBIENT CONDITIONS OF TRUTH. This is a concept that superficially may seem to appeal to consensus and social construction, but in actuality tries to refer to a standard of authenticity and risk. Usages of “ambient conditions” (such as ambient tempo) have since multiplied, and “ambient conditions of truth” has been given the nickname of TRUTH-RAIN. By analogy, this latter synonym explains its praxic consequences: truth is not an object of epistemology, but an actually ongoing condition to which one might expose oneself (soaking wet in the rain) or take shelter from. This came from Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, apparently taken from the Christian bible: … and you shall know Truth, and Truth shall save you.

This was the original Bolsonaro crisis: having entered the postmodern condition on November 15th 1889, Brazil wasn’t quite sure what to make of this — the Truth. Not surprisingly, then, Jair’s strongest supporters were Christian evangelicals — people trying to live in a community of Truth — while his hardest detractors were those committed to social-constructionist fads and allergic to the Truth. It should be clear, by the po-mo “Continental-flavored” style of these collected texts, that I’m much more similar to the latter. But they’re wrong: they’ve taken shelter from the ambient conditions of truth when the whole thing is right in front of their eyes: not Christian religion but the abject failure of pink-tide South American leftist governments in doing whatever they thought it was worth doing, and worse yet, the abject failure of their theories of Brazil. Even a year later, when the euphoria has died down and Jair is already imbricated in the usual presidentialist bullshit, it’s still out there, in the air, for anyone who cares to step outside and breathe it.

The historical development of theory flows from this problem. The “Heidegger story” (interfacticity, in more modern terms) developed from the problem of giving sense to these mass nouns (ambient, Brazil, left, right and-so-on-and-so-on); axiologies from the unwillingness to deal with this and that person or event directly, but wanting to speak from truth-rain. Tempo to give leeway to the indefinite complexity of the world, scenarios to think of generic storytelling (not just “narratives” — everything to which diegesis and its dialectics applies). There’s more — the Hölderlin story, which complicates  “salvation”, physique du rôle, sandwich dialectics… But I think this has covered the basics, or at least the basics I could linearize as a narrative.

We live in a society

I.

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Easily hidden in plain sight in this one-panel are signs of a moment of transcendence. The comic masterfully portrays the self-important internet “patrician” (or the deluded neckbeard who believes himself to be one). But it only achieves this mastery — this capacity for compression: how many nonwhite pixels does it even have? — by fiddling with the frame. A standard trick in the movies is to slide some nondiegetic music into view, showing it being produced from some visible in-story source. This is meant to have the effect of tickling your brain, very slightly disrupting the strict separation between story and storyteller to make the frame shimmer for a split second. The comic does this in the opposite direction: a non-diegetic effect of dialectical sublation is let escape, like an air bubble, from the confines of the .jpg.

To ruin the joke: the constitutive contradiction of the hero is that he’s superior in every relevant sense, but has no cute girlfriend (which really only epitomizes a more fundamental desire for belonging in plebeian society). In the comic, he gives a minimal exposition of this constitutive contradiction and proceeds to disavow it: oh god, why must I be better than everybody else? Note that he could have disavowed patrician status instead: why can’t I shake off the pretense and fit in? This would be character development, whereas the comic wants to capture a repetitive riff, an ostinato. But the ostinato wears thin: the hero is no longer content with self-congratulation; the party scene stages (enacts, deploys, showcases) the burden of patrician status. An axiological crisis takes hold of the situation: the hero now doubts whether being better is better.

At this point the hero’s basic constitutive conflict has been substituted for a higher-order problem for which the stage must be carefully set up. The constitutive conflict is the primary antinomy between identity and belonging. But (for lack of a better word) the patrician ideology opposes the reality of this primary antinomy; the goal (made overt by the hero’s failure) of the patrician is to “have the cake and eat it too”, to invert the primary antinomy and manage to belong because he’s a patrician. The hero is thwarted by a secondary antinomy: whereas his position is that the denial of patrician values leads to an impoverished (“degenerate”, in the mathematical sense of the word) party scene, the normie position is that the patrician’s attempted denial of the primary antinomy kills the party.

The comic stops a fraction of a second before realization of the second antinomy sinks in. It dares us to finish the thought. What are the outcomes? Either the first antinomy is upheld, leading to disfigurement of patrician identity, which comes to be defined by rejection and non-belonging, or it’s derogated, leading to a transfiguration of belonging (possibly symbolizing the transfiguration of tribal affinities into civil societies).

Re-reading my own text to keep track was giving me a headache, so I went and made a diagram.

diagram

God is a lobster, said once a wise man. He has two claws, one to select materials and a second to press them into strata. The second antinomy is a deconstruction of the first: the first antinomy is set against a metaphorical rock, placed in a real conflictive context and picked apart, both marrow and bone. The third antinomy is a consolidation of the second; it steps down one level of meta and presents again a simple, sensible dyad. A’, B’ are transformed from A, B and appeared in inverted position. B’, the transfiguration of natural affinity into abstract fraternité stands with A (the original patrician, to oversimplify) on the side of the reality of antinomies. But these are not the same; indeed, natural elitism appears at odds with civil society. Likewise, A’, the transfigured patrician, stands with B on the side of the refutation of antinomies. These are also not the same; patricianism modifies itself so it can get a cute girlfriend, but this is a unconvincing corruption of natural seduction — the very same motion that transforms Thag, alpha caveman, into Chad, the hobgoblin of little minds.

II.

The pseudoalgebraic form of the diagram (where B’ logically succeeds B even as it dialectically arises from A) reflects a sharp suspicion that this kind of “sandwich dialectics” — one that denies its own form en route to sublation — is somewhat generalizable. Indeed sandwich dialectics appears in my sources first in a handwritten notebook from many many moons ago; weeks ago already as an analysis of the “patrician”, and now again from rereading Élie Ayache’s “Blank Swan”

Standard economics (something close to “natural axiology” in the sense of “natural transformations” between functors in category theory) sharply distinguishes risk from uncertainty, the former standing for a probabilistic superposition of alternate states of the world, and the latter for the nonprobabilistic ignorance of what the hell can happen. There’s an avid market for risk, not for uncertainty. One of the building blocks of Ayache’s derivation is the denial of this distinction. His whole story relies on a radical critique of probability in favor of meillassouxsian-badovian “contingency”; in light of Meillassoux’s “Après la finitude” and its piercing argument for the necessity of contingency, the concept of “risk” from standard natural axiology falls out of quability.

Is any of this under truth-rain? I don’t know, I can’t quite understand Ayache’s book despite knowing Meillassoux well. But it exemplifies the sandwich dialectics much better than the “patrician” comic does! The primary antinomy of standard natural axiology (where A is uncertainty and B is risk) gives way to a secondary antinomy between Taleb (the denial of black swans corrupts risk analysis) and Ayache (the denial of the risk-uncertainty dyad opposes risk analysis) — and let us remember that both these men are derivative traders. What comes out on the side of the reality of the primary antinomy (where standard natural axiology hasn’t been *metaphysically* challenged) is a corrupted version of risk where talebists see “fat tails” instead of mixture distributions everywhere. What comes out on the side of tertium non datur (contingency, the metaphysical elephant Ayache wants to warn us about) is a higher or larger uncertainty-like concept. But hark! This tertiary antinomy (Taleb versus Ayache, fat tails verus volatility surfing, B’ versus A’) meaningfully relates to the first antinomy twice: the becoming-contingency in A’ reaffirms the reality of the market — this is the gist of Ayache’s philosophy — while the decadent platykurtosis of the black swan reaffirms that the market doesn’t make much sense at all.

