GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

April 9, 2019

The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:26 am

As sacral kingship disintegrated, and the unity of the sacred and social centers was dismembered, the response in the late middle ages in the West was to retrieve the originary scene. Going back to the scene is the only response to any social crisis: if the existing institutions and the totality of gestures they organize no longer defer violence, what else could there be to do other than discover some new gesture; and what other means could we have other than finding some central object the deferral of the appropriation of which we can organize around? Sacral kingship in its high imperial forms (i.e., “divine kingship”) is in fact anti-scenic: the sacral king of a community small enough that they might still be able to simply kill and replace the king if his powers fail is still the center of a scene; with the monstrous empires of antiquity, where the king is completely protected and most people, we can assume, pay him tribute while relying more directly on their ancestral cults, there is no real social scene. In a sense, nothing happens for very long periods of time, other than court intrigues.

The Axial Age acquisitions, then, restart history by creating centers outside of the imperial one. The Axial Age acquisitions—Greek philosophy, prophetic Judaism and Christianity and even, I think (but probably less so), Chinese philosophy, are both anti-imperial and imperial. They construct a position from which the existing emperor falls short in God’s eyes, which is to say they institute a kind of permanent resentment towards empire; while at the same time imagine an eternal and universal empire under a true, divinely ordained king. Western “history” is, we could say, the history of the deserved fall of empires until the establishment of the one true empire at the end of days. Both Marxism and liberalism fit this apocalyptic pattern. So, from the failure of non-scenic imperialism, the recovery of scenicity takes the form of the imagining of “History” as a scene. This is why the anti-imperial side of the Axial Age ultimately wins out—the only acceptable God-Emperor would be God himself, who will rule once love of Him has been implanted in all human hearts by some revelation produced by the final, cataclysmic fall of increasingly evil empires.

We can see a comprehensive iteration of the originary scene here: our evil inclinations lead to us wanting, also fearing, but finally demanding and deserving the tyrant to end all tyrants; while the gesture on this scene that prevents our final descent is the Word of God becoming our words. How violent this final apocalypse must be, and how much it depends on human action rather than divine intervention will vary according to circumstances, but the structure is unvarying right down to the present day. We are still told, in the midst of declared crises of the liberal order, that the “voice of the people” finally sets things right. We still think there is a “voice of the people”—nothing can be more commonplace than to hear commentators says the “American people want (or don’t want)” this or that. What they mean to the extent that they are accurate, is that a sufficient majority could be patched together, by hook and crook, for a particular purpose. But imagine what it would sound like if politicians and pundits spoke in that way (as they often undoubtedly do amongst themselves)—there would be absolutely no reason to grant any decision they make the slightest legitimacy. Which means there is no other way of thinking about liberal legitimacy than according to what is still a Rousseauian notion of the “general will.”

And it is also true that unanimity regarding the originary structure of a social order is necessary if that society is not to completely degenerate into warring forces devoid of any limits on the weapons used and aims pursued in the struggle. So, it’s not surprising that liberalism recognizes this. Even leftists need to reference a unanimously held originary structure. Their anti-whiteness, for example, is not asserted as a matter of taste or mere tribal hostility—they must assert that there was in fact another, truer, America all along, with its own genealogies, its own sacred events and names, its own anticipated apocalypse. These are all versions of what I would call The Big Scene, and in the end there isn’t that much to choose from among them. The Big Scene is big in size and in consequences, but most importantly it is big in the sense of limitless because it is a scene constructed, not around a center, but in order to prevent the emergence of a center. A centered scene always has limits in space and time—participants must be in a circumference a certain distance from the scene to be witnesses, and if the number of participants grows beyond the size of this original circumference, it is people in the “rows” further back who acknowledge the precedence, in space or time, of those in the front rows, so this growth can be orderly.

A scene whose participants are devoted to the suppression of any center, though, is inherently unlimited. One can organize entire countries, or the majority and most active parts of them, around preventing the emergence of some proxy for a center. One can even organize regions around it; it’s too soon to say whether the world can be organized in this way. Such scenes are like lynchings—anyone can come along and throw another stone. They tend toward egalitarianism—everyone is against the same thing, and intensity is always increasing so no one can establish real preeminence in that regard. Elections are still about selecting a government, so they must put someone, some imperial figure, at the center—but the history of democracy is the history of the effacement and disfiguring of these central figures so that they represent nothing more than “who we are as a people” at this point. No doubt part of the hysterical hostility to President Trump is the overly imperial figure he strikes—he seems to actually make decisions, rather than just being the final filter through which the information circulating among elites and specialized institutions is processed. But all of the surrounding para-governmental institutions—the media, the NGOs, the universities, and so on—are completely uninterested in governing, and are free to engage in perpetual center smashing. They support politicians, of course, and more fervently than ever, but center-smashing politicians, more interested in gestures and less in coherent imperatives. And the politicians themselves eventually assimilate to this crowd. Governing of a sort continues, by the civil servants hired to do it, but they are themselves increasingly caught up in virtue signaling and helping to take down anyone who threatens to establish order.

It was liberalism that finally tilted the apocalyptic scene towards its permanently anti-imperial trajectory. And that’s when we get The Big Scene firmly installed as the imagined retrieval of the originary scene. It is a false scene, because it imagines a world without the Big Men—in this sense, liberalism and democracy are carnivalesque. But for this very reason it seems closer to the originary scene, which had no one at the center, just an object to tear to pieces. Anyone presuming to be a Bigger Man would violate the scene, but the same must be the case for any attempt to propose a general basis for agreement on anything whatsoever because that too must merely be an attempt to sneak someone into the driver’s seat. This is why resentments cannot be remedied in this way: only resentments that are framed in terms of some discord between the social center and the sacred or paradoxical center can be addressed. But only a shared concord between both modes of centrality makes discordance a problem—if all social centers, all central authorities, are equally illegitimate because equally evanescent and arbitrary, resentments can only feed on each other.

The discourse of The Big Scene is deeply rooted in our cultural and political vocabularies. If you listen carefully, across the entire political spectrum, you will see that virtually no one criticizes anything or anyone on any other basis than the violation of one norm of equality against another. All we see is people leveraging one residue of liberalism against another. It’s all people elbowing each out of the front row in the march of The Big Scene. For example, people can acknowledge that there are relations between nations that are best described as “imperial” or “hegemonic,” but such words are only used as terms of opprobrium, and the states accused of creating such relations will insist on euphemisms disavowing them. Imagine somebody criticizing the Saudis and Israelis for not superintending the Middle East effectively enough, or China for not establishing clear rules of inter-state interaction for East Asia, or the US for not thinking seriously about the best mixture of traditional and modern social forms to promote throughout Latin America. For that matter, think about how the sting of populist nationalism would be removed, and the basic ends of such nationalisms brought closer to achievement, if we could simply acknowledge, one, that many, maybe most, societies will be ethnically mixed; and, two, that in ethnically mixed societies there will almost always be a dominant, majority ethnic group that should set the tone for, be deferred to by, and in turn offer patronage to, minority groups. All of these approaches would imply “little scenes” with a center, and therefore must be overrun by The Big Scene apocalypse.

