To Jayson and His youth
It is the way he let that phrase dance with his unique folding of the Latin, a new line of assemblage, the way he brought that phrase into new plateaus of compossibility, exiting into a unique plane of immanence that even he did not expect…
Here, I was wondering if translation is also a way of speaking why not use for its sole intellectual effect the Latin expression ‘res ipsa loquitur’ that my poet-mentor Al Cuenca, Jr. had made the most of in his recent essay for the next issue of The Mabini Review.
The becoming-other of the Latin expression that he laboured to concoct to produce a powerful piece is the reason I am staying away from his spinning linguistic machine. I may be unaware I am already as good as entombed in his web, like a fly attracted to the radial threads, the threads that have the power to imitate a blank space that in turn imitates a plane of creation that in turn imitates the ‘nothing’ that imitates a space untouched by danger. But as Rilke would have said of the value of danger to creation, “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.”
‘Things translate themselves.’
These are just the words I would have meant to console my friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are as of this writing bracing the monsoon torrents in whatever way they can. I should add, those words also go to anonymous ‘human others’ in a fringe horizon of anthropic assemblage where Berkeley would partly fail his own solipsistic test. There are humans out there, they may be absent in our visual range, but they are here and there, scattered, spread out in territorial planes, geological layers and plateaus, regardless whether you can find them in urban and rural lines of assemblages.
Humans are passim not because their textual imprints are everywhere (the use of passim in footnotes is partly meant here) but rather because they exceed the ‘kinds of texts’ they were made to assume. I can risk assuming here beyond the ‘texts’ I can be made to take responsibility for by a certain regime of signs that regulates human behaviour, say, the semiotic machine that today forces me not without some enabling effects to consume the new media, that in light of the enduring age of the spectacle since the invention of the TV there is nowhere anymore untouched by the human, unseen in Google maps, or uncovered by an orbiting satellite.
With the invention of the internet humans have learned to become extra-textual, and yes, extra-terrestrial like the aliens we can imagine. They have learned to become engineers of their own difference.
They have ceased to be humans simply by being able to assume hyperreal personages, posthuman assemblages that bring to light the efficiency of molecular grids of communication that shatter the distinctively organic privilege of the human once dependent on non-organic transcendence (God?). In the same way humans have ceased to be the kind of animals that they once were. In any case, this is not to illustrate that humans have once and for all proved their superiority over nonhuman animals and things as well. The point, which we are about to see, is that the post-human evolution of what Nietzsche laments as ‘this sickness’ called the human reveals a positive transcendence in the sense that this planetary sickness can no longer assume the privilege it had nominated for itself.
This evolution is unilateral. It shows that ‘all are things’, humans, animals, the things themselves, all are objects without warranties, especially of redemption, hence the equation objects = x. Thus the human imprints that the internet can globally distribute and redistribute in fluctuating lines of flight and reterritorialization exceed the homocentric phenomenological grid, which makes this transcendence positive.
It is not the human that is everywhere but the ‘alien phenomenology’, to borrow from Ian Bogost, of which the human is only a part, the post-human molecular imprint which the new media consistently betray as they are also being continually redesigned to conceal it. Indeed, the homo-passim reveals the transitory nature of the human all-too-human. In a similar vein, as Heidegger would say of the pre-ontic horizon of being that is dependent on the prior existence of the world whose future nonetheless is not guaranteed by time, the being of the human Dasein is not guaranteed of permanence in the world, also its dignity and rank compared to nonhuman beings of other Daseins, other beings-in-the-world—animals, objects and things. In fact humans are already betraying the post-humans that they are today by embracing the tools of a mode of existence that thrives on molecular planes of consistency. The one absolute point about this progression of the molecular as it relates to human existence is that this trend is irreversible (about which more will be discussed later).
Before the event called the ‘internet’ Alan Turing did not only spoil the Berkeleyan limelight, which is nothing but the extension of the Cartesian cogito, the compliant res extensa of the “I think” by means of the spatialization of the internal time of reason later perfected by Kant, when his notorious Turing machine belied that intelligence is unique to humans, once the privileged owner of a jargon of authenticity that bore a not so indelible mark—their power of perception and thinking. Contra Berkeley, even in the absence of a human, especially the phallic employer of the concept, any sound is good as heard.
