Manifesto for Revolution (abstract)

AbstractRev1

Marxists, forgive me if you’ve heard this one before:

“What have we learned from revolution?”

This is always a hard question to answer because it forces us to lie. The real answer, occulted under layers of theory, dialectical analyses of the “conditions”, slavish adherence to the doctrinal and counter-doctrinal lenses of others is: nothing. 

How many times has the revolution occurred, has it truly come to pass, and another world come into view? Did it happen in 1848, in 1871, in 1893, in 1917, in 1968, in 1999? Of course not, we’re still here.

Because there has never been a revolution. There have only been failures.

So revolution is unknowable, because we have never known it. In a better phrasing, revolution is abstract, a pure, black tendril of beyondness, the Outside, a hand moving quickly back behind the veil.  Revolution cannot even anymore be perceived, following Fisher, and disappears forever, revealing the entire idea to be a hollow absurdity. Your vision warps at the glancing sight, becomes irreal. The Sensible implodes.

So to revolt, our sight must first be corrected. Therefore, revolution requires, before it ever even has a possibility of coming about, apocalypse, which from the Greek apokalupsis, means “to uncover”, “to reveal”. But we shouldn’t forget its useful modern usage either, carrying with it a notion of a final, great pain, an universal sundering. Instead of a vain, millenarian hope for a revolution that is even now brewing (just everywhere we aren’t looking, I guess), we must dispose of such utopic hopes: [The End] has been de-activated, leaving an indefinitely dilated Ending without conclusion”Substitute “the End” for the “the Revolution” there and the meaning stays the same.

So revolution has not occurred, and in fact, withdraws instantly, retreating into the future—even as capitalist virotechnics explode backward from it (image of Angelus Novus getting strafed from behind). But this means our praxis has become only more clear: to have Revolution, we must first have apocalypse.

More errata on hydroecology and the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene’s proliferation of disasters—or, the increasingly legible actions of nonhuman actors in human spaces—produce fluid territory upon which the ecological, economic, and political whirl and feedback. But for all the uncertainty, the geopolitical powers of the Global North remain in a privileged position: possessed of the luxury of “turning necessity into opportunity”, they can construct illusions of solidity, of uniformity, of ordered procession, and in doing so, reinforce themselves. Ideological constructs and infrastructural fortifications move together in delirious lockstep: the flooded coastline is not a diluvian catastrophe, but an opportunity for development; earthquakes produced by hydraulic fracturing leads to the structural thickening of the drilling apparatus. The Anthropocene, far from being the duration-entity of an emphatic and final deterritorialization (a millenarian delusion), is reciprocally characterized by abrupt re-equalization—by market-forces rushing back in, blindly and hysterically beholden to thermodynamic laws of pressure that dictate: the voidspace left by the onslaught of the nonhuman must be re-filled as quickly and as spectacularly as possible. (One wonders: if it wasn’t, would it be like missing teeth in a smile, or the removal of gaudy paint from a marble sculpture from antiquity?) The attritive scraping of the nonhuman on the human—100-year storms, rise of sea levels, decade-long draughts, et al.—does nothing to negate the fact that, under capitalism, territory is property, and property is to be built on, excavated, paved over, and secured.

In doing so, capitalistic development has positioned itself as the interlocutor between the nonhuman and the human. Having produced an aberrant, mutated planetary system, capitalism now fails to meet with it, despite its best efforts, and despite its self-appointed status as guardian. The Anthropocene has not seen the dissolution of capital so much as it has seen it reassert itself as the only possibility; the only system capable of responding to massive destruction with massive reconstruction. The Anthropocene’s massive destructive possibilities merely offer new opportunities of a continued, bleak rebirth, always in the capitalistic mode, until there is no ground left.

The barrier-territory left by deterritorialization and immediately once more pseudopodically swallowed by capital is itself, of course, immediately capitalized.

The hideous sight: the horrific sensible and the construction of space

On some level Fat guessed the truth; he had encountered his past selves and his future selves—two future selves: an early-on one, the three-eyed people, and then Zebra, who is discorporate. Time somehow got abolished for him, and the recapitulation of selves along the linear time-axis caused the multitude of selves to laminate together into a common entity. Out of the lamination of selves, Zebra, which is supra- or trans-temporal, came into existence: pure energy, pure living information. Immortal, benign, intelligent and helpful. The essence of the rational human being.

—Philip K. Dick, VALIS

A painting that can be represented as a waxworks group is a bad painting…What is really terrible, however, is to see an architectural drawing, which, given the medium, one has to accept as an example of graphic art — and there are genuine graphic artists among the architects — carried out in stone, iron and glass.

