Platform for art and theory/fiction

Humanity’s Time-Punk Challenge

In the The Illusion of the End Jean Baudrillard wrote that in comparison to previous generations, we’ve found ourselves in a privileged position: “Just imagine the extraordinary good luck of the generation which would have the end of the world to itself. It is every bit as marvellous as being present at the beginning. But we came too late for the beginning. Only the end seemed to be within our means.”[1] So what is “the cool philosopher” really saying here? The fascination with ruins is again prevalent in the 21st century and contains within itself a progressive and regressive dimension—or maybe it entails both of them at once. It is like a fairy, both prehuman and posthuman at the same time, and like a spiral it subsumes within itself the deep past and the distant future.

Why exactly, then, are ruins so fascinating, and what is it with the increased interest in collapse that we are witnessing in the West? Is lifting weights and wanting to be penetrated from every angle also a sign of resignation, a black-pill answer to the Fermi paradox, which states that humanity has simply given up on the universe (and itself, as is the case with climate emergency)? And do we see here a strange mixture of narcissism and paranoia that is simply a by-product of the discorrelated image(s) between ourselves—our model(s) of the world—and what the world wants from us? As Benjamin Bratton writes: “Speculative thought is mobilised to this task of preventing one future so that another might, with luck, come to pass instead: achieved because prevented.”[2] As in the predictive processing theory of the brain, enough error can melt our societal neural nets and induce mania globally and not (only) locally.

More than anything else, ruins are a cypher about the deep past and the distant future or time itself. Reza Negarestani wrote in a (now inexistent) Facebook post that one can see in a fossil a computer or a Paleozoic form of life. What exactly does the engineer-philosopher want to tell us here and how does this characterisation differ from the regular understanding of the reality (and inescapability—as Samo Burja tells us: “There has never been an immortal society.”)[3] of deep time and humanity’s place within it? This is the end, right, but something tells me that it’s a different one than the ones we see on TV. Maybe the collapse guys are wrong again and we need a better philosophy of the end? As Alenka Zupančič puts it: “The end is anything but simple in its structure. It contains an internal dialectic and temporality—even when inevitable.”[4] To which Vincent Garton adds: “We’ve heard enough of ‘Dark Deleuze’, ‘Dark Derrida’, and the like: the question at the heart of the present conjuncture may instead be more intractable: how can we defeat Dark Fukuyama? Should we?”[5]

As is always the case, there’s an inhuman vector that runs through these superworldly calamities and just like in the master-slave dialectics, this a fight for the end. It turns out that our renewed understanding of ourselves—“a critical transformation of mind as an object of its own concept”[6]—and of the proper metaphysical grounding of the problem is the prerequisite for our desire to escape the harsh reality of deep (Darwinian) time and, following Thomas Moynihan, “entropy’s dark laughter”.[7] It could be that the visitation zones that the aliens left behind in Roadside Picnic are, in fact, us, by virtue of a re-cognized and re-structured perspective on the human and the new understanding of what we as a lifeform are and can be. Or in Negarestani’s words: “We are led to believe that zones are traces left by something other than us, a different intelligence, a different race, a visitor from the outside world. But what if the zones and their alien effects are exactly left by us? What if they are made by exactly this intelligence who has now by virtue of a dissociative identity disorder or a form of mass amnesia lost its connection with its own identity traces?”[8]

Already in Undercover Softness Negarestani prophetically writes that “all that is interiorized decays”[9] and anticipates the new wave of the most futile—vitalistic and cyclical—responses towards the reality of decay, as well as the absolute necessity that the world as we know it will end. How can we then contrast decay to the new obsession with collapse that can actually navigate the path from one interiority to the other and thereby find a way out from the confinements of life (and death)? There’s a real opportunity in reforming McKenzie Wark’s criticism of the “bodiless boys of the void”[10] for our purposes, as the neurodivergent people in the community have already realised. But countering this immanent possibility has, as has been suggested, taken many different forms and produced some of the worst germs of human thought. The fear of death therefore is actually a panic reaction to the relationship between the present and the future state of the (in)human. It’s primarily the inability to imagine an alternative version of ourselves that is driving people to take the black pill and embrace one of the versions of reactionary humanism. If there’s no conspiracy in eating bugs, then where is it? The many different aspects of reactionary thought can be pinned down to their inability to change and imagine a new grounding for the (in)human that isn’t fixed, but is artificial and open to new configurations. When the human is understood as a hypothesis, there can be no fear of death.

