Wednesday, January 31, 2018

JERKY READS IT FOR YOU: IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET


In early 2014, HBO caught lightning in a bottle with the first season of True Detective. With its intoxicating blend of Southern Gothic tropes, blockbuster production values, slow burn storytelling and masterful characterizations by leads Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the show became appointment television for millions and spawned countless water cooler conversations and online discussion forum threads.
A big part of the show's success was that it had a "Twin Peaks Factor"; the sense that no matter how crazy things got at surface level, there was a lot more going on beneath the narrative, a mystery waiting to be solved by anyone clever enough to crack the code, or pick the lock. Early on, due to the repeated use of the word "Carcosa", most focused on The King in Yellow, Robert Chambers' odd book of short stories from 1895, as a potential skeleton key. Unfortunately, the Carcosa sub-plot turned out to be an essentially meaningless MacGuffin, pointing towards nothing so much as show runner Nic Pizzolatto's excellent taste in comic books, and is one of True Detective's few weak spots.

Fortunately for True Detective's legions of amateur sleuths, there remained the details of Rustin Cohle's dark philosophy to puzzle over, and Pizzolatto, being a more forgiving god than David Lynch, was happy to share his inspirations. These included, among others, Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound, horror writer Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, and the featured star of this very concordance, philosophy professor Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of This Planet.

In short order, professor Thacker's odd little philosophical book on "the horror of philosophy" (and not, pointedly, the philosophy of horror) became something of a mini-phenomenon, jumping from its influence on True Detective, to the back of Jay-Z's leather jacket, and into a number of Far Right conspiracy theories... a journey that was chronicled in an excellent Radiolab documentary, embedded below.


To learn more about the pop cultural and surface political aspects of In The Dust of This Planet, the Radiolab piece is all you need. It also does a great job of introducing us to Thacker, the mild mannered academic. The intent of this concordance is to deal with the book, itself--distilling it, breaking it down, providing links to the works that it references, suggesting further potential avenues of research--and not to follow its trail of hoofprints across the cultural landscape. Seeing as the Radiolab piece contains precious little about Thacker's actual philosophy, I have decided that this is a task worth performing. 

A note before we begin: Considering the novelty of some of Thacker's concepts and the rigorous philosophical specificity of the language he uses, much of what follows consists of direct excerpts or point-form paraphrasing of his work. If you see a particularly intriguing turn of phrase and are having difficulty discerning who came up with it, just go ahead and assume it's Thacker's.

And so, with that introduction out of the way, let's dive into Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of This Planet.
***
IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET
HORROR OF PHILOSOPHY VOL. 1
By Eugene Thacker

PREFACE: Clouds of Unknowing
  • The world is increasingly unthinkable – a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. 
  • It is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part.
  • (We confront) an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all... an idea that has been a central motif of the horror genre for some time. 
  • The aim of this book is to explore the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world”. 
  • What an earlier era would have described through the language of darkness mysticism or negative theology, our contemporary era thinks of in terms of supernatural horror. 
  • The world is human and non-human, anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric, sometimes even misanthropic. 
  • We cannot help but think of the world as a human world by virtue of the fact that it is we human beings that think it. 
While in philosophy circles today it may be called “correlationism”, “accelerationism”, or “atmospheric politics”, for earlier philosophers this same dilemma was expressed in different terminology: the problem of “being in the world”, the dichotomy between “active” or “passive” nihilism, of the limits of human thought in the “antinomies of reason”.
There are precedents in Western culture for this kind of thinking: 
  1. In Classical Greece the interpretation was mainly mythological
  2. In the Medieval era and early modern Christianity, it was primarily theological – the tradition of apocalyptic literature as well as the Scholastic commentaries on the nature of evil cast a moral framework of salvation. 
  3. In Modernity, we speak of scientific hegemony, industrial capitalism, and what Nietzsche famously prophesied as the death of God. Therefore, the response is primarily existential, a questioning of the role of the human (whether individual or group) in light of modern science, high technology, industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and world wars. 
The contemporary cynic says we still live by all of these interpretive frameworks and only their outer shell has changed. The mythological has become the stuff of the culture industries, the theological has diffused into political ideology, and the fanaticism of religious conflict, and the existential has been re-purposed into the therapeutics of consumerism (self help, D.I.Y., etc).

