day 320 – Ideonella Sakaiensis – day 382 – Underland

I have just finished Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, subtitled A Deep Time Journey. It ends with the image of a network. The chapter, ‘The Understorey,’ has already dealt with the wood wide web. So it’s not that kind of network. And in a way it is a social network. Although multimillion-dollar-earning and data-farming corporations have done their best to discredit the notion.

Macfarlane is at Onkalo, the deeptime repository for depleted uranium from nuclear power stations in Finland. There is a documentary, Into Eternity, about this burial site, that, as Macfarlane writes, exists to protect the future from the present. It too is as worth seeing as Underland is worth reading–for the excavation of the problem of living in a humanscaled time, a time scaled to human interests, self-interest, in the age of the Anthropocene. The problem that stuck with me from Into Eternity (available here) is that of communicating with whatever future beings come across the burial sites for uranium. Existing languages are unlikely to survive the millennia separating us from what comes after us.

Macfarlane’s book is an excavation of the problem of the Anthropocene, as it persists from the past into the present and will do so into the future, hence, A Deep Time Journey. Deep in the caverns of Onkalo, not as deep, Macfarlane writes, as he has ever ventured into the earth, but over a thousand feet into the bedrock, on a plastic panel attached to the wall of this ‘hiding place’ that is still under construction, he sees the print of a right hand … “left there at some point for the keeping of balance, for the taking of rest–or just for the making of a mark.” (418)* You can see that Macfarlane’s orientation, despite digging into the prehuman past and the posthuman future, remains humanist.

He writes, recapitulating scenes from earlier in the book, “I think of the black and red hand-prints left on the cave walls at Chauvet, of the red figures of the dancers with their outstretched arms, of the spray-can hand stencil on the catacomb wall in Paris, of Helen reaching a hand down to haul me out of the moulin. I think of the many people I have encountered in and through the underland who have been committed to shared human work rather than to retreat and isolation. Many of them have been mappers, really, of networks of mutual relation, endeavouring to stitch their thinking into unfamiliar scales of time and space, seeking not the scattered jewels of personal epiphany but rather to enlarge the possible means by which people might move and think together across the landscapes, in responsible knowledge of deep past, deep future and the inhuman earth.” (418)

… the scattered jewels of personal epiphany… immediately recalls me to my own efforts, in regard to stitching thought, in encounter with the problem of outside the human, or, what David Abram calls the more-than-human world, in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous, my own efforts, in their failure to make networks and to be able to maintain them except for the briefest of times… that enlarge the possible means by which people might move and think together … in responsible knowledge … and efforts made in mapping mutual relations in the absence of social and cultural institutional recognition that the most basic elemental relations are mutual–those in regard to the elements of warmth, light, air, and of earth, of the earth below our feet, our paws, where the fungal fingers find the roots of trees… The elemental refers here to Lingis’s notion of an elemental imperative that we worked through, with, in Minus Theatre, for the brief time it was in existence. (It would persist, persists notionally perhaps, but for my failure to provide the means for this persistence–

(were it not for the retreat and isolation I have bought into… and in the absence of institutional, cultural support mechanisms for this type of venture. Which is the type of venture Macfarlane records, is his own, but also that of the Paris underground, and… is that of many of the people he meets, stays with, journeys into the underland with, in the writing of his book.)

Then… a book. What is it? … or think about the publication I am currently courting for the writing I am doing outside of this website… Or ask yourself as I do, what can I do, what do I think? What do I think with what comes from the outside the human?

And I like that he calls them, these mappers of networks, those not seeking the scattered jewels of personal epiphany, but I cannot also help recalling Rilke, whom he cites, up in the karst of Northern Italy. Poetry. That effort to go down below the personal strata of experience into the bedrock of human experience… and passing through human experience to find the mutual relations that extend to and subtend all of life. All of living experience.

Benjamín Labatut’s book, which I have been reading alongside Underland, is called When We Cease to Understand the World. And as he mentions Heidegger I don’t think it such a stretch to interpret understand from the title as unterstehen. It is this understanding, this sense of undergoing the world, from its bedrock in the earth, and of supporting its living processes that is invoked in Lingis’s elemental imperative. So that ceasing to understand the world performs a counterpoint to the journey of Macfarlane’s book.

Ceasing to understand the world is what the characters in Labatut’s risk. It is their adventure. And it is so for the efforts they make, the lengths they go to, physically, psychologically, spiritually, to understand the world, but to understand it in that other sense of understanding with which we are more familiar than with Heidegger’s, or Lingis’s that he gets from Heidegger, that Heidegger’s effort was ever the tutelary effort for to de-familiarise. So as to start thinking. To start thinking and so form responsible knowledge. What else is philosophy for?

