I Cannot Help but Think. . .

February 13, 2010

Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing and yet curious trend in my writing, and specifically in my academic writing (though I’m surely guilty of it on this here blog as elsewhere).  I’ve been using the phrase: “I cannot help but think that. . .”[1] followed by an assertion, usually an interpretation of some sort, far too much.  As in: I want to start off virtually every sentence (including the one that will follow this one) w/ “I cannot help but think. . . .” I cannot help but think that my use of the phrase “I cannot help but think” is somehow important, maybe even interesting, while simultaneously something I cannot help but think is me being lazy, a crutch, a tried-and-true verbal formulation that, well, gets my thinking down onto paper (easily).  It has been so bad recently that I’ve actually had to go back through whole documents, searching for “cannot help” and deleting or reformulating sometimes far too many sentences for me to be comfortable w/ my own ability to write—as in: I can’t (write, that is [again]).  (Wow, look at that, even here I’m developing a new one: as in, I just wrote “as in” above.  Will this ever stop?  As in: will I ever get to a place where my prose flows freely w/o so much language that could easily be thrown away?)  We all have these verbal and grammatological tics (lord knows I have had them, currently do, and will for the foreseeable future).  You know (again), those little stylistic quirks that aren’t quite necessary but always seem to be suggesting themselves.  The ones you use over and over again, almost unconsciously.  These short, relatively meaningless phrases that allow our thinking to transition from one syntactical unit to another[2]. . . I cannot help but to use them (though I could have written: “I cannot avoid them.”  What the hell).  And I’m usually perfectly aware of myself when I’m writing like this, even if it takes me a while to recognize it; and yet I cannot help (again) to use them.   In the past some of these have been, for myself, a gross and almost embarrassing reliance on the phrases: kinda, with regard to, furthermore, basically, in short, vis-à-vis, grounds,[3] namely, and yet, articulates, in other words, i.e., formulates, expresses, etc. etc.[4] This list could go on and on, and if I were to be exhaustive in this list, I might perhaps (another one, “perhaps,” that is) come to the horrifying realization that I am a robot.  Yes, you heard me right, a robot (or perhaps [sheesh, again] an anthrobot[5]).  I may very well be nothing more than a preprogrammed vocabulary who does nothing other than stitch together whatever amorphous rules of English expression I may have a shaky grasp upon in order to attempt to articulate (sheesh) whatever it is I am “thinking.”

I know that the usefulness/quantity of these types of words is largely to facilitate understanding, that they serve as moments to pause, breathe, signal the importance or lessen the impact of a statement.  They mirror verbal speech—i.e. no one speaks in (H.) Jamesian prose nor Derridean deconstruction (or maybe they do, and I just have the wrong friends [or the right friends. . .]).  These grammatological tics serve to mark, at the same time, that writing is trying to mirror spoken language while calling attention to the very construction of its inscription.  But for all that, they feel like cheating to me, like inserting something that I know will make the sentence “flow” (or break. . .) w/o having to think terribly rigorously about how I’m using language.  Perhaps this is b/c—at least I console myself w/ this fiction—that I’m trying to be “clear” (i.e. a bunch of unnecessary words eases the readers eyes and ears. . .), but is it really b/c I am lazy, uninventive, un-attentive, and—the real kick-in-the-pants—stupid?  That I should get in another racket while I’m still young and have something to sell the world?[6] Or is it something else?  I cannot help but think that this most recent tic—and there will be others, I’m sure—is significant in some way, that it signals something, and that what it signals is precisely (maybe) how these types of tics work.

So I’m sitting there at any of my various word processing machines (sometimes, though not often including the pen), attempting to communicate,[7] or whatever, something I’ve been “thinking” about, attempting to use words to encapsulate something I’m not terribly sure is a purely linguistic phenomena (thinking)—though this is also to say that I’m not terribly sure it isn’t purely linguistic. . . get back to me—and though the words might be struggling to get to the page, when they do come, I can’t help but think that they are midwifed in some way by the “I cannot help but think,” that they are eased into the world by this specific sort of nonsense.[8] In other words (again), “I cannot help but think” functions precisely as it says: I am thinking, I am attempting to write that thinking down, and it is the interaction b/t these two things is happening on an automatic level that I cannot understand.  I literally cannot help it.  I don’t know how.

