Cross-posted from my discussion with Evan Lampe here.

What I have in the back of my mind in commenting on P K Dick’s short stories is Deleuze and Guattari’s book on Kafka as “revolutionary”, in the sense of providing a “minor” literature as arm in the struggle against the hegemonic majority and “promethean”, in the sense of detecting, enouncing, and trying to resist the “diabolical powers” of the future knocking at our door. They claim that the attempts at escaping the stasis of capitalism that one sees in Kafka’s short stories in the form of animal-becomings fail, and that it is only in the novels that we get at least the beginnings of a liberation of desire, hidden behind an oedipal mask that is foregrounded, hence the seeming pessimism, but that this is not Kafka’s last word. Dick’s themes are different but I think the short stories are often about failed escape attempts. The later novels, that sometimes give us examples of struggling to more freedom, are more successful attempts, because his analysis has deepened.

I agree that something is lost as Dick becomes more metaphysical and less sociological. However I think that metaphysics is itself political, as do Deleuze and Guattari, Bernard Stiegler, and Paul Feyerabend (all of whom are anarchist thinkers for me). So I don’t think that the Exegesis makes the early work’s more political themes opaque, I would rather say that the early works clarify the political nature of the Exegesis. Finding the Exegesis in the early stories is a way of broadening their scope rather than an attempt at sublimating them out of the social field.

Much of the Exegesis is ridiculous, and Dick is quite conscious of that fact and sending himself up. But there is a lot of conceptual creation and analysis going on too. An important aspect of the book is that there is no final level of interpretation proposed, and that he considers science fiction’s cognitive estrangement as having an application to the real world, on a level with philosophy and religion.

I see the god who runs, the cuckoo clock, the withered apple-tree, the globe from STABILITY, the Rexorian mindswapper, etc. as unsatisfying versions of the “pink light”, envisaged agents of liberation that fail to live up to expectations. Dick’s analysis of toxic relations and encounters continues and deepens (e.g. the encounter with Gloria in VALIS) and his analysis of self-delusion, including his own, is refined. The alienating nature of metaphorical explorations of reality taken literally as veridical descriptions of reality is precisely his theme.

On the question of “post-humanism”, I think that Dick is post-post-humanist, as the story “Human Is” suggests. Dick explores the theme of post-humanism, and it would be interesting to study his work from that angle, but ultimately it is a literalisation. Given that the concept of “human” is an ideological construct used to legitimate the social order, we are all post-human and have always been. Exploring such post-humanity technologically is an exciting prospect, but a one-dimensional post-human is still one-dimensional. Lyotard makes an interesting contrast between two senses of post-human (which he calls “inhuman”), predicting the full extrapolation of the processes of complexification at work in capitalism at the expense of the other inhuman designated with the term of the “unconscious” but uncontainable in any theory of the unconscious. Technological posthumanism seems to me to provide no line of resistance to capitalism, but only to reinforce its attempt to capture all of reality inside its quantitative grid.

SYNCHRONIC versus DIACHRONIC in the stories of Philip K Dick

My hypothesis is that PKD’s work is “metaphysical” from the beginning. One can see an evolution from the psychological and social motifs of the ealy short stories to the existential and ontological themes of THE EXEGESIS, but I would argue that even the first stories can be seen as gnostic tales. In particular Dick in the late novels makes a distinction between two sorts of time, two time axes: the fake, intercalated time of the Empire in which things only seem to change, and the real time that we only glimpse. This is what I have been trying to get at with my terminology taken from Bernard Stiegler of “synchronic” or stabilised, spatialised, programmed time (clock-time) and “diachronic” or disorderly, mutating, individuating time (becoming).

I see this distinction at work in the early stories, and this is what gives them their haunting quality: Dick is describing a life, a society, a world in stasis. There is an attempt to escape into freedom by introducing a destabilising element (the “god who runs”, the cuckoo clock, the withered apple tree, etc.). Something moves, there is an impression of greater sexual, emotional, or mental freedom. But the new order turns out to be even more oppressive and binding than the old. In the short stories it is often the women who suffer the most from the static de-personalised patriarchal order, who show the elemnt of freedom necessary to initiate change, and who fall back again into the synchronic trap.