This familiar sense is understanding irresponsibly for Labatut, for his characters, a misunderstanding that doesn’t understand mutual relations of support and nourishment, that shits in its nest for the sake of Knowledge. For his characters it is mathematical understanding as the bedrock of science that reaches a point where it ceases to understand the world.

It is probably this book’s seriousness, where it abuts up against Macfarlane’s. Fritz Haber, the inventor, father of chemical warfare and of synthetic nitrogen production. The latter enabling the nourishment of an exploding population at the turn of the 20th century. The former enabling the destruction of thousands of men in the field–and animals–and anything that ventured into the released gasclouds–horses, mice, rabbits & men–in the most horrific of ways. Grothendieck’s retreat from the world when he recognises the deep horror at the heart of the heart of mathematical understanding. Heisenberg’s and Schrödinger’s negative epiphanies. Their discoveries coming at the expense of crises, of psychoses. And these all being of the nature of seeking the scattered jewels of personal epiphany only to find in them inordinate and impersonal destructive potential.

Then Macfarlane writes, citing Jebediah Purdy’s After Nature, that humanity does not change its course, science neither, we might say, unless the hand held out is burnt; but the burning is not enough. Humans have also to find something to love. Something to affirm in responsible understanding. (419) What is it?

Macfarlane seems to think humanity needs to love humanity once more–in its social mapping, its networks of responsible understanding.

He also writes: “What did the mountaineer-mystic W.H. Murray say after being released from years spent in German and Italian POW camps? Find beauty, be still.” (241)

*references to Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, (London, UK: Hamish Hamilton, 2019)

to Benjamín Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World, Trans. Adrian Nathan West, (London, UK: Pushkin Press, 2021)

These two NASA pictures show the blue dunes of Mars.

Macfarlane, in his marvelous book–his book of marvels, every chapter–Underland, is in Norway, speaking about the literature of the underland of the early 1800s, when it was believed, by one writer, whom I can’t help think of as capturing in this idea a common belief, in the imaginary of the time, that the earth was a series of concentric spheres, like Dante’s hell, but with the difference that by gaining entry there was under our feet a limitless earth, a limitless series of nested inner earths to exploit, to settle, to discover–in reverse order: to discover new lands, to settle them, and exploit the resources they provided.

Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of the later science fiction that informs now our cosmology of the multiverse–limitless resources for there being, after every branch in time, another fully perfectly formed ripe universe, all hanging on the same cosmological tree, ready to pick or be picked–and before that the imaginary of the time: other worlds waiting for us to get there, with their opportunities for discovery, settlement and exploitation. Another reverse order of nested boxes of plenty.

So to situate in our time, that I can’t help thinking of tonight as the time of the unexplainable–because it refuses to impart to us its sense and has been set up as a posthuman or nonhuman imaginary. An abdication by it or by us–although it is by us–of human sense-making. Unexplainable. The course of events we now find ourselves locked into. So to situate what was this inner inner earth desire for an underland of riches as for us an outer outer world of … the blue dunes of Mars, of the mineral riches to be found of the moon, of all the astral opportunities on offer through our telescopes.

And worse: to be technologically delivered these riches. Contact with extraterrestrial intelligent to be the fulfillment of this technological delivery. And to deliver our salvation.

From the world’s problems.

When an earlier writer, Eiseley can say, unlike Liu in the The Dark Forest, where to be found is to fall prey to superior civilizations, a universe where to hide successfully is to survive, that Eiseley can say there is no chance of life at all elsewhere than earth given that the chances of it here are infinitesimal. And that despite the infinitesimal probability of life it has here occurred … and is by its own tenets of evolutionary development wiping itself out.

Although written a year almost exactly a year ago, Joseph Nechvatal’s piece, “From Viruses to Algorithms, We Are Always Under Threat,” on the Hyperallergic site, is the smartest I’ve read in dealing with our viral times. (April 19, 2020, here) This is my favourite paragraph:

Locked-down at home, hiding, you are under ever-increasing pressure to conform, to survey, and be surveyed. Probably you are not against this temporary necessity of surveillance and conformity, but these are the perfect conditions in which totalitarianism flourishes. It is ruinous for the creation of daring new art, and effects the shrinking of places that exhibit nonconformist acts of imaginative spontaneity. You may pour your aesthetic energies into your stay-at-home work, but algorithmic cultural calculus is an obstacle you must overcome to realize your aesthetic freedom. Pathetically, algorithm-driven popular culture that uses optimization-driven, actor-critic, neural network for deep learning emotion analysis (such as Apache MXNet, the deep learning framework in Amazon) puts your cultural choices to work even in your imposed quarantined space of leisure. Probably you have little access to art with which to inoculate yourself and think unpredictably with. You dwell in a viral copy culture of increasing cultural homogenization as Google tracks and guides your tastes.