Taken purely in-and-of-itself the phrase “I cannot help but think” might even be said (shit, again) to be (mildly) ontologically profound.  I am.  I cannot help but to be.[9] I am the thing that thinks.  I being I, I thinks, regardless of whether I want to or not.[10] I cannot help but think.  What I’m thinking is what I’m attempting, oh so poorly, to convey to you.  My not being able to telepathically mind-meld w/ you, I’m forced into this other thing,[11] this action of thinking for a long, anxiety producing, and never static time cannot help but find its way onto the page, into this form.  Writing “I cannot help but think” becomes the grossest and most accurate tautology for the whole process.  I’ve tried helping it, really I have, thinking that is; and furthermore, I’ve tried thinking other things, at length and laboriously.  Anyone familiar w/ academic labor (a few people), or thinking (hopefully everybody), knows what I’m talking about.  I’ve thought a lot, and this is where I wind up.  I can’t help it.  I can doubt it, question it, revise it, etc. etc., but ultimately, this is what I’m writing down, so this is what I cannot help but do.  Yes, I could do otherwise, but then I couldn’t help but think whatever it is this otherwise would be; it would amount to the same thing.  I suppose this is why Zen Buddhism is so attractive—it is attempting to not think.  Perhaps a good mantra for it would be “I can but help think.”[12] End of sentence, document, oeuvre, writing. Of course my overly-Westernized sensibility realizes this is a contradiction and paradox in-and-of-itself: thinking about not thinking, trying to help but not think is still a thinking, which, I guess, is the whole damn point and why I failed so miserably those times I tried to meditate (for real, and at a meditation center).  But writing is in absolute contradistinction to this.  One cannot write the not thinking.  This is not an experience that can be conveyed.  It simply doesn’t work.[13]The minute you try to help explain not thinking by putting it in writing, there is a thinking.  (This is also why surrealism and Dada ultimately fail, btw [perhaps, damn, again!].)  Surely to be able to help thinking, to not do it, is a complex, respectable, and fascinating goal, even if I’m not sure it can be reached, but it does me no good when writing, esp. when I “have” to write something.[14]

So I cannot help but think that I should refrain from using “So I cannot help but think that” ever again.  (Of course I will use it again.  I’ll be writing a long time, hopefully, and it will inevitably pop up.  The nature of my thinking is that I will have forgotten ever having written this, and it, or any number of other grammatological tics will seep like Tracy did into the soil the other night in the Heroes[15] finale into my writing.)  In other words, it is an ultimately meaningless, empty, needless, and tautological phrase.  In fact (again), its real evil might be that it obscures and prevents thinking at all.  “Better” thinking.  “Better” prose.  For it is a fact that I’ve just now spent a few hours writing about this rather than the writing I should be doing.  It, quite literally, has prevented writing and thinking.  Even if one takes writing as an emergent self-articulation of thinking onto the page, we don’t need to hear about it, have it crammed down our throats (or in my case, I’m doing the cramming).  So, in the interest of verbal tic-ery and its proponents everywhere, I’m in the market, on the search, w/ my ear to the ground for a new throwaway phrase to heedlessly put into my writing.  Right now I’m thinking about “viz.,” but am open to other suggestions.  Perhaps “It should be freaking obvious that. . .,” or “anyone who isn’t Sarah Palin would clearly comprehend that. . .,” but those would be perhaps slightly inappropriate and would wear out quickly.  For now I’m simply left w/ the hope that one day I will have developed and cultivated such a large fecal mountain of these types of phrases that they will go unnoticed, but for now I’m only left w/ the hope that I can be aware of them, delete them when they occur too often, and reconcile myself to them like I have so much else, viz. if you can’t help but mobilize the “can’t help but think(s)” of the world, why not join’em at their orgy and whatever it is that occurs afterward.  (Seriously [yet another one, I can’t stop], what happens after the orgy?)[16]

[1] It should be understood here that “I cannot help but think” also stands in for all the variations on this phrase: i.e. “this cannot help but to suggest,” and others.

[2] Whatever I say (or don’t) about language below, I firmly believe that we don’t think syntactically.  Though I can only “believe” this, like having faith in my own statement “I cannot help but think. . . .”  What if I could help it.  And isn’t this really the whole point?

[3] As in: grounded in, upon, etc.

[4] And, sad to say, my poor students probably bear the brunt of these throw-off grammatical tics in the comments they receive from me more than anyone else.  For this, I apologize (even if I don’t see it changing. . .).

[5] wink.

[6] Another (empty) consolation I tell myself: every writer ever has asked themselves this question—not consoling at all.

[7] It should also be noted that (again!, look how similar this is to note 1, which was actually written after this note!) I have similar, if wholly different tics, when it comes to poetic composition, as opposed to prose.  That said (again), I will not tell anyone what these are, though they’re obvious, for the thought of uttering that type of candid statement about my own poetics is one that makes me mildly nauseous, in that I’d-be-nauseous-at-myself sort of way, which, of course (another), I already am.

