CATASTROPHE PRAXIS

Precognitions

There are certain things as if known in advance. “The world must end,” for example. “Death is inevitable,” “Nothing lasts forever,” & so on. Yet all of these are posed against a background of absolute nonknowledge: the meaning of “forever,” of “endlessness,” of “nothing,” of “death” even, & therefore of “life.” They are, in effect, figures of speech, if not metaphors: the constructed verism of the profoundly unknowable, lying somewhere upon the further shore of a present bounded by catastrophe. But catastrophe is a blackbox, in which the rationality of the knowable, the predictable, the modellable, breaks down. What good is it to confront ecological collapse armed with a survivalist handbook if the climate patterns that have defined the very idea of a biosphere cease to exist? What use is an immunological corporate-state enterprise when the accelerated form, force & frequency of viral pandemics reduces its system of control to an epistemological precariat? And what type of theoretical fictions do we inhabit when we pretend that catastrophe itself will permit of a transitional phase of human social re-becoming? That, in short, it will behave as nothing more than a dialectical “figure,” beholden somehow to the rules of a critical discourse infatuated with the idea of its own futurity? At a time when the language of “revolution” has undergone an almost complete rehabilitation, the thought that travels abroad under its name nevertheless does so in the pay of a radical conservatism: from the conservation of the planet, to the conservation of the human, to the conservation of a culture of consumption, capital & of course crisis (for though the world is ending, the spectacle of its end has never been more productive – for conservation is nothing if not a mode of perpetuated ending, of an ending-in-abeyance or in-abyss). Yet none of this violates in any way the fundamental logic of these discourses, which have secretly known this all along & which exist, in fact, to conserve this secret: not the secret of any thing, or a conspiracy among things & kept from the “world,” but the knowledge assiduously kept from itself – its “unknown-known” – that it itself, broadly speaking the discourse of humanism (including all the forms of anti- & post-humanism), isn’t the consciousness of this catastrophism, but the contrary.

Covidology

Almost from the moment COVID-19 entered public consciousness, it became a phenomenon. This phenomenon was characterised by two dominant modes: PANIC – that the virus posed an existential threat to the entire “world order”; DENIAL – that the virus didn’t exist, etc. But there is also a more subtle characteristic which has largely gone unremarked, between the instantaneously known, the unknown, the unknowable & the unavowable. There has been no shortage of observations to the effect that COVID is as much a product of “late capital” as it is a “force of nature”; that it is ideological as much as it is biological; that it is anthropocenic par excellence. Like “the Anthropocene” – a term meant to designate both an “objective” geological register & the accumulation of capital effects into an “autonomous” geo-technology – the phenomenon of COVID marks a confusion between the idea of an “objectifiable thing” (virus) & an “alien force” (pandemic) capable of bringing about a kind of automatic revolution independent of, yet parasitic upon, collective human agency. Like “the Anthropocene,” the phenomenon of COVID-19 has renewed a certain apocalyptic tone in contemporary discourse, which sees in it an instrument of radical upheaval, a catalyst of world-transformation, an irresistible acceleration of THE END: of the status quo, of the regime of global capital, & – as always – of History. The purview of this “End of History” has produced a vertiginous anachronism at the heart of all these covidologies – for no sooner had it presented itself as a fait accompli than it availed itself of a compulsive historicisation: before virtually anything at all was really known about the novel coronavirus spreading across the planet, mouthpieces everywhere were proclaiming – in the same moment – the “return” to a New Normal & the “advent” of a post-catastrophe World Order unlike any that had gone before, etc.

