Grimmer than thou

(page courtesy of the Gringo.)

The dark underside of internet radio: the frostbitten necrotic vision that is Gary Brolsma.

All hail the disjunctive consequences of user-generated recommendations...

Salvagepunk (Apocalyptic notes, 1)

They are residues of a dream world. The realization of dream elements, in the course of waking up, is the paradigm of dialectical thinking. Thus, dialectical thinking is the organ of historical awakening. Every epoch, in fact, not only dreams the one to follow but, in dreaming, precipitates its awakening. It bears its end within itself and unfolds it - as Hegel noticed - by cunning.
-Benjamin, "Exposé of 1935", Das Passagen-Werk

They are not dream residues of a world, the nostalgic fantasies and fashionings of what once was. They are residues of a dream world, forming a historical border to the next era, but not as blueprints or utopian plans. Rather, as the unwelcome remainder, for what matters is neither manifest nor latent dream content. It's always the dream work, the underground currents that actually expose the loops and fuses of repression and its exceptions.

The cunning of an era, then, is the dreaming of its own grave. Not its gravediggers. The dream image, that standstill halting of utopia and the dialectical image: what is it if not the graveyard? For in rejecting the immediate past and the hard work of the living to bring around a new world order, one is left instead with the far dead. The ambiguous image, the un-worked-through dream image, is that of the rustling skeletons. A necromantic toolbox, where we can refashion the dead into what we insist they could have been, and in doing so, clear a place for ourselves in the dead and never quite gone.

In short...

Well, kind of like that. Steampunk is the false dream image. That falseness, however, doesn't lie in its being anterior (as the vision of a resolutely past era) or in it being too dreamy, too fantastic. Its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out.

A lineage:

If we are witnessing the self-dismantling of the neoliberal order, we are witnessing also the eclipsing of cyberpunk, at least as we've recognized it so far. Cyberpunk was the dream image of neo-liberalism par excellence, albeit one that encoded within it enough short-circuits to wake itself again and again. The fantasies of a post-state corporate global order, yet with the canny awareness of the gap between the stated free-market ideology and the need for state support systems as guarantors of both corporate extension into recolonized spaces and the threat of naked force against militant labor movements. The visions of deindustrialization, of immaterial labor, of new hybrid multitudes, of nomadic subjects. Above all, of deregulation: the beast unchained climbs its waiting high-tech pedestal.

And then the fall... In cyberpunk, neoliberalism did not see its inheritor, the dream of another world to come. It saw its own distorted mirror image of what it promised to be, its super-ego in all its taunting, sadistic glory. And in hastening to meet that image, it forgot the cunning of its unfolding and end. (For at the "end of history" in which we supposedly live, the old tricks of history are dead and gone, right?) The end of neoliberalism happening as I write is properly cyberpunk: not brought about by anyone in particular, no heroes or victors, no actors with discernible will or capacity for willful action. Just the system let loose upon itself, bubble after bubble hiding all those toiling bodies and unused factories. The general intellect swallows its own tail, its endless set of rational actors making rational profit decisions hollowing out the core of profit itself.

Now, the reigning order promises new direction, yet one that digs into its bag of bones to join together new Keynesianism with a "weaning off" foreign oil. Throw back economics, getting back to basics, investing in material things but in a way that reverses the trajectory toward the gasoline-soaked apocalypse.

Hence steampunk, for what is steam punk if not a romanticized do-over, a setting of the clock back, a time of craftsmanship and real (fetishized) objects, remaking the world, not in the mode of the ceaseless slow sprawl of cheap oil but in the Victorian self-aware world making spirit?

The promise beneath this? Keep the technology, keep consumption, but make it "thougtful", make it conscious, make it responsible. Gild your laptop, hammer some bronze, and think of the slow dance of the new wind-turbines on the horizon.