[8] This is also the moment I’m realizing that this entry perhaps has no place on this blog whatsoever, is overly self-indulgent (like anything I do isn’t!), and really would be of no interest to anyone whatsoever.  Which, of course, is also to say that (look how many words I just used that were wholly unnecessary in this sentence already, and then, to top it off, I wrote a whole gaggle of more words that were unnecessary in this parenthetical [something, btw, I’ve grown perfectly accustomed to and comfortable w/ tic-wise w/r/t myself, so now just bask in my ability to make an aside about an aside about an aside], and am still doing it!). . . even this self-indulgent footnote is a product of my anxiety over feeling self-indulgent about my anxiety about writing about my self-indulgent interests and anxieties, in a place where I try to attempt to understand the nature of the expression of anxiety w/r/t the biggest cause of anxiety of them all: the end of the world.  In other words, anxiety, for me, is a fundamental aspect of any eschatological formulation (again), and consequently, perhaps fits quite well, considering the degree of anxieties which are in play here, w/in The Hyperarchival Parallax which is above all about the anxiety over the (over-)accumulation or destruction of writing, of the archive, anyway.  Furthermore (again), the reason this is even being written in the first place is a result of the anxiety I’m feeling about not writing something else that is decidedly not self-indulgent though does make a fair use of “I cannot help but think” and is thus producing this anxiety, both the anxiety of what I’ve written and the anxiety of not continuing to write it; and at this point everything is probably getting pretty boring for anyone reading this (here, a link to something else! Okay, that one probably is absolutely the wrong thing to be linking to here [look esp. at the post “Does Nietzsche’s Grocery List Constitute Writing?”], so here! Couldn’t have said it better myself.), which, of course, is producing more anxiety.  Perhaps what I’m trying to say is (again), that instead of whatever I’m suggesting “up there” (wink, wink to all ya’ in the know down here), these grammatological tics are really a way of coping w/ the anxiety of writing, or something.

[9] Well of course I could, but then I wouldn’t.

[10] I’ve found solutions, but they’re largely chemical (I think), and have much more to do w/ memory, or more precisely a memory lacking, than thinking.  Or perhaps I should be valiantly striving to go Rimbaud’s way: Je est un autre.

[11] I know there ain’t much terribly profound here, but I cannot help but think I have to say it anyway.

[12] Or something.

[13] You may feel free to disagree w/ me here, and even show me an example of what you would call such a writing, but again, my overly Westernized mind would simply respond: “prove no thinking was involved,” or even worse, “of course thinking was involved, I’m reading someone’s writing.”  Actually, I’m kinda fascinated by this.  Maybe I take it back.

[14] I.e. I cannot help but think that there would have been an adverse reaction had I handed in my PhD project exams w/ simply the line: “I can but help think.”  (I still think there is a far better way of formulating this, of writing this, of expressing it, but that’s sorta the point.  It doesn’t spring to mind (unlike “I cannot help but think”).  I cannot help but to think that helping to think cannot but help to be put in writing, which of course is a “cannot help but think.”  But again, if anyone can formulate [literally, third time, what is wrong w/ me] it better, esp. b/c out of the context of this writing it actually doesn’t make much syntactic or grammatical sense (again, the point), get in touch; even if it just sounds cool.  Btw, one of my more-favorite blogs, if only b/c it is by a PhD student at pretty much the same place I’m at, studying, disturbingly, many of the same things I am, has a recent post on the whole doubt/anxiety/writing/etc. thing, that I’m perhaps merely expressing after the fact of my most recent and specific submersion into that realm.  Please check out “Winter Snows, Doubts, and Donna Harraway,” at Jason Ellis’ Dynamic Subspace.

[15] Lord, how I hate how that show is always promising in for its futurity rather than its present.

[16] I’m stealing this from somewhere.  I can’t help but think it’s Baudrillard.

Return to Snow(mageddon)y River

February 13, 2010

This is a fantastic clip critiquing the over-use, over-saturation, and ridiculousness of apocalyptic rhetoric in the media from Stewart the other night.  Both him and Colbert have a long tradition of throwing barbs at the eschatological hyperbole of the media, but this one is simply amazing.  And it is esp. appropriate for both this here blog, the weather outside (how frightful it is),[1] and the fact I wrote on this exact thing a couple of days ago.  Enjoy.

Not to be outdone, the Baltimore local news also got involved.  I don’t know which is better.  Fox et al or this attempt at emulating their apocalyptic and absurd fear mongering.
All I know is, the snow outside ain’t going anywhere, but, then again, neither is the media.  It has to make you wonder how they would react in the face of an actual apocalyptic scenario.  It wouldn’t be anything like the movies.  But then again, how much more ridiculous could they get.  They might have to get all calm and, idk, objective.