Restoring the originary structure of the social order only secondarily involves getting into arguments over the officially recognized founding events: the “real meaning” of the American or French revolution, of “1688” or the Magna Carta. “Arguments” are part of the problem. The originary structure will be restored through the constitution of disciplinary scenes carved out of the many anomalies of The Big Scene. Every scene must be revealed as originary, as having a central object, even if unidentified or even unsought; every scene institutionalizes itself, even if minimally. The semiotic materials of the scene should be used to name every emergent practice on the scene. The practices on the scene at least then become objects of the scene, and the origins of those practices point to other objects to be placed at the center. Relapses into argumentative clichés can be named, as can the pedagogical moves used to circumvent them. This kind of practice in itself looks back toward other originary scenes, as it finds its precedents in them, in part by looking for models to extend its own scene. The more such practices inform and lead others to institute related practices, the more the commonly recognized founding events can be introduced, probably in a revised manner, into the discourse.

By the way, did you understand the title of this post? (Before you started reading? While you were reading? At this point?) “Anarchist ontology” might be a fairly familiar phrase, going back the Reactionary Futureblog. We’ve been contrasting it with “absolutist ontology” for a while. That one might propose that an ontology has an “anthropological basis” might not be very surprising for people familiar with GA. “The Big Scene” is a phrase new to this post, but, of course, in GA we are always speaking of scenes, the scenic, and scenicity. Perhaps the originary scene was a small scene, so this one is distinguished from it, perhaps pejoratively—that it’s the basis of anarchist ontology, which is generally distinguished unfavorably from absolutist ontology, would reinforce this impression. But if you’re unfamiliar with all of this, the title would look like sheer gibberish. It would be “unclear.” Now, that someone would say the title is gibberish and unclear, rather than saying that there are signs here of an unfamiliar disciplinary space is another way of being on The Big Scene. The norm of “classic prose” is that your writing should place all readers on the same scene along with each other and the writer. A text which some will understand but others won’t is inherently suspect. Imagining yourself on The Big Scene is the equivalent of what Marxism called “ideology.” The kinds of incommensurabilities between languages identified by Anna Wierzbicka are “retouched” through supplementations like “progress” and “cultural development” rather than seen for the originary constructs they are. There is nothing outside of the attention articulated in disciplinary spaces as they study the always distinctive and present imperatives from the center. Building distinctive spaces to study what is distinct even in those spaces under the spell of The Big Scene and being able to answer charges of merely having a little scene by ratcheting up the distinctions all around is the way you resist The Big Scene.

August 19, 2020

Transposing the Scene

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:08 pm

I’ll be coming back here to issues addressed in a post from April 9, 2019, “The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology,” and which I can now place in the context of the conversion of the ritual/mythical nexus into practices. The starting observation is a simple one: it is extremely difficult to speak about politics, history or social order without modeling these constructs on a scene upon which all are present. It is necessary to make a real effort not to talk about social groups (“whites” and “blacks,” “men” and “women,” “racists,” “transgendered,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” etc.) as if they were unified individuals with a single intention. It takes an even greater effort to resist speaking of individuals this way, even if doing so is equally delusional or, more precisely, “mythical.” The difficulty here is clarified by what Francis Noel-Thomas and Mark Turner call the “classic style,” which David Olson considers central to the emergence of “prose” (and therefore literacy) and which generates the illusion that the writer and reader share the same scene (this is what is taken to be “clear writing”). If we think that there is some “we” that shares the same scene, what we really believe is that we have a shared center, and that finding the right sacrificial object and the distribution of that object will resolve any conflicts.

It would be impossible to overstate how prevalent and destructive this mythical mode of thinking is. Anyone who says “we” without specifying the practice that constitutes the “we” participates in it. But no one can be blamed for it—it is a deeply laid intellectual and cultural inheritance. That we no longer share a sacrificial center, where distribution takes place directly and intentionally; that the social center is now permanently occupied by someone who cannot be sacrificed—after all these centuries this has still not registered. All of our social and political concepts—justice, liberty, equality, nature, democracy, right, and so on—share the same “big scenic” imaginary, as if we were all imagining ourselves standing around a shared central object. The occupied center is still taken as a kind of accident, acceptable only insofar as we can reduce the occupant to the implementation of one of these concepts. The concept of the free market, contrary to appearances, represents the same kind of primitivism, as if we were all at the same meal exchanging parts of the sacred body with each other: “wealth” and “GDP” are imagined as the beast at the center, even if the beast continues to grow. All of the “social” disciplines are engaged in the impossible task of transposing the scenic imaginary of a shared sacrificial scene onto the realities of a social order with a permanently occupied and sacrificial-repellent center. Our strongest moral inheritances are no less attempts to bypass this “imperial” reality and imagine a direct relation with other individuals with God as an ever more distant center. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was once a moral revolution—in what percentage of actual interactions that anyone today engages in does that statement provide even the slightest guidance? It only makes sense insofar as we can imagine directly dividing something up with our “neighbor”—rather than engaging with our neighbors only through very complex transactions presided over by the center. All the mystifications of our thinking, all of what Marxism tried to understand as “ideology,” or deconstruction as “logocentrism,” comes down to this. The same is true of what Bachelard called “atomism,” the “prejudice” in favor of seeing reality as composed of indivisible individual units, even if we keep dividing them further. We think of social being as divisible “substance” rather than articulated practices which have their end in more perfected practices because we have not yet developed modes of practice and inquiry that would identify and resolve once and for all the anomalies of transposed Big Scenic Thinking. But that, then, is exactly what the form of originary thinking I’m calling “anthropomorphics” is for.

Still, those moral inheritances pointed the way forward—not in their moral “principles” or theology but in new, disciplinary forms of organization they created. What is important about early Christianity, Talmudic Judaism and Greek philosophy is that they were communities dedicated to working out the implications of a particular revelation or mode of inquiry. It is in such disciplinary spaces that the originary scene can be retrieved, not in fulsome assertions of togetherness or universality. What matters is constructing practices that work out targeted cause and effect relations; or that iterate memorable events in controlled ways so as to make them transformative of other practices; or that modify or assess or create the conditions for other practices; or that confront mythical thinking with its sacrificial imaginary. Practices that, like the originary event, create forms of humanization, even if that now means relativizing the human in relation to the organic and technological non-human. All of these practices can proceed without or with occasional reference to the occupied center precisely to the extent that they operate under its assured security—they are all simply working out the implications of a secured center that need not be subordinated to one arbitrary principle or another, and thereby simply gives direction drawn from the strongest work in the most advanced disciplines. Everything comes from the center, and all is given back to the center, in accord with the imperative to create spaces of humanization. A little thought experiment that enables us to distinguish between when something has been learned, and when it has not been learned, is a greater tribute to the center than all the bleating about equality, love of humanity, etc.

