Technological Limitations

Just as the great problem of our time – Global Warming – was found by the highly advanced and refined instruments of scientific inquiry but cannot be solved by a technological fix; the key to reestablishing an old, communal sensibility in myths of Earth, finite Debt, etc. is “unearthed” in the scientific research in anthropology, but not found in continuing this method. Science is the great helper in solving problems – in narrowing down the scope into its most stark clarity. Science finds the locations, it “unearths” the territories that we must occupy to solve our problems; it does not, however, tell us *why we should care or what our problems are. Science is an empty quest for an elusive knowledge becoming increasingly better equipped to intervene in social concerns.

A mythology, a storytelling that divines: these are decidedly non-scientific undertakings, though study of them can be enhanced by science. The distinction must be held fast and steady. Both complement each other when one does not intrude on the other. This is usually a mistake of the philosopher in claiming to have knowledge of the world from both outside of it and in. But scientists were once just natural philosophers anyways – until skeptics started messing around.

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On Levi Bryant’s ‘Axioms for a Dark Ontology’

Levi Bryant has drawn up a brief manifesto of a nihilist reflection on the world and life’s place in the one and only world as a mere accident. His materialism in the matters of human belief brings forth succinctly and strikingly a conception of the world as void that is reminiscent of Lucretius. World here functions as a pure void, an empty space on which the dance of matter takes place. This distinction of matter and world seems to recreate the full/empty binary which then is grafted on to existence as a whole, or, the universe. The manifesto is well worth a read and long contemplation, as well as a follow up from arranjames.
http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/axioms-for-a-dark-ontology/
http://attemptsatliving.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/levi-bryants-axioms-for-a-dark-ontology/

But must we abide by these terms and this conceptual framework? The world conceived as it is here is doomed from the start to void and nothingness, which is clearly the only conclusion that could follow from this conceptual treatment. When imagining the world as a single unified place (and this must be an exercise in the imagination, or perhaps an intellectual excursus within a conceptual model), it could not possibly be full and perfectly meaningful to the point of which a perfectly understood significance could give cultural actors access to it. The world is at once occupying the figure and the ground, holding both the indisputable ’thereness’ of existence as object and also the setting, place, or environment upon which all objects dwell. Lying within this word is the collapsed distinction which at first allows for a meaningful object to become a thing under consideration with its own properties, tendencies, structures, and relations to other objects. An object must always ’be’ amidst a backdrop, a backdrop which tries to attain distinctly objective status as a cognizant thing when the unification meant for an object is “outsourced” to its own ground.

This linguistic movement of a binary opposition (figure/ground) is accompanied by the enormous successes of scientific institutions which have brought along with them a discourse rife with philosophical undertones of disinterested objectivism. However, these matters are largely ignored by today’s scientists and left to the “lofty intellectuals” so they can do their work of infinite knowledge production in their secure, unchallenged ’world’. Their experiments, results, and the method so fruitful in producing useful technologies for their nations do indeed prove themselves over and over again to be of great worth. Though the dis-coveries of these material things in their patterned movement can lay claim to truth in the minimally predictive sense, when science moves to theory and, either consciously or unconsciously, harkens back to the beginnings of science in the certainty, finality, and universality it must (if sincerity and honesty is given to the words and concepts with which they construct those theories) admit to itself that it is engaging in philosophy. Recourse is always given to a history of actors, experimenters, and observers that carry science from one new mode to the next, and the unifying thread of science does indeed have a history that goes as far back as when ’physics’ was called ’natural philosophy’.

Bringing up the paradoxes and entanglements of science with regards to the nihilistic refusal of meaningful belief in the world is can be of some utility here since it problematizes both subjective commitment and disinterested (supposedly non-subjective) knowledge. If the separation of subject and object would be held apart so firmly, the subject would be forced to have as its object of conscious adherence (ideology if you want) the forced choice between a foundational social/ego or bare objects/things. I believe things are more complicated and intertwined along with Merleu-Ponty. The reflective and inward-folding that a solitary writer is privy to can be also recognized as an object in the “mind-space” so as to balance the linguistic relationship. A sentence that makes sense, written down or spoken between those within a common discourse must be the result of an actor in a performance – and on a stage. Ideas are inextricable in thinking about the world and any of its particular objects and we must place them some*where* – as we must do with objects, placing them in the world. However, when the object tries to become its own ground, to take over the whole stage as it were, we get an idea that attempts to both produce its own existence and declare for itself nothing at all.

This is an extremely important topic, since I have both flirted with nihilism and remain very open to the Spinozist-Lucretian-Nietzsche Delueze thread that treats nothingness as nothing (as a mere linguistic nothing and not a source of creation or attachment). This all set within the problem of global warming and the threat of ecological collapse which I want to hold out as avoidable. There is so much still yet to be done.

Having gone this far into the labyrinth of theory I should make something clear: these thoughts gave been germinating in my mind for quite some time now from various sources. But those consistent bloggers have made it seem like there was a community of participants willing to read what I wrote and I owe you all thanks for inspiring me to experiment with this mode of expression. It is very strange indeed having so many ideas floating around both the Internet and my face to face encounters and this reassures me that I am onto the right track with regard to the topics, even if the content is disputable. A great deal of my influence has come from reaching out into other spheres and keeping running debates with friends and fellow autodidacts, but blogs allow rough thought to just “get out there” and be seen. The books that I’m drawing from in this piece which I haven’t yet been able to make good enough essays about yet are Cornelius Castoriadis’s Crossroads in the Labyrinth (a staggering work of theoretical genius), Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests, and Deleuze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. I’ll get around to coming up with more substantial works on these books soon since they have been so educational and I want to share.