[1] Esp. according to the woman I talked to (completely randomly) on the street yesterday.  She, quote, “hate(d) this shit.”  Why I appeared to be an appropriate person to express this to, is perhaps unimportant, but it is to emphasize that everyone is thinking exactly how frightful the weather is and feel that they have to inform whomever may walk by immediately.  (As if I’m gonna say, “What the hell are you talking about.  This is delightful!”)  That said, I firmly agreed w/ her, and said so.  There is something remarkable about how weather, and more importantly talking about it, creates socialization and connection b/t two people who would never talk to one another otherwise.  This whole week I’ve been experiencing smiles, knowing looks, and a sense of community wholly lacking at other points in the year.  We all agree on one thing, and it brings us together: we hate this shit, and yet. . . , I think there is something good in this agreement.  This is also one of the reasons I like sports.  Esp. in pgh, one always has a common ground from which to begin a conversation w/ a stranger.  Usually talking about the weather is banal to the extreme, the old cliche, that thing that, strangely, causes disconnection b/t people.  But when the unusually strong snowstorm hits the ‘burgh, its like the freaking Superbowl (of conversation starters–and of course the SB coincided w/ this past weekend).  Of course this is great and all, but lord I miss the desert.  At least there the weather didn’t shut down a city, even if it was just as much a part of the conversation.  And it is always apocalyptic, though one never hears about “heat-wave-ageddon,” or “four-months-w/o-rain-Judgment-Day.”  Though that would be hilarious.

Apocalyptexts 02: Makers by Cory Doctorow and Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez

February 8, 2010

(This, like all my posts, will contain spoilers of the entire work(s), so deal.)

Though neither of these new novels by Cory Doctorow and Daniel Suarez (aka Leinad Zeraus) are overtly apocalyptic,[1] their mutual involvement in and speculation of both the demise of capital-as-we-know-it and the virtual disappearance of middle-class life in the U.S. easily suggests what has already become a genre in-and-of-itself in the past couple years: apocalypse as economic disaster.  This, of course, is nothing new.

As we perhaps all well recall, Walter Benjamin in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” clearly and critically considered dialectical (or historical) materialism in terms of a messianic impulse,[2] and it is difficult to read The Communist Manifesto as not tarrying w/ messianism or apocalypticism.  But it is curious that it has taken the complete digitization of capital, capital divorced from “human nature,”[3] pushed to its ultimate logic by the absolutely hyperreal speed of the postmodern market for the contemporary instantiation of this teleological inevitability—or at least the imaginative speculation of it. . . (i.e. money circulates so quickly and freely, w/ such algorithmic “precision” and “logic” that it is only a convenient and soothing fiction that we are able to “blame” CEOs of companies like Goldman Sachs for economic disaster).[4] If we are comfortable w/ calling economic disaster messianic or at least teleological, we can only have recourse to some “ghost in the machine” explanation (or better yet, a dwarf inside Deep Blue[5]).  And yet, central to both Makers (one can read it online) and FreedomTM is the projected inevitability of the breakdown of capital—its parasitic logic, sped up w/ a globalized, digital, networked economy, is eschatological (or at least disastrous).  And significantly, as both of these authors are so involved in various other e-endeavors,[6] esp. Suarez’s own involvement in the weirdness of late-capital, we should note the temporal nearness of these fictions.  The worlds and economies they imagine are clearly speculative (and perhaps “science fictional”), but they resemble our own world w/ only a few minor extensions of the present projected into the future.  As everyone is telling us everywhere, economic disaster, the apocalyptic threat of it, Greenspan’s “once in a century tsunami” (see my addendum to the post on 2012), has happened, is happening, and will happen (unless we do something to stop it, which “we” aren’t).  Lo and behold: economic disaster is the apocalypse, the only one that actually makes any “sense,” the finally achieved end of whatever.  This should not surprise us.

But, as said above, neither of these novels could really be called apocalyptic at all.  Makers presents a world in which the US economy is pretty much destroyed, w/ shanty-towns springing up everywhere,[7] massive job loss, a New Deal type economic revolution called “New Work” that dramatically fails. . . but ultimately, capital, in the form of Disney Imagineering[8] (mostly) keeps on a’rollin’, and the novel ends pretty much in the no-space of narrative “giving-up-ness,” the utopian projects having all failed, capital having not collapsed, and its protagonists getting old and imminently dying (from side-effects from the “fatkins” treatment[9]).  FreedomTM, on similar terms, imagines a “Cybergeddon”: a coup staged by the economic elite-of-the-elite to wipe out virtually all global financial assets but their own, but of course this fails, thwarted by the weak-AI or “Daemon” presented in the first novel of this series, Daemon.[10] This is done in a world where gasoline has risen to $17.87 a gallon, unemployment is at 32.3% in the US, the US dollar is virtually worthless, and gold is at $4,189/oz.[11] And of course the novel ends on a mildly-messianic, hero-having-overcome-obstacles-and-reached-the-end-of-his-quest-narrative, w/ a twist that might set up a third book in the series (which I, for one, would like to see).