In Deleuzian terms, the stories exhibit the struggle between the plane of organisation with its synchronic (spatialised, stabilised, controlled) time and the plane of consistance with its diachronic (durational, unstable, unpredictable) time. Dick’s early stories seem to explore oppressive mechanical or stabilised systems and potential ways out that ultimately turn out to be impasses, worse versions of the same. This is the “iron prison” of the post-”2-3-74″ works. THE GOLDEN MAN is a good example, as the world is trying to stop change by stamping out mutants. The “superior” mutant, the one that gets away, is the harbinger of an even worse stasis than before. STABILITY is the prototype for this failed escape, as Benton undoes “stabilization” by introducing an even more mechanical submission. I like Evan Lampe’s idea of the “disorderly clock” disrupting the patriarchal system of the “tyrannical clock”, but I think that, as with the deviant behaviour of the cuckoo, an even harsher system replaces it.

Review: Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door
Beyond the Door by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The cuckoo clock is the object of a struggle between two régimes: the mechanical and the machinic (in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring machines”). Larry embodies the mechanical régime: the clock is an object of consumption, the acquisition made in a favorable economic transaction. It has a job to do, and should respect its specifications, or be coerced into doing so. For Doris the clock is an experience tied to memory (“like my mother had”) and to desire. Larry’s expectations are prosaic, the clock should tell the time correctly, and Doris should be glad to have got what she wanted. Doris’s approach is animistic, she immediately has an emotional reaction, begins to fantasize, personifies the cuckoo, desires to associate Bob with the experience.

As the clock is an antique and Bob is interested in antiques (and in Doris) perhaps Larry was not being totally utilitarian in his choice of present, perhaps the clock was part of an erotic contest with Bob to win Doris’s desire. Bob seems to be younger (“that young punk”), to have lots of free time (he accompanies her to the stores while Larry is working) and to have an expensive hobby (“antiques”) and a time consuming one (“books”). Larry works hard, including doing overtime, and would like to be admired for his business acumen in acquiring the clock “wholesale”.

The playing out of the plot seems to be a repetition of a preceding triangle. Doris’s mother had such a clock “when Pete was still alive”. Larry sees his wife, Bob, and the clock as forming a triangle of desire: “They would be quite happy together, Bob and Doris and the cuckoo”. Larry too has begun to fantasize around the cuckoo.
Doris is not innocent in all this. She does not regret that Larry works to much, but is upset that he sometimes breaks routine by calling to see if everything is alright. She flirts with the cuckoo just as she flirts with Bob, and puts up no protest when Larry kicks her out, presumably just moving in with Bob. The cuckoo fulfils her wish of being rid of Larry, just as her mother (perhaps) got rid of Pete. So Doris has a cuckoo aspect too, in that the cuckoo female is alleged to change its mates frequently. When Bob, at the end, wonders if Larry’s death was not an accident but “something else”, we automatically think that the missing term is deliberate (i.e. murder), but another antonym to accident could well be “law”. In which case he should beware of what happens next. Doris may be following a law of her nature even more stifling and imperious than Larry’s mechanical routine, and more dangerous.

Doris feels her reactions are fair self-defence against Larry’s patriarchal monologue: “After all, she couldn’t keep listening to him forever without defending herself; you had to blow your own trumpet in the world”. The cuckoo too couldn’t listen to Larry’s threats forever, and “defended” itself.

The title phrase “beyond the door” is associated with the behaviour of the cuckoo, remaining inaccessible and aloof: “someplace inside the clock, beyond the door, silent and remote”. This inside space it withdraws to connotes domesticity, whereas Larry is subject to the law of the outside, of the workplace, which involves renunciation and compromising of desire: “But it isn’t fair. It’s your job to come out. We all have to do things we don’t like.” The cuckoo, like Doris, does not wish to bend to this law. Doris wishes to defend herself and to “blow her own trumpet in the world”.

Notes:

The text of the story is available here.

Very interesting review here.

SFFaudio Podcast review: http://www.sffaudio.com/?p=31543

Review: The Golden Man

The Golden Man
The Golden Man by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the title story: THE GOLDEN MAN. It contains spoilers.