True enough machines are infinitely better at computing. But the heart of the matter is that things themselves, whose power of assemblage can be regionalised in a computer, can also perceive as much as humans can, provided we admit certain levels of intensive differences. Through their own unique capacity for translating the outside world, things that have molecular structures which mutually cause one another in their own compossible ways (Harman said it better, ‘vicarious causation’), things can mobilize their powers of effectuation that are differentially constituted, courtesy of a much powerful machine of difference, what we normally understand as life, what Deleuze would prefer to describe as pure immanence. Things are machines too in this respect.
But humans are also made of things, of molecular assemblages. The human is not the soul but the creel, the cartridge that holds the real assemblages of power inside. The real soul is the machine.
In the meantime, as the seinlassen-ing of torrents wreaks havoc on human landscapes, their poor creators and labourers, the poor whose machinic potential is employed by Capital to build the infrastructures of modern civilization, are clenching the monsoon rains in their unstylish hands. What for but in their unique ways of asserting the humanly in themselves, trying to defeat the unpredictable.
By doing so they are acting out their best as machinic assemblages, extremely irrational (if we mean by irrational as risking a decision in the absence of a metaphysical guarantee of survival, such as a decision to stay or flee). For its part, only death can terminate the human will to live. This is perhaps the best analytic statement we can offer to explain, that which is self-defining, such as death terminates life, how impossibly great the greatness of the human spirit is, the human who alone is conscious of the power of termination, who alone can own it. Who says the human is irreducible to the analyticity of what is otherwise its untold machinic grammatology?
And what can best describe this spirit if not the human defiance of determinism? What is determinism if not the indifferent will of a pure outside imposing its interest on us? The will of the outside may be human or nonhuman unplugging us from an energy source, from a source of consistency capable of aborting a local process of singularization, of survival as a continuing exit to creation, as such a local dramaturgy of inconsistencies, a pure expression of freedom, that is to say, a ‘will’ impinging upon a creature whose only strength lies in its impossibility, its capacity for the anomalous.
The creature we are talking about does not hope for redemption. This ens creatum—the human animal, but also the nonhuman animal, and the thing itself that has the power to ignore a humanistic forcing of value upon its regional or singular determinations.
One also has to consider the metaphysical seduction of the ‘unpopulated’. It promises of a new beginning. They say the islands are paradisiacal. They seethe with minerals; wealth embedded underground and on sea beds by billions of years of geological evolution, all sparked by the equanimous beginning of solar decay when the sun ceased to grow beyond what gravity can allow, with what transpired in the fringe of the solar horizon and beyond contributing to the goldilocks assemblage sufficient for the emergence of life, besides what were already formed beforehand, the things themselves.
What are we saying?
It all started with the radio reporting on the power of the rosary; people were asking God to spare the nation from the torrents that made Noah a household name. Or, should I blame the Chinese government, with all the gossiping around about how it stole the technology from Pentagon that could produce storms to punish rival nations? The prize is the undisputed sovereignty over a cluster of islands northwest of the Philippines still unpopulated by humans, or so they say.
How do things translate themselves? An eager student, in a flood of insights, which happens when an obvious becomes so intuitively unfamiliar, declared: the rains translate into floods. But the ‘floods’ are more controversial.
Since when have the rains started to translate into floods as a correlate to human lives and properties that may be put out and damaged in the process? Rainfalls are natural; the floods are not, relative to a human population that they threaten to displace. Take out a sufficient quantum of human population in the ecological algebra and it will be just rains having their field day.
We can radicalize this point further. In the time when humans were not around, the rains are just rains. In the time of human explosion buttressed by the ideology of human privilege where economics and theology join hands to develop the greatest bombshell ever designed against natural geology, the homocentrism it unabashedly promotes, capitalism has increasingly mastered the technology of putting everything in place exactly where the ‘human population’ is concentrated. This translates into the market flooding the stock exchange with futures and speculations. Population translates into market, rains translate into floods.
This correlation may be examined as a type of discursive play around the Heideggerian correlation between Zuhandenheit and Vorhandensein, ready-to-hand and presence-at-hand.
On the one hand, as a demographic and statistical value ‘population’ is the outward evidence of a particular assemblage that provides reference for decision-making; on the other hand, the uncertain metaphysical value of what underlies the population, the human essence (what is it?), is the unstated presence that is made to constitute the sufficiency of statistics, and as unstated is forced to provide a background for a certain decision that is made possible by ignoring it, the ‘ready-to-hand’ character of the uncertainty that is the human, unstated precisely because it has not been defined yet with certainty and precision, or because it cannot be defined, being itself an anomalous rupture in the order of things.