So of course the question is: why are either of these novels—even depicting significant, nigh apocalyptic economic “downturns” as they do—apocalyptic?  Well, in quite simple terms, the manner in which both Doctorow and Suarez structure both economic disaster as well as the utopian possibilities both novels present is archival.  Yes, I said it, no surprise (of course), but they are, and they are to a fairly ridiculous degree.[12]

I’ll begin w/ Makers (mostly b/c I read it first).  Though this isn’t a sequel to Doctorow’s teen-fiction Little Brother—a fascinating and kinda brilliant novel that explores surveillance and what Deleuze would call a “control society” in a pretty interesting post-Orwellian way (thus the title. . .)[13]—it definitely is in the same near-future speculative space, and shows Doctorow putting his finger on the pulse of America very well in a similar fashion.[14] (I will also most assuredly give Little Brother to my kids [after 1984, of course] when they get to the appropriate age [that is, if they materialize.])  The first third-or-so of Makers is perhaps the most interesting, but archival themes are present throughout.[15]

Separating the novel as I am into thirds (first third, and last two thirds), each presents an archivalism, both in terms of accumulation and destruction.  The first third posits a venture capitalist purchasing and merging EastmanKodak and Duracell—two thoroughly obsolete companies in this digital age (for obvious reasons)—and creating “Kodacell.”  The goal of this action is to radically redefine how entrepreneurial capitalism works.  Basically, Kodacell will leverage its massive assets toward investing in small, collective entrepreneurial endeavors, “synergizing”[16] them w/ other such endeavors in the company, all to promote creativity, emergence, inventiveness, and un-exploited profit-making opportunities.  This model quickly comes to be known as “New Work.”  Its principal figures are two techno-geek-engineers who basically simply use the detritus and waste of late-capital to make new, creative, inventive products (they’re actually pretty cool ideas. . .).  Though there are many ideas to talk about, this first third culminates in the “3D Printer”: basically a “printer” which can print any three dimensional object one would want, and, furthermore, the printer is able to print itself.[17] These are mobilized primarily as a virtually-free machine geared toward homeless, dispossessed, and third-world inhabitants/people as a cheap, limitless supply of object-making (i.e. the logic here is: how do we exploit the untapped market of those w/o any economic resources whatsoever [and, of course, “help” them]. . .).  What should be clear, is this “alternative” to late-capitalism—collective, emergent, networked, fluid, small, etc. etc.—ultimately produces, w/in the space of the narrative, an object-relationship that is archival.  This 3D printer can make anything.  It is literally an object-archive, in which any object capable of being archived can be reproduced.

The second-two-thirds of the novel is devoted to “The Ride”: an emergent, interactive archive which makes use of the logic of 3D printers to create a space which is constantly and archivally redefining itself.  The logic of this ride is that one gets on, goes through this museum-archive, clicking approve or disapprove on any object one sees, and it constantly re-updates itself, using little robots and 3D printers on steroids.  This ride, of course, gets globally networked and set up in multiple localities, and a “narrative” or “story” starts to emerge—some sort of collective experience of history, the past, nostalgia, etc. that people get ridiculously invested in (one kid, named “Death Waits” gets pummeled to the point of traction for this investment).  One can bring any object they want to be included in the ride, and the collective, nigh utopian endeavor of riding the ride creates an archival space that is supposed to represent some sort of collective unconscious of its participants—and it is emotionally, organically (somehow), fulfilling.  And of course Disney gets involved, lawyers, new modes of litigation, copyright infringement, and all sorts of narrative-pushing shit which is ultimately kinda boring.

What Makers makes (sic) so clear, is that any post-capitalist model (utopian or otherwise) will have to necessarily involve an archival creative commons to hope to overcome the abuses of globalism.  Not only is every text archivally at one’s fingertips, but so is any consumer product, any object whatsoever.  Furthermore, humanity’s relationship to objects becomes an archival question; the relationship to Things (in the best/worst Heideggerian sense) is translated into an emergent property of culture expressing itself—the archive accumulates simply b/c it’s there; and all of this is represented as an alternative to capital.  Though the novel is an obvious narrative failure on pretty much every point, it absolutely succeeds in making quite clear that archivalism is both apocalyptic and utopian, destructive and creative.  For instance:

“Welcome to the Cabinet of Wonders.[18] There was a time when America held out the promise of a new way of living and working.  The New Work boom of the teens was a period of unparalleled invention, a Cambrian explosion of creativity not seen since the time of Edison—and unlike Edison, the people who invented the New Work revolution weren’t rip-off artists and frauds.  their marvelous inventions emerged at the rate of five or six per week.  Some danced, some sang, some were help-meets and some were mere jesters.  Today, nearly all of these wonderful things have vanished with the collapse of New Work.  They’ve ended up back in the trash heaps that inspired them.  Here in the Cabinet of Wonders, we are preserving these last remnants of the Golden Age, a single beacon of light in a time of darkness.  As you move through the ridespace, please remain seated.  However, you may pause your vehicle to get a closer look by moving the joystick toward yourself.  Pull the joystick up to cue narration about any object.  Move the joystick to the left, toward the minus-one, if you think an item is ugly, unworthy, or misplaced.  Move the joystick to the right, toward the plus-one, if you think an item is particularly pleasing.  Your feedback will be factored into the continuous rearrangement of the Cabinet, which takes place on a minute-by-minute basis, driven by the robots you may see crawling around the floor of the Cabinet.  The ride lasts between ten minutes and an hour, depending on how often you pause.  Please enjoy yourself, and remember when we were golden.”[19]