One especially ruinous consequence of the attempt to transpose the parameters of the originary scene onto the occupied center society of scenes is the reduction of human desires to the lowest common denominator under liberalism. Politically, the wager of liberal democracies has been that the frustrations of being abstracted from communal relations into meaningless work and frivolous, often degenerate leisure and the hatreds generated by constantly playing groups off against each other could be kept below the threshold of destabilizing resistance or disintegration by ensuring each individual had enough possessions to fear losing them. At every point, responsibility, obligation and reciprocity are replaced by fear, humiliation and demoralization. Here as well disciplinary spaces of intergenerational pedagogy, invention and inquiry counter these tendencies, but then these kinds of spaces get targeted as well. But the reason this all seemed plausible is the assumption that an equalizing distribution modeled on the originary scene could be abstracted from the devotion to the center that is just as essential a component of the scene—as if humans are just animals capable of dividing portions in a peaceful way. But everyone needs to donate the center, even those who have so crippled themselves as to believe themselves capable of satisfaction with a growing piece of the pie. I have been wondering why the billionaires support the craziest left-wing groups—I know all the economic and political reasons regarding creating consumers, controlling workers, taking out competitors through regulation, high-low vs. the middle, etc. It’s all true, but it doesn’t seem to me enough—it reduces them to the same measure, in the same demeaning way, as the working class man assumed to be satisfied with a TV, house and car. They need to believe they are worthy of their wealth, which is actually a very worthy sentiment, and no doubt many of them support worthwhile enterprises (or at least sincerely try to) aside from their political giving—they simply can’t imagine any way of improving society other than giving a bigger piece of the pie to those with the least, because they have no way of imagining society other than on a scene with a shared center rather than a layered order with an occupied and directive center.

The moral imperative issued on the originary scene is to iterate the originary scene, and this is not done by imagining oneself in all kinds of friendly and cooperative relations with fictional collective constructs but by creating a present. And creating a present can be turned into a practice. Take any discussion—it will be filled with references to the past and future, along with the present. References to the past are inherently mythical: they represent narratives of attempted occupation of the center that serve as precedents of the imperatives from the center we see ourselves as following now. The same with references to the future: they are either projections of successful adherence to today’s central imperative as followed by the author of the narrative, or jeremiads warning of disaster for not following those imperatives cut to the size of the author. Convert all such mythical references to the present, and you impose a very enabling constraint upon your thinking.

What would otherwise have been constructed as a mythical narrative of the past must now be reconstructed as traces of the past in the present, identified as such through practices designed to recognize such traces. In this case there is an explicit acknowledgement of constructing a particular observational system designed to record some things and not others. A narrative of American slavery continued up through segregation and into the present can be aimed at positioning all of us on a single scene upon which some of us are where we are because of slavery and others are where they are for other reasons, and we must find some way to rearrange ourselves on that scene. If one is compelled to identify traces of slavery in contemporary institutions and practices, we get a very different distribution. Of course a practice and discipline created to find such traces will be able to do so, and it may be that the current practices of the anti-white cult have identified quite a few. But, of course, you find them because you’re looking for them, and have deliberately constructed practices to bring such things into view. In distributing these traces across the present, though, you necessarily open the field, in a way a linear narrative does not, to other practice designed to reveal other historical traces—and such practices will also uncover many traces that don’t fit the initial frame. And nothing obviously follows from identifying such traces: whether remedying the effects of past actions whose traces we find in the present is a meaningful project is itself to be determined by another practice.

Refusing to mythify the future, meanwhile, enables us to avoid fantasizing in the present. This doesn’t mean we don’t deliberately produce the future—it means that we construct practices whereby we find elements of possible futures in present practices. (I can use “we” here because I’m referring to practices that could produce such “wes”.) Practices are self-contained, while opening up onto other practice—indeed, they are self-contained by opening up onto other practices, which means converting other practices or elements of them into pieces of its own practice. A practice addresses problems generated from past practices—open questions, anomalies, hypotheses we haven’t yet found a way to test, etc. These new problems suggest new practices which haven’t yet been constructed, and it is out of these possible practices that the future will be produced. In other words, instead of “visions” of the future, look to everything tacitly spreading out from the “edges” of your current practices as signs of practices that could prepare the way for other practices, and could in turn prepare… Eliciting the tacit is itself a(n aesthetic) practice, which will in turn produce more of the tacit to elicit. Even to talk of the “goal” or “purpose” of a practice is to mythify, to imagine a whole scene in which we are all present in front of the center—what a practice produces is itself simply part of the practice, part of its continuation and revision, not some external objective reducing the practice to a means.

Converting past and future narratives into present practices involves extending practices “horizontally” across the various social scenes. Finding traces of slavery will lead you to find other historical traces and, in fact, constructing practices to identify other traces (and more differentiated forms of the traces you started looking for—why should “slavery” necessarily indicate a single, unified event producing homogeneous traces?) is an act of deferral that kicks in when mythical narratives that can’t be operationalized in a practice start to congeal. Similarly, identifying some elements of possible practices will “slide” over into identifying other elements, ones you can now identify because of the “apparatus” constructed in the course of previous practices so that you get more articulated practices of, say, pedagogy, showing others how to condition themselves to notice ever more minute elements of possible practices. All practices tend towards lowering the threshold of significance. It is precisely and only through this horizontalizing construction of the present that the vertical is accessed and comes through loud in the increasingly clear imperative to build more practices like this, like this distilled essence of the originary scene.

Constructing practices of presenting is the only way to break the addiction to the Big Scene, for which the blue pill of The Matrixis really a very good analogy. Redpilling involves the ongoing, patient work of distinguishing the Big Discipline from the Big Scene. The concepts generated by the metalanguage of literacy addressed at some length in Anthropomorphicsare essential to sustaining the Big Scene: the justice vs. tyranny opposition, for example, opposes a divinely sanctioned division of the center to its usurpation—as long as you think in such terms, you must imagine yourself on a Big Scene with other “citizens.” The same is true of all the concepts required to support the “internal scene of representation,” to refer to our recent Zoom discussion. The “internal scene” is really our “inalienable” piece of the Big Scene. But we can always initiate an inquiry with those terms. Is the tyrant always tyrannizing and doing nothing else besides? If so, “tyrannizing” becomes incredibly complex, and we’ll have to start making distinctions within the concept; if not, well, what else does he do aside from, alongside of, perhaps even as part of, his daily tyrannizing? Inventing practices that reveal such distinctions constitutes the disciplinary infiltration of the Big Scene. The same with the “internal scene”—where is the boundary between the inner and the outer here? Will we not find much of what is most interior to be, in fact, traceable to all kinds of external scenes? This is a kind of deconstruction, but, rather than discovering that positing centrality involves constructing a margin to play the center off against, we discover that constructing margins (the rebellious anti-tyrant, resisting from his inner scene) in fact reveals the center.

