“doubled in the canvas of asphalt,
embroidered by a somnambulist shifting from flight to pursuit (of reality?)
here is our scenario for narrating history”
-Xenia, Arkadii Dragamoshenko
The problem of the contest drifted onto an esoteric register, where there was no hope for a solution, but just for some vague gestures that might suggest suitable layout of figures. The greatness of this problem called for a concerted effort at long-term management, as though it were a rich plot of agricultural terrain.
This figure of agriculture at the source of the contest was no coincidence. It was suspected that the contest was a matter of property relations, which were implicated with agricultural processes at the source of history. Like the agony of the physiocrats – whose wheat grows best? Whose stock has superior yields? These conjectures proceed as “practical esotericism”.
Contests open like Russian dolls which have entrapped us from birth. One riddle dissolves into the next along a series of ascending scale.
The society of property relations – amour propre – was contingent on these scales of magnitude. These relations were only actualized at certain levels where they affected populations. Competitive engagement was sustained at each level by mediation through a constellation of fetishes.
We were blind to the contests that enchanted us, until they were manifested by some surprise. Maybe we stumbled on an uncanny microcosm that hinted at the enveloping forms. Maybe it was just a lone carnival ride rusting beside a shopping mall.
One struggles to narrate the history of the contest. This has no plot or characters, but it might have some sequential order.
Competition began as an unconscious impulse. This subliminal passion related to the vertical posture, and group inclinations towards placings and gregarious positions. Somnambulant jockeying. One was born into the snare of competition, as the fetus was already implicated in “oedipal” transactions. Like an infant who delivered aboard some nomadic yurt, the first cells were born within the momentum of the contest.
Second comes an existential awakening to this apriori movement. This is an hysterical awakening to the uncertainty of the contest. What are we doing? Who is this for? Which leads to the panicked flight to escape from this unknown condition. Pursued by hostile doubles which build into a deluge of commercial attractions. The contest in this sense becomes an undetermined atmosphere, an unlocatable ethos, a vague pattern of neural transmissions, or what psychoanalysts call an unconscious transference relation.
The course of “development” (we’ll be using this word in an original way) pushes competition into higher orders, where attractions compete and simulate each other as they strive to lure populations of prospective competitors.
Trapped within the arenas of competition, such as education, business, sports, performance, consumerism, politics, dating… competitors are lured into the actuality of contests where finer distinctions emerge with minute grading and forms. Actualization proceeds through the swallowing of the bait. But the nature of the bait is highly non-trivial for reasons that will be explained below.
Only through their detachment can the non-competitors have the chance to grasp the virtual contest as a generic idea. These anti-competitors take flight towards a broader nature, in their struggle to denaturalize that relational idea and break the spell of its reification which casts them into the role of contestants. But this escape is itself always in danger of become another competition.
That reification of the contest was established through the epistemological coup of Darwinism, when it conceived nature as a struggle for survival. Breaking the spell of competition requires breaking that conception of nature, and replacing it with a divergent sense of the natural elan. Darwinism becomes the target for an iconoclastic hammer which is raised by Bergsonian evolutionists.
Populations are drawn through subtle mechanisms. The lure of competition is equivocal and undetermined. Beyond the triviality of prizes and rewards there are elaborate Protean movements which we describe as “developments”, where this word has its widest and most imaginative range. This phantasm of progress can have actual efficacy.
This magical phallus operates through education, real estate, fashion, sports, cuisine, automotive, travel, cinema… this development is dematerialized into the mode of fantasy. The primary lure of competition is not the prize, but rather participation in these fantasies which manage the surpluses of anxiety. The pleasure of development is where the pedagogy and election of the polis is enjoyed.
The field of competition is arranged so that populations can maintain dramatic distance from abjection. This allows for the experience of jouissance within the conditions of amour propre, so that the risks of entropy are mitigated. Competition derives its authenticity through bearing the risks of abjection – that risk puts competition into communion with real elan.
The contest is convoluted in its origin, but this confusion has been rigorously accounted for theoretically. This is the confused trinity of the gift which blends the weapon, the exchange (munus), and the sacrifice (donum). But competition becomes increasingly atmospheric through the course of development, so that it ultimately threatens to monopolize the formation of corporeal sensitivity, or the form of relations with the other. The flesh is sensitized to the metaphysics of competition.