— Joseph Nechvatal, Hyperallergic

It is my favourite for asking the question with what art to inoculate ourselves and with what to think unpredictably?

This inoculation of the virus is like the virus in the sense Nechvatal imagines it to be both medium and message: unpredictable thinking is that with which you inoculate yourself to think unpredictably with it. You inoculate yourself with a nonconformist act of imaginative spontaneity so as to be able to engage in a nonconformist act of imaginative spontaneity. This act is an art act. It is not a performative. Despite the resemblance between the viral (being both medium and message) and the performative there is a difference. It is an act.

Before considering how it works, how, you might say, art works, to stand against the copy format, so that, in face of contemporary art’s challenging stimulus, you enter into yourself and re-emerge with expanded capacities you never knew were there, as Nechvatal writes, I want to say what I disagree with in this piece, either because it is too predictable or because it compounds what Jarry writes of as the powers of the Disembraining Machine.

Andrew Murphie, in a nice essay, “Bicycling to the Limits of Being: Deleuze and Guattari’s machinic thought, Heidegger, and Alfred Jarry’s time travel,” has it that the Disembraining Machine provides the “full Heideggerian nightmare” by attempting to construct systems of total machinic enslavement. What Nechvatal calls totalitarianism.

Although Murphie associates the Disembraining Machine with contemporary cognitivist culture that is a contemporary embraining of the brain I see this cognitivism as itself symptomatic of a displacement of cognition onto the market-brain, the market insofar as it is site of speculation, thought, at as-close-to-the-speed-of-light as contemporary computation (the stakes in this computation being speed and power of computation, speed as power), with which cognitivism aligns itself, can manage. So as to be an active choice of disembraining to attain the advantages of the acceleration in rates of data calculation afforded by the machine. All the rest is infographics.

…aka propaganda… the subject in Nechvatal’s view remains the human. Only in the human world are the characteristics of algorithmic digital viruses transferable to the molecular variety. I want to pause here to consider what this means for the machinic that is Guattari’s invention, since in Guattari’s view machinism is not special to the human world but is a fact of the world outside the human. What takes the machine from human to more than human is its asignifying capacities, its nonperformance of communication, of the communication of meaning, its nonperformativity, but that it acts, its activity. This activity is against the machine of cognitivism–that is, the brain. Against the brain’s understanding as it is commonly understood. And with the brain, against the social network as being modeled on the brain, the brain a network, the three networks: psychic, social and that of the life of the planet, the living planet.

Guattari’s three ecologies and his machines are indifferent to the moralism, the anthropocentric moralism, in its understanding of the brain, the network and the world.

This is then where I depart from Nechvatal, since it is only in the all-too-human world, which valorises symbolic exchange, that the metaphor can be sustained of the computer virus and the molecular virus, of the one transposable–wilfully? poetically? artistically?–into or onto the other. Not only do I maintain that they are mutually irreducible, I find art to be a work of the outside the human. Not an inoculation. An exoculation.

Consider painting–Herzog’s homo spiritualis of Chauvet; never is, never has been homo sapiens: has never known anything–and how painting thinks–or to recapitulate the less common sense of understanding, how painting understands. What the hand of the painter has to undergo is becoming mineral. Because pigment is always at heart a matter of minerals.

In other words, this old art form, painting, is not the awakening of modern human awareness as Herzog in his Cave of Forgotten Dreams at first has it. It is the awakening of nonhuman awareness. Of a mineral thinking. Of what Deleuze calls anorganic life: life in the understanding of the outside the human. That is, the nonhuman.

And perhaps we can think of this as spiritual.

— from here

Tranquility and Ruin.* There is an aspect to Danyl McLaughlan’s book that is he has gone there so that you don’t have to. Like Louis Theroux, in the porn industry. But, like Louis Theroux, in porn, why would you want to?

That McLaughlan chooses to, makes me suspicious. Nowhere more so than in the hope industry of the effective altruists. Here’s the webpage: Using reason and evidence to do the most good. Not the webpage for the book but for the hope addicts who support this industry. Like the porn addicts who support that industry.

(Incidentally, hope addiction has been statistically verified to be the number one killer of spontaneous creative acts in the developed world. It is, as they say, a first world problem.)