I’ll repeat the moral-political difference that follows here. Rather than, as we imagine ourselves doing on the Big Scene, expelling the tyrant (and his supporters and instruments) in the name of the exemplary (scapegoated) victim, we instead refrain from scapegoating (we learn to detect signs of accelerating convergent attention) because scapegoating is always an attempt to disorder the center by prepping us to look for indications of a hidden usurper behind it. Maybe there’s an attempted usurpation in process; maybe not—either way, it is increased coherence of the center and the matching of responsibility with power within practices at all levels that will always already disable any usurpation.

October 13, 2020

Scenic Design Practices

Filed under: GA — adam @ 5:59 am

It seems to me that we’ve gotten to the point, with the emergence of computing as a “metamedia,” where there’s no basis for distinguishing between “media” and “technology.” All media, including the most basic, such as speech, gesture and writing, are implicated in the vast array of recording and monitoring technologies, and as subject to algorithmic governance or “planetary scale computation” as anything else; while all technology is now dependent on code (itself a form of literacy) and contributes to the spatial arrangement of human activity no less than media such as buildings and cinema. And we can include “infrastructure” in this as well. Drawing, then, upon the understanding of “media” I proposed in Anthropomorphics, as all the means of constituting scenes, and the understanding of “technology” I proposed, that is, as the articulation of desacralized and abstracted human practices, I would synthesize it all as “scenic design practices.” Every practice is designing a scene; or, really, redesigning a scene, or some portion of a scene, with the techno-media (this term to be revised presently) available. This would include all practices, large and small, carried out by the powerless as well as the powerful, obviously with different effects and constraints across the spectrum.

I’m a little, most indirectly, familiar with some of the more significant contemporary theorists of technology, such as Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler and Freidrich Kittler, each of whom reaches back into other traditions of thought, and I’ll be doing more reading here, but I’ve already got some sense of where anthropomorphics will differ from and offer something unthought by these other approaches, so I’ll lay down some of that thinking here. The first “medium,” of course, was the scene constructed and embodied as the originary scene, part and parcel of the emergence of the sign, which I would see expansively as the posture as well as gesture of an entire human body conforming itself in real time to the postures and gestures of an emergent community of other humans. (One could always draw the boundary between sign and scene/media differently.) The first tool, or implement, meanwhile, would have had to have been some ritual enhancing “device,” that is to say, something that would materialize the memory of the originary scene by drawing or enhancing the boundary between center and periphery. A circle of bones, perhaps, marking the ritual space, eventually something like an altar, and whatever materials might have gone into constructing a permanent likeness of the central figure. Maintaining the means of ritual would involve the development of “skills,” which is to say repeatable movements that can be transmitted to others and perfected, and the creation of increasingly differentiated and specialized “tools,” which would always be bound up with sacred purposes. The real “instructor” here would be the central figure itself, who teaches the community how to create and use the tools in accord with ritual prescriptions. And, of course, myths would be generated explaining how some sacred figure provided the community with these tools and prescriptions. Since each new element of ritual must have displaced a previous one, it makes sense that such myths are often associated with some kind of transgression, an aura which until modern times has always surrounded knowledge or technical innovation.

This would all hold true for the development of weapons used for hunting and war, all of which would involve the same intimate, imperative relation to the gods and ancestors and the prescriptions and tools for building altars and conducting rituals. I’m assuming that nothing can be outside of the ritual-mythic nexus, a very tightly bound up system of imperative exchange, until the emergence of the ancient empires and their serial destruction of local communities with the mass enslavement of their populations (of course, as Engels observed a long time ago, enslavement was an alternative to extermination, once the ruler became powerful enough to make use of subjugated populations). We now have vast populations excluded from the ritual center, which means that anything can be done to or with them. It is at this point, I’m hypothesizing, that we can start to speak of “technology,” as the direct, i.e., de-sacralized and de-ritualized aggregations of humans who can be combined in an orderly way for concentrated purposes involving the use and transformation of “nature.” As Nitzan and Bichler point out, referring to Mumford in Capital as Power, the very conception of technology is an effect of power: seeing all this “labor power” at your disposal would inflame the imagination.

This imaginative impulse is both constructive and pulverizing. Not only does it afford massive and complex structures, but also for continual grinding up into ever more minute particles. “Analysis” is a result of this. So, we can take any scene and treat it as a media apparatus which is simultaneously one small piece of much larger apparatuses, but can itself be broken down into any number of mini-apparatuses. I use the word “treat” here rather than, say, “view,” because to treat something is to change it in some very specific way, to prepare it for a particular use. Insofar as we treat the scenes we inhabit or infiltrate as an articulation of design practices, we are participating in those practices. We’re designing the scenic features that will more or less eventually go into the production of some utterance, or sample. If you’re rich and powerful, this might entail organizing a studio, hiring specific kinds of directors, getting certain performers under contract, hiring publicity people to create and maintain a brand, so that you get to the point where your design issues in a movie in which a particular actor stands in a particular way, on a particular scene, and says something, which a designed for audience will hear and pass on in various ways to secondary and tertiary audiences. Designing algorithmic orders that make it more probable that certain items turn up in a search is an even more obvious example. And this entire configuration can continually be redesigned.  If you’re essentially powerless, like most of us, the appropriation of design practices nevertheless gives you a way of thinking about how to spend your time and energy—in various ways, you’re contributing to the construction and maintenance of a range of scenes, and the more precise you get about the samples you’d most like to generate, the more effectively you can think where to replace certain scenic elements with others so as to bring about resonant attentional shifts. The powerless can do this because the mega-machines into whose service we have been pressed require the “pieces” to take some initiatives and assume some responsibilities.

The design of assignments for students in pedagogical situations provide as good an example of design practices as anything else I can think of. (I’ll issue my customary broadside against my academic colleagues and point out that, even though this is their main job, in my experience very, very few of them give this any disciplined thought at all. They ask students to do what they imagine themselves doing, thereby favoring the students best able to mimic their own gestures.) The purpose of an assignment is to have the students learn how to do something that they could only have learned how to do laboriously or even serendipitously without the assignment, with the thing they learn to do also being something they will not only have to do very often in other situations, but that will also be a condition for them to do a lot of other things. This is what makes an assignment, to use a little bit of contemporary pedagogical jargon, “high-impact.”

For one thing (I’m speaking about my own field, “freshman comp,” here), this requires breaking down “academic reading and writing,” i.e., a particular advanced form of literacy that is best defined in terms of the continuous production of nominalizations that function as subjects and objects of sentences in a hierarchical system of distributed citationality. (In “academic discourse,” “a hierarchal system of distributed citationality” readily becomes the subject of a sentence—so, what has to be learned, for example, is what does “a hierarchical system of distributed citationality” do; that is, what verbs does one put after it? What is it like, i.e., which adjectives modify it, etc.?) More simply, academic discourse is characterized by vast reserves of implicit references to disciplinary conversations in the abbreviated form of their stored conceptual innovations. You break this down by defining the practice you want rehearsed (say, distinguishing “distributed citationality” from something significantly other to it) against the “epistemological obstacles” that interfere with performing it. Those obstacles are located in the mythical language of everyday life, where “Big Scenic thinking” prevails, and one relies on the dictionary meaning of words and imagines oneself “agreeing” and “disagreeing” with discrete statements, and therefore having “opinions,” “viewpoints,” and so on, rather than working out the implications of a concept. So, the assignment stages confrontations between the epistemological obstacles of mythical everyday discourse, on the one hand, and the language of some disciplinary space, on the other. This produces an “inter-language,” where we find the learner using everyday vocabulary in the grammar of the disciplinary discourse and the vocabulary of disciplinary discourse in the grammar of everyday language. The inter-language now becomes the center of the disciplinary space, as the students construct a vocabulary and grammar to describe and analyze it, thereby preparing themselves to move self-reflexively into other disciplinary spaces.