“Culture” here become whatever one chooses to bring to the table.  One can look at it, change it, accept it or deny it, interact w/ it, passively observe, actively participate, or choose an endless stance of destruction; even a Bartlebian stance is possible.  The Ride is the archive par excellence.  It mobilizes all the Derridean logic of archives, while maintaining a weird sense of populism and political potential.  It also clearly interacts w/ markets, and is easily absorbed into the totality of late-capital.  If Doctorow has done nothing else w/ Makers, he’s staked out the terms of archival logic as we go forward, and if the economy contains w/in itself the seeds of its own demise, or conversely, its transcendence into some new model, it will be realized, parallactically, w/in the archive (at least w/in the speculative imagination).

FreedomTM on the other hand gives us something slightly different.  The novel, as said above, is a sequel to Daemon, whose premise was that a “genius” game-designer set off a “virus” upon the moment of his death appearing in the obituaries, which basically inscribes the World of Warcraft (hereafter WoW) upon reality.[20] The virus takes a hold of pretty much every major corporation, infects GPS and all the other surveillance capacities of the police-state, is able to affect material reality itself (through controlling pretty-much-everything), and offers, perhaps most significantly, an alternative economy to the quickly declining US model.  In short, it is a weak AI singularity in the sense we have become accustomed to.  Two things about this novel are notable for myself.

First, for anyone who has played, knows about, has heard of, or even seen the appropriate South Park episode, it should be clear that WoW is archivism inscribed upon (a virtual) reality (in the case of the novel, it ain’t virtual).  What I mean by this is that WoW documents, inscribes, catalogues, inventories, and measures everything.  The entire makeup of its World (and I do mean all the Heideggerian implications of this word) is archival.  One’s very Being in this world is archival.  I’m a lvl so and so, class so and so, race so and so; and though this configuration will change its parameters, it will never stop being true.  I’m a series of numbers stored on a database in some distant land (presumably the Pacific Northwest) whose interaction w/ the “World” is dependent upon those numbers changingEvery single interaction I have w/ this world (in the best late-capitalist sense) is a slight adjustment to my archival being w/in the economy of WoW.  In other words, if I want to “do” anything, I must enter the economy—there ain’t no alternative.[21]

Basically, the gist of FreedomTM is that this model is somehow more “democratic” than our current system.[22] For one, it has clear, teleological goals, something wholly lacking from any model of interacting w/ late capital as a plebe does now.[23] One can enter into[24] the WoW economy, and it is one that makes far more sense than our own.  To be able to interact w/ it, one has to do, idk, stuff—not simply trade futures and fictional assets, but create.  Yes, there are plenty of people that are able to exploit this system, but it ain’t posthuman—it’s practically feudal.  You spend enough time: you become “rich.”[25] And what FreedomTM does is present this economy as alternative to our own.

I can’t help but think, considering my own panoptic time[26] in WoW, that the model Suarez outlines in FreedomTM is in fact fairly prescient and promising.  (Furthermore it evokes, perhaps unconsciously, all the “good” things about Economy 2.0 that Stross outlines in Accelerando; actually, not only that, it resembles more concretely a weirdly [T] Rooseveltian populism than anything that has been broached recently, and for that, I commend him.)  That said, however, his fiction depends upon so many cognitive leaps that even the possibility of its utopian realization has to confront the brutality of late-capital and its ability to totalize, reify, and absorb pretty-much-everything.  In short, he makes it quite clear that even the possibility of this type of emergent, post-capital economy will have to confront capital-as-it-is—i.e. in all its brutal logic.

And this bring me to the second reason why this novel is notable.  I might be totally wrong about this, but I think this is the first novel that truly imagines in a “real” way what the destruction of our current archive would look like.  The real danger of our postmodernity is that everything will be “deleted.”  And this is precisely what the villains of FreedomTM try to bring about: Cybergeddon.  Delete the archive.  All of it.  All the money, digital affects, and flows of global capital: gone.  This is our current apocalyptic scenario par excellence.  The novel posits a conspiracy of just this type of endeavor[27]: to leave capital, and perhaps more importantly, information, in the hands of even fewer people than it resides w/ today.  (This is what the internet is for, btw: to continue informatic (and capital) flow after nukes destroy shit.)  The utopian nature of this novel is that WoW can solve this dilemma.  (Btw, it can’t.  You ever talk to the dumbasses which inhabit that world !?  Shit.)