Omega Men

Viewed retrospectively, the timeline in which the first major financial stimulus packages were announced (to assist economies in their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis or mitigate its impact) appears to have been a phenomenon in itself, occupying a temporality both after the fact & hyperstitionally in advance of it. It wasn’t simply that governments & financial institutions sought to shore up their own futures by treating the pandemic as ostensibly over before it had really begun (& thus purchasing the political-economic conditions for the continuation of the status quo) – nor that this convulsive routine of economic stimulus was a kind of primal reflex in the face of potentially catastrophic uncertainty (& not merely a routine formalism) – rather, what this temporality of responses brings into view are the operations of a certain regime of anachronism at work in the control of “reality” itself, whose end is always already its beginning. (The dialectics of power.) Within two months of introducing financial stimulus into their economies, beginning in mid-March, it is estimated that world governments collectively spent more on COVID – over $10 trillion USD – than during the entire 2008 Global Financial Crisis, driving global debt to unprecedented levels (in the first 9 months of 2020, global debt rose by $19.3 trillion). These are not simply ritualistic gestures to conjure a virus out of existence, but a ruthless struggle on the part of capital to foreclose on the possibility of its own “end”; to erase the very idea of that possibility. How is it that this revolutionary struggle is largely invisible within a critical discourse that is instead preoccupied with transcendental utopias & street protests with no prospect (iin their current form) of a real “seizure of power”?

Fetish

On 11 March, the Director General of the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic” – on the 24th of the same month, Žižek, ever ready to preach from the mount, published a book entitled Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World.[1] A month earlier, in the course of Europe’s inaugural (& most intensive) lockdown, Agamben published the first of many denunciations of the “new dictatorship of telematics,” entitled “The Invention of an Epidemic”[2] – in it he laments the reduction of social existence to “bare life” under a biopolitical “state of exception.” What Agamben’s instant humanist sentimentality belies, armed witha reactionary non-knowledge, isn’t the discipline of a defence of life, but its subsumption into an act of liberal self-gratification. The denunciations that followed, in texts like “Requiem for the Students”[3] (23 May), are all the more remarkable for the fact that their primary motivation stemmed from a threat to academic lifestyle. The Socratic system of political education in which Agamben’s privileged position had – even in the 21st century – heretofore been assured was as if harassed by that most Platonic nemesis: technē. The relative folly of Žižek & Agamben’s interventions exposes the extent to which the production of critical fetish objects has come to manifest the same cultural & economic forms as those it pretends to “critique.” What Žižek & Agamben have not been willing to examine is – to rephrase Bourdieu – “the entire set of social mechanisms that make possible” the figure of the “public intellectual “– even, or especially, in these apparently anti-intellectual times – as the producer of that fetish called critique.[4] In other words, while claiming a unique cultural authority to direct the way in which the COVID pandemic is being critically thought, & thereby known, they elide the constitution of the very field that serves as the locus where the belief in the value of critique is produced & reproduced in the first place: a field that anything other than a purely theoretical response to COVID-19 must inevitably put in question.

Automatic Revolution

COVID has produced an industry of response, including intellectual industries, caught between two replay loops: 1. the anticipatory replay in which the ever-prescient mouthpieces of the coming apocalypse have found their readymade occasion; & 2. the temporal replay of the socalled second & third waves, in which these same industries find their occasion exhausted. Žižek’s Pandemic! is only the most obvious example. In particular, Žižek amplifies a tendency elsewhere to propose an entire social-theoretical project in lieu of a “concrete analysis” – not as a mode of action but as a prerequisite for action: Žižek’s “new communism,” Agamben’s new humanism, Latour’s “Gaia hypothesis.” This pathological retreat into (grandiose) New Myths, as a proxy for the task of direct intervention, seems paradoxically geared towards the conservation of a cultural status quo (the same litany of issues, the same litany of responses), rather than a practical instrumentalising of the pandemic for the purpose of deconstructing the prevailing culture that gave rise to it. In the end, we’ve been left with ideological theatre, mechanically repeating an exhausted histrionics, punctuated by eruptions of “protest” & a mesmeric belief in something that might be called automatic revolution: that COVID will do the work of direct social/institutional critique all by itself, bringing about the end of global capital as if by magic. In effect, COVID has become the “objective correlative” of the old discredited idea of a withering away of the state. And what it has revealed is again a willingness among the philosophers of the left to herald the arrival of a new tyrant in order to dispense with the existing one.