We could play with sandwich dialectics by replacing A and B terms for quite some time. But the sandwich-dialectics of risk and uncertainty (which translates without much complication to the in-principle unrelated problems of chrematistics/right axiology and kairos/weather) tells us something that might clarify much of how the get-rich-quick and the explain-Jair stories relate to each other. And it’s actually easier to use sandwich dialectics from the inside out, starting from the terms of the secondary antinomy. In one pole, theory-at-large (B’, which nevertheless includes the get-rich-quick stuff) corrupts the blog’s original mission. In the other, the implicity primary antinomy (A-B, get-rich-quick versus understand-Jair) is false — a real tertium non datur (A’ — theory, general axiology, etc.) asserts itself over eveything else. B’, the first pole of the ensuing tertiary antinomy says that later references to Jair are corrupt and derivative; the A’ says that even the explain-Jair mode is a get-rich-quick story. This finally leads again to a relation of apparent opposition and a relation of apparent corruption.

If we were allowed to cargo-cult these instances — these formulas in the language of sandwich dialecics — we might either identify risk with chrematistics and uncertainty with kairos (the Taleb position) or the other way around (the Ayache position: the only chrematistics is in contingency; kairos is facing the possibility of death knowing that death is a possibility). At this point we could even identify these with A and B and go around again. But we should allow ourselves to reify (or at least pretend to) at some point: Taleb’s point is true but trivial; Ayache’s difficult to determine, but daring and somewhat backed by his success selling derivatives trading software. A typical example of Taleb’s conceptual style is his feud with Pinker over the cringecore 1000-pager “Enlightenment now!” There is so much to say about the facileness and concept-level naïveness of Pinker’s arguments — even more so if, as Taleb apparently has, you actually read his books — but instead we’re treated to a screaming match about error bars in statistics with small samples. Is this what the tertiary antinomy arising from A = uncertainty has to offer? Is the resulting “apparent opposition” real?

At least to the point where we take pity on the reader (an ourselves) and fail to develop this iteration of a primary antinomy, we have to side with whatever calls itself an “Ayache pole”. Of course, either this judgement by character (and maybe I should type “ad hominem” for SEO) works or it doesn’t. This is a primary antinomy. Then, denial of character judgements corrupts our trust in arguments that can’t be fully formalized and checked by computer; but denial of the difference between character and substantive judgements opposes the idea of substance, which is troublesome (it means that we can’t like Woody Allen movies, etc.). A tertiary antinomy arises: either there is an opposition between substantive and character judgements, or there’s none. The position of “real tertium non datur” relates the substance argument (evaluate the man for his movies, not his sexual appetites) to a corruption where substance and character judgements have been fused. The position in favor of the reality of the antinomy produces a disturbing rejection of flights of hermeneutics in favor fused total judgements. You get the point.

III.

 

Listen to the song, it’ s thoroughly good. The following approximates the meaning of the original words, but can’t convey the overall effect.

It’s my friend who has warned me that Science is angry now,
also that Science moves forward, sideward and everywhere else.

I haven’t seen this woman, nor did it interest me;
As an autodidact I live, working on my crops.

What could be that rage that she could not control?
They say she’s a real bitch, we should be careful.

She grabbed three men and shoved them into a tube;
she kicked them into the moon to get her some rocks;

what’s worse, she dropped them into the sea;
and then for forty days she kept them jailed;

What could these men have done to get her so mad?
Many say that without asking they broke into her house.
Many say that without asking they broke into her house.

This is a funny but beautiful Andean retelling (a slightly subversive one, but still) of the myth of Prometheus. It has to be a traditional folk song (even though it’s sung in Spanish and not Runasimi or Aymara) because it denies the essential condition of space exploration — a motto that I even have pasted on my laptop cover: per aspera ad astra. Here men are not bound to hard toil in hopes of incremental success — Science, a real bitch, kicks them out of our planet’s gravity field to teach them a lesson. It’s in this way that the folk singer subverts the myth of Prometheus: there, man is punished for having dared to transcend; here, man transcends because of some prior sin.

But a wider look at space exploration deflates per aspera ad astra as promethean ethos impulse. Man, uppercase, billions of them, daydreamed of space here and there but didn’t want whitey on the moon; this happens because hegemonic powers finds themselves locked into silent war (“cold”, they said) and despairing for technology; it happens because American president John Kennedy signs the order to rehabilitate Nazi rocket scientists. It happens because Nazi rocket scientists originally thrived. Prior sins underwrite the literally super-human achievements of the Sputnik and Apollo 11. A world order of liberal values fails to find capital for such acts of defiance.

This says something about chrematistics. It’s anecdotal (which means — it can’t be shown to be the only way to do this), but it would seem that both in Alfredo Dominguez’s and Werner von Braun’s versions, a kind of right-axiology of transcendence (enacting inspiring feats of the human spirit) happens to be underwritten by the *inversion* of certain left-axiologies that have, too, wide appeal. What is the larger axiology here? What’s the structure of axiologies of cruelty (note well — not acts of cruelty — leave that to the cruel) that enable general axiology (“infinite power, infinite bliss”) and liberation?

There’s some sandwich dialectics to this too. But this post is already running way too long.

Outbound link

No theory this time; instead some impressive artwork by American Painter Mary Coleman.

atrophy-2Atrophy (2019), acrylic on canvas

I’m very cavalier about randomly appropriating images for the internet since they’re not at all integral to the purposes of the blog (indeed they’re mostly Twitter clickbait) and since I always expect very low flows of traffic. Because Coleman is a good artist that’s not well-known, this hard-and-fast breaking of rules may not apply, and she might ask me to remove these images from here. Ask away, painter.

 

scalp.jpeg

Radiation (2011), acrylic on wood

At any rate, there’s much more of this stuff where it comes from.

It would be interesting to write a short essay comparing Coleman’s stuff to my favorite figurative painter Jaeyeol Han. But I have a fun Saturday ahead of me, so I can’t invest the time right now.

Versions 2: Non nobis solum

(or: how to check your privilege in the mirror stage)

I.

(This post starts as a polemic against its direct antecedent, Versions I: Yngwiepocalypse, which is shorter than our usual content and light on technical prerequisites. You should skim it at least).

The core technical component of the “Yngwie thesis” was the dereference operator. Had the “Yngwie” thesis been presented as facticitous (that is, if it had been claimed that de-signification is quable to the ambient conditions that govern the interfacticity), we we’d be short of a technical account of de-referencing. Even then, we merely alluded to de-referencing as a kind of intermediary causal layer for “de-signification”. The story therefore went: an erosion process on the reference/dereference double-ledger accounting led to critical flaws in the dereferencing operation which led to de-signification which led to the Crisis, dukkha, postmodernity, etc.

But contra yngwieism, there is little to nothing that connects de-signification to a breakdown scenario (the Crisis). “Signification”, to begin with, is at best a cluster of unmoored hermeneutical “educated guesses” about structure-making (and may we remind the reader that structure is structured like a structure); in practice, it functions as a spacey reverb-filter echoing out of finer ideas about semiosis that are most effectively as reverb (as self-destructuring sound-mass). As a concept candidate, de-signification, with the awkward hyphen that prevents it from collapsing into design-ification, tries to say something crisp about  something spacey and reverberative. Of course it doesn’t work.