So I feel at this point tired and that I’ve confronted the major issues of these respective Apocalyptexts, so will leave off.  But basically, if these novels do nothing else, they recast the “economic downturn” in far more interesting ways than simple old-style apocalypticism would, and, though these novels aren’t apocalyptic per se,[28] they still are compelling for all sorts of reasons, the least of which are archival.

In other words: delete the archive, make the archive into an economy, a ride, a (self-replicating) machine, or what-have-you, the nuclear logic of archival accumulation or destruction is still the dominant trope of our fictions.  And btw, Obama may have called what is happening in my current reality “Snowmageddon,” but I prefer my roommate’s words: “Snowbliteration.”  Cheers brothers and sisters.

[1] This isn’t quite true in the case of Suarez and the “Cybergeddon” he introduces.  See Daniel Suarez, FreedomTM (New York: Dutton, 2010), 370-2.  More on this later.  (Seriously, btw, that’s twice in a little over a week that I’ve encountered the suffix “-geddon” applied to things that perhaps do not deserve it.  I’m looking at you Obama, and your “snowmageddon.”  If you really want to get a taste of snowmageddon, read Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy.)

[2] “Our coming was expected on earth.  Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.  That claim cannot be settled cheaply.  Historical materialists are aware of that” (Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt [New York: Schocken Books, 1968], 254).

[3] Whatever the hell that is. . . .

[4] I also can’t help but coin a phrase here.  Perhaps we should call tales of apocalyptically destructive economic disaster: Capitalgeddon?  W/ a British accent: “that is a capital [sic] idea!”  Or perhaps we’d be better off getting rid of geddons altogether.  (Geddongeddon?  Yeesh.)

[5] Recall Benjamin’s famous first thesis: “The story is told of an automaton constructed in such a way that it could play a winning game of chess, answering each move of an opponent with a countermove.  A puppet in Turkish attire and with a hookah in its mouth sat before a chessboard placed on a large table.  A system of mirrors created the illusion that this table was transparent from all sides.  Actually, a little hunchback who was an expert chess player sat inside and guided the puppet’s hand by means of strings.  One can imagine a philosophical counterpart to this device.  The puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is to win all the time.  It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which, today, as we know, is wizened to and has to keep out of sight” (Benjamin, 253).

[6] Suarez is, according to the book-jacket “an independent systems consultant to Fortune 1000 companies.  He has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries.”  And of course I would assume Doctorow’s own work in the blogosphere (Boing Boing) is relatively familiar to most.

[7] A particularly arresting passage: “Off the turnpike [between Orlando and Hollywood, Florida], it was even worse.  The shantytowns multiplied and multiplied.  Laundry lines stretched out in the parking lots of former strip malls.  Every traffic light clogged with aggressive techno-tchotchke vendors, the squeegee bums of the twenty-first century, with their pornographic animatronic dollies and infinitely varied robot dogs.  Disney World still sucked in a fair number of tourists (though not nearly so many as in its golden day) [Lewis Mumford anyone?], but they were staying away from Miami in droves.  The snowbirds had died off in a great demographic spasm over the past decade, and their children lacked the financial wherewithal to even think of overwintering in their parents’ now derelict condos.  The area around the dead Wal-Mart was particularly awful.  The shanties here rose three, even four stories into the air, clustered together to make medieval street mazes.  Broward County had long since stopped enforcing the property claims of the bankruptcy courts that managed the real-estate interests of the former owners of the fields and malls that had been turned into the new towns” (Cory Doctorow, Makers [New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2009], 121).

[8] Doctorow imagines that Disney as we know it splits form Disney Theme Parks (“Imagineering”), becoming two separate companies, and allowing the Imagineering arm of it to take on licenses outside of the Disney purview, say, Universal, Fox, etc.

[9] A gray-market genetic treatment one has to go to Russia to receive, which basically wipes away all body fat, but b/c Americans are stupid, they go whole hog for perfect bodies and have to eat 10,000 calories a day, which basically ruins every single system in their bodies in terrible ways.  Yes, ridiculous, but so is this novel. . . (this is not meant in a derogatory fashion).

[10] This novel was published under the penname “Leinad Zeraus” in 2006 by Verdugo Press (basically a vanity press).  Its massive success caused Dutton, an imprint of Penguin, to re-release the novel under Suarez’s actual name in early 2009.  FreedomTM is the sequel to Daemon.

[11] Suarez, 227.

[12] Of course there is much more to talk about w/r/t these novels, but I’ll leave that to someone else.

[13] Thanks need to be given, btw, for much of this post to J. James Bono, as he directed my attention to virtually everything in it.  Seriously, why didn’t I mention this earlier, Jamie is perhaps the most “with-it” person I know when it comes to, idk, pretty much anything (esp. computery stuff).

[14] To paraphrase the Liars (“Grown Men Don’t Fall in the River, Just Like That,” They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top [Mute Records, 2001]).