The faculty of attention has become one of the great themes in commercialized life, whether in education, medicine, law enforcement, transportation or video games. But doesn’t attention presume sensitivity?
Competition grows opaque as it drifts into the mode automation or mechanical simulation. It becomes a fetishism of fitting-in with patterns of appearances. When the prospect of victory is forgotten, then there is no direct competition. There is the problem of being accepted into the oblique game as a normal competitor. Vaguely ludic semblances become normative conditions for socioeconomic participation.
Game play always implies the duplicity of the real and the simulated. The game is always a protean dialectic that twists these modes together onto a mobeus strip. Realist art explores variations on these movements. There are levels of consciousness where there is a game, and others where it’s felt to be more real.
Games are dialectics of the real and the artificial. Like it is often said that something is “only a game”. But dimunitions of the ludic become hollow when life is being “gamified” under the influence of “algorithmic culture”. And of course being “in” the game is not always desirable. Sometimes you don’t want to play any more. There are games where players compete for exemption or non-participation. Winning can be a matter of getting out.
Games can be for children, or the undeveloped. They are for training, or for the entertainment of those with nothing better to do. But when playing is implicated with socialization, then being non-competitive implies a non-socialization. This would be like a coup of amour de soi , or the unknown triumph of recluses. Note the overlap here between hermits and elitists, where they might be indistinguishable as non-participants.
Competition can be insidious where it gets repressed or concealed. Candid direct competition becomes faux pas where it appears pathetic, or desperate for recognition, and it degenerates into the unsportsmanlike. And so it may be concealed in cloaks of coolness, irony or cynicism. But then this attitude reverses into a display of authentic competitiveness. Candid competition can be a source of morale, such as what happens when the labor-force is assembled before the leaders. This dialectic gets further complicated so that the feigning of morale becomes conspicuous. This fraying of artifice and reality into an imperceptible mixing of signals so that participation becomes indistinguishable from non-participation.
Competitive structures provide a source of sense. The plotting of rational behavior is a condition for economic prediction. This abstract artifice casts bodies into agent roles, so that orientation can be established around goals and play-by-play commentary. Competition is also central to plotting as a literary device, like in the social climbers of a Balzac novel.
Note how the rational interest of agency is implicated with the essential irrationality of enjoyment. This point where sense turns into nonsense, where the game is suspended in ecstasy.
The gamification of life was spreading through the cybernetics of the cold war, where both international relations and markets were conceived through the modeling of games. To conceive war as a game is obviously an archaic confusion of modality which would seem to be essential to the very idea of war.
The rationality of economic agents has unfolded as a logic of means, whereas the radical anti-rationality of this modus operendi was concealed in the opacity of its ends. Those end were represented in the clichés of enjoyment, like beaches and white picket fences, and the harmony of nature.
The inherent esotericism of competition is nothing inherently sinister, as this obscurity can be rationally accounted for. Most important is how the spontaneity or kairotic nature of the contest makes it oblique. This is to say that it works through free unconscious transference, which is linked to the moving surplus of the superegoic supplement. This implies an essential instability, like the dynamic of a ball flying back and forth. All of these qualities are implicated with the inherent elitism of any indulge in artifice. Affluence leads to the boredom which is the mother of “arts and games”, like those tournaments that were once held by the knights of Camelot.
A generic conception of the game hangs like a cloud of intrigue that affects populations with addictive habits. Only privileged minds would dare to discuss this topic so abstractly. One must be entirely removed from the game to take it up as an intellectual topic. This kind of philosophy was initiated in the 1950’s by the circle of thinkers surrounding Costas Axelos in Paris. Eugene Fink and Henri Lefebre were party to those discussions which explored a Heidegger-Marx synthesis that tended towards a ludic geopolitics. This line of investigation concerns how populations are affected by property relations. Or we could say the gamification of property transactions. Competition gets deconceptualized so that it becomes something like the “mood around the room” aka amour propre.
“High hangs the Qin mirror”. This proverb refers to the most notoriously brutal of the ancient Chinese dynasties. The Qin were the dynasty who cast their laws onto bronze cauldrons, and boiled transgressors in the vessel inscribed with the law they’d broken. Transgressors were boiled along with the other four members of their unit. This is where Marx talks about primary appropriation or primitive accumulation. We are concerned with a threshold where that terrifying reality could be gamified.