As a teaser: the social actor is inextricably bound up with yet opposed to Nature. Nature is less a world than it is a labyrinth. The place, region, or territory is neither neutral or empty. The place of nature (seeing as it is that the social must juxtapose with nature) is the forest.

Speculations on Obama’s Brain Initiative

Thank you so much for this post Matt. The neutral objectivity that scientists and materialists often lay claim to hides much of the social pretensions from with which they are operating. In this instance, the President of the United States is digging deep into the minds of his subjects and carrying a ideological bias toward economic efficiency in plain site.
Separating the religious from the scientific is not enough. Obama’s alleged “Pragmatism” does not account for Capitalist apologetics that turn the scientific pursuit of knowledge into normative political knowledge for an Imperial superpower. With a near-perfect understanding of the brain, the limits to keeping masses complacent would be extended farther than almost anyone could see. In the world of capitalism, research on consciousness via reductivist neuron tinkering has clear dangers for anyone who understands the power dimension of politics, but this is becoming less obvious to the lot of humanity.

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BRAINS… BRAAAAINS… [economic growth] BRAAAAAINS!!!

Footnotes2Plato

Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), introduces President Obama as the “scientist-in-chief.” Collins’ “BioLogos” theory is a brand of theistic evolution I have to admit I am not all that familiar with. But I do think he is a good choice to head the NIH since he believes in the compatibility of science and religion, as the majority of Americans seem to.

Obama, for his part, does not begin his speech by situating the latest public investment in brain research in the context of human spirituality. That, of course, is a private matter. Rather, he immediately places this government-funded research in its proper economic context (i.e., techno-capitalism). Investing in science is important, he tells us. Why? Because sometimes it leads to important inventions, some of which may eventually make their way…

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Ecosophy: Guattari’s Eco-logic

“…no one is exempt from playing the game of the ecology of the imaginary!”
-Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies

The ecological crisis which we are in the throws of has no predecessor – it is without precedent. Floods, earthquakes, lightning bolts, and other disasters are found strewn all throughout human history and mythology but this one is of a completely different type that fails to register in the way a storm shocks one into self-preservation. The climate is heating up at a constant rate, the biosphere’s cohesion is deteriorating. Perhaps a disaster is not quite the right way to put it. What we are coming to terms with, when we are not preoccupied by scrambling in a mad race for money, is a doomsday clock whose rhythm cannot be deciphered (for it depends on our continued actions) but can be stopped. There is much anxiety to go around, along with plenty of finger-pointing and utter disbelief from deniers, but one should not pretend to be absolved from mutual catastrophe by attacking beliefs and pinning blame. The special thing about this looming threat is that all are implicated whether or not one believes this or that, lives on this or that continent, or is this or that country; at stake is the fate of our home… which is also *us* if viewed in a certain way. It’s an existential problem in at least two ways: physical existence will be radically and irreparably altered and it fills us with a dread we don’t understand. Placing a discomfort under a category brings relief, but this one is just so foreign and – in a way – so primal. Attuning ourselves to this problem requires a radical shift in our thinking as well as projects and processes – the way we move matter and energy around with consistency. ‘Radical shift’ doesn’t even begin to mark what is required from us nor does ‘Revolution’.

Philosophers can indeed have something to offer in this problem and if you fancy yourself an anti-philosophical critical theorist so much the better. In spite of the flippant dismissal of those ivory tower, arm-chair, head-in-the-clouds thinkers that is oh-so common here in America, I believe that the right books can drastically change our lives materially by inspiring, provoking, and reorganizing concepts that we have and, more importantly, allowing us to see the concepts *we didn’t know that we had*. An idea that sparks one into action can seem like it was there all along. There is a synergy that produces something extra (+1) in what we call philosophical discussion where the whole is more than the sum of its parts and we are pushed to acknowledge beliefs we haven’t attended to, and in turn push past them or stick with them. This does not happen high up in a baroque tower or in an office space (not only) but in our living rooms, dining rooms, and barrooms; though unfortunately it happens mostly in leisure time. There is a straightening in people vertically, a sharpening of focus, an intensity in the face when these matters come up, and after that it becomes difficult to end the conversation well lest there is some concerned effort for all parties to understand each other and reason patiently. It is in these games of competing beliefs where strikes, parries, maneuvers, and tricks are performed with (mostly verbal) gestures that conceptual clarity becomes one’s greatest weapon in opening up others to the effective critique and reexamination of which the great many of us are so deprived. This does not exclude oneself from the act of critique or immunize oneself with a reserve of arguments to wear around like magic armor (*arg*-garments); quite the contrary, dialoguing with an open mind, that is, allowing one’s beliefs to become vulnerable to outsiders and up for contestation provides a space where positions become exchangeable. Internal critique of oneself, auto-critique, not only fashions one’s abilities along with one’s friends but provides a scene of collaboration where something new might come into being.

This creation is desperately needed but cannot be given. There is no easy answer and no savior to fix us up: no messiahs leading the way. It needs to be earned – we are always playing games with tactics and strategies, wins and losses, good and bad players, and with great and small consequences. With a problem as big as the climate we need an effort to match it including a reevaluation of concepts that circulate through our minds quite beyond the control of our supposed “free will”. Viewed from the proper scope to match this problem, the experiences and encounters on a daily basis are systematically integrated with the utmost calculable precision we ever could have imagined. The techno-scientific character of modern life (as in what we’re living now) shows itself not just in the spreadsheets, statistics, and info-graphs but in the flickering lights of advertisements and splendid colors made to attract the interest of the great multitude. These clever designs fueled by the “findings” of psychology and other social sciences are intended to generate revenue for sure, but more important than an immediate cause and effect relationship is the correlation between suggestion and purchase. Statistical population reasoning is the tool to find out what will attract targeted subjects and produce the desired response. Once something makes its way into the spectacle, the hard work is already done.