Adolf Loos

You enter the museum. The edges of your vision blur and tear inward. Simultaneously, all blooms harshly—this is not a heavenly glow, but the sudden arrival of a constellation of blinding stars. You are alone in a cavernous lobby, the atmosphere hanging heavy. Everyone has their back to you, looking at nothing in particular, mechanically acting out potemkin instantiations of social contact. You can see for miles, picking out the delicate filigree on a window panel with ease, though it is easily hundreds of feet away. The potency of the vision, the roaring dread of what could not possibly be real—no one would judge if you vomited, ran outside immediately, or reacted otherwise violently.

Architecture in the public conception is not a sculptural undertaking or even a spatial one, but rather an arrangement and presentation in two dimensions. The city as a skyline on a postcard, or as a collection of facades; the planarity of the walls, ceiling, and floor as the body passes by; the tactical information conveyed through a plan, section, or elevation; and most importantly, the render—the reigning overlord of the architectural thought, concept, and form. At the carnal apotheosis of the fucked up relationship between architecture and capitalism, the render is absolutely essential to get a project produced. The rot of this practice has seeped into the ground, and is now laconically mixing atoms with the groundwater of the field. The hypnagogic experience related above above is not a fever dream, terrifying, or even rare. It is a requirement to produce architecture on a massive, capitalistic scale in our modern age. It is packaged and shown to investors, to boardrooms, meticulously articulated, and proliferated by the cultural-aesthetic apparatus which, more so than space and material deployment, is the medium through which the public comes to architecture.

Adolf Loos wrote of the necessary use of the graphic arts in conveying architecture. Like the render, canonical architectural drawings have long purported to represent the building they invoke truthfully. What Loos disdained was that the drawing was often taken for the building, and fundamentally occluded the act and art of “spatio-hyletic experimentation with the void”—architecture in the sense that it divides, organizes, and enforces Newtonian space. Loos bemoaned that “architectural forms are no longer created by the craftman’s tools, but by the pencil”. He claimed to have circumvented the issue by designing with a fundamentally spatial viewpoint—a weltanschauung that moves along in three dimensions. Advising that “a true building makes no impression as a picture reduced to two dimensions”, Loos continues:

It is my  greatest pride that the interiors I have created are completely lacking in effect when photographed; that the people who live in them do not recognize their own apartments from the photographs, just as the owners of a Monet would not recognize it at Kastan’s waxworks. The honor of seeing my works published in the various architectural journals is something I have had to do without. I am denied the satisfaction of my vanity.

Unpacking this boast spins lines of thought off in multiple directions; obviously, there is the central concept, which is that Loos claimed to produce anti-two dimensional work, or at least work the true form of which recoiled asymptotically from mere representation, which was emphatically real. The other, and more interesting item, is Loos’ allusion to the vast machinery of vaingloriousness that has always circumscribed the architectural practice, like lepers beyond the walls.

Strange Affordances

Intro to research project on the NYC Dryline/dromohydrology/eschatoaesthetics


The Anthropocene can, at some level, be characterized by the failures of static (human and exo-human) systems. These failures differ wildly in their identity and scope,  Our world is increasingly defined by the contours of movement and distributions of both human and nonhuman actants. Perceiving the totality of the actions of these actants, it becomes clear that they answer to organic logics; they breed and, like termites, digest and weaken structures; every new tropical storm, monsoon, and draught sends rippling shockwaves through the social habitus leaving it weak and uncertain of the future, with nothing to do but desperately try to gird itself for the next ‘big one’. The homogenous ground of geopolitics, which has and continues to consider the planetary skin to be a relatively static multi-part lamination of territory,  tactical resource-matrices, and human population masses, has been revealed to behave (and to have been behaving) fluidly, possessed of languid movement and sudden seizures.

This new mutagenic capacity of these new, horrifying actants produces in states increasingly more manic attempts to consolidate and control that operate along bizarre new relational metrics of fortification and porosity. Watersheds, rivers, and aquifers have never answered to territorial boundaries, but now they must be made to answer to new logics of security and sovereignty. Urban coastlines and ports, heavily defended and mechanized, nevertheless are quickly swamped and undone by rising tides. Earthquakes produced by hydraulic fracturing rattle under city streets far from extraction sites. Atmospheric pollution issued from a factory in the Chinese Pearl River Delta chokes urban residents in Inner Mongolia. The Anthropocene is the time-space of a new, radically extensible volatility.