Dereference (as a concept candidate emancipated from yngweism) fares somewhat better. It mirror-stages reference, which has a clear structural role in the semiotic domain of Yngwian aesthetics and is even more concrete (with concrete and even dramatic consequences for improper dereferencing) in the scenario of structured access to computer memory.

Building from that I want to say that there’s a a Greimas-like binary between an operation and a “de” operator connecting the referencing operation and the dereferencing operator; that in the rift between operation and operator there functions a structural, genericized version of the mirror-stage rift that psychology used to believe happened to humans. I can’t say that. It’s too large a claim. It doesn’t pass easily into the “we” voice that spells out theory. It comes from staring at trees and walls for too long and feeling like something coalesces. But it needs so, so much detail to be teased out, so much scholarly charliework and it will bore my readers so, so much. (I know by now what brings readers to the blog and I’m too human not to care).

So I’m not saying that. I’m giving it a suspended “thesis” name and say that it eats the “Yngwie thesis” for lunch while absorbing its essential nutrients and minerals. I’m going to give it a name — something like the “genericized mirror stage”; sexier than that, but not salacious; maybe sexy in the desexualized version of fashion-magazine heroin-chic that showcases a potential for sexual seduction that is not there but lies latent like the energy of a compressed coil.

II.

What other “de-x/x” binaries are mirror-stages? We’ve just sketched a scenario in which Kate Moss is desexualized and de-seductive — the two videos linked in this sentence will explain more without derailing this text. There are more interesting pairs, I think; I think deconstruction can be restated as a mirror-stage of construction. Deconstruction claims to detach the primitive bond of thinking from its surroundings in concrete determinations (Foucauldian microphysics from the Zizekian perversity of ideology; Lacan from biology; art from nude models and fruit baskets; Derrida from the logos of Christianity, only so superficially manifested in writing); it grows into something much more robust, a worldmaking thing that transcends the world of its infant desire; but it is shackled to this genericized id.

But we want (one thing the reader needs to notice is the we- and I-voices weaving back and forth) to try something else for size: deserving. I’ve noticed the mirror-stagity of deserving while reading this essay on liberal theodicy, which zeroes in on Rawls and plucks from Rawls a core agitating motive that in one dizzyingly powerful gesture connects political activists from all stripes to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake:

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls remarked that “no one deserves” their social ascendancy and the natural gifts—intelligence or industriousness—with which they achieved it. The fact that one person was endowed with them and another not was “morally arbitrary.” A theory of justice aiming at fairness rather than fortune would reject any sense that people deserved their class position. 

(The essay is not long and strongly recommended for readers that don’t have the meaning of “theodicy” fresh in mind right now.)

Consider the ongoing discussion about inequality-generating prosperity. It’s not hard to find someone who will strongly side against Pareto improvement as an axiological growth path. In the thought experiment where every arrangement can  be posited without pondering the policies that lead us there, such antiparetians will prefer an arrangement where the poorest and most wretched are worse off, provided that the luckiest are closer to them. I’ve personally heard only two barely cogent arguments for this position. One comes from the bad psychological experience of envy cited as an override; an alternate form of this is that being comparatively poor produces an existential dread with having failed to compete. More realistically but less relevantly, the issue of money in politics — rigorously, that societal power scales nonlinearly (and heavily so) with wealth.

At one level, these are all axiological issues — roughly that money and wealth fail to suture left and right axiologies (which doesn’t matter in General Axiology, but who can get through to these people?). At a lower level, they’re fundamentally linked via Rawls to the veil of ignorance and to deserving one’s privileges. But  de-serving mirror-stages out of serving. Words are a theoretician’s best friend: serving and deserving are, at least superficially, reference/dereference pairs (also straddling right and left axiologies; maybe we’re on to something) on a morality of responsibilities and rights.

I’ve sort of click-baited this to look like a polemic against “SJWs” and such, but in light of the above there might be something utterly sensible about mots d’ordre like “check your privilege”. This is the bikini all over again: what the Rawlsian veil (a mystification, a counterfactual beyond [inter]facticity) displays is interesting, but what it conceals is the objet a. It displays a theodicy; this theodicy is a gesture of seduction that suggests a Lisbon earthquake before one even happens (much like Blackbeard’s engine of virtual violence). What the bikini of theodicy claims to conceal is the other-wordly order that justifies this one — the victims of the Lisbon earthquake as they’re sucked upwards into Heaven.

III.

Did we suddenly change the subject to produce a vague effect of siding with “social justice”? That’d be an interesting, albeit cynical strategy: leave theory intact, so that anyone who works through it realizes what’s really going on; but at the same time produce surface disavowals of proscribed positions for lazy skimmers. This is something intellectuals have done many times under authoritarian governments. But it’s not what’s happening here — or if it is, not at a such direct level.

Read again — we said might be and proceeded with a bikini analysis of Rawlsian theodicy. But we could never endorse any particular reading of what is hidden by the bikini — that’s the impossible object of desire. We might even identify it with the connection to the whole-otherness that is severed at the (Lacanian infant) mirror stage, the umbilical cord, but it’s never that that you want.  But Rawls claims inside the bikini is the Lisbon earthquake, the radically unexpected event (straight from the Meillassouxsian grand dehors, the geological accretion of the Earth) that shakes Leibniz-Candide’s optimism and forces intellectuals to ponder a world that maybe is not fair. This later becomes the immiseration thesis in Marx, the nuclear catastrophe, the Piketty catastrophe, the climate-a-hard-rain’s-a-coming panic…

Am I saying liberal intellectuals want the worst to come? First, no — you’d have to ask a sample of people you consider to be liberal intellectuals… Second, no — the core point of Lacanian theory is that one can’t put a finger on what one’s desire; it’s concealed by the bikini. Third, no — I’m developing in this text something that’s not a subjectivity-form. Here the mirror stage does not separate an unconscious from an id, but a  “de-x” operator from a “x” operation. We’re talking about a deserving operator. It arises from a serving operation which arises from the natural structure of Man — specifically from his big head that prevents full development to happen within the womb. One is therefore born incomplete and partially of-nature (cf. “failure to thrive”). In short, one is born in debt.

This principle (a beautiful classical phrasing is non nobis solum — not us alone) is something that I’ve rediscovered multiple times with friends, in relaxed meatspace chats over coffee that inevitably border on the existential: one owes the world, not the other way around. After thriving in early infanthood (again, acquiring enough weight to be viable), one’s no longer of-nature, but falls into a social and physical infrastructure that one couldn’t have possibly devised, let alone built. If one wants to eat, one has to work (this is Uriel Alexis‘s “reality principle”).

This is where the dark ineffable desire for the Lisbon earthquake — again, one that is in the pair serving/deserving, not necessarily in people) — comes up: it’s the mirror-stage desire to be articulated and whole in oneself, not bound to the umwelt, that produces the Imaginary order, sets the stage for the signifying chain to emerge, etc.

 

IV.