It’s a battleground out there – for your attention.

An approach to changing our unsustainable state of affairs within these conditions cannot forget that the culture we are dealing with here is the most saturated culture in recorded history and a fairly recent development. This cannot be ignored by an ecological mobilization; ecology is not “Nature” as opposed to culture (thank you Tim Morton), ecology is about relationships and how external conditions and processes influence things. To get to the ecological level of thinking means relearning how to see the world. I am prepared to go all the way with this – so far as to question the idea of world, an idea like nature and God that has been able to cover itself over as thought and ascend into something (even more problematic) called ‘reality’. But before I get ahead of myself it’s time to bring in a work of philosophy by Felix Guattari related to the task.

A strategy that bypasses politics as usual is required of us if the biosphere is to survive; a strategy that isn’t reducible to social-environmental reforms but goes down deeper and spreads far wider than any party or player could take us. The object of concern turns out to be not an object at all but relationships held together by systemic interactions forming a field whose limits only seem to expand or shrink.

This field is precisely what needs to be put into question: the borders, the shape, the constitution of our setting are due for a rethinking. This problem has been creeping up on us for too long now and it is time to fashion the tools required to relate to our environment, society, others, and ourselves in non-destructive ways. The Three Ecologies by Felix Guattari provides a good place to start on this daunting task (though it is probably already underway on some level) for a number of reasons but uniquely because it is a short and accessible work of around 25 pages. The areas of concern in the project of transforming relationships at a fundamental level (crucially without falling into social utopian planning) are plainly laid out in three easy pieces:

1) The Environment
2) Social Relations
3) Human Subjectivity

The three form no particular shape nor does one stand atop the others in structure, organizing them as a transcendent authority. The division is a practical one and these categories will prove useful in sorting things out in our imagination. The tripartite grouping maintains the inter-connectivity demanded by a planetary ecological crisis, keeping in mind the inseparability of one’s personal and social symbols of attachment and the material environment. The three are linked together in a way that a change in one can only call for a revolutionary change including the others.

“The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided it brings about an authentic political, social, cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both immaterial and material assets.” (p.20)

What Guattari and I are referencing by revolution cannot stop at forces pertaining to the states, nations, or federations for the forces of the earth could care less about the dynamics of political composition. A revolution fit for ecologically sustainable living must not get stuck fighting old targets and adapt like what it opposes: a globalized capitalist class (the 1%) which evades national laws in tax havens and spreads out to wherever it can exploit resources and labor cheaply, making our climate uninhabitable and most people impoverished. Zeroing in on any one of the three points (environment, society, subjectivity – self) to the exclusion of the others limits the potential for transforming our lives and restructuring material processes. The kind of change required to alter relations on a global scale must have a perspective relative to the challenge it faces.

Capitalism is no doubt incompatible with an ecologically responsible existence. The profit motive that quantifies value and captures desire has so successfully integrated with the great outpouring of technological innovations of the last century that the entire global infrastructure now depends on perpetual growth. The assumed good in-itself of “economic growth” has metastasized with the help of a very complex array of cold calculations, mostly done through computers. Growth is believed to be a constant variable by those at society’s helm regardless of the colossal extraction of resources and speedy transport needed to sustain it. This kind of growth is unsustainable on a finite planet and, not only that, it is ruining the lives of the animals inhabiting it presently. The biosphere itself may be damaged beyond repair (beyond repairing itself) by this not-nearly-questioned-enough project of regulated, steady capital growth. A post growth economy will have to be sensitive to the instruments that lock growth into a uniformed march of death: usury, interest-rates, debt-slavery.

Capitalism taps into desire to an even greater extent than desire could be manipulated in the rise of Nationalism, it encourages an expansion of creative outlets and produces subjectivities that may or may not be linked up with national identification. The boundaries always seemed to be pushed outward in the location and exposition of ever new “pop culture” genres and styles to be advertised to the population at large. But these new developments always face the prospect of integration into the social-cultural history in the same way that new technologies tap into resources and integrate them into a synchronized supply lines of economic exchange. The important point is that capitalism is now forced to grow into ever new territories that do not end with material objects or places but extend into the immaterial symbols of the imaginary. The rise of financial capitalism – where money creation by intermediary allocation, investment, and speculation – coincides with the infinite variety of imaginative subjectivities for sale, both have a fictitious element that produces wealth for some with immaterial processes. The demands of capitalist growth produces subjects and demands they be new and inspiring while at once conforming to economic and judicial standards of efficiency.

One must see how value/money and the individual/subject are processes in a much larger ecological game of which capitalism is thoroughly dominating.

“Integrated World Capitalism (IWC), tends to increasingly decenter its sites of power, moving away from structures producing goods and services towards structures producing signs, syntax, and – in particular, through the control which it exercises over the media, advertising, opinion polls, etc. – subjectivity.”

We ignore the subjective dimension at our peril. The individualism in euro-american culture that places the individual body of the person at the forefront of the freedom debate masks a more thoroughgoing control of subjects. There lies a comprehensive field of enticements and fantastic symbols with which one can identify with, and more and more are required to meet the demands of a hyper-s(t)imulated desire. The reactive gesture is to lament and dismiss the corruption of our dear traditional culture, and there is plenty of that to go around, but the opposite track which progressively applauds the diversification of cultural symbols (multi-culturalism) does the work of integration. Increasingly deviant subjectivities and the scenes that support them are acceptable so long as the whole to which they sprang from is not disturbed too much. Both reactive and progressive dimensions push and pull in such fierce polar opposition as to keep the social space for conceiving subjectivities edgy and expansive yet coherent and tame.