These modes of interacting with the world – the classical/mythological, the theological/Christian, and the existentialist/Modern, all flow into and out of each other in the contemporary human experience. They are reflected in each other and in turn these reflections affect our experience of each. But they are all human-centric in their own ways. In short, when the non-human world manifests itself to us in these ambivalent ways, more often than not our response is to recuperate that non-human world into whatever the dominant, human-centric worldview is at the time. After all, how else would we make sense of the world?
We are now coming to realize that these modes are no longer adequate to the task at hand.

Let us call the world in which we live – the world that we humans interpret and give meaning to, that we feel related to, or alienated from, the world that we are at once a part of that is also separate from the human – the world-for-us.

But the world often “bites back”, resists, or ignores our attempts to mold it into the world-for-us. Let us call that world the world-in-itself. The world in some inaccessible, already given state, which we then turn into the world-for-us. 

The world-in-itself is a paradoxical concept, the moment we think it and attempt to act on it, it ceases to be the world-in-itself and becomes the world-for-us. A significant part of this paradox is grounded by scientific inquiry, both the production of scientific knowledge of the world and the technical means of acting on and intervening in the world.

Even though there is something out there that is not the world-for-us, and even tho we can name it the world-in-itself, this latter constitutes a horizon for thought, always receding just beyond the bounds of intelligibility. Using advanced predictive models, we have even imagined what would happen to the world if we humans were to become extinct. Let us call this spectral and speculative world the world-without-us.

To say that the world-without-us is antagonistic to the human is the miss the point. Nor is it neutral. It exists in a nebulous zone that is both impersonal and horrific. This world-without-us continues to persist in the shadows of the world-for-us and the world-in-itself.
  • Let us refer to the world-for-us as The World
  • The world-in-itself as The Earth
  • The world-without-us as The Planet
The terms “world” and “worlding” are frequently used in phenomenology to describe the way in which we as human subjects exist in the world, at the same time as the world is revealed to us. By contrast, we understand the earth as encompassing all the knowledge of the world as an object, via geology, archaeology, paleontology, the life sciences, the atmospheric sciences, etc.
And the Planet? It is impersonal and anonymous.

In the context of philosophy, the central question today is whether thought is always determined within the framework of the human point of view.

One alternative is to refuse the dichotomy between self and worldsubject and object. This is something that is easier said than done.

In addition to the three frameworks:
  • Mythological (classical Greece) 
  • Theological (Medieval Christian) 
  • Existential (Modern European) 
Would it be possible to shift our framework to something we can only call Cosmological, to incorporate the planetary view?

Approximately ninety percent of the cells in the human body belong to non-human organisms (bacteria, fungi, etc.). Why shouldn’t this also be the case for human thought as well? This book is an exploration of this idea – that thought is not human

The world-without-us is not to be found in the great beyond that is exterior to the World (Earth); rather, it is in the very fissures, lapses, or lacunae in the World and the Earth. The Planet is (in the words of darkness mysticism) the “dark intelligible abyss” that is paradoxically manifest as the World and the Earth. 

For Thacker's project, the term horror does not exclusively mean cultural productions of horror (or “art horror”) be it in fiction, film, comics or video games. Genre horror deserves to be considered as more than the sum of its formal properties. Also, by horror, we are not addressing the human emotion of fear.

Briefly, the argument of this book is that “horror” is a non-philosophical attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically. Here, culture is the terrain on which we find attempts to confront an impersonal and indifferent world-without-us, an irresolvable gulf between the world-for-us and the world-in-itself, with a void called the Planet that is poised between the World and the Earth.

Simple, no? No... not very simple at all. But worth grappling with, in my estimation.