This story is a precursive working of themes that will be treated in more detail in Frank Herbert’s DUNE. The mutant as potential dominator, but also the trap of precognition. Cris is presented as in the grip of his “inflexible path”, he knows where we guess, so he has no freedom at all. His vision of the world is synchronic and spatialised, where human intelligence is diachronic, i.e. comprising novelty and uncertainty. He is all protention, and no retention. He is perceived as a god, but that is an effect of his golden appearance, a tool of sexual manipulation.

He is called a “deeve”, a deviant, but in fact he cannot deviate from his precognized “inflexible” path. Without language, without interpretation, he cannot sublimate into culture or morality. His superiority is Darwinian, but he is driven by his instincts. Anita feels something like love and worries for him, he feels no such empathy, he just impregnates and uses her, and dumps her as soon as escape is possible. There is no semantic bridge, not because he has superior semantics, but because he has no language. There is no empathic bridge either. In view of his inflexible future we humans are the deviants, introducing complexity into what would otherwise be a simple life.

The story’s ending with his escape is foreshadowed in the complexity of human social organisation. They were able to catch Cris because of a perfect “clamp” that lest no holes allowing escape. Yet Anita does not answer to Wisdom, and his security clamp down is incomplete: “I have no control over her. If she wants, she can check out.” This is the loophole that Cris exploits.

Yet this victory is like that of a computer winning at chess by exploring mechanically all the consequences of possible moves. Cris’s “intelligence” is synchronic and algorithmic: he knows, where the aptly named Wisdom’s is diachronic and heuristic: he guesses. Of course it is informed guessing, but all it takes is sufficient computational power to see half an hour into the future to triumph over even experienced well-trained expert guessing. Baines is right to remark that such superior computation is not a sign of mental or spiritual superiority: “Superior survival doesn’t mean superior man.” Cris’s precognition is a “neat faculty”, but it is not a “development of mind”.

Notes:

The text of the story can be found here.

Interesting summary and review here.

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FROM CYBORG TO CENTAUR (updated)

I don’t think I would have read this if I hadn’t seen the HBO TV series, but I’m glad I did. The series is excellent and is an attractive way to enter the world that G.R.R. Martin has built. The world-building is excellent, and the world built is not just some disguised variant of Tolkien’s world. So I think the biggest effort the reader must make is in the first part of the book, as the world is slowly set up from within.

The success of the books, and now of the TV series, is a good example of what Ted Friedman talks about in his notion of the passage from cyborg to centaur as guiding image of recent changes in subjectivity. He thinks that there is a significant turn in the collective psyche from science-fiction to fantasy as ways of dealing with the imaginative and affective aspects of our relation to the world (cf here: http://tedfriedman.com/2014/01/21/the-politics-of-magic/). The return to a pre-enlightenment world like the progress on to a post-enlightenment world (the singularity, or Clarke’s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”).

Rationalism is not enough, to speak to our contemporary pluralist unconscious more is needed. Christian moralism is not enough either. GAME OF THRONES is not set in a world of monotheistic values, and the narrative voice and structure are not Christian, in the sense that literalised fundamentalist interpretations have given to this word. Polytheism of different sorts constitutes the religious context, and is an important part of the personalities and outlooks in the book. The characters in GAME OF THRONES are not demarcated out into good and evil, with room for only a tiny amount of ambiguity. They are combinations of light and shadow, though the proportions do vary.

The “game of thrones” itself is not one of establishing the rightful hereditary and noble king on the throne after vanquishing the Dark Lord, it is a game of ambitious and ruthless power strategies and of cynical Realpolitik, with no final legitimacy. So I would argue that as well as illustrating and reinforcing the shift in our culture from a science fiction metaphorics to a fantasy one, GAME OF THRONES is an example of the shift from a “Christian” monotheistic perception with its dualistic vision to a polytheistic perception with multiple points of view each, having a certain degree of validity, and where dark and light are not separate and opposing instances (there is no axis of Evil in the human realm), but are distributed throughout the opposing sides. (The overwhelmingly evil Others exist, but their background presence does not transform the human realm by contrast into the site of cristallisation of good).