As a psychoanalyst, Guattari is sensitive to the subjectification of patients in the discourse of psychiatry. Here science meets subjectivity in a way that treats the subject as an object of study in an institutionalized practice legitimated by the authoritative stamp of the scientific method. The meaning of the subject-object relationship, a distinct understanding of each one without conflation, has never been easy to reach consensus on in any mode of discourse. More of a conceptual problem for philosophers, the distinction is often drawn for the sake of navigating the quandaries of human language, perception, and the external world. The rise of social science has allowed the conceptual difficulties of objectifying peoples to be passed over in light of the immense data and statistical regularity that it has produced. Again, here it is the standard of production and wealth of results that grants the discourse its institutional status. The respectable field of knowledge goes unchallenged when it produces – whether the products be careers, tuition revenue, or a normalized body of knowledge. In short, subjects are treated as objects of various kinds that have already crystallize, preventing a fluid development of newer subjectivities under the guise of scientific authority. But the authority that is invoked by making a science out of the social, and out of the subject, takes ready-made subjectivities for objects unquestioningly.

“I myself have come to regard the apprehension of a psychical fact as inseparable from the assemblage of enunciation that engenders it, both as a fact and as expressive process. There is a kind of relationship of uncertainty between the apprehension of the object and the apprehension of the subject; so that, to articulate them both, one is compelled to make a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts… I am suggesting that this pseudo-narrative detour deploys repetitions that function, through an infinite variety of rhythms and refrains, as the very supports of existence… It is only through these repetitions that incorporeal Universes of reference, whose singular events punctuate the progress of individual and collective historicity, can be generated and regenerated.”

Combining the subjective dimension with the objective dimension has the strange effect of becoming extra-discursive – from within a discourse, a detour through narrative and into “the very supports of existence”. Guattari writes here of a transcendent authorization claiming to reach into discourse from outside but only first passing through “myth”, “ritual”, and “narrative” which then produce repetitions within discourse. The repetitions come by way of myth and discourse (people talking in a common symbolic frame of reference) whether they admit this narrative component or cover over it; these phantasmic repetitions perform the creation of subjects via cultural events, gatherings, or just things to talk about with one another. This process of repetition within discourse of an extra-discursive organizer from without is what the incorporeal Universe feeds off of, creating a ’world’ of symbols from which a subject can become a part of. The subject is integrated always within this world which at least passes through myth and forms the background of fantasies to which it can repeat: “I am… I am…”.

Guattari is seeking a logic and analysis that will allow for the awakening of new subjectivities by remaining open to singularities that transform material processes attached to the three ecologies. This logic would not be over-concerned with the objects under study, either ignoring the subjective compliment or reducing it to a prefixed, coherent object and dismissing its malleability – the objective scientific attitude. He writes:

“While the logic of discursive sets endeavours to completely delimit its objects, the logic of intensities, or eco-logic, is concerned only with the movement and intensity of evolutive processes. Process, which I oppose here to system or to structure, strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition, and deterritorialization.”

The eco-logic of intensities is sensitive to ruptures in the three ecological spheres (mental, social, environmental) that show signs of

“expressive subsets that have broken their totalizing frame and have begun to work on their own account… Ecological praxes strive to scout out the potential vectors of subjectification and singularization at each partial existential locus.” (p.30).

The eco-logic or ecology deals with the singularities and intensities reorganizing a raw matter that cannot be treated as objects (raising the problem of excluded subjectivities and where to draw the boundaries of the objects). Singularities are the processes by which matter becomes reconfigured, how stuff is morphed into a completely new and unforeseen orientation. The singularity itself evades representation being a kind of environmental organizer that cannot be found occupying a determinate position, though it is localizable. The singularity does show itself in the way matter and energy flows and interlocks various functions together; emerging narrative worlds are formed in Guattari’s pragmatic categories outlined in three ecologies, complimenting the swirling natural “stuff”. Examples of emergent subjectivities would be found in ’the Proletariat’, ’Brazilian’, or ’Punk’, all formed by singular developments in matter/energy but producing common incorporeal signs of attachment which in turn shape the organization of matter/energy in the potency of those signs.

Eco-logic takes matter as unformed, embracing the changes that matter is constantly undergoing however subtly while giving its expression a chance to *form itself*. Guattari is trying to elaborate a different logic than the one that traditionally passes for a rigorous, objective scientific discourse where objects interact dynamically and fit models of study (natural laws, equations, algorithms, a thorough quantification, etc.), but do not promote the emergent formation of new environmental relationships, social objects, and subjectivities, only reacting to them in detached inquiry. Respecting the singularity would entail allowing for an autonomous self-expression without an immediate interpretation from without. Recent developments that seem to come from “nowhere”, since an explanation was not ready-made to account for them, are most definitely the outcome of these material processes of singularity; but for the singularity to come to fruition in the incorporeal, expressive domains, a discipline carrying along with it an ordered world and a history of its own must not be taken at face-value with regard to this sudden event. Such are the forces that could potentially ’explain away’ a budding singularity, barring the expression required for the formation of an assemblage.

“At the heart of all ecological praxes there is an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency – here are to be found the roots of anxiety, guilt and more generally, psychopathological repetitions.” (P. 30)

Tying this back up with the capitalist organization of matter/energy, Guattari repeatedly emphasizes how global capitalism has spread itself out not just by supply lines, markets, and debt but by monopolizing our imagination – the modes of expression from which one can articulate oneself within discourse.