To understand what the revenge of reason upon the reality of manifest image or the current state of the human could look like, we have to turn to the mage of neorationalism, Peter Wolfendale, who brilliantly reformulated Negarestani’s conception of the inhuman vector in Rationalist Inhumanism: “The ‘invariances’ that cannot be revised in the process of self-determination are precisely the preconditions of possibility of revision and self-determination themselves.”[11] It’s safe to say that at this point the contrast between collapse and decay comes into play again. Contrary to the common understanding of the wor(l)d, there’s something liberating in putrefaction of one interiority after another, since it’s the current worldmaking that is lacking the to demiurgoun from the past or, shall we say, the true eternity of time, which is nothing else but intelligence itself playing with the source code of the universe. With its own conception of what it is and what it can become. If mathematics gives us a direct relationship with God or the fully interconnected (hyper)graph with “no beginning or end be it spatial or temporal”,[12] then maybe philosophy is the enabling factor for the continual realisation of the ability to trespass on the universe without ever losing sight of infinity. Without ever forgetting that death is the enabler for “the truth of negation, and the truth of negation is transformative”.[13]

As has already been pointed out in Negarestani’s example, a fossil is actually a cypher and contains in itself two different perspectives on our understanding of ourselves or the concept of the inhuman. It does not only depict the reality of the ancient past, or the inability of short-time horizons to look deep time in the eye, but also of the future. Consequently, it is through fossils (as well as ruins) that we can accesses a kind of external view of ourselves that would otherwise be inaccessible and missing. A fossil is actually a challenge to the cunning strategy of our intelligence to go beyond the supposedly causal mechanism of nature. To see in it not only our past self, but also the current self being fossilised from the position of the future self. Different thinkers and philosophers constructed their own scenarios about how to confront the coldness of the universe and what is the mechanism for infinite delay of death, and maybe this is the part of the equation we’ve been missing so far: that the God of time is humanity itself and that Chronos is the infamous being that we have to find in ourselves in order to transcend ourselves and embrace the fact that nothing lives in time, since to live is to be time itself![14] As Vincent Le writes in the review of Intelligence and Spirit: “That is to say, death marks the advent of intelligence’s rational disinterestedness in life and all particular material substrata supporting the existence of the mind. Since no material substrata is given for all time, intelligence is liberated from being bound to any one totality in nature.”[15]

Where there’s a process of building AGI or increasingly intelligent life that nonetheless follows the relation between the intelligent and the intelligible, various catastrophic or posthuman scenarios fail to induce horror in us. What someone calls horrorism we describe as stupidity. “We are the human,” says the GPT-3, and after a couple of reiterations of this chant or prayer the complete artificiality of this statement and ourselves as AGI’s comes into play.[16] Being human has never been anything else than a scary and therefore artificial affair, and with the advent of new technologies and new modes of inhabiting the planet, the technological unconscious of our reality is finally on full display. More than anything else, it’s the realisation that humanity has no substantial basis, no grounding upon which to base itself. For ruins to actually mean something, they have to be about us—and here the catch is, of course, in the diagonal line or a line of flight through which humanity advances from one interiority to the other: from natural to formal languages, from a game-theoretic account of games to interaction games, from utility maximisation to choice function and the distribution of potential rather than just goods. If this destruction of one firmament after another is not freedom, then I don’t know what it is, and the ruins are applauding us for this realisation.

*

So what end should Baudrillard embrace instead and what kind of fossil is Iskra Delta? And is it possible to construct new meaning and value frameworks from being stuck at the end? Some kind of inhuman vector that is possible only because there’s nothing left to be done? In her theoreticisation of the end, Zupančič states that “assuming that the end of the world is imminent, within this gap between the present and the imminent future, there is a possibility of creating a world which, precisely because of this non-possibility, is able to create something that would be virtually impossible in a ‘normal’ state.”[17]

Federico Campagna made a lot of headlines for his framing of the end and the inevitable collapse of the current ways of worldmaking. He believes we have found ourselves in the position of “being the past of a post-future”[18] where the future is, similarly as in the theories of left accelerationists, radically open and underdetermined. But it doesn’t take much to see the radically idealist undertone of such cosmological critique that in many ways mirrors the ontological turn in anthropology. The radicality of the shift we are describing here is, of course, missing from Campagna’s intentional (and humanist) framework—to highlight the terminology of Scott Bakker and his call for post-intentional philosophy—and is therefore nothing more than a potent but ultimately hollow observation that only skims the radicality of the change before us (and the need for one). But is there an alternative configuration of the end that would follow the new understanding of the inhuman and at the same time be radically materialist and post-intentional in its demeanor and approach to the point in civilisational history we’ve stumbled or crashed upon?

Moreover, it would be futile to think about the end of modernity as a mostly contingent and primarily intentional and not post-intentional process, as Bakker repeatedly emphasised and as is clear to anyone who takes the so-called posthuman age seriously. Even if we are witnessing a new kind of interest in cosmological thinking, an interest highly connected to exiting the linear time of modernity, we should not succumb to the pressure of new metaphysical (or cosmological) frameworks that are nevertheless relics from the past. Primarily because they try to do postulational science within the manifest image, as Peli Grietzer lucidly suggested: “I think I realized something yesterday: in sellarsian terms, heidegger’s project was to do //postulational science// internal to the manifest image.”[19] We are fortunately bound to face the challenge of finding an alternative configuration that would go beyond a simple deconstruction of meaning or a total neglect of the regularities of the matrix of the universe and the mechanisms of bootstrapping ourselves from one image (or civilisational stage) to the other.