I. THREE QUAESTIO ON DEMONOLOGY 

QUAESTIO I: On the Meaning of the world “Black” in Black Metal

Saturday, January 27, 2018

DUTCH INTEL ON RUSSIAN 2016 US ELECTION HACKING EFFORTS REVEALED


The video has the broad strokes story, but by all means, dig into the in-depth reporting on what, at first glance, should be a game-changing report by deVolksrant, which has already come under shoddy, underwhelming "attack" by media whores both Far Left and Right.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A COINCIDENTAL ENCOUNTER

Recently, yer old pal Jerky picked up his copy of fin-de-sciecle decadent author Joris-Karl Huysmans' late 19th century novel of Parisian Satanism, La-Bas, and was delighted to find, smack dab in the middle of an extended meditation on the evils of money, a word that has recently gained some notoriety on the international stage. You'll know it when you see it! - Jerky
The rules of money are precise and invariable. Money attracts money, money seeks to accumulate in the same places, money is naturally attracted to scoundrels and those who are entirely bereft of any talent. When, by an exception which proves the rule, money finds its way into the hands of a man who, though wealthy, is neither a miser nor has any murderous proclivities, it stands idle, incapable of creating a force for good, incapable of even making its way into charitable hands who would know how to employ it. One might almost say that it takes revenge for its misdirection, that it undergoes a voluntary paralysis whenever it enters into the possession of someone who is neither a born swindler nor a complete and utter dotard
When, by some extraordinary chance, it strays into the home of a poor man, money behaves even more inexplicably. It defiles immediately what was clean, transforms even the chastest pauper into a monster of unbridled lust and, acting simultaneously on the body and the soul, instils in its possessor a base egoism, not to mention an overweening pride, which insists that he spends every penny on himself alone; it makes even the humblest arrogant, and turns the generous person into a skinflint. In one second, it changes every habit, upsets ever idea, transforms the most deep-seated passions. 
Money is the greatest nutrient imaginable for sins of the worst kind, which in a sense it aids and abets. If one of the custodians of wealth so forgets himself as to bestow a boon or make a donation, it immediately gives rise to hatred in the breast of its recipient; by replacing avarice with ingratitude, the equilibrium is established again: a new sin is commissioned by every good deed which is committed. 
But the real height of monstrosity is attained when money, hiding the splendour of its name under the dark veil of the word, calls itself capital. At that moment its action is no longer limited to individual incitations to theft and murder, but extends across the entire human race. With a single word capital grants monopolies, erects banks, corners markets, changes people’s lives, is capable of causing millions to starve to death. 
And all the while that it does this, money is feeding on itself, growing fat and breeding in a bank vault; and the Two Worlds worship it on bended knee, melting with desire before it, as before a God.
Excerpt from La-Bas, by J.-K. Huysmans 
(translated into English as The Damned), 
Chapter 1, pp. 12/13

Friday, January 12, 2018

WHEN PAULY SHORE IS SCORING 3 POINTERS ON YOUR ADMINISTRATION...

...it's probably a sign your days are numbered. Kudos to Mr Shore, by the way. I didn't know he had it in him! I'll definitely be more receptive to any new work coming from him from hereon out.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

MUST READ ARTICLES OF THE MOMENT

I've been somewhat busy of late with contract work and other distractions, not to mention my New Year's resolution to not allow myself to get overly upset by things over which I have zero power to affect any change. Nevertheless, I've been trying to keep up with the latest news, and after reading a spate of excellent overviews describing the current American realpolitik, I figured I might as well update the old Daily Dirt Diaspora blog and share the wealth of excellent journalism. So why not bookmark the following four articles to read later... or heck, read them now if you've got an hour to burn! You won't regret it.