[15] Its last 2/3 get fairly bogged down in “character development” and far too much interest in theme parks and Disney.

[16] God I hate this word and other variations of it.

[17] Hyperarchivalism if I’ve ever seen it.

[18] I’ve done away w/ paragraph breaks in this quotation for formatting and readability reasons.  If this offends anyone, get in touch.

[19] Doctorow, 124.

[20] Btw, for those who’re interested, I’m “Slothrop” (yes this is a Gravity’s Rainbow reference) or “Wyattgwyon” (a Gaddis [The Recognitions] reference) in “Galakrond.”

[21] Well, of course there is—i.e. I can just run around talking to people, but this action doesn’t preclude that whomever I’m talking to immediately “judges” me based upon my archival makeup.  The transgressive and alternative possibilities of the game are still w/in the game itself.

[22] And I’m inclined to agree w/ Suarez, for whatever reasons.

[23] This is to ignore the clear goals late-capital has for itself, of course.  See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (New York: Picador Books, 2007).  This is also to give an imperative to Obama: provide some fucking goals!

[24] As opposed to being perpetually outside of or tangential to it, as we all are now.

[25] Btw, I ain’t in this economy.  I just don’t have the time, inclination, drive, nor OCD necessary to succeed in this economy; and most importantly, I don’t care.

[26] And I do mean this w/ all the appropriate disciplinary connotations.

[27] Against which, of course, our intrepid WoW-ians are fighting.

[28] Seriously, I think that’s the third time I’ve used this here.  oops.

Fallout: New Vegas

February 8, 2010

For anyone who recognizes the banner to this here blog. . . they’ll understand why I’m posting this.  But anyway, a new Fallout game set in Las Vegas has been announced, and though I don’t think a single detail has been released, we get yet another post-apocalyptic, freakout-wasteland to explore in the near future.  Thank Abaddon for video games that give us post-nuclear scenarios–I can convince myself I’m doing work when I’m really just wasting time.  Can’t wait.


February 8, 2010

Today I experienced my first ever “snow day,” as my Reading Poetry class along w/ the rest of the University of Pittsburgh’s classes got canceled; and to commemorate it I thought I’d add a couple more “Apocalyptexts”: basically things I’ve read recently during a bout of mild yet much deserved academic irresponsibility.  For someone who grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a snow day is completely novel.  The closest I ever came to anything resembling a snow day was school being canceled b/c of floods, but that really isn’t the same thing at all, for the rains, when they come—even when they are torrential and flood the streets w/ feet of water—are a blessing: they slake the perpetual thirst of the desert.   For this snow day, however, it isn’t even snowing (it’s actually sunny and quite nice, if cold, outside).  The nearly 2 feet of snow that got dumped on the ‘burgh b/t Friday evening and Saturday morning is basically still on the ground, and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon (there’s another 3-6 inches expected Wed.).  The storm that hit the mid-atlantic states this past weekend dumped the most snow pittsburgh has seen since 1992, and is one of the 4 worst snow storms in terms of inches since they started keeping track of this stuff.  Basically, it’s kinda epic.  (Though the pics below don’t quite do it justice, esp. since things have “melted” a bit in the past couple of days.)  Wandering around the city has been surreal.  I haven’t been driving b/c my back-wheel drive pickup truck would not get very far—esp. w/o the sandbags in the back I’ve been procrastinating putting there all winter—though I do have a large amount of respect for the many inhabitants I’ve seen valiantly digging their cars out and spinning their wheels down streets it looks like no one has even tried to plow.  There has been an infectious sense of joy amidst what they are still calling a “state of emergency” (or maybe it’s just me, whose current life is such as to be minimally effected by this type of inclement weather).  More people are walking around the streets than I’ve ever seen before, and people are generally smiling and cordial, esp. those brave souls who have gone to work, opened much needed services and stores, and basically kept the whole capitalist train running.  My thanks.  But I am sitting at  home, warm and happy, pouring hot water down my pipes to unfreeze them (they weren’t that frozen thankfully) so I could do some much-needed laundry.  So what better way to spend a snow day, to endure what Barack Obama called “snowmageddon” (no fooling), to do some apocalyptic blogging?  My thoughts precisely.  On to some Apocalyptexts.

Also, someone has recently pointed me toward this delightful apocalyptic flash video, check it out.

Some pics (though they aren’t as apocalyptic as could be, as I just stepped outside to do them, rather than, as I shoulda, taken my camera when I was wandering around the city earlier):

wait, that tree limb isn't supposed to be there. . . .

Yep, that tree limb has definitely decided to come hang out on the porch. there's also a grill, a table, and some chairs out here somewhere. . . .

I'm not going anywhere.

holy nuclear winter batman!

tree, please don't fall on our house.

I’ll try to be more prescient and try to take my camera elsewhere, but not today.  cheers.


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