Spectres

The spectre of history hangs over the present situation, yet it isn’t the one they had been expecting. In 1848 there arose an expectation of world-wide social democratic revolution: the accelerated decadence of the old world order, the impulse to emancipation of an industrial proletariat, the inevitability of progress forged through the industry of capitalism itself. The social democratic revolution failed, yet the bourgeoisie triumphed: a triumph that did not produce a politically emancipative effect. In 1917-18, even under conditions of a catastrophic world war & the global “Spanish Flu” pandemic, coinciding with the final collapse of the imperial order, expectations of a world-wide socialist revolution didn’t eventuate: the Bolshevik Revolution itself barely succeeded against the forces of an international counterrevolutionary effort – everywhere outside the Soviet Union, reaction triumphed. In 1968, etc., etc.: the corporate-state triumphed. Blinded by the expectation of an automatic social revolution, the mouthpieces of history could not see the actual revolution taking place before their very eyes. They believed that capitalism was an historical phase, or a mere instrument, on the path to revolution; they did not grasp that it was the revolution. At every stage capitalism has revolutionised itself, in its material, logistical & broadly “cybernetic” (or, as we will see, entropological) forms. Today, the gaze of “theory” drifts once more from its object onto the horizon of Expectation, unwilling or unable to perceive that the revolution in process of taking place does not belong to it. Just as the primary error in Deleuze & Guattari’s post-68 lament, Anti-Oedipus, had been in assuming capitalism to be a force of inertia set against the flow of liberated “schizes” (that it itself produced): while it was rather the moral arrière-garde of a failed “revolutionary ideology” that was seemingly determined to re-Oedipalise the spectacle of capital’s totalisation, while romanticising the emancipatory potential of its sacrificial straw man. In subverting the system of diagnostics (social medicine), while nevertheless insisting that capital lay within its epistemological grasp, it evoked a radical “schizoanalysis” capable of producing existential catastrophe within the system of capital itself, unmindful of the possibility that in doing so nothing had in fact been produced but a description of capital’s own evolutionary movement. It is this inverse symptomatology that has passed down to the present situation.

M’aidez

Mayday! Mayday! We’re going to crash! What happens when the nominal addressee of this emergency broadcast is in fact the agent of catastrophe itself? Is it a call to arms or merely a verbalised rage, a cry of defeat? Mayday! This is the End! We’re fucked! At least since the turn of the millennium, anti-globalisation & anti-authoritarian movements have arisen & spread – like minor pandemics – in waves of protest & increasingly radicalised “discontent” around the world. From global capital, to climate catastrophe, to COVID, an accelerated cycle of such phenomenahave fed the spectacle of the corporate-state’s seemingly endless demise. On the level of civil disobedience, each of these has tended to exhibit both a strange credulity towards the idea of protest & a simultaneous incredulity towards social master narratives. Each has likewise occasioned the question as to whether or not, as protest, such forms of direct action fall victim to the desire for a benevolent, paternalistic corporate-state – even if this benevolence extends only to the state being a good or rational adversary: an adversary with a conscience available to appeal. In this desire, too, is reflected the idea of a rational society directed by collective self-interest, which it is ultimately prepared to delegate to the care of the state – so that the Mayday! reflex may be said to be an expression of the deep-rooted paradox that traverses all hegemonic structures: the seeking of aid from the very thing that has caused harm & which must be opposed, subverted, overcome, or destroyed before it’s too late, etc. (Such is its hysterical condition, that protest is always prepared to exhaust itself in symbolic forms of parricide as if to avert the real catastrophe – which isn’t, in this instance, globalisation, climate change or COVID, but an open admission that the social contract has in fact long ceased to exist & that the objective reality bearing upon the world isn’t any pseudo-”natural disaster” but the real void of political subjectivity.) And if only those protests that have “descended” into riots & have evolved into quasi-insurrection – as in Chile, Guatemala, France & Hong Kong – have given any appearance of putting the corporate-state to the question, nevertheless on every occasion their insufficiency has (as if by necessity) fuelled a decisive & ever-more-virulent reaction: an actual “dictatorship of telematics,” like the “cybernetic revolutions” that preceded it (as if on a permanent schedule at least since 1968). In this respect, the admiration some have shown for the Chinese & Korean responses to COVID is not merely a kind of sympathy for the devil, as has often been supposed, but instead yet another symptom of the appeal of the New Myths – foremost among them, the myth of the unassailable adversary & the myth of the hyperrational corporate-state. Yet there is nothing more irrational than a belief in the rationality of the corporate-state – unless, perhaps, it is a belief in the rationality of social relations themselves.