All in all, a participation in that great pasttime of the pseudo-Left, remembering the time that never was, back when life was simpler. Steampunk has this cake and eats it, too: the difference engine itself clacks and hammers out a dirigible and gear vision of intricacy without ease, of machines that never get out of hand, of taking the auto-pilot back into our own hands.

This is not the dream image of our times. (Neither is the retrofuturist strand of dieselpunk, a related phenomenon.) Quite simply, because it is the manifest content of our dreams. It lacks the ambiguity that really halts and concretizes history, freezing to show the impossible past and the non-future (for it just shows the present bared) locked together. It has all the dialectical ambiguity of a Hummel figurine in a Robby the Robot outfit.

That is more like it. What I propose in the place of steampunk, that weak handmaiden of Obama capitalism, is what I call salvagepunk: the post-apocalyptic vision of a kaputt world, strewn with both the dream residues and the real junk of the world that was, and shot through with the hard work of salvaging, repurposing, détourning, scrapping. Striving against and away from the ruins on which, like Machiavelli's toothed buildings that give a point of departure and support for the next construction yet which also demand of it a certain contact with the past, they cannot help but be built and through which they cycle. The definitive examples I have here: Marker's La Jetée (and Gilliam's 12 Monkeys as well), the Strugatskij's Roadside Picnic, Neil Marshall's Doomsday, Waterworld (as utterly terrible as it is), Godspeed You Black Emperor! and other derivations of anarcho-punk, Yamaguchi Hiroki's Hellevator: The Bottled Fools (Gusher No Binds Me), Jeunet's City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, certain portions of Wall-E. This scattered history of cultural visions of a scattered world after the fact.

And, of course:

The Mad Max trilogy. I prefer to speak of these films as a subgenre of gasolinepunk (or the apocalyptic strain of dieselpunk, but I prefer "gasoline punk" as a differentiating mechanism from the Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow sort of dieselpunk).

The Mad Max films, as the constitutive example of this genre, also give shape to its dominant political tendency. For what they envision, in the wake of nuclear war and the total collapse of the world system, is not the possibility of the reorganization of life but only its slow and inevitable teleological tendency toward a recreation of contemporary capitalism. In Mad Max, we see, still on the outskirts of the destroyed cities, the anarchic dissolution, the Hobbesian state of nature, homo homini lupus. In The Road Warrior, the collision between two orders: community formation and attempts to become permanent dwellers versus the nomadic hordes that stick to the previous mode In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the emergence of a market, new "city" formation, non-warlord managed life (in the autocratic force of Tina Turner), but all this still as an outpost amongst the wild, the wild in which one finds that the primitive tribes are those who still remain fidelitous the visions of the past (in short, of the advanced state of late capitalism). The standstill of post-history, crudely drawing on cave walls the pre-historic vision of the glories of the global economy.

And all this shot through with the absurd self-consumptive core: one needs gasoline in order to drive around and kill others to steal their gasoline, but in doing so, one consumes the gasoline that one had, and so one needs gasoline in order to...

How do we repeat differently, then? Hellevator: The Bottled Fools points a direction, toward a literally underground possibility.

In Hellevator (a rather remarkable J-horror that combines, at least for its first powerful forty minutes, the always-moving-standing-still of late Beckett with a filthier, obscene version of Gilliam's Brazil), we occupy a subterranean city traversed by elevators, seen above in the monolithic slab of the underground society. It is haunted through by the unspoken disaster that has forced dwellers below, under the fist of a totalitarian transit authority and their attendent Panopticon, a mole-life of grime and rules, of sararimen and salvage-men. The ascendent proletariat move vertically past the floors of their lumpenproletariat black market associates.

All has the feel of salvage work, of an end to the digital age, returning to dials and gears and steam and pistons, none of the sleek sterilization of most sci-fi. As such, we are given to think that this is the space of those who have taken refuge. When the protagonist is banned for psychotic murders and sent up to the surface, one waits for a nuclear wasteland populated with the likely mutated outcasts. Instead, in the film's final frame, we see her emerge to stand before the Eiffel Tour, illuminated in the night sky.