But there are still rules, it seems. For all the uncertainty, the geopolitical powers of the Global North remain in a privileged position: possessed of the luxury of “turning necessity into opportunity”, they can construct illusions of solidity, of uniformity, of ordered procession, and in doing so, reinforce themselves. In this new temporal colonialism, ideological constructs and infrastructural fortifications move together in delirious lockstep: the flooded coastline is not a diluvian catastrophe, but an opportunity for development. The Anthropocene, far from being the millenarian duration-entity of an emphatic and final deterritorialization, is quickly becoming reciprocally characterized by a twinned re-equalization—by market-forces rushing back in to the places they had been evicted by disasters, blindly and hysterically beholden to laws of pressure and development that dictate, like all things, capital must equalize and refill the void. The attritive scraping of the nonhuman on the human—100-year storms, rise of sea levels, decade-long draughts, et al.—does nothing to negate the fact that, under capitalism, territory is property, and property is to be built on, excavated, paved over, and secured. The devastated coastline left in the aftermath of the latest inundation is still beachfront property, and must be rebuilt, preferably as quickly and as spectacularly as possible.

In the eco(nomic)-eco(logical) danse macabre of property and development, capitalism has undertaken an auto-coronation, positioning itself as the only entity capable of acting on human behalf on ecological scales. Capitalism, and specifically, the hysterical cycle of development and redevelopment, has carved itself a comfortable ecological niche as the interlocutor between the human and the nonhuman. Capitalism is not just the provocation of the Anthropocene, or a catalyst; it now occupies an intercalary position, facilitating interface between worlds. What I mean by this is that capitalistic development has bootstrapped its own niche of the eco-eco, and in occupying it, recomposed the relationship into a combinatoric nebula-assemblage of trialectical engagement. In doing so, it leaves the human revealed and vulnerable, which with repeated claims of safety and stewardship, further entrenches development in its mediative role. We have not seen the dissolution of capital so much as we have seen its reassertion that it is the only possibility; that it is the only Grand Builder left, capable of responding to the seething diversity of actant-populations with massively-scaled projects of homogenization. This relationship is clearly legible in the suburban developments that dominate the peripheral zones of American cities, which offer the aestheticized idyll of the arcadian countryside in packaged, parcellized, and therefore marketable and sellable format. The minimal development of the pre-industrial house is made into a commodity product.

///

The Union of Concerned Scientists maintains an interactive ‘Climate Hot Map’. The CHM is stock Google Maps satellite data, overlaid with a constellation of pinprick event-zones mapped on the planetary surface of the Earth. These event-zones are further distinguished by a color, corresponding to one of five umbrella categories. Use of the CHM offers to smooth climatespace into a global array of equally-weighted nodes, existing independently of each other in space and time. Each of these events is actually a wellhead: making legible, by their own de-occulted nature, the vast benthic, hidden system of aberrations that made them possible—including, naturally, the effects of other wellheads. What the CHM offers is the ability to apprehend the field of catastrophic event-zones and allow for a minor amount of digging into more discrete, granular scales. This approach of scale is the same I will be using for the following discussion.

Sea level rise is, in some ways, the face-pattern of the Anthropocene, or its leading edge. It is among the earliest effects discussed of the panoply of climate change effects when doomsaying first took off in mainstream political circles, and remains one of the most readily apprehended. The ephemera of the Anthropocene, such as the level of atmospheric carbon, limits to global temperature rise, snowpack quantities and so on, seem esoteric compared to the simple calculus of sea level rise: tides come in, and never go back out. The underpinning web of further effects and causes—glacier melt, the liberation of trapped methane, polar amplification, etc.—functionally does nothing to augment the urban resident’s reality of water in the street.

From the global scale, to the personal, and back again: the phenomena of the Anthropocene are massively distributed, but the intensity of their impacts is a function of geographic location and economic status. In the Anthropocene, true geopolitical power is expressed by “turning necessity into opportunity”. On the unstable, mutagenic trialectical ground that is now the substrate of global politics, power rests in not only the ability to roll with the punches, but the elegance of the vector away from harm. And as in prior political-temporal regimes, the most deft moves are strictly the province of the most privileged actors: those with the developmental resources (or capital expenditure) to risk-assess and legitimize their actions. In this way, geopolitical actors find that despite the myriad of changes undertaken and underway in the Anthropocene, the overall hierarchy of global politics and (perhaps even more so) economics is undergoing a reciprocal structural thickening. The ascendency of the Global North finds itself once again refortified—this time not by fiat, or juridical fiction, but by the very construction of our current reality. This effect is true not just of states, but of populations: global citizenship is a privilege reserved for those from the Global North, proving gravity—it is possible to move internationally and between territories always down or laterally, but never up. American students go to study in Rome, but Somalian refugees are left to float dead in the Mediterranean.