“Social ecology will have to work towards rebuilding human relations at every level of the socius. It should never lose sight of the fact that capitalist power has become delocalized and deterritorilized, both in extension, by extending its influence over the whole social, economic and cultural life of the planet, and in ’intension’, by infiltrating the most unconscious subjective strata.” (p.33)

Speaking of a globalized capitalism invading every real or imagined territory can make its logic feel like a basic fact of life or an inescapable totality one can only adjust to, rather than a unique logic at work and working very well at self-perpetuation. The point that Guattari is trying to get at and doing his darnedest to make us understand is a different logic (eco-logic) welcoming to a break with dominant systems and cultivating the means to creative expression within a another not-yet-system in the process of generation. These uncultivated potentials are organized by capitalism’s specific organizational power into “tried-and-true” productions found all across the cultural landscape at a personal and social level. Mass-media at the finger-tips of every household via television and, lately, pocket via mobile internet devices grants access to an expanding field of consumer-subjects that fit nicely into the capitalist paradigm. The prevalence of capitalist logic is here represented as one force among many other forces but one that extended itself through contingent historical developments and geostrategic victories.

Alternatives pushing hard against the capitalist logic from within yet unable to stop the advancing onslaught should not be interpreted as the contradictions of that logic converting it into the next stage of the process of history. This Hegelian-Marxist interpretation treats the process history as a science, and a linear one at that. Guattari is giving us an alternative notion of process as a line of flight shooting away from a logic or territory that has not yet become articulate or expressed adequately enough to challenge that which it came from and is trying to oppose. Such an articulation or expression would first need a period of germination – to cultivate a novel form of expression a certain unfolding from within and without interference is necessary to establish the possibility of autonomy. Capitalist logic is well practiced at recycling fringe movements and lines of flight back into itself through the process of accommodation. To counter this process, the content of the flows seeking escape must be allowed to form themselves with aesthetic significance in the social, subjective and environmental domains if a material arrangement is to achieve a clean break in its processual rhythm and flow. “I repeat: the essential thing here is the break-bifurcation, which it is impossible to represent as such, but which nevertheless exudes a phantasm attic of origins…” (p.37).

Capitalist logic is one of perpetual growth accommodating everything that distances itself from it. Guattari is trying to elaborate an eco-logic that operates by detecting intensities as they escalate and allow them to continue escalating in material content by imposing no formal interpretation on the apparently spontaneous surge. Such a intense outgrowth is capable of self-expression, and the three ecological categories Guattari makes use of are not timeless formal constraints but different lenses from which to view shifts and resonances within a complex cultural field.
Scientific practices share with religious dogma an air of authority and certainty (though they differ in many other regards of course!) that satisfies the need to respond to recent unsettling anomalies. However,

“This new ecosophical logic – and I want to emphasize this point – resembles the manner in which an artist may be led to alter his work after the intrusion of some accidental detail, an event-incident that suddenly makes his initial project bifurcate, making it drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be.” (p.35).

This is the logic that will inspire a mobilization that will put up a direct challenge to a capitalist logic laying waste to the biosphere. This can be stated because it makes no predictions and gives no guarantees but leaves the practitioner open to transformations on multiple fronts.

“ – a nascent subjectivity
– a constantly mutating socius
– an environment in the process of being reinvented” (p.45)

This eco-logic’s openness to singularities and withholding of preconceptions puts one in the position of uncomfortable bafflement, lest finding oneself immersed in the process of singularization and so profoundly morphing relations with the social, subjective and environment. Far from being indecipherable, the rift, crack, break, bifurcation, or singularity is given expression in active involvement as the actor changes along with it.

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Critical Fantasy and Final Philosophy

In the opening scene of Final Fantasy VII, a black sky fills the screen as the camera pans across numerous individual stars and their constellations. Each star moves in conjunction with the other to give an impression that the space-scape is three dimensional and the point of view enmeshed with the tiny luminous objects in vision. The movement of the camera drifts aimlessly around and throughout the vast dark space of pixelated light sources slowly yet curiously. Some stars move quickly as if closer to the observer, some move very little giving the impression they are farther away, and the screen sways in empty space allowing these stars to express their relative distance. The whole scene is indeed wondrous and enchanting – one feels absorbed in this vast world, yet more actively attending to it. One’s gaze is in constant motion but at an uneven pace; without a clear direction any point of light in this cosmos can be attended to, yet none catch the camera’s interest in particular. So we are left wandering through the mere specs of light in the otherwise emptiness of outer space.

Suddenly a flower girl’s polygonal face appears and the music kicks in (go find it: ‘FF VII Opening Bombing Mission’, I can think of no better intro music to an epic story). She walks out from a dark alley carrying flowers into a busy city street where cars rush pass blowing smoke out their tail-pipes amongst neon signs, ominous buildings, and other characteristics of a modern industrial slum. The camera retreats for a full look at the gigantic city surrounding a massive energy reactor towering above. You will learn soon that the city is Midgar, the dominant one on a fictional planet that harnesses the life energy of the planet to power it’s industry. Midgar’s influential mega-corporation Shinra utilizes this power from the “lifestream” to produce “mako” energy which then fuels its war machine; an obvious allusion to fossil fuel burning and the extraction of oil from the dead organisms of earth’s past. The planet is called Gaia(!) and it is in peril. Though clearly a fantasy world (it’s in the game’s title) the setting parallels the “reality” of our world offering a simplified version of the single most important process that drives the global economy into (very disproportionate) human prosperity at the cost of the planet: turning oil into energy. The basic premise of Final Fantasy VII is that while this lifestream is the source of all living beings, it is getting excessively tapped by industrial machinery angering the planet and stealing the source of its sustenance. This control of enormous amounts of energy allows a particular nihilistic villain named Sephiroth to attempt to bring about total annihilation on the planet, eradicating the impure humans who he dissociates himself from. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the panorama of Midgar, a train is zoomed in on then stops at a station. Out jumps resistance fighters from the rag-tag insurrectionary group AVALANCHE who engage Midgar soldiers as they make their way to destroy an energy reactor – and one of them is you. You will kill many of these soldiers in this story (along with monsters, demons, hostile animals and the RPG like) being yourself once a member of this army now turned into an ecological guerrilla warrior. This is the beginning of your adventure: thrown into a sabotage mission as a mercenary you will reveal the dirty secrets of Shinra, travel the world with a rouge group of the best fighters from diverse corners of the world, and attempt to avert a grand apocalypse triggered by those who have consolidated enormous quantities of this magical energy without the best interests of the planet and it’s inhabiting organisms in mind.