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Review: Dune

Dune
Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DUNE: ATTENTION AND INDIVIDUATION

If one accepts Darko Suvin’s definition of science fiction as the literature of cognitive estrangement one gets to a vision that is somewhere between sf and fantasy. If the “estrangement” is not just at the level of specific devices and inventions but at the more englobing level of world-building then we can see bridges between the two genres, and hybrid cases. Further I think this estrangement goes even to the formal level of the “deconstruction” of the hero and the monomyth, as Bob Bogle shows with Dune and its sequels. Both Bob Bogle and Norman Spinrad show how DUNE is a critique of the “myth of the hero” that underlies much of SF and fantasy as being more of a formula for totalitarian domination than for liberation.

Underlying the DUNE cycle is a sort of freestyle Jungianism, that is quite conscious in Herbert’s case, who was friends with Jungian analysts at the time of writing DUNE, and who even tried his hand as a lay analyst. What I am calling “freestyle Jungianism” is an attitude that treats Jung’s works as providing metaphors of the psyche rather than believing in them as expressing literal truth and revering them as unchangeable dogma. This is the argument of James Hillman, a post-jungian analyst. He argues that Jung’s ideas are not literally true, and were never really meant to be, once he broke with Freud and went through his own descent into the unconscious resulting in THE RED BOOK. This would mean that individuation needs something like the monomyth and needs to break with it as well. Using Hillman I think that individuation breaks with the monomyth not just at the end, but all the way through in little ways too.

One aspect of consciousness that is treated with great care in Dune is attention, and the management of attention. If we take a symbolic view of the Butlerian Jihad we can see Herbert is a precursor in the critique of what nowadays is viewed as the destruction of attention that is being effectuated by the misuse of communication technologies. The Bene Gesserit, amongst others, is a school of attention, and it schools its members in the practice of deep attention.

This practice of attention provides the Bene Gesserit with a criterion to distinguish between mere men and women, governed by their pulsions, and human beings capable of sublimating these pulsions, binding their energy, and acceding to the life of desire. This is achieved by the discipline of attention, which is not a continuous presence, but which rather manifests itself in sparks of awareness and flashes of insight.

A good example is the testing of Paul with the gom jabbar to see if he is human. If the monomyth defines, as Bogle says what it is like to be an organic human being, the sporadic flash of awareness characterises what it is to be a noetic human being. As Bernard Stiegler emphasises, only a God is noetically conscious all the time (Stiegler gets that from Aristotle), an ordinary human is noetic only in flashes. These flashes constitute moments of attention and choice on the path of our individuation. We must distinguish here individuation from being an individual different from others, which is a rather banal “organic” phenomenon. I am thinking of the Jungian idea of individuation as a noetic process of differentiation and complexification, of becoming what one is, of cultivating the sparks of consciousness so as not to be programmed by our surroundings.

The problem is that we are constantly in danger of disindividuation: we sink into habit and let ourselves be guided by clichés and stereotypes, we accept and repeat other people’s opinions and perceptions, uttering standardised words and phrases and playing pre-defined roles. “Noetic” does not mean just conscious, but rather becoming conscious of a fork in the path, of alternatives, taking stock of the situation and inventing one’s own solution instead of just going along with the majority flow.

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Review: VALIS

VALIS
VALIS by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

VALIS: ESTRANGEMENT vs ALIENATION

I cannot review VALIS objectively, as it is a book that belongs to no pre-existing category, combining elements of autobiography, philosophy, science-fiction, gnostic theology, psychoanalysis,and existential self-construction. Like the recently published EXEGESIS it takes its origin in the need to understand and respond to the events of February and March 1974 (which Dick called 2-3-74). He was irradiated by a brilliant pink light emanating from a Christian fish-symbol (ichthys) necklace worn by a young woman. He had a series of visions over the next two months, and spent the rest of his life trying to understand them.