Playfulness is insidiously implicated with compulsive normativity. But games for normativity can be either interior or exterior. This distinguishes between competition for positions within pregiven models of normality, and competition over the very form of hegemonic normality. This would distinguish the interiority of a relative game from the exteriority of an absolute game where the game’s very conception is at stake.
The diffuse materials of the game spreads through refrains, viruses, frequencies, gestures. The game elements are transported by the wind in a decomposed state, like pieces of some modular furniture that can be assembled anywhere according to local customs.
The crowd flees a burning theater. (Elias Canetti) But maybe the announcement was made by an actor. The modality here might be called the dialectical terror game.
The slowest creature in the herd gets eaten by the predator. Though when getting chased by adults for fun, sometimes children run slower or only pretend to run because they want to get “eaten”.
The game as an avatar of capital: populations are drawn into the spell of market competition by the lure of fun. In its degraded form, fun is a relief from boredom. She wanted something more from life, so she took the plunge. There nothing in it for us.
The fun-house becomes a generic model for political-economy. This concerns “allegory” but we’ll need to be careful with the use of that very complex word. The crowd struggle to escape from the mirror relations. But the mirror has hidden dimensions. The trompe l’oeil effect of the false outside. The secrecy of the gaze and the double.
Kantianism provides a generic model of normal argumentation, i.e. of intellectual contest. This is an ethics of responsible discussion where the references are limited to the phenomenal, which is implicated with the actual. Of course the empirical isn’t subjective, but subjectivity emerges from the disavowal of the abyss of empiricism. There lies the insidious link between subjective agency and the fetishization of the phenomenal: they are complimentary aspects of the disavowal of the abyss of empiricism.
Breaking with the deontological norms of the public sphere, and making direct references to the manifestation of the virtual, this intellectual violence releases intriguing excess and lack into the field of representation. This intrigue is not to be valued as a virtue, but rather as the raw flux of the virtual from which virtue might be synthesized. And the virtual here must be carefully distinguished from the Kantian nuomenal. This is not a transgression of the epistemological norms of Kantianism, but rather a diagonal escape from that conceptual constellation.
The destabilization of argument norms should be executed with caution. It should proceed with the commitment to the positivity of a new synthesis. Here we are interested in a substitution of politics for art. The surging of the image becomes a manifestation of the thing itself. But the thing is excessive in a way that can never be political – perhaps it can only ever be an object of awe and wonder. This breaks from a more domestic contest into a wilder contest where the terms are less determined. This affirms the game or contest overall, but recreates it by substituting these dimensions which had been segregated into separate market sectors. This is not about political art, but rather art that parasites off the political, and maybe kills its host.
Kant says we only have access to the image and not the thing itself, but at some threshold this reverses so that we only have access to the image which is the thing itself.
Bergson conceived evolution as an instinctual divergence. This can be reinterpreted as a flight from the Darwinian contest of financial cybernetics. This makes tradition into an evolutionary flight passing between heterogeneous situations. The virtual nuomena becomes the mercurial “tra” which is expressed in translation, transposition, and travel. A substance that is ephemeral as such.
In Bodies in Pain (1984), Elaine Scarry described how the deficiencies of symbolic institutions resulted in the torture practices of the 1970s. It was as if the inadequacy of language called forth a supplement of violence. There was a crisis of symbolic authority that had to do with the new world order that emerged as the IMF became the repo man. The liminal economy that was discovered by Scarry may have relevance beyond the ethical questions of violence.
The body has been decorporealized or excarnated through commercial technology to the point where its substantiality requires an insurgence of the ephemeral. It becomes imperative that substance can incarnated at a more dematerialized level. Something like Kantian normativity has been applied so far as to force a backlash of radical spirituality. By some yet unexplained dialectical turn, it would seem that the rationalist ghost-hunt of developmental positivism has made us into ghosts.
This is an overdetermined perversion of Jevons’s marginalism – those thresholds on supply-demand graphs where utility benefits are reversed. Convergence on the Darwinian form of competition provokes the backlash of a Bergsonian divergence. Suddenly we found ourselves preferring guns to butter. This reversal must be conceived at a virtual level, so that the actuality of what is reversing can remain undertermined. This is similar to Walter Benjamin’s dialectic in critique of violence, with the reversal from positive law into natural law.