Here, the inalienability of the ready-to-hand (the indefinable human essence of the human population, the zuhandenheit of the human, its partially disclosed essence through the appearance of a speaking-animal) is forced to constitute the presence-at-hand (the statistical or measurable value of the population, hence, a forcibly ‘defined’ essence, the vorhandensein of the presumably fully disclosed Human ).
Whereas population is being forced to translate itself into market despite its internal inconsistency, the rains translate into floods whose target is not the population (its metaphysical value is equal to zero) but the ‘essence’ withheld in the statistical determination of things. One may wonder how can this un-stated, undefined because anomalous essence be withheld. The realism this question evokes is familiar: How can you touch an intangible? But isn’t it that on account of the absence of anything like a substratum belaboured by the barrenness of definitions that have been predicated of it, the human essence, makes this impossible essence itself all the more manipulable?
The bare life that is the human, irreducible to any form of deconstruction other than to consistently stoke the fire of the deconstructive machine that is the human itself in search of its own definition, its own signs, its marks (like animals do with their faeces marking out their territories against the stranger, the intruder, or a sex rival), a machine that constantly annihilates the positive terms assigned to the inconstancy of its essence that have the power to reterritorialize what the human machine has already cast away—remarkable, indeed, yet restricted to the ekstatic wandering of the pilgrim, the philosopher, the poet, the metaphysical naturalist, the lover, the thespian, the Deleuzean auteur, the atheist in the midst of people, objects and things—aren’t these enough for capital to proceed to the totalization of the unstated?
Isn’t it also the case that capitalism is the biggest audience to the lassen–sein-ing of the rains translating into floods?
The monsoon rains that had submerged half of the entire metropolis tested not the population (does it exist?) but rather the human essence (it too does not exist as far as the human defiance of categories is concerned; more on this later) in a way our machinic nature is tested by the rationality that the rains imposed. Once again, it is capital that provides the widest and largest geological coverage for the unfolding of this rationality.
What is this rationality? No other than the certainty of the extinction of the human species that the cycle of rains and deaths unilaterally teach us. If one still believes that the human species will live forever let him enjoy the negative symptom of the rest of humanity, the humanity that still denies the ongoing process of entropy that may not be threateningly felt as even today when we are facing an ecological crisis.
Things translate themselves; rains into floods; floods into dislocation and death. Things are ably asserting that this world is not our world, that we are transient tenants of this planet. This world is their world.
But capitalism does not allow humanity to see through the image of an absolute geological clock; instead it feeds us with images that can be quantified, such as deaths and the ruins, which encourage us to halt the wheel of time and ‘pay attention’ (especially to death). Capitalism encourages us to break the flow of time through which it becomes possible to ignore the uninterrupted unfolding of things, the lassen-ing of time. What is not shown us is that which exceeds the range of intelligibility that is time; instead capital supports ways of seeing being in the pure horizon of intelligibility. But nothing is closer to the truth.
‘Being’ always has the character of a passage, contingent, subject to the law of extinction. Being is intelligible precisely because one can see in the horizon how much everything that it holds it holds against time. But ‘Being’ cannot hold off entropy for good. Unquestionably the human whose being is understood to be a temporal constituent of a more primordial time of Being that precedes mereness, mere being (or, the world formed out of time that is anterior to the possibility of being to dwell in the world), cannot thus have an essence other than what is transitional, other than what exits and escapes.
It is this essence that is being tested by entropy: How long can capitalism hold up the second law of thermodynamics in terms of withholding the human essence, concealing its essenceless nature from being exposed to the radiation of cosmic decay as if the universe can be had by a cunning maneuver?
The trick is to withdraw something that is not existing, to conceal the anomaly that is the human to secure a plane of existence from being enfolded differently other than what capital sanctions, that the human exists in terms of the dignity and rank of its essence vis-à-vis the over-all ecology of things. Refusing the anomaly to rise up from the depths of Hades, the capitalist machine (that has joined with the theology industry, churches, schools, even households) blocks the sun from penetrating into the human core. The sun here is the negative light, negative as all illuminations are in the sense that they do not expose all. Yet they leave traces of the unlit assemblages that withdraw from illumination even by a machine as powerful as the sun. It does wonderful things for capital. What withdraws is being made to indicate that the human is great! It can defeat the sun by delaying entropy.
The sun is also the physical figure of the kind of ‘cosmic rationality’ increasingly discovered by science. Science unlocks the cosmic handiwork of entropy as it winds down from stellar formations to planetary assemblages. Fortunately it takes time for entropy to reach our place despite the infinite speed of light. In the meantime there is reason to conceal the anomaly. The sun has not successfully penetrated the human core yet. By the time it reaches that core all the factories of negative transcendence (capital and religion) may have found new lands to operate among our nearest stellar neighbours.