First up, Michael Wolff's incredible chronicle of the first year of Trump's purloined presidency, entitled "Donald Trump Didn't Want to be President", which (after a brief introduction) begins:
From the start, the leitmotif for Trump about his own campaign was how crappy it was, and how everybody involved in it was a loser. In August, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 12 points, he couldn’t conjure even a far-fetched scenario for achieving an electoral victory. He was baffled when the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, a Ted Cruz backer whom Trump barely knew, offered him an infusion of $5 million. When Mercer and his daughter Rebekah presented their plan to take over the campaign and install their lieutenants, Steve Bannon and Conway, Trump didn’t resist. He only expressed vast incomprehension about why anyone would want to do that. “This thing,” he told the Mercers, “is so fucked up.” 
Bannon, who became chief executive of Trump’s team in mid-August, called it “the broke-dick campaign.” Almost immediately, he saw that it was hampered by an even deeper structural flaw: The candidate who billed himself as a billionaire — ten times over — refused to invest his own money in it. Bannon told Kushner that, after the first debate in September, they would need another $50 million to cover them until Election Day. 
“No way we’ll get 50 million unless we can guarantee him victory,” said a clear-eyed Kushner.
“Twenty-five million?” prodded Bannon.
“If we can say victory is more than likely.” 
In the end, the best Trump would do is to loan the campaign $10 million, provided he got it back as soon as they could raise other money. Steve Mnuchin, the campaign’s finance chairman, came to collect the loan with the wire instructions ready to go so Trump couldn’t conveniently forget to send the money. 
Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them. 
Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning. 
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy.
There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.
Taken from Wolff's upcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, (Amazon link takes you to the book) this article paints a shocking portrait of incompetence and hubris at the highest levels of earthly power, and should serve as a bracing wake up call to the Establishment that the time is more than ripe for taking desperate steps to correct the course of the Ship of State. Every American (and everyone else) needs to read it.

***


Next up, at the New Yorker, we have Evan Osnos' chilling explanation as to how, despite all the bellicose rhetoric to the contrary, the Trump regime is Making China Great Again. After an intriguing introduction about the rise in nationalist themes in Chinese popular cinema, it reads in part:
China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”
In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.” 
For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.
At the link, the New Yorker thoughtfully offers an audio link so you can listen, instead of read.

***


And, finally on the Trump front, Politico's Susan Glasser reports on how the rest of the world is reacting to Trump's Year of Living Dangerously. Scoop? They're none too pleased.
When President Donald Trump sat down for dinner on September 18 in New York with leaders of four Latin American countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, anxieties were already running high. 
There was the matter of Mexico and his promise to build that “big, beautiful wall,” presumably to keep not just Mexicans but all of their citizens out of the United States too. And the threat to blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement. And then, a month earlier, seemingly out of nowhere, Trump had volunteered that he was considering a “military option” in Venezuela as that country’s last vestiges of democracy disappeared. Amid the international furor over his vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea in the same golf-course press conference, the news that the president of the United States was apparently considering going to war with its third-largest oil supplier had gotten relatively little attention. But the leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama invited to the dinner remembered it well. 
So, it turned out, did Trump. After the photo op was over and the cameras had left the room, Trump dominated the long table. His vice president, Mike Pence, was to his right; Pence had just spent nearly a week on a conciliatory, well-received tour of the region, the first by a high-ranking administration official since Trump’s inauguration. To Trump’s left was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” the president told the gathered Latin American leaders, according to an account offered by an attendee soon after the dinner. “Is that right? Are you sure?” Everyone said they were sure. But they were rattled. War with Venezuela, as absurd as that seemed, was clearly still on Trump’s mind. 
By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. “Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,” the former official told me. Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”

And so, in the words of this article's author: “I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse.”

***

And finally, if you didn't already think the Democrats fucked up big time by forcing Al Franken to give up his Senatorial seat over FUCKING GODDAMN NOTHING, then this Daily Beast article by Michael Tomasky should set you straight. It begins:
Sometime today, Al Franken will resign his Senate seat. The Democrats are hoping for a banner year, and from all indicators it looks like they’ll have one, and I hope they do—if they take back one house, this horrid Trump/GOP agenda is done for. 
But the Democrats’ 2018 is sure getting off to a dubious start. Franken should not be going. When he announced his resignation on December 7, I wrote a column saying that Democrats would come to regret what they’d done to him. Nevertheless, I wrote, his resignation was probably the right and necessary thing under the circumstances. 
The Twitter response to the piece was huge—about four or five times the normal response I get. And it was, as near as I can remember, literally unanimously in defense of Franken. This made me start rethinking things. Yes, I still think the Democrats will regret this. But was his resignation really the right and necessary thing? 
For three weeks, I've been sitting around wondering why no pollster was asking Minnesota's voters. It was astonishing to me that no one bothered. That was apparently that, and we’d so easily moved on. But now, someone has polled it, and the PPP survey of 671 Minnesotans taken the two days after Christmas says precisely what I and a lot of other people expected it to say.
And that's all for today. More soon, if I can get to it.