This gets us finally to privilege. Discourse of privilege is not a simple matter of not getting what one deserves (a misalignment of right axiologies); someone who is defrauded of money or presents as “incel” simply didn’t get what they wanted and thought were theirs by right. Whatever the secret unconscious desires of incels are, they’re clearly related to what is typically hidden in actual bikinis; it’s possible even that the core illness has to do with the disconnect between these unconscious desires and the sex drive that arises from hormones produced in the testicles. Therefore: simple — volunteers should be getting these guys laid for the good of society.

Discourse of privilege is not about getting what’s mine: I have the clear impression, for example, that at least a small fraction of “male feminists” are sincere. It’s rather a more complicated relationship with the Rawlsian bikini that, at the same time that it appears to promote the Other’s subjectivity as a focus of concern, sublimates the plain principle of existential debt: one no longer owes the world for one’s liabilities; rather, service happens in the bikini (or rather in what it is imagined to be in it) and requires a great deal of work not to meet the immediate demands of the world, but to understand and promote understanding of the bikini.

The great political tension produced by discourse of the privilege has to do with the lack of yet another mirror-staged operator — desublimation. As it stands under ongoing conditions, discourse of privilege is unable to discharge the existential debt it has — apparently, but not in any real sense —  vaporized. Because its proponents cannot circulate this debt (in exchange for whatever they think that they do that’s valuable), the very structure of deserving wilts. Thereafter e.g. a corporation can no longer focus on making what’s valuable (in such a way that they deserve their profits).

Two things could be attempted with the “Yngwie thesis” in this scenario. First, we could fix lost dereferents — poverty refers to injustice which refers to privilege — but now we reject Pareto improvement and are willing to make the poor worse-off. This is interesting but sets up on a slippery slope — ultimately we have to refer to “true moral values”, but bouncing back from crisis could lead us astray from the road to General Axiology. Second, we could trace back those non-desublimated debts back to their originator — roughly the Ben Shapiro move. But back in this metaphorical innocent village where everyone just did the things they have to do — who knows who owns what?

Versions I: Yngwiepocalypse

1.

The “Yngwie thesis” claims that the agitating element that dominates the dynamics of the crisis is de-signification. We do nothing to establish the validity of such a thesis here; we merely explore its potential ramifications. (Big if true, as the meme says…)

(The thesis does not, furthermore, establish the existence of crisis. One of its distinguishing marks is is, indeed, the particle the in referring to crisis — given the epic potential breadth of de-signification, it surely can’t refer to something as specific as the Chilean meltdown or the onrushing limits on Moore’s law).

We open this blog-post with a video recording of speed guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen performing, at an early point his career, his signature piece Black Star. Malmsteen’s whole deal is epicness; his stage role is that of an Icarus buoyed by kitschy (if at times quite effective) aesthetics and defeated by his lack of self-awareness.

In the biographic dimension Yngwie suffers from not knowing from the outset that he’s ridiculous, like Weird Al and despite some relevant degree of real musicianship (not to be found in Claudio-Ethan and Alice-Edith of Crystal Castles) and from courting competition by one-uppers: in Leningrad, Yngwie was quite unique and in many moments astonishing, but in a few years the speed-guitar sport was way ahead of him while having even worse aesthetics, and where and when did Yngwie learn a sense of aesthetics to reaffirm himself?

In the aesthetic dimension Yngwie is defeated by the standard critique of popular music (Adorno is surprisingly on point here), compounded by his pseudo-Paganini upholstery. At his best, Malmsteen switches between deploying the loose bits appropriated from classical music and injecting blues-rock quarter-notes in breathtaking 10-second increments of exciting bravura.   But the stuff of this bravura are the runs — the rather predictable upwards and downwards motions that, by virtue of being made of small upwards and downwards motions, make the guitar neck seem much longer than it is — pacing the macro-motions and employing acc/decelerando for maximum drama.

This is an application of folding tempo too: to turn the scales inside out is to see the pedestrian banality of something that, when properly deployed and in the right time-and-circumstances comes off as impressive — even “deep”, which has to do with its continual pseudo-Paganini references and our inability to dereference these little scales. Here Adorno is particularly brilliant as he zeroes in on popular’s music lack of macrostructure — just witness how every appropriation of classical motifs erases the larger abstract form (sonata, symphony, etc.) where it originally made sense.

(Witness also how, at their prime, Malmsteen’s heroics can be exciting where the classical music that he references (and we fail to dereference) is permeated by boring structural work.)

2.

This line of reasoning foregrounds de-signification as a major mechanism for the loss of meaning. There are other ways in which meaning could be lost: for example, by erasure (like the missing bits of clay in the Akkadian Gilgamesh), or by desaturating metonymy (like the word fuck has lost all of its potency). In de-signification, by contrast, the clay tablets are intact, but we cannot dereference their content anymore — we can even put together an approximate Rosetta stone for the Akkadian script, but cannot read it anymore.

It may seem that there’s a lot of hermeneutics involved in these arguments with Akkadian tablets, but there really isn’t. The same kind of loss of meaning takes place, for example, in computer RAM; there are situations where structural control of memory access is lost and programs improperly access “raw memory” — which is set to a particular permutation of bit values that once made sense but cannot be understood now. This is a serious condition — it can be exploited by actual hackers, for one — that bifurcates computer languages: some can reference memory, while some expose abstractions of memory access in order to block access to the machinery of memory referencing (i.e. “pointers”) proper.

“Raw memory” for Akkadian tablets is carved (and chipped away) lumps of clay. What does it look like for Yngwie Malmsteen? By listening to Black Star live in Leningrad in the right spirit, one can almost discern its shape. The “right spirit” involves suspending any attempt at meaningful dereferencing; what can be discerned (perhaps for a split second during a sustained high note) is raw semiosis.

What happens when bugs and exploits trespass beyond the area for which semiosis was correctly formatted? References can no longer be de-referenced, that’s what. A plausible account for the current-ongoing ambient conditions under which, for example, the president of the United States can deal in unformatted semiosis. There’s nothing correct data structures can do to avoid this in the presence of already-ongoing memory leaks; there’s no fact-checking or Yngwie explainer that can block (even temporarily) bogus dereferencing.

This is also a plausible account for what took place in the military coup of November 15th 1889 that shut down our Meiji-revolution-in-the-tropics and brought about being-in-Patropi.

 

(A stylized repeat)

 

This is a version of a text we’ve previously published in this site as a lo-fi/mood/xen/lounge audio track. To my taste it’s exactly right for small house parties or weekend morning walks in the sun.

 

Epideictics II: “All true theorems have corollaries”

 

CHIEFTAIN — Conan! What is worst in life?
CONAN THE BARBARIAN — To help your friends, see them parade in front of you and hear the exultation of their women.

In the Aristotelian canon the method of logic is discussed in full continuity with the methods of rhetoric and even aspects of persuasion. In this older view, logic stands in relation to the λέγω (I speak, I arrange, I reckon, I gather) as mid-20th century science-and-technology to the nature of things. Just as engineers hoped to organize (i.e. formalize, shape, make intelligible) our useful interactions with the world in terms of their technical (infrastructural) reliability, old logicians hoped to give organize true arguments in terms of their form.

Note that here logic is not really concerned about truth — it takes truth as a given and hopes to generate technical tools that make it reliable. This changes only with the emergence of abstract formal languages that are far-removed enough from ordinary argument that logic appears to internalize the μάθημα (plainly, the true knowledge-ness) of mathematics. Because translation of plain arguments to the abstract language is awkward, it would seem that their truth emerges from the abstract language itself.