This thinking can only proceed at some levels of abstraction where thought becomes a flickering of concepts and figures like in Godard’s essay films. The phenomenal which gets sacrificed here shares some family resemblances with the Sellarsian “myth of the given”. But this sacrifice has to be enacted at a particular historical juncture. This is not the “myth of the given” in general, but rather the kind of normativity that arose where the legacy of Darwinian evolution became involved with the cybernetics movement. A coup was struck when Frederic Hayak invoked to the pre-critical metaphysics of Adam Smith and gave birth to the ludic actualism of contemporary financial imperialism.
This sacrifice forces an altercation in something like the dynamics of mimesis. The mirroring that worked through the phenomenal-actual relation is not destroyed, but gets displaced into the imperceptible. This abandonment leaves an absolute mimesis of life with itself, as if life in its sovereignty had to become two, which is something like the medieval doctrine of the king’s two bodies. Where life loses its apparent model, then it has to become its own non-apparent model. This is a shift to a more absolute immanence.
The phenomena would reach its holocaust in the simulacrum of the digital. Some competitive body’s lack of substance would reach a limit where it incinerates into the ether. This donum would destroy the illusion of substance in the empirical phenomena, so that the need for substance is relocated into the noumenal, what is rather more precisely called the virtual.
This could be a turn in metaphysics where there is an incarnation of the virtual. It would break the spell of actual immediacy, that cruel obsession of presence.
A flesh of memory instead of perception. This would dissolve the barriers between concepts and figures, since that apartheid is implicated with the defensive structure of the phenomenal. The flesh becomes rare traces of an immemorial nature, and this might in turn be identified as something “symbolic” or “structural”, though of course these terms would assume an original sense. This would be the body of a tradition which is only a transposition.
What were formerly called concepts are dissolved into the weight of the flesh. This flesh could be named nature, matter, or mother – but we must reach the point where the distinction of these names doesn’t matter. These names point towards a distant corporeal memory. The ideal of platonism becomes corpuscular, the micro-material of the paleolithic.
The sacrifice of the same provides a relief, like the zenith in an undulation of pressure that moves from same to other. The other assumes the burden of evolutionary divergence.
A divergent nature which only manifests as disruption. A memory-body that periodically throbs – intermittences of the heart.
The phenomenal was parochial, and assumed excessive burdens of responsibility. Pressure moves onto a greater plane of composition. A more inclusive plane where greater ontological differences coexist. But such a broader composition is threatened by sensitivities where the old phenomenal flesh might be triggered.
This requires the construction of an artifice which we call second-order sensitivity. Splitting occurs at thresholds in the psychological immediacy of affectation. Second-order sensitivity is a reflexive mediation of that sensitivity. This mediation implies the intervention of something which fuses the conceptual and the figural. This does not eliminate pain, but reduces it below the threshold of splitting. This greater composition gets mediated with the figure of maternal holding, and with the anthropological concept of spirit possession.
Sensitivity can be figured as twitch-trigger, wound, trauma, stigma, taboo, abjection, shame, pathos. These affects are implicated with the suffering of amour propre. These are affects of the losers, failures, victims, and casualties. They are felt in the welfare lines, concentration camps, and hospital wards.
The sensitivity is a breach within a field of appearances. Appearances are inherently exposed at some opening, but those openings are disavowed, so there is sensitivity about the threat of its return. The opening is the exposure to the uncertainty of the nuomenal.
Mediation changes perspectives on the breach, so that it can be perceived from outside, or so that it can be perceived sub specie aeturnitus. Mediation makes it possible to endure the uncertainty of the nuomenal. When we are situated inside the appearances, then the opening is threatening. The interior perspective of the wound gets doubled with an external perspective.
The wound is umbilical, genital, oral, anal, optical, manual… as if every breeze expressed the deep alienation of nature.
From inside the contest, maternity is alienable. This is to say that it’s split between concept and figure. The interior is established by disavowal. But from an exterior perspective, maternity becomes the weight of substance. This substance is situated beyond the horizon, where it makes concepts and figures diverge from themselves, rather than diverging from each other. It’s a divergent substance inherent in all things. That is duration. Here we go mother on a shipless ocean…
Neither text nor image, but the mixing of traces through the subtle movement of perspective. The crypto-communion of the maternal phallus. This chemistry proceeds through the calisthenics of memory: telescoping, defocusing, contracting, dilating, rotating, fading… a substance generated in a dark room. This puts the Bergson back into Bazin.