Schizoid hallucination aside, the final turn undoes the extra-narrative framework and shows us that this way of life is a choice, the choice of those who see their subterranean life as priviledge, the seclusion from the cunning and contingency of the world above.

Perhaps, then, the salvagepunk world should be seen primarily as the dreamwork of choice and construction. Against the reactionary trendlines of Mad Max's doomed-to-repeat trajectory, it is a world of stealing from the ruins, robbing the graves, and rearranging the leftovers.

Of moving from, and seeing within, the impossible utopic visions of Herron's Walking City...

... to the clunking hull of Howl's Moving Castle. Not constructed to remake the world one mobile city at a time, but a principle of montage, of bits and pieces, rags and bones. Not the dwelling places and movements of a fluid multitude but something like our resistant will and the resistant materiality of all to be scrapped and repurposed from this world.

Out of the Waterworld attraction at the Universal Studios themepark, we will take the objects designed to be the spectacular approximation of the end of the world's beginning, and we will sharpen fake oil drums into the real tools of dismantling and world-making, the gravedigger's spade and the necromancer's grammar of rust and bolts and thought.

The pain of such

Slowly emerging from week of grading four-hundred pages worth of essays. Combine this with the respite of allowing myself to be swallowed in back episodes of The Office, and it is unsurprising that the following passage from Adorno's Negative Dialectics struck me:

This law is however not one of thinking, but real. Whoever submits to dialectical discipline, must unquestionably pay with the bitter sacrifice of the qualitative polyvalence of experience. The impoverishment of experience through dialectics, which infuriates mainstream opinion, proves itself however to be entirely appropriate to the abstract monotony of the administered world. What is painful about it is the pain of such, raised to a concept.

In short:

The hard, negating work of dialectics shows no synthetic and emergent new, but the toneless constancy of the bureaucratic world of the spectacle.

Or in other words:

Dialectical thought may clear away the veils of ideology, but what remains below is the mute fact of your office mate's self-recorded a capella "Rockin' Robin" ring tone.

Proletkult bus

My addition to these iterations. This is how we roll, so to speak.

And for those sublimationals in the crowd...

Infinite digress

Had to share this. Apparently, my Internet browser got a hold of some hauntology.

The page that never arrives from its sender... the request that will never complete (yet which knows itself as such).

Silicon Valley really needs to stop hiring disgruntled post-structuralists.

Invisible rag-men

These are the first two pages from Google image search (click on images for better resolution) when you search "lumpenproletariat." Among the top results? A story about how the boyfriend of a spoiled rich bitch from The Hills got in a fight with some "lumpenproletariat." I hope those rag-and-bone-men gave him an informal economy beatdown. Also: Fanon, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, a cartoon about "lumpy proletariat," Michael Moore, some black jacket, a mixtape. I am quite pleased, however, with the fact that Bubbles from Trailerpark Boys (the bespectacled man with the kitty on the head) is included.

In addition to being brilliantly, painfully funny, Trailerpark Boys is actually a remarkable document of an imagined Canadian lumpenproletariat, represented in the show by the salvage work of refurbishing shopping carts, growing weed (and trying to ship it to the U.S. via a model train through the forest), setting up "rub 'n tiz'zug" parlors (for "massages"), stealing office furniture, and etc. In addition, it grasps the non-accumulation of these activities: each season begins with them in jail and ends with them back in jail. Between these endpoints comes the inevitable promise to not go back to jail this year. Our pleasure, then, is in the lack of apparent consequence. No escalation of sentences. And the fact that Ricky quite enjoys jail ("they feed you, they got great dope, we play street hockey... don't be dissin' jail, Julien").