Of course, mathematicians see this slightly differently already: beyond the mere power to preemptively embarrass bullshit vendors, the abstract language works its magic through its aesthetic effects — although no one can stop from formalizing each and every special pleading as an additional axiom, the standard mathematics is beautiful, economical and filled with astonishing symmetries and self-similarities. Indeed, once in a while genuine mystical experiences can be had in a smaller math classroom. How wonderful is the fact that we somehow have found the correct true-knowledge, the one that enables you to think about arguments far larger than your raw cognitive powers?

But mathematicians themselves have been severely embarrassed by this mystical worship of mathematics. Naïve reasoning about arguments far larger than anyone’s individual powers of reasoning have produced incorrect answers (Russell’s paradox being a painful sticking point) that, while mostly inconsequential to applications and even absent from discussion in general mathematical discourse, threaten the integrity of the mystery of math. Mathematics is magic and also logical; it’s only natural that the core task of logic would be to protect mathematics. A good name for this outcome would be the Tarski emergency. In light of it, logic finds itself entangled not with truth-as-given (maybe Hume’s truth-as-a-feeling, maybe our very own ambient conditions), but with a special kind of internal truth — logical truth — that emerges from a special kind of argument — deduction.

Now, the Tarski emergency is a legitimate concern if there ever was one. But the cool aura and the sheer power of mathematics has led to a lot of cargo-culting and fetishization (of the emergency itself; any book on linear algebra you can find is okay and anything you can express in linear algebra is potentially very powerful — but note also the second order potentia here). Here, for once, you don’t have to trust me: witness the great logician Jean-Yves Girard urinating on analytical philosophy from a great altitude. In a twist cosmic irony, computing has provided an alternate role (an alternate emergency, really) for logic — but that’s not what “rationalists” are talking about, right?

What’s hilarious about all of this epochal conflation of both truth and logic with logical truth is that it dissipates under the weight of jokes. I forget where I saw the opening quotation; in it, Conan the Barbarian makes a mockery of logical negation and negative arguments. Of course there’s worse in life than helping your friends — starvation, torture, psychosis. And what if we negate this again?  Then the best in life is to hinder your enemies, see them route around and parade elsewhere, and hear nothing from their women. Some people even make great use of this drifting negation as formalized in Greimas squares.

Capturar

(Source — Youth mode: a report on freedom)

Indeed, important and interesting arguments can be made out of Greimas squares — they’re not alogical (even if the drifting negation is not a specially formal procedure) or illogical (they’re often true!) — they’re just not deductive; their ultimate source of truth might be coded in jeans, not in axiomatics.

The group that produced the argument summarized above is not facing an emergency (at least not one with the civilizational import of the Tarski emergency) — why would they be more axiomatic than needed? Their answers to the aporias encountered along the way are mostly extralogical (dressing blank) but converge on grand themes (“maximizing the opportunity for strategic misinterpretation”) that radically clash with, say, the dharma of the Tarski litanies. As it turns out, the dharma of logicism (a kind of worship for logic) assumes away too easily that representations can be accurately and cheaply obtained — which holds in the magical realm of mathematics but fails dramatically  in business, military action, serial dating or anything where “strategy” means anything.

This is also the radical distinction between the time of tempo and the time of kairos (for clickbait’s sake, the time of revolution).  In tempo, Tarski litanies stab at the wind, haphazardly, and never let go after hitting something, anything really; but in kairos (which is nothing but ambiguous signs and choppy water) logical reference is rudderless and ineffective. This is why it takes something utterly uninterpretable (coded in that movie as the madman, the Joker) to trigger change.

 

Epideictics I: the Will of the People

 

The new Joker feature film is pretty good! For a children’s movie, anyway.

On the surface, the story instantiates once again the grittier-and-grittier conceit of contemporary Hollywood regarding comic-book characters that are often comically simple enough to be comical simpliciter.  Yet: no one believes that “Batman”  stories are real, but everyone’s able to place batmen on a scale of believability at the bottom of which is Adam West. To be sound, this scale must double as a “realizability”  ladder: it would seem that if, say, the Adam West (“TV”) batman is realizable, so must be his more believable counterparts. But it doesn’t: if reality must enter every conversation (which is a very weak prerequisite for naive realism to work), then we’re forced to side with comical batmen over moody ones.

Of course, the grittier-and-grittier styling of comic-book movies is not meant as a philosophical statement. But because it presents itself as the naïve default, internal perversions automatically acquire great salience.

What is particularly salient about this iteration of batman-villain Joker is that his structural role in the story spills over the kind of polysemic wealth that would be needed for the story to be viable. There’s a few things to unpack here, but the payoff can be stated upfront: the vacuity (leading to the strong implausibility) of the Joker Revolution stands as a structural analog to what a more-realizable Joker Revolution might be like.

From here on we have to assume the reader has seen the movie; what follows should be intelligible, but may appear to imply the existence of a far better film.

The standard hero’s-journey formula demands a first critical point named “the call for adventure”. In this system, adventure is something that upends the “common world” and pulls the protagonist into a special reality. In Joker, mentally ill/loser storefront clown “Happy”, played by Joaquin Phoenix, responds to violent harassment by banker frat boys with a gun. He doesn’t snap; his reaction is somewhat out of proportion, but is perfectly continuous with his baseline character. What follows is the special reality: news of the murders spark popular riots whose logical conditions weren’t present in the common world.

To further unpack: how are the Joker Riots different from the gillets jaunes of Paris? The exact answer: the work of the yellow-jackets is to develop a temporality (of eventual, but not immediate political emergency) out of the dispersed tempos of its constituencies. Like many previous generations of parisians, the yellow-jackets sound the drums of potential unrest. But the Joker Riots are instantaneous to the movie viewer and more than instantaneous to Happy — it unravels before he does; to a large degree (blurring some melodrama) the Joker Revolution reverses causality, causes the Joker to emerge always-already acclaimed by mass forces appearing out of nowhere. (There’s a missing “Christic” theme in this apotheosis: we never see the masses abandon him to Pontius Pilate; but that would be going too far).

How is this even possible? How is suspension-of-disbelief in the diegesis maintained? There’s a few token nods to the Wayne family; a child batman is seen here and there; these things occupy the minds of the audience. But the story works without bathumans: the Joker is by symbolic quintessence the floating sign around which the ambient electricity of societal discontent can coalesce and make thunder noises.

The Joker plays, after all, the roles of wildcard, null card or uninterpretable (unquable? uncardable?) card, depending on which game you’re playing.  Not the ace of spaces or the two of hearts: the truth from outside the game which butts in contingent on a card shuffle.  This is Happy’s lot in life: to develop as the marginal facelessness that will be called in to disrupt the flow of things. The overt movie story is about Happy’s lot; but hidden in plain sight are the sigils of impenetrable and unpredictable revolution.

 

Assigned reading

Habitual readers of asemic horizon would do better to spend the time with the new essay by the resurfaced Mencius “Curtis Yarvin” Moldbug titled The Clear Pill, part 1. The editorial note that immediately prefaces it chides us:

Partisans of every stripe would do well to prepare themselves to respond to this line of attack—one building strength and authority in tech circles.

Moldbug is probably best well-known from Nick Land’s reconstruction — less dense in the specifics of his intense scholarly style, but much clearer in its philosophical preconditions and implications.