Procurement

The New Myths do not merely repeat those of the recent past (the late twentieth century had no shortage of them): the myth of No Future mirrored in that of the coming Extinction; the myth of Unfettered Growth, of Inexaustible Resources, mirrored in that of a post-Anthropocene, post-COVID reconstructionism – the mythic dimension of global capital mirrored in that of revolutionary despair. Rather, the New Myths are a dialectical ensemble of overabundant crises, of renewable apocalypse. It achieves its apotheosis in the ongoing spectacle of the disintegration & reconstitution of the spectacle itself – under the gravitational sway of the Myth of the Impossible (the impossibility of an end of capitalism; the impossibility of revolution; the final impossibility of an after-life, etc.). The domain of the political is fully inscribed within this “new” convulsive movement of forethrow & recapitulation, between a humanistic ideal & a recursive technicity that does not contradict but produces it in all its desiring insufficiency. Where Rousseau’s social contract had promised universal rights universally, the provision of rights (the collective rights of the individual) under covidocracy becomes a procurement problem. In short, the New Myths arisen under “pandemic conditions” are seemingly not ideological but logistical. Or rather, the ideological has ceased to be distinguishable from the logistical. In just the same way, political abstractionslike “emancipation” have come to present an insurmountable procurement burden. In January 2020, the World Health Organization issued the statement that “Wearing medical masks when not indicated may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden & create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly may hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.”[5] Of which Zuzana Holečková has written:

The declaration is a neatly formulated, perfect example of political correctness because what is hidden behind the words “may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden” is the fact, which the WHO was well aware of, that there is not sufficient quantity of masks available. And it is nobody’s fault because it is not possible, practical & desirable to maintain a universal stock of protective equipment; no emergency plan in the world has ever been designed to do so… The problem is the masses: How to manage the relatively rich, educated, healthy & thus long-living masses; how to feed, tame & console them, literally, politically & culturally, if God is dead & so-called democracy shoreless? How to give them the illusion of “free will” (& equal access to universal health care, because what is more sacred than human life?) & not to expose the fact that something like “free will” is an insurmountable procurement burden? This is our current modernity.[6]

Yet if the capacity to maintain the promise of emancipation, in place of its actual (impossible) realisation, remains a measure of the viability of any given system of (mythic) power, this isn’t because “emancipation” is impossible as such (sheer romanticism), or even that the idea of “emancipation” contradicts the raison d’être of the system of power it belongs to, but that the logistics of its procurement in any sense other than being for the system itself renders it fatal.[7] Emancipation without subjection to a correlative system of power, has no meaning. Such is the pharmakon of all social palliatives, that procure for themselves – we might say – the pandemic they best deserve.

Survival

Talk of survivalism looks forward to a residual world in which all the dirty work has been done, leaving the socio-economic equivalent of Jurassic Park in its wake. From the point of view of a certain primitivism, this readymade catastrophe presents itself as a benevolent “force of nature,” an automatic revolution. Were this a Hollywood movie, there would be a guerrilla army of social-engineers-in-waiting, whose mission is to establish the perimeter of a New Darwinism: a terrain of self-sufficiencies, an institutional wilderness in which the Law is a dark continent & Power a buried temple that only the intrepid future ape may worship at. Contesting the rule of these primitivists would be all those refugee Neo Huxleyites, armed with a UN one-worldism of the we shall rebuild variety familiar from endless “disaster” fictions. There would be the inevitable happy ending: reason & a new modernity would ultimately prevail (such films should simply self-destruct, like the messages in Mission Impossible, taking the viewer with them). These two visions of survival are symbiotic: the terraforming aspirations of the one are reborn within the primitivist aspirations of the other. They are, in fact, the same impulse, driven by the same evangelism. To each, the world is a zero sum. They are truly the children of the juggernaut, prepared to carve out the future in flesh & blood, but only after the fact. Such fictions are as heroic as they are absurd, like a tale told of little Oedipuses whose mamapapas have been taken from them, as they say, by an “act of God”: one wants to rebuild their father’s house, the other wants to run free in the orchard. Something is too perfect: the sheer horror of  human existence seems to have gone up in smoke with the death of parental tyranny. It’s a purely allegorical world: nothing could possibly breathe there. Only madness could save them: the madness of repetition, “civilised man” at war with “natural man,” modernism or barbary, etc., to determine who shall be the unique source of Gaia’s pleasure. At least this way a future is guaranteed: the eternal return of the same.