This is a video game. A *game* which you *play* as an actor in the story making tactical battle decisions as you guide the lead character and his party through a bevy of threats, eventually saving this *fantasy world* from total destruction. This video-game, however, was made by the people at Squaresoft in mid-1990’s Japan and is trying to tell its players something. It’s not exactly imploring an audience to any action in the real world via a moral code, it’s forcing players into action inside a fictional scenario. In order to get to he end of this narrative, one must play it as a decision maker utilizing the various options in battle and exploring the world as it becomes more available. The story and the game mechanics have been crafted well before anyone gets to play the finished product; the made-up world is crafted before one picks up the controller. Progress in this story hinges on one’s participation inter-actively though and making good choices is crucial to finishing it. The strategizing becomes more complex and difficult as the game progresses along with the plot details, and though in an alternate and deliberately false world these games give players a sense of beings a vital part of a grand story. The peculiarities of these fantasy worlds provide a cover to persuade gamers into a certain style of thinking which must be uncovered in the translation from fantasy to real decisions: the player becomes the medium between worlds which gets to select the ideas which resonate with her/him.

One of the many things I love about Final Fantasy VII, (along with perhaps many of the millions of fans who profess to its grandeur as “the greatest game ever” – aside from the enchanting soundtrack of Nobuo Uematsu), is the first scene in which the player is dropped immediately on an attack against a corrupt corporation controlling the largest city on the planet effectively operating as a parasite on that planet. It begins like all epic poetry: it places you right in the middle of the struggle. The justification for the actions are filled in along the way of the mission (and they are strong), but the battle is on and you had better act fast – the world is counting on you. The game goes from an abstract cosmological wandering gaze to the smokey squalor of the slums to action! fighting! attack! Of course such an aggressive concept of action is dangerously simple and will need to be challenged itself. Between the cosmic perspective of the first shot and the forced raid that begins the action lies a vast chasm – as well there should be. This is after all a blog post of words and ideas (to get all reflective on you), and so far we’ve only gotten to a single fantasy world where one’s health and experience is measurable in numbers, battles are fought by taking turns selecting magic spells and ‘limit break’ special moves, and preparation is done by management of your character’s statistics.

The gulf of worlds that is maintained in fantasy literature and gaming allows for a message to be sent between them by way of metaphors, exaggerated and stylized characters, and clearly explicable scenarios. Keeping the setting in an ‘other’ place, the constructed story does not order or command a decision from the reader/player outside of the game but gives advice in the form of an example to be deciphered and translated. The freedom to strategize inside of this made-up world serves as practice though for implementing whatever ideas are of interest in the real world – but perhaps it should be called the non-fictional world. The fictional worlds offered up in stories found in texts, films, serialized t.v. shows, comic-books, and video-games resemble myths that require active interpretation of theme and meaning. Fantasy video games, especially those with epic stories, are a unique blend of strategy, storytelling, morality play. They send messages without dictation from a world that is not ours but nonetheless can inspire action in non-virtual worlds through hints and metaphors – once the audience has allowed the message to get through by engaging with it.

Fantasy worlds are not real. Anyone can see this – even those heavily attracted to them. Fantasies extract elements from daily life and place them into an ‘elsewhere’ adding magic and other strange entities that have had a constant allure to people throughout history. Simply saying “but it’s not real” is not enough of an indictment to stop people from involving themselves with them: fantasy basks in the illusion and takes it as far as the imagination will allow. This is a blessing not a curse when trying to illustrate a problem or evoke a sentiment – the preaching is executed by example not by dictation.

**

I’d like to shift gears and outline a certain way of thinking, a style, or tradition if you will that does not seek a bridge over the chasm of theory to action, illusion to reality, falsehood to truth, surface to core, nor the reverse direction but does not throw away the conceptual distinctions either. A theorizing that does not prescribe or dictate actions on the one hand, while on the other hand positively cautioning against theories that do rally and persuade its audience (and the leader/follower dynamic is required for those theories) that to act in a certain way is necessary or inevitable. As if the writer/creator had somehow discovered a formula for fate, the irresistible attractor, the end goal that will be arrived at eventually that now only requires the attention of good or rational subjects for an assured consent. This would be something like scientific certainty derived from the enormous success of the scientific method which, to be sure, has produced a great many truths. But while this method has given those who learn and experiment using it remarkable conceptual insight into material processes – from repeated of patterns human relationships to the interaction of elements at the core of stars – this success is thanks to the model’s, equation’s, and concept’s ability to predict future phenomena in controlled experiments. There is a particular philosophical disposition attached to scientific naturalism that is not exclusive to it which is under scrutiny here, not the practice of science itself.

While debates between naturalism and religion might circulate upon someone questioning science as the greatest bearer of truth and order in the world, I want to claim that the theoretical pretenses of some scientific programs of research are but one tradition that typify a tendency of theories to *explain* and so *rule over* or *settle* all phenomena in a domain commonly called *the* world in the singular. This means that scientific truths can fall in line with mystical and dogmatic truths upon forgetting its utilization of controlled environments and prediction. It is only by delimiting an experimental space separate from the world, abstracted from it as it where, that such a position with the entire world in view becomes possible. Modern European science always had the security of God as the ever present being holding together the world its laws and fundamental forces explained. Quantum physics has shattered that picture, and we still have not recovered.