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that we (and Google, in the seemingly absurd collection of pages called up by the search) only can image the lumpenproletariat as exceptions, as a wrong vision of that which is itself heterogeneous, inconstant, defined by its absence of consistency. The great films of lumpen-vision (

Fritz Lang's M, in which we get the totality of that underground organization and their lines of flight,

Eisenstein's Strike!, which gives us barrel dwelling, totemic figures, the heart of Pasolini's body of work, a significant portion of The Wire, Takovskij's The Stalker, much of Herzog,

the Tim Burton Batman films, etc, etc, etc) all appear as liminal cases, of singular figures that are either too exemplary to be generalized, or too faceless, just a blur of grime and rags and crime.

As such, the giving-shape-to of the lumpenproletariat is anamorphotic work, a necessary looking askance to see that categorical misfire: a commonality of exceptions that is the under-truth of how capitalism forms the space between universality and its excluded constitutients. Those who stand outside, who cannot be recuperated, represent a sort of logical threat, as they are the uncanny mirror of capital: black markets, prostitution, kleptocracy, entrepreneurship in the remobilizing of the unwanted waste of the system, accumulation by "dispossession," naked force, swindles.

For behind all riches stand an army of rags, mimicking, impersonating, haunting: singular faces that are the any-face, and the endless, grinding toil of uncategorizable work.

In praise of lyrical literalism (It's not much fun to sing alone)

There is certainly something to be said for the anti-allegorical impulse. Particularly when it takes the form of literalist doom metal lyrics that are actually about things such as...

Singing in the grave, the first track of Minotauri's eponymous album (which has great literalist moments later, in which we learn why they "are playing / loud heavy metal"). Layers of meaning be damned. This is about the pacing, sludge grind loop, slow-motion guitar chug, single-note organ lines, and... the lyrics, slurred out in a Finnish carnival barker impression (if said barker was high on codeine cough syrup).

I'm lying here in my grave
I'm singing a lonely song
It's not much fun to sing alone
I'd better call my friends to join

I'm singing in the grave
A song from the underground


Being lost in a necropolis, as in "Necropolis," the rockin' track from Manilla Road's 1983 Crystal Logic. Quite poetic and all, yes, perhaps there is a sense in which the post-war West and emergent neo-liberal forms of necropolitics leave us all "lost in a necropolis." But... nope. This is rather a D-and-D-esque anthem about actually being lost in a necropolis.

Never thought it would be like this
It feels like I'm living inside a dream
But my mind tells me I'm
Lost in necropolis
Lost in necropolis
Lost in necropolis
Lost in necropolis

Now I know what it's like to be
Inside the city of the dead

What to say of this? Deleuze's rejection of metaphor (in favor of the transformation of concepts, rather than x being "like" y) doesn't make sense, as we lack the metaphorical coupling. Nor should this be linked to an attack on Benjamian allegory (and not just because I highly doubt Manilla Road read the Trauerspiel text), for we have here that which is at once the iconicity of the death's head (as a ruin of the future, the inevitable non-presentness) with a solid rejection of something being better read as - and existing for - the making-sense of a past. Instead, we get a sort of allegorical presentness, an insistence on "this being the point" that suggests we get something closer to the bedrock of meaning that later texts would have to make sense of allegorically, if at all. (Although this approaches the comic, for despite the attempt for the described experiences to stand alone as resolute instances, but not symbols, of tarrying with death, the rather aware goofiness of these kind of moments seems to undo the stuffiness and hauteur of allegory.)

Maybe we need a European answer. As in, "Final Countdown" from Europe, that masterpiece of bar jukeboxes which is, as far as I can tell, very literally about space travel. Given the opacity of making more sense of it, one is called back, again and again, to those anthemic, not-soaring-but-still-trying-damn-hard synth lines. No allegorical, no symbol, just affect, "heading to Venus."

Here lies protectionism, here rises our mordant want

This was the cover image of The Economist last week (with the caption: "The return of economic nationalism"). Given my deep love for all things undead, it warms this necro heart to see free-market champions turn to the only adequate iconography for this period, of the Frankensteinian attempt to shock the assemblage-corpse of deregulated capital into lurching, unholy life with massive bailouts.