Now, all this is on a small scale—a class with one teacher and 15-20 students occupying the same space. But the practice of staging confrontations between Big Scenic, mythical thinking and emergent disciplinary spaces which expose the limits of Big Scenic thinking can be scaled up as large as one likes. This is the way to think about tweeting, blogging, constructing websites, publishing, even the creation of new currencies, political organization, or anything else we might be doing. Everything is the staging of pedagogical hypotheses that will in turn generate resonant, ramified hypotheses of and against the Big Scene. This entails hypothesizing the vast range of possible responses to what you might do, and how you might interfere with that field of possible responses so as to facilitate more encounters between the Big Scene and disciplinary practices. This is no doubt why trolling has become such a prominent, almost all-inclusive feature of social media and more traditional practices that have been transformed by the social media ecology—trolling is aimed at generating responses you can then use so as to compose an utterance that will generate more responses you can use… The problem with trolling is that it locks everyone into their initial positions, whereas it is better to open up new positions.

You can then, imagine yourself not so much giving an assignment across the techno-media or field of scenic design practices (after all, who are you to give others assignments?) but as performing some assignment that provides an example for others. This is the only way through the “technological world picture,” and through Capital, for that matter, which also depends upon Big Scenic mythology. The iterative center assigns to each of us the practice that will distinguish it from the sacrificial remnants chewed over in Big Scenic thinking insofar as you specifically complete the practice. And that practice is some scenic design practice that will translate that same assignment into some other institutionally, infrastructurally mediated scene.  The translation will be the creation of the scene, the transference of some vocabulary within some grammar to another technological idiom. You do this by translating the constraints and affordances of platforms into imperatives and questions to be redesigned as assignments. Such practices entail inquiring into the scenic design practices that have produced each and every one of us. A constant pulverizing has been going on since the ancient empires—the Axial Age was a limited response to that, but we still haven’t seen anything better. What would be better is not trying to pick up all the pieces and put them back together again, but treating the pieces (habits that program us to try and get our rightful slice of the central object) as materials for scenic design that will have us all looking to help one another find our respective name and place. We all have some place we should be, and some name we should inhabit, and we can only find our name and place within a social order designed to produce scenes that afford such findings.

Maybe we could call the “techno-media” the field of “mimological impressments” upon which scenic design practices operate. “Mimological” derives from Marcel Jousse’s “mimisms,” which is a concept that enables us to identify any human action as an articulation of infinitesimal gestures rooted in imitation; the word “impressment” means coerced recruitment into some military or industrial mega-machine, but property can also be impressed, and therefore so can anything in the natural world, all of which is pressed into service; but, even more, if we abstract the word “impress” from impressment, we have the (admittedly secondary) meaning of making a mark on something, with the something being the resources of the world subject to (transformed into resources by) the operations of the sciences, and the mark being made by some mimological arrangement. All of “nature” is made to imitate the forms of human activity, and that activity is further pulverized into new mimisms in imitation of the new impressments. Drawing on my previous post, I’ll suggest that the “assignment” here is to treat our entanglements with mimological impressments as both liminally obsolete and still under construction. This allows us to defer the demands of imperative exchanges mimological impressments impose on us—it provides a space for studying what it means to be “on” Twitter, or Facebook, or Google, or a blog and turning the demands of these spaces into platforms for staging pedagogical scenes that show where the boundaries between one scene and others lie. (The same holds, even if more indirectly, and through a different kind of operational chain, for building bridges and roads, or weapons, or buildings—it’s all scenic constitution through mimological impressments.) Once you identify a boundary, you can imaginatively, thought-experimentally, place some thing in an oscillatory relation to the respective sides of the boundary. So you take the same sample (utterance, statement, meme, icon, imperative…) and treat it as belonging to different spaces. (The simplest example: some statement or action that would be sign of madness on one scene but of genius on another—this allows you to assess the statement, and the respective scenes, and to respond to the statement or one “similar” to it so as to further test the hypothesis.) Ultimately, if you do enough of this, and bring enough and the right others into doing enough of this, you’ve established a discovery procedure for fulfilling the imperative of the center. Everyone would just be interested in compiling sample utterances in such a way that all participants find themselves maximally addressed by them.

September 24, 2020

Power and Capital

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:12 am

I have always operated as if, since the originary hypothesis founds a new form of thinking that is essentially indigestible by the existing disciplines, and therefore necessarily at odds with those disciplines, it should be aligned with other marginal indigestibles in the field of knowledge. Hence, my attraction to thinkers like Wierzbicka who, if respected within the field of linguistics, does not seem to me to have had much impact on it; or Marcel Jousse, who takes the notion of mimesis too literally and thoroughly even for the mimetic theorists. Clearly, Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, of whose Capital as Power: A Study of Order and CreorderI was previously aware, but which I actually sat down to read at the urging of Joel Davis, fits into this category. So, this post will “welcome” Nitzan and Bichler (perhaps without their consent, were they to be asked) into the anthropomorphics “fold,” and I would expect them to be a regular feature from here on in. Like Wierzbicka and Jousse and, of course, the originary hypothesis itself, Nitzan and Bichler have a very simple hypothesis with ramifications that cut down forests of disciplinary obfuscation. I don’t remember when or how I first came across their work, because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t from any website or publication, whether on the left or right, since as far as I can tell Capital as Powerhas had almost no impact on any discussions anywhere. If I were to try and prove myself wrong on this point, I would look to the kind of anarchist spaces where one might find discussions of the work of the recently and far too soon departed David Graeber, with whose work (and, I suspect, with whose politics) Nitzan’s and Bichler’s has affinities.

As the title of their book indicates, Nitzan and Bichler eliminate the politics/economic distinction by arguing that capital is simply a mode of power. What is power? Power is “confidence in obedience” (17). With such confidence those with power reshape the social order in accord with the principle of its own power. Nitzan and Bichler draw upon Lewis Mumford’s notion of the “mega-machine” here, understanding power as circular and self-perpetuating—the ancient emperors impressed millions of slaves into vast infrastructural projects, not primarily because they wanted giant infrastructure built and wars fought, but because it impressed their own intentionality on the world and increased their confidence in the submission of the ruled. This means that there must be some “other” to power, a positive to power’s negative pole: that other is “industry,” which they see, following Thorstein Veblen, as a “hologrammic” system in which all the productive activities in society contribute, governed by what Veblen called “the instinct of workmanship,” and are irreducible to price or any other measure. Bichler and Nitzan very convincingly show that all attempts within the field of economics to quantify such “factors of production” as labor, capital and machinery are arbitrary and intellectually dishonest. This in itself makes them thinkers of the “iterative center” rather of the anarchic, quasi-sacrificial “big scene.”