Physical naturalists and religious mystics have a common impulse that we would do well to examine. The quarrels over who best represents the reality of the cosmos are like so many evil kings vying to become emperor – there is a problem common to them all. There is a reactionary tendency to dismiss scientific experiments that get the same results every successive time they are performed because science as a whole is “just a theory”. But if every-thing has a fictional partner and theory cannot be broken free from as soon as these questions are asked, then a different criteria for what counts as a valuable theory besides total causal certainty must be sought. A particular philosophical interpretation of recent work in physics and cosmology backs up the skeptical pluralism I advocate, and I merely claim that scientific truths (and any truths for that matter) contain or require a fictional/mythical supplement that need not be opposed to those truths but haunt them always.

Yeah, *merely* claim…

There will be time for these issues to come up later, but by way of this introduction I would like to describe a basic style of thinking, a *way* or Tao, made most explicit in the dense volumes of philosophy from Hume to Nietzsche to Deleuze (though also found elsewhere) which is an indispensable driver of the scientific method (if there exists such a method). Though often difficult to grasp and intentionally bewildering, the books critical theorists and/or philosophers leave for us can illustrate an extremely important operation that is at once a movement within formal theories and the material bodies they describe. A movement that does not overload either side of a binary opposition or take positions ’for’ where what it is ’against’ is seen as integral to the field or situation that such a position takes part in. Unsatisfied with option ’P’ or ’~P’, a restlessness shifts the perspective demanding an ’elsewhere’ or oscillating between them to stay vigilant for when that ’elsewhere’ appears.

This movement is actually as ”natural” as the physical laws claiming to represent Nature (in the sense that everything is supposed to be a part of nature) at a fundamental level though I humbly acknowledge that it is inexpressible without non-material signs and symbols. Nature in this theory escapes formulation by laws and using this critical theory entails inhabiting a place of constant tension in the nature-culture or natural-artificial divide; where motion is prolonged even when stuck in the middle of a conceptual distinction so as not to be captivated by any one. This movement won’t settle long enough to be articulated in the singular – a *being* – it remains elusive when positions, explanations, and conclusions are delimited. Emphasizing the intricate internal elements of a wholistic being or the larger environment outside a being instead of capturing the essence of said being shifts the focus to an ever wider or ever smaller perspective. This implies that ’nature’ as a word for what our laws, equations, and stories are “about” is inadequate. Deploying ’nature’ and the ’laws of nature’ takes the bait that it is *the* world we are doing research on, rather than that research being tightly woven in with it ecologically. This is the side-effect of accepting an equality between a thing and world: the cohesion we express denoting a ’thing’ becoming ’world’ results in a fantasizing of worlds.

Whatever laws or consistencies found in the structure of physical objects, the closer and closer their parts are observed as well as the more and more their surrounding environment is accounted for the more differences and dynamic relationships replace definitive beings and enclosed worlds. Quantum physics brushes up against these conceptual difficulties: the role of the observer in these isolated experiments must be examined itself in perceiving the object, or, the relationship between thing and its environment becomes the non-thing thing under examination. Far from a relativist or subjective force contrasted with objective analysis, this movement of relation is inscribed within and along with the concept of being itself: being as object, subject, essence, existence, God, or whatever. Nothingness accompanies beings wherever they go and however they manifest. The void both within and between beings forces us to focus on relations that are always in motion, change, and flux; relations can be systematized and observed but cannot be totalized. The critical movement characteristic of much philosophy and fantasy always demands an escape from such a totality – escapism contains an elemental force just waiting to be tapped into.

This has tremendous consequences for the way we *think* about scientific findings and the pretenses held by many hard scientists, yet does not stifle research or hinder experimentation in the scientific community. In fact, this movement is performed by scientists themselves throughout history as they challenge status quo, traditional dogmas, creating new models and formulas better at predicting an increasingly vast observable field. What is under attack is the dream, and I don’t hesitate to call it such, that the universe can be explained in complete form by a single theory or a single being. Both reflect a monistic concept that tries to subsume or overtake their other, their opposite, and so inhabit the place of the center in relation to the rest outside of it. A bid for power is at play here, one that goes deep into the structure of certain beliefs and rejects the charges of skepticism and pluralism. I shall endeavor to uproot these power plays in hopes that a different way of thinking about these concepts and practices can have a meaningful impact beyond fantasy.

It’s when a strict naturalism, reductionism, and/or representationalism come into the picture that the critical movement is lost. This does not banish these buzz words from general usage; it is when a theory and its posited thing, substance, and force become absolute wholes – central to *all* beings in *the* world – that the pressure against the fantastic mounts. This means a tension should be stimulated by mentioning ’reality’, ’nature’, and ’world’ – instead of an easing calm. These words should inspire curiosity and wonder, pushing one further and further on a quest for wisdom which may never end. These big words are all too often invoked to crush deviancy and bring people back to safe, familiar places that do not challenge common practices, no matter how questionable or destructive they may be. The universe is not static, if it still makes sense to speak of it as if from *outside of it*, it moves and self-organizes while the laws and theories we come up with do not. As good as we have gotten at predicting phenomona, isolating behaviors, and observing patterns, a persistent movement resists. The shortest way to describe this movement would be the movement of the question, so long as this question is joyfully baffling and without an answer in the time at which it is posed.