The novel splits Dick into two characters: the narrator, Philip K Dick, a moderately successful science-fiction writer; and Horselover Fat his crazy illuminated friend, to whom the visions arrived, and whose life became a quest to resolve their enigma. The principal framework of explanation is a science-fictional variant of gnostic cosmology in which this universe has been constructed by a false, evil and crazy, god, which explains all the irrationality and the suffering that it contains. The world is the Black Iron Prison, and we are its suffering prisoners. The true God is outside the universe and breaking through to heal it and us in various ways, including the pink light that Dick experienced.After many surreal experiences and visions the book ends with the narrator, Philip K. Dick, sitting before the TV, watching and waiting. He is clear that this is his way of continuing the search and keeping to his mission: keeping awake and open.

I think many of us experience moments of revelatory intensity and also of intense despair at the emprisonment of our daily lives and of our very selves. Jodorowsky speaks movingly about just such a feeling of the mind in prison. I first read VALIS in 1981, when it first came out. I was all alone in a student room in a god-forsaken empty outer suburb of Paris, unable to speak French, dreaming repeatedly of being shut up in a prison that was shrinking and squashing me out of existence. I empathised with the Gnostics and their idea of this life as a prison. I read VALIS and it spoke to me instantly and deeply.

My “pink light” came at a moment of extreme existential and intellectual isolation in my birthplace, in Sydney: I read Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS, and it changed my life. I left Sydney for Paris, attended Deleuze’s lectures for 6 years, and finally took on French nationality, moved to Nice, and settled down as an English teacher on the French Riviera. And I’m still trying to understand what happened to me.

Dick’s novel opens with the beginnings of his eventual crack-up and suicide attempt: “Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself.” This is no message from a divine light, but the beginning of a soul-destroying relationship with a toxic, thanatotic individual, whose name “Gloria” is an ironic mockery of her real state and aims.
The novel ends with an optimistic phonecall from Horselover Fat reporting on his quest to find the 5th Messiah: “one day I got a phonecall from Horselover Fat: a phonecall from Tokyo. He sounded healthy and excited and full of energy, and amused at my surprise to be hearing from him.”

The split between Dick and Fat continues, but it enriches his life instead of despairing it. Eros (and estrangement) has come to win out over thanatos (and alienation). After all the speculations and synchronicities, after all the encounters both toxic and salvific, there is no final explanation only a new sense of optimism and openness: “My search kept me at home; I sat before the TV set in my living room. I sat; I waited; I watched; I kept myself awake. As we had been told, originally, long ago, to do; I kept my commission.”

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Review: Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism

Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism
Bells and Whistles: More Speculative Realism by Graham Harman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Today, OOO is at a loss. None of its supporters accept its tenets in the original form that Graham Harman proposed and still defends.Its hackneyed set of critical terms (philosophy of access, shams and simulacra, lavalampy overmining, atomistic undermining) clearly have no point of application at all to the new lines of research opened up by contemporary Continental philosophers such as Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler, and François Laruelle. Nor do the OOOxians manifest any comprehension of these post-deconstructive thinkers. Thus their claim to “move beyond” deconstruction is an empty bluff. They do not even understand the arguments of deconstruction and of post-structuralism, and so are ill-equiped to engage the ideas of its successors.

Graham Harman’s new book BELLS AND WHISTLES: MORE SPECULATIVE REALISM is a compendium of OOO’s familiar but disappointing history of misunderstandings and failed encounters, and its publication is a fitting monument to a set of gesticulations that never quite cohered into a philosophy. Harman’s OOO is an abstract monism, reducing the multiplicity and abundance of the world to “emergent” unities that exclude other approaches to and understandings of the world – his objects are the “only real” objects. More importantly, his (philosophical) knowledge of objects is the only real knowledge. All that is ordinarily thought of as knowledge, both theoretical and practical, is “utter sham”: “Human knowledge deals with simulacra or phantoms, and so does human practical action” (BELLS AND WHISTLES, 12). Harman’s “realism” de-realises everything except his own abstract knowledge and his withdrawn objects.