What do I suspect McLaughlan of? is it naivety? No.

As D. pointed out to me, what hooks you in to McLaughlin’s studiedly plain prose (read: refuses to flatter itself with an intellectual posing pouch by refusing to fill (an intellectual) one) is that his own neuroses keep manifesting. He keeps breaking in to his narrative with his own indecision, depression, twisty fuckupedness. D. finds this, although it is more distasteful than charming, disarming. It makes me want to throw the book against the wall. No. I wanted to read about this evidence of the disembraining machine at work. The disembraining of cognition–using reason and evidence–at the hand of cognitivism (see above).

To cleanse my subjecto-aesthetico-political palate, I wanted to re-read Josh Cohen’s Not Working: Why We Have to Stop. The injunction held in Cohen’s title seems eminently more sensible, practicable, reasonable and self-evident than anything in Tranquility and Ruin. Just stop! What your body and mind are telling you in your breakdown is that you have to stop working. Or trying to work. Or trying to be useful. And above all don’t try and do any good: end your addiction to hope.

(This could also be Rob Doyle’s message in his novels … but they are about the addiction to hopelessness or nihilism that only affirms the addiction to hope: like giving up is part of the addiction, to smoking, for example.)

McLaughlin cannot imagine any alternative to capitalism. This is reasonable evidence that the full Heideggerian nightmare has already occurred: isomorphic with capitalism, cognitivism is the system of total machinic enslavement.

Not by coincidence do we find ourselves experimental subjects in the capital-concentration camp. (This is why I envy Antoine Volodine his “anarcho-fantasist post-exoticism” and it makes me think that in a way Murray Edmond may have been right when he said to me that he didn’t consider the last century to be the American but to be the Russian Century. We had just been talking about Ernie Abbott.)

*Anyl McLaughlin, Tranquility and Ruin, (Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press, 2021).

“Unlike other species, we have cosmological belief systems that give meaning to experience and to events like the death of a loved one.” said Professor Nicole Bovin on the oldest human burial found in Africa, here.

“your local shopping centre is actually an elaborate sound collage lampooning the cacophony of commerce”

— Ben Beaumont-Thomas, from here.

from here

Lee Smolin on a universe of events: cf. Hanjo Berressem’s Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy (companion volume = Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology) the light on the other side of the dark is the plane of immanence.

On feelings:

“I see it like this,” Benedikt said. Where other people had feelings–in their head, their heart, wherever–he had … He hesitated.




“Things wrapped up. Like little, dark, shapeless presents.”

“And you don’t want to unwrap them?”

“I wouldn’t know where to start.”

[this is a conversation, although a bizarre conversation, as the participants recognise, between a male and a female–both detectives]

— from Oliver Bottini, The Dance of Death, Trans. Jamie Bulloch, (London, UK: Maclehose Press, 2019), 179. The original work has the much more original title, Im Auftrag der Väter.

On the dance of death:

At night the dreams came, for years. … [he] would wake up sobbing and always told them the same dream–hundreds, thousands of men, his father among them, dancing in the rain in a clearing, very slowly as if they were hanging from threads, like puppets being operated in slow motion, and they appeared to laugh and be happy. But then in his dream [he] realised that the men and his father were “dancing” because they were being shot at, bullets peppering their bodies. They were crying, not laughing, and then he saw them die.

— Ibid., 274.

The Man

 (He did more than twenty portraits of the man.)

You could be the Pope and not be able to stop it.

“Anarcho-fantastic post-exoticism.” 

The Nativist Programme

first start with indigeneity. Move on with this as if it is a political programme. (Don’t worry. It will be.)

although truth be told, not a political programme so much as a function or output of ideological programming.

indigeneity itself will perform this function, since it can assume the character of an ideological+political progamme+that of a corrective, positively to discriminate itself from the function reserved to it. The it will come

so from the start we can say, indigeneity as method.

official institutional endorsement is essential. As it has been so will it be–recognising the indigenous at last.

This, then, finality–meaning we can say, finally recognition! Recognition for:

  1. the nativist identity–where it all starts
  2. its mode of address–language
  3. inferring from these, identity+linguistic subject, a set of values to be restored. Finally!
  4. feedback loop between items 1 & 3.

an organisation–adopting indigeneity methodically to euphemise for, to give oversight to oversights, and gross mistakes, translating them into a native idiom that is also nativist: mining a “deep vein of xenophobia and nativism” and “protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants.”

striking wordage on mass email app:


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– from here

R.I.P. Anita Lane 18 March 1960 – 28 April 2021

wow, the google search returns: Also known as: Dirty