Trickledown

Is there such a thing as a political economy of “exit”? At every point, the ruthlessness of the virus has been posed against the imperative of an ethics of social response: between those who would make live & those who would let die. And at every point this inordinate project of conservation (to save the planet, to save humanity, to save the future, etc., etc.) has run up against the fact that the only real project of conservation in the offing is that of power itself: the rest are chattels, the spoils of victory. When Agamben complains about the “state of exception,” he is acknowledging that “bare life” isn’t what is left when the procurement of individual or collective liberties is withdrawn – “bare life” is the fictional existence in which these things are imagined to be real in the first place. Under conditions of socalled “late capitalism,” bare life is the one you pay for on credit, in lieu of the one alienated within the Panopticon. In this relation, it is the individual that is the true “state of exception,” & it is for this reason that its action is always instead a reaction: a reaction to the agenda of the corporate-state, a stone thrown at the shield of a riot cop, a lament about the loss of human contact in the classroom (even Virginia Woolf wanted to burn down the universities – what has happened?). For its part, the corporate-state would like either to outsource COVID or transform it into a tradable commodity or financial instrument (monetisable “futures,” like carbon credits) – as if it were some kind of objective correlative of “market adjustment”: whereas COVID pre-empts & even threatens to usurp capitalism’s position & function at every turn – proliferating, accelerating, expropriating the means of production to its own processes of insatiable consumption, etc. Just as global capital, in the guise of neoliberalism, had until now been able to parasitise infrastructure everywhere while opting-out of any real liability for it, banking on a future that would always, as if by magic, be recapitalised (by “individual tax-payers,” for example, who’ve been seduced by this myth into believing that they, too, can opt out). Thus the parasitic function of global capital finds itself both in direct alignment & direct competition with the parasitism of COVID: so that the question that arises isn’t how to affect an exception from the ongoing “crisis,” as if one or other of its elements (COVID or capitalism “itself”) might simply be detached from the global equation, but the contrary – How can a direct political relation be re-established within it?

Global Minimum

Inevitable as it may appear in retrospect, the cybernetic revolution that Harvey Wheeler proclaimed in 1968 was by no means an obvious outcome of the reaction against the insurrectionary events of that year, but was the product of a loosely confederated opportunism that itself wildly misconstrued cybernetics simply as an instrument of social order & of increased production unfettered by the pressures of industrial labour. By the 1970s, however, the cybernetic revolution had brought about the conditions for the abolition of the bourgeois state as it had been previously conceived, & the advent of neoliberalism as an ideological & economic force whose direct consequence would, following the dissolution of many Cold War geopolitical boundaries, produce the forms of global capital still operative today (in which the dominant “class” is only nominally techno-oligarchic but in reality is the evolved systems of information management themselves). A second cybernetic revolution – the socalled digital revolution of the 1990s – in many respects completed the task of abstraction & automation initiated by the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century (& overlapping with another revolutionary period), permitting the rise of a dominant new economic &, ultimately, political force: an abstract, diffuse, & often unacknowledged force which has, to a greater or lesser extent, redefined the political domain across swathes of the planet, via the mass-automation of logistics & a radical realignment of mass mediatised social reality into increasingly integrated forms of social media & datocracy. Just as between the invention of Gerardius’ Mercator’s cylindrical map projection in 1569 & the launch of the GPS radionavigational satellite network in 1973, the global came into view not as a self-contained unicum but as a geodesic system of co-ordinate interlocutions: a distributed individuality, in which every “position” in geolocational spacetime is in communication with every other, & which propagates via a web of aggregated differences. Building on this idea, in 1960, internet pioneer Ted Nelson proposed a globally integrated information system to be called Xanadu, described as a “unique symmetrical connective system” that would employ profuse, fine grained, deep linkage & stabilised media to construct a prototypical worldwide web.[8] In their recent proposals for an information theory of individuality, David Krakauer, Nils Bertschinger & Eckehard Oldrich complete this picture by positioning the “individual” as a cybernated evolutionary aggregate “that propagate[s] information from the past to the future & [has] temporal integrity.”[9] This movement of propagation may be likened to a between two interlocutors – in other words, a difference integral to itself – even if we must insist that its temporal vector will be nothing if not recursive, in the predicative time of a transmission to which an anachronistic present stands in a relation of decoherence. (The authenticity of the present isn’t what stands obscured by this observer paradox; it is its consequence, built of its very fabric.)