(Of course, the subtitle of The Economist story: "A spectre is rising. To bury it, Barack Obama needs to take the lead." Such a modern-day Van Helsing will also need to try to pry anti-economic anti-nationalism from our cold, hungry living dead hands.)


Gave a lecture on Richard Calder's cyberpunk novel Dead Girls today. Rather enjoy the Powerpoint leftovers from these sort of things, as they give, to those who are not there, both an incomplete picture as well as a perfect impression of how it went. (In my case, what happens when I am asked to talk about the vampiric gynoid union of perverse sexuality and late capitalism.)

A selection:

And of course, there was this wonderful fellow (Le Canard Digérateur from 1739.)

The many-tongued froth of words

Finally getting around to reading Linebaugh and Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra after too much delay. However, as I bought a used copy from an online bookseller that falsely described it as "Like New", a copy which is marked by arbitrary underlining and even more arbitrary infrequent marginalia that peter out after the first 60 pages, I was treated to this (the quote from the book, followed by the reader's pencilled-in comment):

"It also owes much to the violence of abstraction in the writing of history, the severity of history that has long been the captive of the nation-state, which remains in most studies the largely unquestioned framework of analysis. This is a book about connections that have, over the centuries, usually been denied, ignored, or simply not seen, but that nonetheless profoundly shaped the history of the world in which we all of us live and die."

(and written in by previous owner)

They wrote the book

I won't speculate on the type of person who wrote this note. Rather, what staggers me is this kind of reading, that evidently skitters along from word to every-so-often-word, therein picking up the supposed claim that the book is about connections that the authors deny or ignore, perhaps because their unquestioned framework of analysis does not allow them to.

As such, I wonder if we need to discover a mode of writing that anticipates such haphazard speed-glossing, forgoing Linebaugh and Rediker's clear, urgent prose for a mode of turgid, overwrought writing, overly dense sentences that can only bring about the practice of sloppy and inconstant skimming, sentences within which we will code properly subversive, fervent revolutionary thoughts to worm their way into the minds of inattentive readers everywhere.

Une fois que c'est fini...

Murphy of entschwindent und vergeht offered this great post on "cackitecture," cock-and-ball-oriented architectural design, particularly in retrofitting of older buildings (if by retrofitting we mean addition of a lumbering phallic presence obscuring the sky for those in the original space).

Aside from my general puerile view of the world, I find an odd crossover here with an "indie" computer game of sorts I've been playing, called World of Goo, which basically consists of civil engineering tasks (insofar as that includes building tenuous, drooping suspension bridges between grinding gears) but with elastic, quivering goo. Rather fascinating, as it is essentially an architectual play game, albeit one that rewards "function" over "form." But most notably here is its tendency to produce structures - in the attempt to reach points high above or simply the temptation to build implausibly large towers - that quickly resemble initially-proud-and-precarious cockitecture, until the unsteady sway leads it to tip, devolving into cackitecture's leaning shape and ultimately, falling to the ground in a grand de-detumescence collapse of broken temporary goo bonds. Case in point: an image of a tower at its tipping point moment of decline, although this isn't a very indicative example of how high and evanescent the goo-spires can get.

As I play, I am reminded again and again of Lacan's late thinking (in L'envers) on the fragility of phallic law and the gap between the phallic function/symbolic phallus (ф) and the real penis (Π), based as it is on an idealized model of a promise of stability, hardness, and permanence, a model undercut by a certain anatomical reality that rarely matches its supposed position as the guarantor of authoritative meaning-making. As he puts it, une fois que c'est fini, c'est fini. In short, phallic law is always the promise of the coming-to-be or the soon-to-return of its phantom of obscene unchanging durability.

In a somewhat different register, this has led me back to the inevitable image, which I'll let stand on its own, so to speak.