Land’s Moldbug is entirely submerged in realism — cleverly rhetorically reinforced to provide an appeal to all kinds of internet right-wing fads. But it’s not just Land’s — and Moldbug’s, who is a fine rhetorician on his own — snark a response to this line of attack would have to contend with: it’s realism itself, which is nontrivial to construct and reinforced-concrete strong — almost impossible to deconstruct. 

Reinforced concrete is Portland cement, sand and iron rods. It’s a structural system, but it’s neither the “real thing” they claim it to be (by exploiting faint echoes of Darwinism like “neural networks”  once exploited faint neurological analogy — before success with the addition of generalized frequency transforms), neither Lacan’s order of the Real or Meillassoux’s “Great Outdoors” — the excess over symbolic intersubjectivity that could authorize their self-legitimizing politics.

But it’s exceedingly hard to “respond to”. Even worse from the brittle vantage point I’ve been building — one that swerves time and again from the problem of infrastructure. Instead we appeal constantly to a confused principle of sufficient infrastructure.

Yarvin/Moldbug on the contrary not only did his structural rebar work back in the Unqualified Reservations era, but continues to mix concrete. His new essay reminds us of his status as an era-defining intellectual that should be known to be strong and studied in his (scholarly, philosophical, rhetorical, political) strengths.

To row

 

(Most of part I is unintelligible without recourse to the near entirely of asemic horizon so far. I’m really sorry. Part II is more readable, but less rich if you’re not hip to the whole stuff.)

I.

Trad existentialism from Heidegger to Bojack Horseman is axiologically founded on contingency. As described in the theory of interfacticity, this contingency spreads itself in parallel universes of being and non-being. But the fact that interfacticity has an existential flavor (i.e. the Heidegger story, rather than the stark formal void-ness of the Tarski story) does not point to an essential existentialism to it — instead, it’ s very, very contigent itself.

Story time: interfacticity was revealed to me while eating an ice-cream cone. Why not a plastic cup? Because eating ice-cream on top of an edible cone exposes the ready hazard of having the ball-shaped treat tip off and splat on the floor. It is risk, in the same way of the matador’s deliberate self-endangerment. That these hilariously different exposures can be characterized in the same terms exposes how risky the careless use of the word “risk”  is. But the ice-cream story was clear to me — what I was enjoying was not only the “live” cone but also the “dead”, thrown-on-the-floor one. Authenticity meant to bring oneself in equanimity toward the ice-cream’s being and non-being at once.

(Cue in Zizek’s voice sample) In a perverse way, that’s the whole core of what we’ve been calling “the Heidegger story” (and we’ve disclaimed multiple times any semblance of scholarship — this was but a nickname, like the Tarski and Emerson stories). As a lived-in experience of the thing-of-the-world, it didn’t even need theoretical status — it came in, readymade, as a constraint on the ambient conditions of truth.

Long-term readers will notice how suspended and underdeveloped the Heidegger story was. At one point we promised a closer look at the “metaphysics of the Situation” to selected readers. But this never came through — an account of the gaps between the lived-in concept of authenticity (and its full generalization in interfacticity) and the world of theory. The reasons for this are more or less obvious: the breakthrough that was General Axiology (and not just the asymptotic theory as recently, incorrectly claimed) abstracted away being itself — let alone “non-being”.

But then we arrived at the Hölderlin story.

Our Hölderlin inversion was silently added to the blog’s masthead months ago. There was no natural way of addressing it in the then-ongoing sequence of texts. Surely enough, the early blog engaged in what was then termed freestyle soteriology, but  over time soteriology (das Rettende) became the very hinge that holds contingency together. Yet what the Hölderlin story really brought to the table was a dark turn away from the equanimity of interfacticity (still a lived-in existential algorithm that figures in the ambient conditions of truth) to the kyklos-supported situation of Danger (die Gefahr).

In a perverse way (and temporarily suspending its specific, kyklic temporality), Danger is contingency squared. It’s contingency, but as presented to (and violently modulating the previous equanimity of) interfacticity. Danger lurks behind Salvation because equanimity begets risk and death.

Recover the fact that Danger takes place in tempo (and not necessarily in existential-psychological temporality) and the realization fully compiles: we’re in such grave trouble.

II.

Theory (in general but moreso past the axiological turn) keeps disclaiming and suspending and abstracting away the roughness of real terrain. The fair (and even critical, to some points of view) question we’ve been dodging, therefore, is: what exactly is at stake here? The fair, if much too abstract, answer we’ve been giving is: General Axiology. But to the extent that General Axiology is infinite bliss, it cannot sustain the Danger that its soteriological status necessitates.

This may well be the most succint definition so far: General Axiology is the final defeat of the Hölderlin story. But this happens within conditions (and with consequences) that are infinite. The bad grammar and lack of proofreading that characterize this blog are, contrariwise, the proof in the pudding of finitude. And if the eschatology we’ve designed is to take place (gradual steps to ultimate genericity followed by the switcheroo), it happens at the cost of shrinking finitude (as we’re able to say less and less about very generic things).

This is, then, the Danger of theory, lying behind Salvation: abstraction can never pave over the path to infinity. This makes the demotic story of General Axiology critical to the meaningful growth of theory — we need to help people get laid and make money.

One way to sink our teeth into the demotic story is to build an ashram. But how the hell does one start an ashram? The other is ultratechnology (in the broadest of meanings of the word). In both cases we need to foreground the nightmarishly complicated interaction between feedback loops an interlocking variable tempo structures.

And there it is — the Danger; the devil taking its dues. We’ve grown this thing by deferring everything that seemed too complicated to be worthwhile; but if the ambient conditions are to mean anything, they at least mean that la verità è nei dettagli. Accepting  this leads us to realize (remember: to bring back from reality) the grander vision of the role of theory (and not just “asemic-horizon-theory”) — to set the complexity of the world in full view.

Maybe this can be accomplished with scenarios of ecstasy. But maybe not. The unspoken psychological premise of the eschatology (infinite wisdom, infinite bliss) was that people carry a widespread and mostly unmet desire for freedom. Maybe people want to chatter about freedom, but don’t actually want it.

(Has anyone ever seen pornography featuring radical freedom? There’s always someone who intensely enjoys their surrender.)

III.

The Hölderlin story leaves us two alternatives: abandon all soteriology (and live in abject degeneracy) or find a Salvation whose hidden Danger is tolerable. Call it second-order soteriology: we call (in prayer) whomever is in charge to deliver us from Salvation. Don’t be fooled by the religious language: the clear and urgent demands of second-order soteriology should be actively lived-through by, say, oil-rich countries must continually practice if they want to avoid what happens to oil-rich countries in the modal case.

So how does one obtain second-order soteriology? We should always be aware of the Danger, but Salvation is always obscuring our view. Here I want to question the Hölderlin story (which ultimately means questioning myself): always? Salvation is intrinsically a promise — but what if this promise is Danger itself? This isn’t Absolute Idealism, this is war. To quote from a prominent rabble-rouser,

I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor food; I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death.

In this promise, Salvation engulfs Danger. It therefore makes sense — war is not the continuation of diplomacy but the ultimate source of meaning. Therefore the very real Danger mixed up in all this messaging (namely that your warlike heroism has a double in the diplomacy-like effects achieved by state strategy) disappears. I mean, listen (literally; there is a podcast) to someone like Jocko Willink describe the glory of the 2000s Iraq war — a glory that fails to be crushed by the generalized bogosity of both motives and consequences that surrounds it.