Entropology

At the very end of his 1955 memoir, Tristes Tropiques, Lévi-Strauss both calls for & announces a critical project of dissipative anthropology, to which he alludes under the term “entropology,” yet which he does not in fact realise in any of his subsequent major texts (Anthropologie structurale, 1958; La pensée sauvage, 1962, Mythologiques I-IV, 1964-1971):

Every verbal exchange, every line printed, establishes a communication between two interlocutors, thus creating an evenness of level, where before there was an information gap & consequently a greater degree of organisation. Anthropology could with advantage be changed intro “entropology,” as the name of the discipline concerned with the study of the highest manifestations of this process of disintegration.[10]

In his evocation of the term “entropology,” Lévi-Strauss affects a definition of integration by hierarchisation as the principal characteristic of social organisation. Integration nevertheless also takes place on the level of relations(“une communication entre les deux interlocuteurs”) taht may be hierarchically indeterminate, & it is here that a contradiction emerges in the formalisation of entropy as a general neganthropology.[11] Implicit is the idea, drawn from Claude Shannon’s information theory, that entropy doesn’t describe a mere dissipation of energy through work but rather (like Boltzmann before, who defined entropy as the number of unobservable configurations of a system) that it corresponds to an information potential, transmitted from a signaller to a receiver (i.e. between interlocutors).[12] At the same time, Lévi-Strauss identifies entropy with the inevitable tendency towards (social) dis-integration – whereby the study of human society (microstate) is bound up with the apparent “fate” of the universe (macrostate). In the face of this movement towards systemic homogeneity, Lévi-Strauss envisages a counter movement, of ceaselessly accelerated production of “bifurcations” & “difference” (complexification) – a (positive) negentropic feedback spiral which recuperates the (negative) movement of entropy – as a (positive) object of knowledge (i.e. “entropology”) – a kind of hermeneutic recycling of potential. Such a project, as both a critique & recuperation of anthropology, could nevertheless neither exist within the framework of Lévi-Strauss’ structuralism nor survive outside it. “Entropology,” in the sense given, is the solicitation from within of an impossible “deconstruction.” A more explicit theorising of this entropic turn in the “human sciences” has had to wait several decades, for a “posthumanist” turn in the wake of (& more often than not in reaction against) “deconstruction”: a turn which – by no means paradoxical – has at the same time entailed a return of anthropology (“a new humanism”[13]) & a reinstatement of structuralism’s “universal problematic,”[14] under the guise of a critique of what has all too readily been labelled “the Anthropocene.” The acme of Lévi-Strauss’ “entropology” arrives with Stiegler’s misreading of Schrödinger – Neganthropocene (2018) – in which the former acolyte of Derrida casts neoliberalism as an entropic doomsday device, whose proliferating systems of (negative) feedback are driving the world along a teleology to extinction. Stiegler grasps onto the concept of negentropy as a redemptive recuperation of the world’s loss, by converting “negative” into “positive” feedback – by which productive circuits of harmonious growth may provide for life ever after.  (Such a productivism always risks amounting to little more than a conceptual Ponzi scheme.) This rather conventional binary describes a mirror-effect around the dream of perpetual growth, a paradise regained in which entropy lurks like the proverbial serpent with designs to bring about the Fall, unless it is productively curbed so as to observe the harmonious laws of this changeless realm. Such nostalgia is a dream of death. An idealised death. One which has never existed anymore than a pristine paradise brought low by the ravages of entropy. If entropy corresponds to what in Freud is called Todestrieb or death drive, this is because it describes the “death” at the origin of life: no entropy, no world.