One may wonder if I am not already contradicting myself by seemingly defining the human as a machinic anomaly. We can only ask: “Can a machine tell you its nature?” To bring the matter as close to one’s being as possible: “Can you define yourself?” What difference human speech and intelligence can make when it cannot achieve the ultimate definition for itself. Both the machine and the uncertain human have one thing in common. They always proceed from themselves. They have only themselves to proceed from, especially, in the face of danger.
Humans defied the torrents without the guarantee of redemption, without thinking of the metaphysical boundary that separates them from animals and things. They saved their dogs, their cats, real or stuffed, other objects and things, including the structures of their molecular consistencies; their fantasies, their dreams, the latency of their repressed desires that they carry in waking life, their ambitions, their sickness, the secrets they keep from the same people they were joining hands with to create an optimistic chain of humans, objects, and things, all that have formed part of human consistencies which can be stuffed in the plasticity of their mind-body assemblage that no science and philosophy has ever successfully defined. Each human, animal and thing creates a common line of flight into a new possibility of creation, of survival as a continuing defiance of definitions that the rains consistently impose. The rains are imposing a rational timeline relative to future extinction.
It is rational in the sense that it is guaranteed to happen. It is happening already as the cosmos lavishes its waste on the terrestrial plane. The sun is the key to understanding the intention of the universe. As Deleuze would advise you, read your zodiacs. The stars know all. Our sun-star lavishes its waste, pours out its excrement to keep the earth within the orbit of extinction. A certain Bataillean economy is in operation here. The sun rids itself off of its waste to sustain its own negentropy (negating entropy), its way of slowing down the process of its own molecular dissolution. Its way of keeping alive. Our local planetary negentropy is therefore dependent on a higher deterritorizaling negentropy of the sun which humans reterritorialize in the guise of recycling solar waste. Unfortunately our own earthly negentropy would not survive the last dying phase of the sun.
We can also recall here how Zeus couldn’t do anything in his power to save his own son (whom he fathered from a mortal woman) from being murdered by the enemies at the height of the Trojan War. As a god he contributed to each destiny of the human race. If he would save his son he would change the rest. Chaos would ensue; entropy would set in where gods and mortals would stand no chance of perpetuating themselves. The moment Zeus saved his son he would ruin the basis for being god. A god is the originator and enforcer of destiny which is also his destiny, a common destiny of gods and mortals in their attempts to slow down the cosmic machine of dissolution. In the end Zeus submitted to the negative reason of terrestrial existence (the negentropy that Greek mythology is all about). What else could he do as god? This question is pertinent to all forms of negative transcendence, to theistic religions in the planet. Even gods have delicate entropic destinies. They have their own ways of keeping themselves alive by keeping us alive. One cannot miss here the correlation between the sun and our planet. Or did he?
Meanwhile a machine performs without having to worry about its destiny. The same applies to humans who are different from the gods on the basis of their capacity to defy reason and entropy, but only up to a certain extent. Even a galaxy as large as the Milky Way will not be able to reverse the cosmic process of its eventual collision with Andromeda. A machine that loses an energy source will cease to produce.
Still, as Nietzsche says, we can choose to live dangerously as the machinic anomalies that we are. That’s what machines are for. To live in positive alienation. To produce the means of im/possible existence. To break out into creation, without hoping to be redeemed.
Things translate themselves—this was the point I raised in a recent talk on environmentalism, echoing my current research interest in speculative realism and object-oriented ontology. But the heart of the matter was more challenging, I guess. Things do not only translate themselves but have the ability to withdraw completely from human access (the kernel of Harman’s ontology). Their greatest power lies in their capacity to withdraw into their tiniest impenetrable domains that no molecular science can follow as they go deeper into the unlit regions of their lines of assemblages where the real Real happens. As they withdraw they nonetheless leave traces of light which allows us, as Heidegger would put it, to “point towards that which withdraws.” But it is a light that is of no use in the last instance, a kind of unemployed negativity, a negativity that positivizes our only reasonable place in the cosmos—that we are here only by accident, that our existence here has the “character of a passage,” that this world is not our world. It belongs to things themselves.
We are the real aliens of this planet, as I stressed to a female thinking machine wondering about the coming of the night while the torrents are enjoying their own cosmic symptom.
Would she be able to glimpse the stars?
August 7, 2012