Harman’s OOO is profoundly reductionist. Repeatedly, Harman goes to great pains to criticise a generic “reductionism”, but he seems to have no idea what reductionism is. He easily wins points against straw men, and then proceeds to advocate one of the most extreme forms of reductionism imaginable: the reduction of the abundance of the world to untouchable unknowable yet intelligible “objects”. He produces a a highly technical concept of object such that it replaces the familiar objects of the everyday world, and the less familiar objects of science, with something “deeper” and “inaccessible”, and then proceeds to equivocate with the familiar connotations and associations of “object” to give the impression that he is a concrete thinker, when the level of abstraction takes us to the heights of a new form of negative theology: the invisible, unknowable, ineffable object that withdraws. No example of a real object can be given. All that is given in experience, all that is contained in our common sense and scientific knowledge is “utter sham”, “simulacra”, “phantoms”.

Harman’s OOO is a school philosophy dealing in generalities and abstractions far from the concrete joys and struggles of real human beings (“The world is filled primarily not with electrons or human
praxis, but with ghostly objects withdrawing from all human and inhuman access”, THE THIRD TABLE, p12). Despite its promises, Harman’s OOO does not bring us closer to the richness and complexity of the real world but in fact replaces the multiplicitous and variegated world of science and common sense with a set of bloodless and lifeless abstractions (“ghostly objects”).

For Harman, we cannot know the real object. The object we know is unreal, a “simulacrum”. Harman’s objects do not withdraw, they transcend. They transcend our perception and our knowledge, they transcend all relations and interactions. As Harman reiterates, objects are deep, deeper than their appearance to the human mind, deeper than their relations to one another, deeper than any theoretical or practical encounter with them. This “depth” is a key part of Harman’s ontology, which is not flat at all, but centered on this vertical dimension of depth and transcendence.

Harman remains stuck in a crucial ambiguity over the status of his real objects, oscillating between the idea of an absolutely unknowable, uncapturable reality and the idea that it can be captured in some very abstract and indirect way. In virtue of the unknowability of his real objects he is obliged to place all types of knowledge, including the scientific one on the same plane (knowledge of “simulacra or phantoms”), as illusory, and at the same time presume that we can know something about these objects (e.g. that they exist, and that they withdraw).

In effect, science is demoted to the status of non-knowledge, as the real cannot be known. Harman is caught in a series of contradictions, as he wants to have his unknowable reality and yet to know it. Common sense cannot know reality, nor the humanities, nor even science. This leaves to philosophy the role of knowing ontologically the real, which accounts for the strange mixture of ontological and epistemological considerations that characterises Harman’s philosophical style. This
generates such contradictions as pretending to accomplish a return to the concrete and giving us in fact abstraction, and pretending to criticise reduction and in fact performing an even more radical reduction.

Harman’s epistemology is relativist, demoting science to an instance of the general relativism of forms of knowledge. However, by fiat, his own philosophical intellection and some artistic procedures are partially excluded from this relativisation. Yet no criterion of demarcation is offered. Harman dixit must suffice. Harman judges science in terms of the crude philosophical criteria of another age and finds it lacking in knowledge of reality. He is then obliged to posit a shadowy “withdrawn” realm of real objects to explain the discrepancies between his naive abstract model of knowledge as access and the reality of the sciences. BELLS AND WHISTLES), like the whole of his philosophy, is the record of Harman noticing the discrepancies, but refusing to revise the model. His solution is a dead-end, a timid, nostalgic action propounding an antiquated epistemology under the cover of a “new” ontology.

Graham Harman proclaims that his philosophy is realist, when it is one of the most thoroughgoingly idealist philosophies imaginable. Time is unreal, and so is every common sense object and every physical object. All are declared to be “simulacra”. “Space”, one may object, is real for Harman, but that is no space one would ever recognise: neither common sense space nor physical space (both “shams”), Harmanian space is an abstract “withdrawn” intelligible space.

Ontology is not primary for Harman. His real polemic is in the domain of epistemology against a straw man position that he calls the philosophy of human access. No important philosophy of at least the last 50 years has been a philosophy of access, so the illusion of OOO as a revolution in thought is an illusion generated by the misuse of the notion of “access”, inflating it into a grab-all concept under which anything and everything can be subsumed. But a philosophy of non-access is still epistemological, in Harman’s case it takes the form of a pessimistic negative epistemology that subtracts objects from meaningful human theoretical knowledge and practical intervention (cf. THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, where Egypt itself is declared to be an object, albeit, strangely enough, a “non-physical” one, and so unknowable and untouchable). The ontological neutralisation of our knowledge is allied to its practical (and thus political) neutralisation.