Here is their definition of capital as power:

The capitalist mode of power is counted in prices, and capitalization, working through the ever more encompassing price system, is the algorithm that constantly restructures and reshapes this order. Capitalization discounts a particular trajectory of expected future earnings. For any group of capitalists—typically a corporation—the relative level and pattern of earnings denote differential power: the higher and more predictable these earnings are relative to other groups of companies, the greater the differential power of the corporation’s owners. (9)

I would like to single out in particular the discounting of a particular trajectory of expected future earnings. If the ownership of a particular piece of land, for example, can be expected to be worth ten million dollars in ten years, then that determines the value of the land to me now-how much am I, or anyone, willing to spend now in expectation of that 10 million in 10 years? But I think it would be better to say that it is not so much the expected value of that land as what its owner will be able to ensure its value will be. The valuation of the land is from the start an exercise of power: the owner will be able to carry out the actions or create the conditions that will yield those earnings. That might include access to governing powers that allow the land to be used in certain ways, and it might include preventing others from using surrounding properties in certain ways. Securing the obedience of members of the city council is necessary for the land to be capitalized in this way, but this doesn’t mean that the capitalization is an economic activity that depends upon an autonomous, political power—it means that the members of the city council are themselves capitalized, and, say, donating to their campaigns or establishing a local media to exalt them and demonize their rivals are part of the same process of capitalization, as investing in the media outlet or the politician is also part of the discounting of a particular trajectory of expected future earnings. The fact that everything in the world and every human activity can be capitalized in this way is the source of capital’s unique and very flexible and effective mode of power.

Capital is articulated with industry, but in an essentially parasitical way—capitalists achieve their differential power relative to other capitalists primarily through sabotage—that is, by preventing industry from performing to its full potential. There are many means of accomplishing this—patent and copyright, price fixing, control of the regulation process and so on. Bichler and Nitzan acknowledge that industry does need to perform—an auto company does need to draw upon a part of the broader hologrammic industry and produce millions of cars—but if industry is given too much free reign, the source of capital’s profit and therefore power will evaporate, so what is ultimately more important is preventing others from producing cars, or better cars, or means of transportation other than cars. They also implicitly acknowledge that some forms of capitalist power are less dysfunctional, that is less destructive of industry than others—there are times when capital needs to invest, expand production and hire workers, and other times when they focus primarily on mergers that serve no one other than capital’s power, or price manipulation (inflation), which always threatens to bring about social disorder or even disaster. This would be true of any form of power. Now, Bichler and Nitzan acknowledge that “industry” is not self-determining and involves choices that can only be made by humans and, therefore, as part of the entire complex of human activity and interaction, must be subject to some broader vision of human good. It is that this point that they trail off into ritual invocations of “democratic” control, without every raising the question of what “democracy” could have to do with their Veblenian notion of industry—what kind of democracy could make decisions about transportation, medical, educational, scientific, systems, much less the articulation of and “resonances” across these systems, all of which must be done on the terms of the systems themselves. I will also mention here that a remedy for this defect lies in distinguishing power from sabotage, and acknowledging that industry itself in a form of power—at the very least, pedagogical power, as new generations are brought into industry and within industry initiative and intelligence will be deferred to in the name of sharing these capacities.

Since the power of capital depends upon defining and measuring, and then reducing, risk (at least risk to oneself), it also relies upon the science of probabilities. In a brief discussion of “Probability and Statistics” (199-201), Nitzan and Bichler trace this science back to Renaissance thinkers like Blaise Pascal and William Petty, who studied the laws of “chance.” Capital seizes upon this science not to bet on events in the world in a more informed manner, but to control it. But it is also the case that “industry” was dramatically transformed by this science as well, and without it would not have the nearly unlimited capacities Nitzan and Bichler attribute to it. It would seem, then, that capital and industry share a common origin. Charles Sanders Peirce’s assertion that “we are each of us an insurance company” captures this common origin of the new mode of inquiry animating industry and capital. There can hardly be a better example of “capitalization” than insurance, which attributes a current value to the insured’s life (or well-being, or as Bichler and Nitzan point out, to some particular part of the anatomy—a leg for a model, an arm for a quarterback, etc.) based on expected future earnings; while, at the same time, is modern science, which is really applied math, anything more that the determination of probable future outcomes in accord with the data collected regarding some current state of affairs? Was Peirce, unknowingly, a kind of proto-capitalist, or, to use Marxist phraseology, “objectively” pro-capitalist? Is seeing oneself as an insurance company the most abject self-capitalization or a transformation of oneself into a mode of inquiry, inspired by the highest instinct of workmanship?

Nitzan and Bichler seem to me unconvincing in one area—their discussion of the state. Their insistence that capital is power—not dependent on power, not an influence on power, not even just powerful, but a specific mode of power—means that the state cannot be conceptually separated from capital. Nitzan and Bichler make this case by contending that the state is capitalized through the national debt, and we could even push this further by pointing out how the logic of capitalization comes to pervade all manner of state activity, from welfare policy, to crime, to foreign policy and education. Everywhere there is talk of “investment,” and “return” on it; policy alternatives are framed in cost-benefit terms. And yet—even the most gigantic corporations don’t possess armies or nukes. That there must be some distinction between state and capital is in fact consistent with their insistence that some understanding of the good life, irreducible to industry, would have to inform the ends of industry. I can call that articulation of industry “power,” because “power” holds no pejorative connotation for me. Nitzan and Bichler’s analysis makes clear that capital could never really establish anything like a model of the good life, as it is nothing more than capitalizing more and more of the planet. In fact, whatever is good would be good because it has not yet been capitalized, or insofar as it has not been completely capitalized, but that good thing would then immediately become a target of capitalization.

There is a kind of trap here which reactionaries and revolutionaries alike have fallen into, of seeking out supposedly non-commodifiable and therefore non-capitalizable forms of life. All that can do is paint targets on the backs of those forms of life, serving as a kind of advance guard for capital. There is no alternative to entering the algorithm of capital and power and separating out the competing and entwined modes of algorithmic order. Peirce concludes his discussion of the self as an insurance company by pointing out that, in the long run (the same long run in which we would all have to agree on reality, I suppose) all insurance companies must go bankrupt—all the calculations, all the precautions, all the hedging, will ultimately come up against the black swan which could not have been anticipated. At that point, for Peirce, we would have recourse only to the old Christian virtues of love, hope and charity, which, regardless of whether we rely on those particular (non-capitalizable?) virtues, suggests that whatever mode of transcendence or presencing enabled us to defer the answers to such pressing questions to the long run will be what succors us in the long run. But what of deferral? Is it not the quintessential capitalist value—the deferral of gratification? It’s not quite the same thing. The good bourgeois subject defers gratification out of a fear of consequences, or out of competition with rivals. This is the kind of deferral capital relies upon and exploits. The deferral of mimetic violence precedes the figuration of the violent consequences it defers, and is therefore more like the deferral “industry” elicits, and is never satisfied—it is commemorated in the building of the world. Still, the more localized form of deferral must derive from the more originary one, and so here as well we can see a common origin to industry and capital, in the diverging paths of deferral.