Thing

A correspondence establishes itself between Lévi-Strauss’ putative entropology & the project of re-reading Marx’s Capital embarked upon during the decade following by Louis Althusser, Jacques Rancière & others. In his contribution on commodity fetishism, Rancière makes the observation that “What is lost in fetishism is the structural implication that founds the distance of the thing from itself, a distance which is precisely the site at which economic relations are at play.”[15] The “thing” – the form of the commodity – is thus firstly the site of a between two interlocutors, in which economic relations (the communication of value) mirror socialrelations, & in which each can be characterised as in-formation. What appears to “pass into the thing” in the work of production is neither an alien entity nor alienated subjectivity “but a relation.”[16] It is this relation that permits it to function as a site of (more than) symbolic exchange & the circulation of value, which is also to say of an entropology: both “entropement” & “entropy.” And as in Lévi-Strauss, what is first information potential, inscribes a matrix of dis-integration & alienation – since, in its signifying subjection, “it is the form which becomes alien to the relation it supports &, in becoming alien to it, becomes a [mere/inert] thing & leads to the materialisation of relations.”[17] Likewise, what Stiegler calls “negentropy” is thus limited to a redistribution of the production of entropy – which ignores the operation of entropy “as productive force” in & of “itself”: that is to say, as the encompassment of production, its very anteriority, so to speak – the condition of the productivity of production as such & not anything that can be brought under the rule of production. Like the “thing” defined as a relation, entropy maintains a minimum of self-separation against Rancière’s materialisation (disintegration into mere thingness) – a kind of Planck constant of différance. It is in this manner that Krakauer &co provide parallels between the idea of an “individual” as a mode of propagation & the “parasitic” operation of a virus. “Viruses,” they argue,

constitute obligate translational parasites, incapable of completing their life cycles without first appropriating the protein synthesis machinery of a host cell. The viral capsid contains a largely inert genome responsible for encoding only a small fraction of the proteins required for synthesizing a new virus genome & the capsid required for egressing from the infected cell. The virus exists only within the larger dynamical, regulatory network of the cell. Hence, the virus – understood as the active parasitic agent – is comprised largely of host encoded factors. And yet it can replicate, adapt, & has a persistent identity that distinguishes it from its “host” environment – despite the fact it relies on its “host” environment for replicating.[18]

The cell here can also stand for a dynamic, topologically recursive frame-of-reference, in which an entropology (dissipation as productive propagation) presents as a “positive science” (the viral logos) while at the same time, & by  the same gesture, soliciting its deconstruction. It is necessary, therefore, to speak of entropology as the relation of entropy not only to its logos but to the operations of techne that brings into constellation the very terms of its signifying production. In the structuralist arrangement, entropy remains an aftereffect, a decoherence, a degradation – rather than a condition of possibility of any system whatsoever (just as the COVID pandemic is treated as an product of capitalism rather than as the mode of production of capitalist re-evolution) – & this hierarchy repeats itself in Stiegler’s adoption of the term, in which disintegration remains a product not a production of the Anthropocene (or what he thereby periodises as the Entropocene[19]). Here, again, the distinction remains one between evolution & its artefacts; between the entropic condition of all production & the reification of production.