But this warlike glory is also flanked by a Danger of its own: namely, that the ultimate meaningness of war requires an axiology-structure collapse after which there are only good-guys and bad-guys left. The intense solidarity of closely-knit teams like Jocko’s platoons is indeed something very akin to general axiology — but they’ve been cheated of the real thing; they’ve been given meaning but not purpose.

There are more optimistic examples — when oil-rich countries set up sovereign funds, for example — but Jocko’s war alone serves as proof that  behind second-order salvation lies second-order danger (at least sometimes). Second-order soteriology is a power tool — it can torch your axiologies in literal seconds if you don’t have the presence of mind to entertain what we’re doing now: third-order soteriology.

So how can you use third-order soteriology to have sex with more, better-looking women (a common demand by straight males; this isn’t usually on top of the agenda with females), make more money, attenuate those bags under your eyes and, more generally, to hop on the demotic train to general axiology?

The operational word (because everything operates in it) is tempo. To the extent that the world (and not just the thing-of-the-world) is a thing, it is a thing out of synchrony. You can make money as a payday lender by exploiting a kyklic arbitrage between your funds and the victim’s unplanned shortage; in an organized, non-mafioso form, this gap is called maturity transformation and agitates the specific temporality of economic crises in general.

This is also the morality of the ice-cream cone scenario: I’m able to enjoy the presence and the absence of the ice-cream because I’m able to eat it before it melts at the base and falls off. Of course, I could eat the treat off a plastic little cup, but you won’t be able to do that with most of what you desire. Besides, while the morality of the ice-cream cone — namely, that there are specific relations to presence and absence to be arbitraged xor modulated xor enjoyed — may apply to some extent to a number of simple desires, the things that you most value aren’t things, they’re a system of interlocking hurricane-like feedback loops taking place at different tempos.

At points like this (maybe after you’ve broken your dry spell, who knows) the first thing to do is concentrate on the vertigo and the nausea and let complexity feel like complexity. This blog was founded on the premise that complex things aren’t simple; that’s what we’re still doing.

 

die Gefahr

 

I.

We introduced the notion of larger and smaller axiologies in ….Prince Kropotkin  and made it tidy in The Wave, from which (breaking with tradition) I quote:

2.3 An axiology A is larger than an axiology A’ if it contains a theory of the valuable means of producing values in A’.

Earlier in Kropotkin this had been motivated thusly

Following this [the equation between “undemocratic” and “bad”], we could  temporarily suspend all discussion of the facticity of democracy and political representation and assign a type to the word “democracy” without assigning a corresponding value — democracy is of type “large axiology” (large because it’s a higher-order theory of how smaller axiologies can be constructed and/or validated).

This is fine theory, but carries along a sleight-of-hand toward the “praxis of theory” — namely the suspension (originally said to be “temporary”) of politics in favor of axiological analysis. That we have been doing this for months now is also the outcome of an axiological claim that values abstraction over specificity.

Simultaneously, we have brought forward an asymptotic theory, General Axiology. By my personal power of theoretical speculation, I’ve endowed the scenario of general axiology with visions of power and bliss.  Such visions have to do with an upward motion fueled by agreement over generic values, which may as well be called the demotic path; but the material presented in the blog was rarely demotic — hardly any pick-up tips or ideas for how to radicalize your friends. Instead, it doubled down on the thought process that had elevated us from politics into axiology. For what? Echoes of the visions of General Axiology and a deep-seated feeling that abstract axiologies are higher axiologies. I could rename this blog — “adventures in Higher Axiology”. But I’m not that optimistic.

 

II. 

Hölderlin’s verse actually says

Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst
Das Rettende auch.

but we see it the other way around.

Our move towards abstraction through the suspension of specifics is born out of a mistrust of claims to specificity given the chaotic emergent agency of the world. That we’re able to make up theories — speculative and unaccompanied by arguments to which p-values could be attached one day — is precisely the mirror of this mistrust. The smartest people often have this backward; they mistrust theories because, well, anyone could just type whatever into their text editors if not for a falsifiable connection to the thing-of-the-world. But is there ever one?

At one point the news were confirming the specific points made in …Prince Kropotkin in Hi-Z about Brazilian politics. First, the Revolutionary Guard (invested with Supreme Court powers in Brazil) staged a double coup. On the demotic side, they claimed for themselves the answerable-to-no-one right to inquisitorial justice in the case of some people who said mean things about them on Twitter. On the hierophantic side, they staked out for themselves the role that Latour or Caillon (or maybe both) termed an obligatory passage point. As we had noted, presidential democracy is marred by a conflict between two claims to axiology, namely by Parliament and by the Executive; the usual solutions to this are conciliatory corruption, a conspiracy to impeach the president (and thus force his hand), or a military coup.

Jair’s early tenure was faithfully following this script. A surprising idealist, Jair had been dodging Congress’s increasingly forceful attempts at shaking “political appointments” (bribes, really, in nicely cut suits) out of him. The whole thing was spiraling out, with political crises of middle-to-high severity erupting every 15 days or so. This is not to exonerate Jair — who knows what game this man was playing, if any — but that was the ongoing scenario. This was brought to a halt by what is openly admitted to be a “pact” between the Three Powers — beautifully brokered by the Supreme Court who as a gesture of good will buried preliminary investigations on one of Jair’s sons.

That was the scenario when I stopped watching the news. It was misspent time given that I had already written Prince Kropotkin in Hi-Z. The whole issue of Brazilian politics was thrown back at me several months later when it reached American forums not usually concerned with politics, let alone Brazil. It was then that I was informed by The Guardian and TV5 that the Amazon was burning under direct orders of Jair Bolsonaro –something like that.

So here’s why we have to invert Hölderlin: in his version, the destruction of the forest prefigures salvation from Jair. But that’s precisely where die Gefahr lies.

III

Populist politicians (is there any other kind?) have always been — under the heavy fog of irony in the local ambient conditions of truth — called saviors. Their archetype, Getulio Vargas,  was crowned both “the Father of the Poor” and “the Mother of the Rich”. Our inversion of Hölderlin works very literally here — there comes another savior, Bolsonaro; there comes another danger. This is a very poor interpretation of die Gefahr — in style, in theoretical range, in the scope of its consequences. But it works, as it does in higher and higher levels, and at this point it’s rhetorically important that we present a very poor case because it highlights how it works — to wit, as a formal argument.

At each level — whether it is the Amazon that will save us from the asemic horizon of capitalism; or whether NGOs and foreign powers will redeem and deliver us from Bolsonaro — danger is the shadow name of the soteriology it lies behind. This is what soteriology does: it exposes us to hazards that itself is unable to see.

The specifics of the Brazilian situation might seem to press the issue — from where this particular Mama Nature soteriology? The particular mechanics of how ongoing concrete concerns become hard claims to Truth and Salvation have been extensively studied by my betters. A great half answer is in Zizek’s lacanized concept of ideology; the second half is in Mencius Moldbug’s Cathedral. 

What tasks us here is not to evaluate news reports; it’s whether the theoretical status of Jair — remember, as the man who foregrounds the ambient conditions of truth while disappearing from the situation as an extradiegetic element — stand to be altered. It could be that the technologies that produce the tempo of the Situation leave him out in the cold or push him back into the story.