A site of expected earnings can be treated (imagined aesthetically) as a site of eventual bankruptcy and abandon. Single out all the markers of eventual bankruptcy: what would remain of the capitalized practice once all conceivable forms of sabotage have run their course? In a way, it’s a very simple approach: what would, say, a workplace look like if it simply maximized everyone’s ability to do an important job well? Of course, many workplaces, those mostly performing Graeber’s “bullshit jobs,” wouldn’t even exist. The instinct of workmanship itself would be the “motivation” of activity, which we can’t imagine now in any great detail, but which remain in the wake of eventual bankruptcy and abandon. Capitalization is running the practice through the maw of the Big Scene, with the ever growing and yet divisible central matter and an even more rapidly accelerating sacrificial community. Projecting expected earnings incites mimetic struggles spread across institutions which one plans to have already won: “industrial” practices which defer such struggles indefinitely cannot, then, be fully capitalized—this requires that we construct the counter-algorithms of capital. The calculations of industrial improvements would have to be run parallel to and entangled with so as to redirect the calculations of expected earnings. We can at least hypothesize indefinitely deferred future earnings eventually converging with the practices of industry. Right now, this can only be a way of inhabiting disciplinary spaces and infiltrating institutions, but it is simultaneously an implicit model of transformation.

Bichler and Nitzan certainly intend for the “hologrammatic resonance” I discussed in my previous post to serve as a model for the abolition of capital. I think this helps to explain their neglect by the left—they don’t provide an “agency” for such transformation that can become a target of political “investment,” i.e., that can be capitalized. Thinking in terms of privileged agencies is sacrificial, Big Scenic thinking—it relies upon the imaginary redistribution of the social product and social power in a more “equal” way that can never be determined outside of the mimetic struggles it incites and depends on. But this also means that the hypothesized practices that would promote “industry” must “resonate” across the entire social order. I think that the most concentrated way of approaching this, and one that might actually become fairly realistic even under the rule of capital is a post-sacrificial reconstruction of kinship structures. This will be the subject of a future post.

September 15, 2020

A Single Sample is Enough to Hypothesize the All

Filed under: GA — adam @ 4:52 am

The title of this post was actually the thought that got me started on the “hypothesizing the present” post, which, however, ended up going in a different direction. Coming across the following formulation, attributed to Yitzhak Bentov (previously unknown to me), who himself developed the notion of the “hologram” invented by (the also previously unknown to me) Dennis Gabor, in Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler’s Capital as Powersent me back to it:


Technically, the hologram is a photographic method that uses a laser beam to record and then read and project the interference pattern of incidental waves. But it is much more than a mere technical gadget. Seen as a conceptual approach, the hologram has immense potential implications that go far beyond photography.

To illustrate the underlying principle, think of a pond into which three pebbles are dropped simultaneously. These three incidental ‘events’ create a structure of evenly spreading – and intersecting – waves throughout the pond. Now, suppose that we were to freeze the pond instantaneously, pick up the top sheet of ice containing the wave pattern, and then drop it to the ground so that it shatters to pieces. Because of the curvature of the waves, each piece, no matter how small or from which part of the pond, will contain enough information, a bit fuzzy but nonetheless complete, to trace the three events. All we need to do is to ‘extend’ the partial arcs on the piece into complete circles and then find their centres. Our ability to do so turns each piece into a holo gramma– the ancient Greek for the ‘whole picture.’ (224)

So, one sample—a single utterance, or even a single sentence from a single utterance, provides all one needs to start hypothesizing the all. It contains enough “information” to “trace” all the “events” which produced it back to their center. As I often do, I will make the point that this is already what we do, in making meaning, not something I am claiming we should do—what we should do is be aware of and “own” this necessary intellectual move. Now, of course, upon hearing a second utterance, the hypothesis formed regarding the first one is revised; perhaps even rethinking the original utterance itself, or having it juxtaposed to another utterance, would lead to such a revision. We are always revising our hypotheses of the all as we engage with and become one sample after another. We can think of this as always revising our search terms within an algorithmic mediascape. The only test is kind of scene would materialize your hypothesis.

The truth, according to Peirce, is what we would all have to agree upon in the long run—but the long run never gets here (as Peirce knew). So, there’s no point getting bogged down in trying to “prove” or “falsify” a given hypothesis, except upon very carefully controlled conditions (in which case the implications will be limited), especially when the hypothesizer is part of the hypothesis itself. (Evoking the necessary conditions to “prove” what someone claims to know—what would have to be “controlled”?—is itself a fruitful source of hypotheses.) What makes for a good hypothesis is that it generates events in which a community of inquirers—a disciplinary space—into and of that event is created. The utterance, or sample, and the discourse on the sample, becomes an origin and model, and comes to position potentially everyone in relation to it—as someone addressed, or not addressed, or addressed under certain conditions, in a particular way, by the utterance; and therefore as someone responding to, resituating, repurposing, re-embedding, and so on, that utterance. For these purposes, sometimes it will be the “wild” hypothesis that is best, because it seeds the most possible scenes. This is what became the notion of “hypothesizing the present,” insofar as a single utterance is made the center of a system of reverberations and resonances that spreads across the entire field that has constituted the utterance in the first place.

There is a practice here that can always get us started, one I take from Gertrude Stein: treat every word in a sentence as equally important (which would further imply treating every event as equally important, every “component” of every event as equally important, etc.). This doesn’t entail a claim that they are all equally important: it’s a hypothetical move to counter the ingrained assumptions regarding hierarchies of importance we bring to any “sample.” It’s ultimately unsustainable: you can read a sentence as if the “a,” the “the,” and the “of,” are just as important as the noun and verb, and sometimes, under some conditions, for some purposes, they will, in fact, be—but the more a disciplinary space forms around the sample the more some hierarchy of importance will take shape. But it will be a different one than that with which you started, precisely because it had to “re-form” out of its “elements.” This is why I started Anthropomorphicsby referencing Gertrude Stein’s dictum (maxim? Aphorism?) to “act so that there is no use in a center.” This is a discovery procedure—the more you resist any center that seems to be taking shape in orienting your actions the more the center that will ultimately be revealed as having done so will have resonance and “anti-fragility.” The center will be iterative, insofar as, however it ultimately is structured, it contains within itself all these other possibilities. A model for thinking in these terms is Richard Feynman’s proposal for dealing the paradoxes of measurement in quantum physics which, as I understand it, entails positing that particles take or “try out” all the possible paths from origin until endpoint, any one of which might be captured in a particular measurement.