Reification returns as a pivotal term. But its connotation changes as we drift away from ideological concerns.
It was as though all the languages ever spoken contained a total of one word, and its expression was reloading for another round at some fatal monte carlo game contrived by wayward quantum physicists.
The move from Kantian mediation to Hegelian mediation. From mediation of the thing, to mediation as the thing.
The discourse of early modernity is like a carousel that revolves eternally: nature, society, virtue, fortune, property, love, fear, survival. The machine only works with the compliant parts. Like if you want to restore an old car, you need to find suitable components.
A crude theory of translation assumes a clean distinction of signifier and signified. Then it’s a simple matter of changing the signifiers, while keeping the signifieds the same. But a more refined translation attempts to translate the signifiers. Then the material of the letter is no mere instrument, but is rather implicated with the essence of expression. This is where language grows hospitable towards the nonsense of its own image.
The gauging of this sacrifice can be approached as an ontological problem. The phenomenal gets sacrificed because its implicated with transcendent models of play. What remains is not immanence, but rather another transcendence, which is that of physiology.
There has often been made a naïve assumption that the phenomenal was immanent while the noumenal was transcendent. This conceptual alignment must be destroyed for the sake of an immanent noumena.
The fleeting phenomena were only the stunt doubles of the real actors who’d been displaced onto another hidden dimension. The real actors had been displaced by entertainment and special effects. Nature was the real actor, the real artifice, who was displaced by these entertainers with their artificial realities.
“I may be running, but I’m looking for a weapon”
Parataxis – the moment of recognition, reversal – the shift from flight to pursuit. Lack and excess change places. Achteon and Diana?
The sanguine American bearing the gift of magnanimity. Investors are always looking for returns. Their gifts are like munus-weapons, and they should be met with the sacrificial donum.
The geopolitics of relational moods: charisma, jest, emotional work, pity, reckless passions…. mood as felt by others. A moral economy ensues after sacrificing the concept “division of labor”.
The dangers of sacrificing of appearances. Divergence requires vigilance. Don’t let history diverge into concepts like the history of perception, narrative, intellect, institutions, technology etc. And be wary of the schizophrenia of “historical ontologies”. Perhaps better to hold history together as one series of punctuated divergence in itself. There is no plot or direction. It’s continuity rests on molecular elements of the historical.
Divergence is the purposeless sense of no one. All narrations, figures and concepts are threatened from within by divergence. They are possessed by divergence which causes them to lose their nominal positioning.
The inherent divergence of propriety. Not a divergence of parts or aspects from each other, but a divergence of the very sameness of the same from itself as such.
This primary divergence of the same goes eternally unapprehended. Underway in the ground of things. Not a difference between identities, but a difference inherent to any identity. Duration.
Divergent history unravels sense into nonsense. This death drive of realism. But of course it calls for the counter-movement of Eros.
Death as reality is resisted by Eros as artifice. The erotic cliché comes as a punctuated strike to mark a turning point.
Figure/ground, artifice/reality, signal/noise… Eros/Thanatos.
The parasite scurries away, but long after its gone we still hear the gnawing of impropriety. That vibration reduces everything to divergent refuse. Nature was the greatest parasite of all.
The clichés of life-love flashed up from the sea of diverging darkness.
Elan Vital was the polite disguise of Elan Morose. That maternal force of divergence was channeled into the positive energy of commerce where it masked itself as love.
Play becomes insidious wherever it’s a matter of survival.
Eros/Thanatos – subjectivity was conjured on that distinction. An elementary hermeneutic where something flashes against the ground of meaningless drift.
Thanatos is the momentum of maternal divergence, while Eros is the leap into story time.
A story without plot, where concepts are confused with figures. The story fetish that is always getting caught on something. The story that only moves on in little stumbles. This story gets its form from the non-story. Always stalling on the vigil of the nonstory, the mise-en-scene. The figure receives its cast from the ground. The ground is panic, flight, clinamen, exogamy. There’s a commercial need for innovation and originality. Like the driving away of the first son in Tibetan families. Or the Platonic fear of demiurgical plagiarism.
Death-mirror, life-mirror. Neuronal dispositions. The traces of symmetry dissolve at the opening to an intangible, immemorial body. Old habits die hard.