I mean, the Amazon is fine — it’s so extraordinarily large that it could burn continuously for decades. But Brazil is not fine. India is the world’s biggest democracy, but basically defines a world of its own; unlike India, Brazil has a President, not a Prime Minister; it also casts a long shadow over smaller societies. This is is actually how the Amazon becomes an international affair: projects toward a global axiology cast suspicion on the ability of this stunted society to manage what the soteriology they espouse claims to be an extrasocietal good — the Forest, singular, given in dowry by the Gods (not like the forests in Belgium or Japan, no — there are blue parakeets in this one).

It’s not that Macron freaks out about the Amazon; it’s that the international community’s ability to put Brazil in line. Besides blue parakeets, Brazil also has a critical role in global economic recovery, presents a strategic buffer in the circulation of “refugees”, serves as the major success story of racial miscegenation, can swiftly destabilize the global market for iron ore (and with this the costs of civil construction)… Given how much we really are spectators in this global policy process (not even Germans and Frenchmen get to vote for the European Council), we could pinch back the literal meaning of diegesis and summarize the situation as follows: the producers are more and more startled by this Godard-type threatening to make their global liberal democracy blockbuster into some avant-garde, diegesis-bending arthouse film that forces itself as a topic for later discussion.

(If that isn’t die Gefahr, what is?)

Again, if we are going to make any progress, we have to hold back our lower-axiological instincts and try to reach for the stars. The top prize is general axiology, baby.

Jacques’s promise

There’s an apocryphal legend that concerns an early astronomer (already in possession of a telescope) who visualized Neptune a century or more before it was even calculated to exist, but recorded it as a distant shooting star. I know this legend to be apocryphal because I just made it up. The clunky metaphor it implies serves as a narrative standing point to once again discuss the intellectual standing of Jacques Lacan.

Lacan is a shooting star who believes himself to be a stable traveling planet. Note that this isn’t a plain inversion — J-Lac has become both astronomer and celestial body. This collision is enabled by the theory of the mirror stage.

Indeed this earliest of lacanian concepts makes sense of everything that happened later: in his “return to Freud” Seminar I, our man Jacques is unambiguous in dismissing Anna Freud’s organization and consolidation of clinical psychoanalysis and making the metapsychology the technical core of Sigmund’s study. Freudian metapsychology is already theory-qua-theory, the study of what psychological theories might look like. But Freud, clinical ambitions and all, characterizes the metapsychology as heuristic and “as-if”, disclaiming any connection to the raw (e.g. neurological) facts of psychology. Meanwhile, in the very Seminar on “The Technical Writings of Freud”, Jacques Lacan gives us this:

Pour vous permettre de vous orienter à travers les amibigüités que se renouvellent à chaque pas dans le littérature analytique et dont je pense vous êtes aperçus, il y a plus d’un méthode. Je pense de vous enseigner catégories nouvelles qui introduisent distinctions essentieles. Ce ne sont pas des distinctions extérieures, scolastiques et en extension — opposant tel champ a tel champ, multipliant les bipartitions à l’infini, mode de progrès qui consiste toujours a introduire des hypothèses supplémentaires. Cette methode est permise sans doute, mais pour ma part je vise à un progrès en comphrehension.

Progress in understanding what? In the absence of a eschatology like our very own switcharoo, J-Lac can’t possibly believe he can theorize his way through the virtual absence of empirical regularities in human psychology. We know how “scientific” psychology fooled itself into the abyss of unreplicability: through a primitive understanding of statistics and a faith in the representativeness of readily-available American college students. But Lacan had a clinical practice complete with a Freudian-style couch; could it have been fully divorced from his wild ambitions about clinical theory? This is what the mirror stage produces: a primary-primitive illusion of mastery.

Could the tragedy of Jacques Lacan have been avoided if his peak years had better synchronized with the peak years of American program of the “philosophy of the mind”? Whatever I’ve read of the latter seems made either of pure and desperate honesty or honest and pure desperation: as it turns out from their “thought experiments” regarding zombies and robot replicants, it’s very difficult to even establish the existence of “a mind” (something that could be the object of “a psychology”). There is much to applaud about the American program: rather than plainly equate the mind and the brain, they split bipartitions à la infini on, for example, what level of functional equivalence with a mind-possessing person produces an artificial mind. Metapsychologies then falls as a kind of industrial byproduct of this aberrant “thought empiricism”.

But these are philosophers, which is to say, big game hunters; and low-bullshit anglos that scrutinize each other’s work rather than align with or try to found “schools” — have you heard the joke about the third-world philosophy who “uses Derrida” like I would use Windows 95? If we haven’t “used” any anglos in our project it’s because they spell bad news. Namely: each “thought experimenter” ends up coughing up a different “empirical metapsychology” — maybe hoping at a convergence at the metaphysical level, maybe just willy-nilly trying to publish papers. This doesn’t help us — it doesn’t help me — at all; the structural problem at the center of our project is the nature of theory,

Now: the standout quote from Lacan’s seminary we gave a few paragraphs back could be talking about progress in understanding metapsychology. Jacques’s promise would be then to show us catégories nouvelles — not qualia nor faculties, new shit — that introduce distinctions essentielles in metapsychology. The catégories uvelles would be a novel theory of theories of subjectivity — the unifying structure that makes all “empirical metapsychologies” coalesce.

But how? This is where the historical connection with psychoanalysis begins to  make sense. Fundamentally, psychoanalysis in the sense advanced by Freud and Lacan is a system where (1) there exist known unknowns, mental states not apparent in the observable functional organization of the mind — by any means: brain imaging will never locate the Imaginary order — and (2) more importantly, there exist unknown knows that add up to an unobservable functional organization of the mind. That is how a cacophony of “empirical metapsychologies” can be reconciled: the incoherence of ‘thought experiments” is heard at the analyst’s couch not as a wound (as Icarus after getting too close to the sun) but as a narrative (the dream of flight, the heroic, foolish attempt, the weight of the Law). In the mode most specific to Lacan, this is taken to its last consequences: we defocus significance and give first dignity to the signifier; therefore, we open a world of theoretical meaning that without refuting realism exceeds it.

One of Don DeLilo’s characters says in a novel — talent is more erotic when it’s wasted. If this latter thesis — that from Seminar I — is true, Lacan wants to teach us a theory about psychological theory (rather than merely explain the fallen human soul) is true, that should be the motto for the culture of theory; it should be stamped on our flags and coats of arms. In one level, it’s regrettable that Lacan would misspend the surplus value of his highly theoretical effort on psychology — which hasn’t yielded any fundamental results as a science. That the brand of psychology implied by his complex metapsychology has been bogus from the start is really unimportant in this case — les non-dupes errent.

But how much has the world lost by not having Jacques Lacan involved in fashion design? He did start by studying mirrors; step by step, Lacanian theory can be recast as a deep theory of fashion. Both the fashionable and the unfashionable understand that most of looking the part is “owning it”, becoming the quilting point that ties the signifying chain of your outfit together. But it’s not enough to make a “metafashion science” where Lacan explicitly tried to make a “metapsychology”; that would be a fine doctoral thesis, but wouldn’t sell more clothes.

Instead, we need to read Lacan as an epic Icarus narrative, and take inspiration and courage from him. And put our theoretical minds to work on theory, dammit.