Any “element” of an event or model, in that case, can be extrapolated and presented as being always what it is within that event or model and, furthermore, to be fully determinative of that event or model. “A tall man killed a short man on Main Street last night” becomes “tall men always kill short men”; “tall men are inveterate killers”; “short men are perpetual defenseless victims”; “Main Street is a killing field”; “last night was the most violent night in the history of the town”; etc. Such wild hypotheses are always in the background as we work our way back to the more moderate conclusions that height probably had nothing to do with it, Main Street is not all that dangerous, etc.—it’s the only way of really bringing all the different features of the event or model into focus. If a part of your thinking holds on to all these wild hypotheses the relative significance of size, location, time, and so on will be composed. At the same time, these wild hypotheses are your transitions to other events and other models, which you seek to anchor in this one, as you seek to determine the “curvature of the wave” of this fragment as an effect and sign of all the killings, all the size differentials, all the Main Streets, all the night times, as differentiated from, say weight differentials, side streets, peaceful interactions, day and evening times, etc.

So, any utterance contains or indicates the entire social order, and so do you in taking up that utterance—how so, of course, is what is to be determined, or deferred. You can single out an especially odd and contemporary utterance (no shortage of those) but you can also defamiliarize an apparently unexceptional one: where could this have come from, is the initial question? Who would say this, in what media, in response to what problem or provocation, to what interlocutor or audience, within which field of possible effects, with what set of conceivable intentions? (We have to accept, I think, that curiosity and inquisitiveness, once viewed with suspicion at best, and for some good reasons, have become virtues.) You populate the field of the present around the utterance, and then keep repopulating it as you go. The utterance can be repeated in various contexts; indeed, in working with it, you are creating some of those contexts. Each repetition would reveal something new about the utterance. Each question opens up a field of others, which can be reviewed without prejudice, until a new “prejudice” takes shape: how do the various media work, what are the various audiences and sub-audiences and cross-over audiences; the institutions through which an utterance can circulate; under what conditions would the utterance be impossible or unthinkable; what are the observations, the confirmation of those observations, the transmission of the summaries of those observations that go into making up the referents in your sample utterance—all these become the origin of hypotheses as well.

The practice of explicitly hypothesizing the all from the single sample is a form of training in identifying what is peculiar to our present. One is placed on alert to the “signs of the times.” In doing so one knows oneself to be a sign of the times, and thereby comes to signify more. The practice also converts others into such signs, in a form of public pedagogy. And I will here remind you of the Natural Semantic Primes, which encourage us to translate all utterances into someone saying something to someone else, someone doing something, something happening to someone and so on, with the boundaries between doing and happening, saying and thinking, wanting and doing, and so on, being an endless source of hypotheses. As is attention to what David Olson calls (and I have called many times after him) the “metalanguage of literacy,” in which we can reduce, for example, “assumptions,” into something “many people say before they say this thing,” “belief” into something people say when they will also say “you can do bad things to me if I don’t do this thing,” and so on—and so generate scenes and histories of scenes out of every word. For example, I knew from the first time I heard of it the Trump-Russia collusion story was nonsense for the simple reason that no one could give it the form of an event one could imagine: Trump says_____; Putin replies_______; Trump responds_______; they shake hands, the election in the bag. Try and fill in the blanks to construct a coherent event without laughing out loud. (Of course, this also means its satiric possibilities are immense—how would all of Trump’s actions as president appear if we were to believe he really was remotely controlled by Moscow? Moscow would become very interesting!) And in the single sample of the Russia collusion hoax, we have the means to hypothesize the all—all those who pushed it, who constructed bits and pieces of pseudo-evidence to “corroborate” it, all those who actually believed it, everything they had to train themselves to ignore and everyone they had to train themselves to hate in order to continue believing it—this chain of hypotheses leads us to everything.

In hypothesizing the all from the single sample you transform the entire world into fellow inquirers as well as objects of inquiry, and you can treat all of their utterances as hypotheses of the all out of the single sample whether they like it or not. The practice overlaps with more conventional practices of “fact checking,” “context providing” and other elements of “critical thinking, but without claiming to saturate the field. If you think fact checking is a meaningful activity, you must believe you can gather and confirm all the “relevant” facts in a way all “reasonable” beings would agree on. This is nonsensical, because what counts as “relevant” is always institutionally and historically dependent, but, at the same time, the fact checker, in checking one fact in the way he does, in fact hypothesizes the all from the single sample because he’s hypothesizing the historical and institutional setting that makes the fact relevant—and the institutionalized “chain of custody” that makes it a “fact” in the first place. That’s the way to address the fact checker, not by pointing to some fact he left out (unless in doing so you are explicitly hypothesizing the all from a single sample). Similarly, nothing can be more obvious that we can never have, once and for all, the “whole” or “proper” context, which would really have to be the entire history of the human race. But in making a bid to close off the context, the context provider hypothesizes the all from a single sample, and can therefore be treated as a fellow inquirer, even if not in quite the way he might have wished. The same is true of logical fallacy detectors, who wish to institute rules regulating discourse which no one could follow consistently while actually generating any discourse. But chasing down any utterance into the definitions and if… then sequences that would make it acceptable to the exacting logician is a way of creating algorithms and mock algorithms.

The hypothesizing of the all out of the single sample (and as the single sample) is a form of self-appification, or turning yourself into an interface between other users and the Cloud. This is the way to install the iterative center into the stack. As all the practices I propose, it can operate on various levels—the advanced academic discussion no less than the Twitter ratioing. It can be mastered at a very high level of proficiency, but it can also be broken down into little techniques anyone can use. It’s a way of moving very quickly to broader frames, and also of sticking tenaciously to a single demand: no, tell how it was possible for this person to say this thing, and what follows from him having said it? Every utterance “calls for” translation, and every translation is a “transfer translation,” which resolves some inconsistency or anomaly between overlapping discourses (for our purposes here, we can say that a “transfer translation” is when one needs to reconcile the differences between equivalent utterances in the same discourse). My own hypothesis here is that the most important and generative translations will be those of statements uttered under the presumed rule of the Big Scene into statements intelligible within the scenes of scenes authorized by the iterative center. Each hypothesis of the all from the single sample creates such a scene and the revelation of a further iteration of the center.

A final practice to suggest here. All of us, as “selves,” which is to say, as the “same” as we were previously, are comprised of what has been deposited in us by previous incarnations of the center, on the one hand, and by our ongoing engagements with the center, wherein we are deputized, so to speak, to exercise those deposited capacities. Where is that line between what has been deposited, and what one currently exercises? (This bears some family resemblance to the free will vs. determinism problem. But also to Marx’s distinction between constant and variable capital.) No one can really say, but we are always hypothesizing by virtue of our construction of practices, which presuppose the possibility of exercising upon what has been deposited—on doing something with what has happened. This line can be hypothesized in the transfer translation of any utterance; it can be drawn up very close, so as to suggest almost nothing is exercised; or it can be pushed way back, so as to suggest that only bare remnants of what has been deposited remain—and we can identify practices where, depending upon the practice and disciplinary space being enacted, it can seem that either one or the other is the case. And such hypothesizing and thought experimenting is itself an exercise on the deposits.

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