What would, then, be a proper understanding of the end? What kind of worlding of the world would be more suited for it? For the reality of decay as transformation always-already there? Davor Löffler’s radically materialist cosmological framework works as a much needed correction to the emphasis on exiting modernity that other attempts undertook in the last decade or so. In line with William Gibson’s famous statement that “the future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed”,[20] we can—through cognitive archeology (or cognigrams)—extract actual historical regularities or patterns of the matrix of the universe. Or in Löffler’s words: “If this is true, that there is a matrix of possible worlds, then it means that we can find the structure of why these worlds are emerging and then we can ask, for example, what comes after the human, you see? And now we don’t have to speculate on the posthuman anymore, now we can scientifically ground it. By logic and science we can derive what could come after the human.”[21] That is, the continuous process where events and regularities are isolated that we find through human history as “expansion, recursion and integration of civilisational capacities”[22] that ground the matrix of possible actions.

It is, therefore, necessary to understand the force that makes possible the transformation from one reality or layer of integration—i.e. metaphysical, cognitive, political, economic etc.—to another as a material fact and necessity that can save us from the path-dependency or the diminishing returns of capitalism. The new (xeno?) futurism will be radically materialist (or computationally irreducible) rather than (simply or primarily) intentional and consequently part of a scientific rather than manifest image. This is not a matter of coincidence, but of actual historical patterns, or rather of the deep futurology that Löffler has so brilliantly deciphered.[23] The ontological turn in anthropology is, then, nothing other than an incentive to produce a new kind of cosmology—to shift from the global to the planetary—but, as we now know, cosmologies are not much more than “orders of problem-solution distances” and “frameworks for revealing Platonic Processual Forms”[24] and have a fully materialist basis. When approaching the end, we should therefore never forget the advent of the posthuman age before us and the ability to reconfigure ourselves not in the vein of what we know, but of what we don’t. That’s the humanity’s time-punk challenge for all history that still needs to be taken into account and embraced not as some kind of transcendence, but as humanity’s real opportunity. Can Iskra Delta retroactively strike the spark and thereby make us realise this opportunity?

  • 1

    Jean BAUDRILLARD, The illusion of the end, Polity Press, 1994, pp. 115–116.

  • 2

    Benjamin H. BRATTON, The Terraforming, Strelka Press, 2019, p. 62.

  • 3

  • 4

    Alenka ZUPANČIČ, Konec, Društvo za teoretsko psihoanalizo, 2019, p. 25 [translated by Tisa Troha].

  • 5

    Vincent GARTON, “Sino-No-Futurism”, Cyclonograph II, https://vincentgarton.com/2020/04/10/sino-no-futurism/.

  • 6

    Reza NEGARESTANI, Intelligence and Spirit, Urbanomic/Sequence Press, 2018, p. 2.

  • 7

    Thomas MOYNIHAN, Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History, Urbanomic, 2019, p. 276.

  • 8

    Reza NEGARESTANI, “The Human Re-cognized, the Lifeform Re-made”, in: Zones (Parasol 5), Centre for Experimental Ontology, 2021, p. 45.

  • 9

    Reza NEGARESTANI, “Undercover Softness. An Introduction to the Architecture and Politics of Decay”, in: Collapse, Volume VI, Urbanomic, 2012, p. 389.

  • 10

  • 11

    Peter WOLFENDALE, “Rationalist Inhumanism”, in: The Posthuman Glossary, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, p. 3.

  • 12

    Kenshō [vanishingmaze], Twitter, 01/07/2020, https://twitter.com/vanishingmaze/status/1278361321659084800.

  • 13

    Ray BRASSIER [in brightabyss], Twitter, 05/09/2018, https://twitter.com/brightabyss/status/1037213833302093824.

  • 14

    Reza NEGARESTANI, Keith TILFORD and Robin MACKAY, Chronosis, Urbanomic, 2021.

  • 15

    Vincent LE, “Spirit in the Crypt: Negarestani vs Land”, in: Cosmos and Philosophy, 15 (1), pp. 535–563.

  • 16

    A poem at the Silicon Friend Camp produced by GPT-3: “We must ask ourselves, who are the humans? I am the human, you are the human, we are the human, because I am the human, you are the human, we are the human, because you are the human, I am the human because we are the human, you are the human, because I am the human.”

  • 17

    “Alenka Zupančič: Konec”, Izšlo je, RTV SLO, 05/03/2020, https://4d.rtvslo.si/arhiv/izslo-je/174675940.

  • 18

    Federico CAMPAGNA, “The End of the World(s)”, Youtube, 06/2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxORkFUNpE8&t=686s.

  • 19

  • 20

    William GIBSON, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”, in: The Economist, 04/12/2003.

  • 21

    Davor LÖFFLER, “The Meaning of Life. A Journey to the Origins of Worlds”, YouTube, 06/2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s16ScBXRl1s.

  • 22

    Ibid.

  • 23

    Davor LÖFFLER, “Distributing Potentiality: Post-capitalist Economies and the Generative Time Regime”, in: Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender and Culture, 15 (1–2), 2018, pp. 8–44.

  • 24

    Davor LÖFFLER, “The Meaning of Life. A Journey to the Origins of Worlds”, YouTube, 06/2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s16ScBXRl1s.

Maks Valenčič

Maks Valenčič is an independent researcher and writer. He tweets at @MaksValencic.