One is entitled to ask: how can a withdrawn object “de-withdraw”? Harman cannot explain any interaction at all, he can only just posit it. Harman systematically confuses access, contact, relation and interaction, making claims about one of these notions that can only apply to another. He gives us no reason to postulate an absolute bifurcation between interaction on the one hand and withdrawal on the other. Whitehead is more realistic when he tells us that: “continuity is a special condition arising from the society of creatures which constitute our immediate epoch” (PROCESS AND REALITY, 36). I think that the notion of intervals, or discontinuous relations, may well be a far more useful concept than the bifurcation operated by the notion of “withdrawal”, which is too absolute (there are no degrees of withdrawal) and splits the world in two (real/sensual). Harman’s
system is too absolute with its summary dualisms to be able to deal with the fine-grained distinctions that come up in our experience.

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ANAMNESIS AND ESTRANGEMENT (2): Jodorowsky’s DUNE

I recently saw Frank Pavich’s documentary on Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to film DUNE. The whole documentary is in the form of an anamnesis of a period of continual creativity, as Jodorowsky assembled the perfect team of “warriors”, as he calls them, to bring DUNE to the screen. Jodorowsky’s aim was to remain faithful to the creative energy invested in the novel, while changing the plot (especially the ending) to align it with his own vision. He explains that he wanted to produce a veritable mind-expanding film, and declares that he had the feeling that his own mind was in a prison. He wanted to change people’s perception, his own included. He preferred younger talents and people from artistic domains other than the cinema, privileging those who put imagination before technicity and financial gain. He calls his team “warriors”, but one could equally call them visionaries or dreamers. These were people who were not content simply to recount strange fictions but who lived estrangement.

One gets the feeling that just gathering the team was a visionary experience, and that the subsequent encounter with the potential financiers, where everything came apart, was itself a visionary confrontation with the forces of stupidity (Jodorowsky talks of “imbecility”) and of capitalist conformism. That is why one should not divide the film solely along the line of demarcation between a surrealist past and a cynical realist present that consumed the creative fluxes of the project while throwing out the “crazy” director. Jodorowsky makes a good case for the influence that his film project had, despite remaining a “mere” dream, on other films that were actually made: STAR WARS, ALIEN, paving the way for BLADE RUNNER and MATRIX.

There is much nostalgia here, and much self-vindication. But there is also a surge of estrangement breaking the bounds of the external form of a localisable project. Jodorowsky explains that he doesn’t believe in loss or failure. If something blocks realisation on a path, he just changes the path, without changing the dream. He just bifurcates elsewhere, breaking the form, but keeping the dream (the block of intensities) intact. Jodorowsky and Moebius used much of the visual (and metaphysical) work for the film in the French graphic novel series THE INCAL. One project was killed by Hollywood, but many projects rose up to take its place. This is a powerful moment in the documentary when Jodorowsky explains how he refused to change his dream, and exclaims “Don’t change the dream!”.

Read: Jodorowsky’s written account.

Watch: the trailer.

ANAMNESIS AND ESTRANGEMENT (1): Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison

Scott D. Danielson discusses Harlan Ellison’s reading of “Jeffty is Five”, here. I think he is right in saying that this is not a story of nostalgia. I would claim that it is rather about anamnesis, and I take Deleuze’s view that we are animated not so much by “blocks of the past” as by “blocks of intensity” mobilising affects that are only partially incarnated in our present actions and surroundings. I take this to be behind his description of Harlan Ellison’s voice in reading as “Intensely personal and passionate”. Anamnesis is not so much about rememoration (which would be nostalgic) but about estrangement. The new element in a science-fiction story (what Darko Suvin calls the “novum”) is not necessarily tied to the future, but can be linked to the other fork in a bifurcation (“transition”, as Danielson calls it) to the one that was actually taken. The “other fork” does not automatically disappear, but can continue to inform our present. This is what happens in an SF writer like Ellison, his “Jeffty” is not long gone and long forgotten , but is active in his stories. The imaginative connection to the intensities of the past is not the same thing as nostalgia, and is present- and future-oriented, not past-oriented.