**

Why start with Final Fantasy VII before moving on to critical philosophy and science? What could fantasy possibly have to tell us about such theoretical musings? Fantasy in contrast to naturalism, reductionism, and representationalism internalized its own nothingness – it does not reject the empty gap separating it from “reality” but assumes it and in so doing becomes wonderfully creative. Its worlds are deliberately false but affirmative and very educational for the attentive reader, viewer, or player that interprets the message, adding a layer of enticing mystery that most realisms wish to cover up with *the* truth.

Of course it’s not true. Those fascinated by fantasy and mythology understand this much and to pass them off as mere flights of fancy misses something not just about the richness of language and the imagination but material world as well. Of course there is the risk of addiction, as with many habits, signaling a greater issue of excess not exclusive to interests in fantasy. I see the prospect of addiction as getting stuck inside one world common to many undertakings which would hinder a critical movement. We must remember that alternate worlds are meaningful and provocative in relation to each other, in connecting them via an inter-mobility. Seeking out new lands and territories with vigorous energy and a passionate motivation would eventually find its expression in literature given the right opportunity. The restless movement that seeks to both discover and escape covering can be gleaned from fantasy.

Okay, but why FF VII in particular?

While the battles are intense and the thrill of acting out an attack on an energy sucking power plant are a joy, neither the Shinra Corporation nor the city of Midgar are the ultimate enemy in this story. The strongest warrior on the planet is Sephiroth and he becomes so disillusioned and angered over the grotesque experiments with mako energy (extracted and condensed from the lifestream) and Jenova cells (gathered from a meteor of ages ago) that he turns on the planet and the humans altogether. Both he and the main character Cloud are a result of these experiments but Sephiroth falsely interprets himself to be the son of Jenova and sets out to bring the meteor crashing down to Gaia destroying the planet. At that moment the clash of Gaia’s lifestream and the meteor would be absorbed by Sephiroth so that he may become as powerful as a god, leaving behind the impure planet and its corrupted people to achieve a new existence. With his exceptional power as the greatest warrior, Sephiroth seeks only more power, this time transcending the category human and the planet from which they came.

In this story the enemy that must be fought to save the planet is a very powerful force in the form of a single villain that upon learning that he is a puppet for an evil empire and the product of a mad scientist’s experiments comes to reject the entire people and planet he was brought up with and devote himself to becoming one with a greater being – Jenova. Jenova is not of Gaia, she came from outer-space and knows only destruction – the “calamity from the skies”. This is but one way of coping with the prospect of a dying planet and being apart of (a major part in Sephiroth’s case) the process: reject the relationship with the planet and seek out a greater power, one transcending the environment and reaching a god’s existence – a god’s eye point of view.

Sephiroth does not care much for the cries of the planet. Seeking higher existence, one that leaves behind the others to their destruction and goes above and beyond them is one possible response to nihilism. Nihilism is more common today that we would like to acknowledge. How we deal with nihilism is perhaps the most crucial aspect in keeping us moving forward. When traditional values no longer can sustain hope for the future, there is a tendency to withdraw, let the world burn, a seek comfort in a more pure life form. We are caught in a trap of nihilism preventing a healing in the relation between us and the planet: Nietzsche’s last man, the final fantasy. An adequate response to the nihil is to allow it to accompany us wherever we go rather than cast it away for a perfect world. All worlds, the many worlds of pluralism, have a tinge of nothing. Worlds are a kind of fantasy.

The protagonist Cloud must wrestle with false memories, a delusion that he created for himself by assuming the life of his friend Zack. He then finds that he was created from a lab experiment of the same corrupt Shinra Corporation as Sephiroth, but his origin is much worse. Cloud is a failed copy of Sephiroth! Meant to duplicate his powers and become another super-soldier, Cloud chooses instead to fight Shinra and, more importantly, the one he was intended by his creator to become: Sephiroth. Cloud’s response to the nothingness of his illusory past is to forge a life amongst his new friends assembled together from the farthest reaches of Gaia and save it from destruction. Instead of reacting to the fakeness from which he came, the illusion of his origin story, he affirms the quest in the company of friends to avert a catastrophic future for Gaia. He is essentially life-affirming in accepting the nihil of his story before the game begins. Everything he thought was true about himself turned out to be a lie… but he makes a new life with friends gathered together by a common urgent problem.

The motive for extracting of the message from this fantasy story should be obvious.

The strategy I am employing involves finding what is critical in these fantasies – critical in the multiple meanings of the word – so as to inspire and provoke the reader in a way that finding the true meaning (with universal laws or codes) of the world could never do. By moving between worlds instead of ordering just this one world in perfect harmony, one can accept nihilism and pass through its stifling difficulties in a joy ever mindful of the an-nihilation that attaches itself not just to us but every being – Being itself. Fantasy fiction is capable of broaching this negativity and passing on something for us to learn from it outside of its worlds. In the transition from one world to the next, the interpretation is sharpened when the actor moving between worlds must select what is pertinent from one to the other. Making such connections and moving in and out of worlds can make one all the more critical of attempts at unification and totalitarian logic. In fantasy we can find the means to escape the logic of certitude, of completion, of tyranny – provided we stay in motion and use our ‘limit breaks’ wisely.

**

The attempt here is to get situated in an intense place between two nothings. The project is a further enhancement of Simon Critchley’s double meontology from ‘The Faith of the Faithless’. It is the difficult task of steering between poles that are both hazardous: the nothing of possible futures where one can place one’s hopes in and the nothing of a historical narrative at once political, subjective, and fantastic. When maneuvered well, with style and craft, this can lead to a creative outburst that avoids both excessive passivity and activity. I believe that it is in this weird space between two nothings that not only new expression becomes forged but expressibility becomes possible.

These are the kinds of issues I will try to examine in Critical Fantasies.
Until later, enjoy this FFVII inspired hip-hop from Mega Ran:
AVALANCHE
On That Day Five Years Ago
Cry of the Planet