Crisis Epidemic

As if propagated from the future onto a consciousness of the present, the acceleration of crises defined as the Anthropocene will have appeared to bring prophetically into view nothing short of the End of Global Capital – on the naïve assumption that what has so far been called “capitalism” has already met its limits.[20] Whereas all that has really come to pass is the end of an epistemological regime by which both the capitalist “object” & the limits of its possibility have been “measured.” As with all such regimes, the terms under which capitalism’s ends are situated are only discoverable at the point at which said regime is no longer able to maintain even the appearance of functioning (the “end of capitalism” is first & foremost contained within the terminal crisis of its “objective critique”). The limits that have been met in the foreclosure of the present, yet still approaching, catastrophe, are those of an entropo-epistemology that believed itself capable of accounting for the totality of a global means of evolution. This is more than simply the disillusionment of a delusion of grandeur – nor merely the reprise of a tragic view of history. Unlike critique, which has always secretly clung to the dream of revolution in its own image,[21] there is nothing sentimental about capital, having no greater attachment to any particular constellation of forms beyond the advantage they present at any given juncture. Likewise, all evolution is, in its major convulsions, catastrophic.

LOUIS ARMAND

*Published in ALIENIST 9: THIRD WAVE


[1] Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World (London: Verso, 2020).

[2] Giorgio Agamben, “L’invenzione de un’epidemia,” Quodlibet (24 February 2020): http://www.quodlibet.it/giorgio-agamben-l-invenzione-di-un-epidemia

[3] Giorgio Agamben, “Requiem per gli studenti” (23 May 2020): http://www.iisf.it/index.php/attivita/pubblicazioni-e-archivi/diario-della-crisi/giorgio-agemben-requiem-per-gli-studenti.html

[4] Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, trans. Susan Emanuel (Stanford: Stanford University press, 1996) 292.

[5] “Advice on the Use of Masks the Community, during Home Care & in Health Care Settings in the Context of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Outbreak,” World Health Organization (29 Jan 2009): http://www.who.int/docs/default-source/documents/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-2019-ncov.pdf

[6] Zuzana Holečková, “Modernism after Modenity,” unpublished paper.

[7] The corporate-state is inaugurated as a guarantor of the mercantile contract; the welfare state is inaugurated to provide for the maintenance of the mercantile subject, which it calls the social contract.

[8] See Theodor Holm Nelson, “Xanalogical Structure, Needed Now More Than Ever: Parallel Documents, Deep Links to Content, Deep Versioning & Deep Re-USE,” xanadu.com.au/ted/XUsurvey/xuDation.html

[9] David Krakauer, Nils Bertschinger & Eckehard Olbrich et al., “The Information Theory of Individuality,” Theory of Biosciences 139.2 (2020): 209–223. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12064-020-00313-7

[10] Emphasis added. “Chaque parole échangée, chaque ligne imprimée établissent une communication entre les deux interlocuteurs, rendant étale un niveau qui se caractérisait auparavant par un écart d’information, donc une organisation plus grande. Plutôt qu’anthropologie, il faudrait écrire ‘entropologie’ le nom d’une discipline vouée à étudier dans ses manifestations les plus hautes ce processus de désintégration.” Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques, 496; in English, 413-414 [translation modified].

[11] Entropology, in Lévi-Strauss’ terms, is a critique of anthropology that rests on the prediction of the ultimate thermodynamic levelling of all culture.

[12] Claude Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Bell System Technical Journal 27 (July, October, 1948).

[13] Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign & Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Writing & Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 1978) 292.

[14] Derrida, “Structure, Sign & Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” 151-2

[15] Jacques Rancière, “The Concept of Critique & the Critique of Political Economy,” Reading Capital: The Complete Edition, trans. Ben Brewster & David Fernbach (London: Verso, 2015) 160.

[16] Rancière, “The Concept of Critique,” 159.

[17] Rancière, “The Concept of Critique,” 159-160.

[18] Krakauer, Bertschinger, Olbrich, “The Information Theory of Individuality.”

[19] See Bernard Stiegler, “Escaping the Anthropocene” (talk at Durham University, January 2015): https://criticaltheoryworkshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/bernard_stiegler_escaping_the_anthropoce.pdf).

[20] See Léon de Mattis, “Epidemic crisis and crisis of capital,” Non (14 April 2020):

[21] See, for example, Michelet: “I define the Revolution: the advent of the Law, the resurrection of Right, & the reaction of Justice” (History of the French Revolution, ed. G. Wright [Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1967] 17).

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