The yawning chasm between the Global North and South remains reinforced developmentally, militarily, and in terms of political agency. The advent of the Anthropocene has added new dualisms: access to remediative materials and technologies, and most importantly, the effects of nonhuman catastrophe-events themselves. In this sense, the division of the world no longer lies along the equator, but should be rehearsed as a separation between the torrid and extra-torrid geospace of the planet. It is in the torrid zones that the proliferation of catastrophe-events is most strongly felt, and where the resources to interface with the same are most lacking. Notably, Bangladesh, Kiribati, Haiti, and the Maldives—all sites located in the torrid zone—are early adopters of the desperate, uncertain, and vulnerable forms of life in the Anthropocene.

///

The Attenuating Peninsula

It’s impossible not to be left with the feeling that we are digging into hell, or running headlong over cliffs. For the most part, we have finally become present and aware of our own movements—the locomotive tendency bearing us closer to oblivion—but have yet to stop or even slow down.

Kim Stanley Robinson writes about a concept that he refers to as the ‘attenuating peninsula’—a conceptual geography that grows smaller over its length. As a species, we tread (or are blown backward) down the length of the peninsula. The middle path is our current scenario, and so, while it seems rational to “stay the course” so to speak, a look even a short distance forward reveals a precipitous drop (or perhaps, a walk through an inundated downtown street until the lapping greycaps have swallowed us). However, there is a way to escape the vector of the peninsula: a utopian solution, which in this case, is expressed as a course correction down a gentle slope. All is required is a slight deviation from our current trajectory. KSR’s peninsula is a powerful utopia in its own right: an ontogeographic sigil. Were it to actually exist, we would not just walk down it calmly in a benign acceptance of our fate. The coastlines of the peninsula would be lined with condos and resorts, furred with manufactured sand to create beaches, and the interior would be drilled for oil. In our wake, devastated, sour earth; ahead, an increasingly shrinking scrum of territory, resource webs, and biomass that will be consumed on our way into the sea.

On the Capitalocene

I can’t help but wonder if the wavering between anthropocene and capitalocene as the proper distinguishers of our current epoch obscures the fact that the distinction is unnecessary. What is humanity, at the present period, if not a hive of workers to perpetuate capitalism? This is a rather Landian digression (capitalism as xeno-entity, powered by humans; a hyperstitional visit from outside time) but bears exploration.

If we say Anthropocene, it must come with qualifiers that distinguish human activities that have shaped our current milieu; that is, activities undertaken without capitalistic provocation. I would argue these don’t exist, and that capitalism has territorialized human notions of technological progress but what’s more, the quotidian to such a degree that any activity is indistinguishable from a capitalistic process.

That said, I still believe capitalocene is somewhat reductionist and revisionist, rewriting history prior to the genesis of the xenomonster of capital in the long 16th c. as a transcendent, teleological run-up to the full force of capitalism’s hideous emergence. Prior to the 16th c., we were in the anthropocene. After, the capitalocene. This proposes a new dyadic schema (Pre- and Post-Era Vulgaris): Anthropocene and Capitalocene, all bound under the name Chthulucene, taken from Haraway. The beauty of Haraway’s moniker is that it distinguishes the substrate upon which both the Anthro- and Capital depend: the creorder and further manipulation of telluro-temporal systems: processes, magnificent in their breadth and depth, invisible in their benthic occultation, only tangentially viewed and even then never in full; the shoggoths of our planetary existence, only perceived generationally. These practices and networks silently exist outside the perception of the human; Haraway is correct in identifying in them a certain cosmicism or horror.

Regardless, the human project on Earth has been defined by the attempts to interface with the telluro-temporal. The beginning of these activities place us in the Chthulucene.

Finding the World-without-Us

In Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet, Thacker draws up a tripartite secular cosmogeny consisting of three spheres identified by their divergence from humanoid/anthropocentric optics: the world-for-us, the world-in-itself, and the world-without-us; or, humanity’s world and environs, the world as understood empirically, and the unhuman—that which we cannot experience.

Obviously, it is hardwired within us to increasingly push outward, to mount colonization efforts and invade the world-without-us. This is a failing preposition: considering the world-without-us causes it to vanish. In the Dust of this Planet proposes that we interact with the sublime unknowable of the w-w-u through horror, which offers a “non-philosophical” way to think ourselves out of existence.

There is, however, another way, residing in the atmospheric record and as imparted to us from ice cores (added bonus: reading ice and air, a kind of material logos-system of inhuman processes, seems very in fitting with the attempts to exhume the asymptotic that define the search for the w-w-u). Over the course of human history, there are instances where the atmosphere improves and things (‘things’ used as a general catchall for nonhuman planetary systems) snap back to ‘normal’ (‘normal’ being a hypothesized vectorization of the world’s ‘things’ if we had never existed.  Stewart Brand in Whole Earth Discipline names some of these resets: the great diebacks after the collapse of ancient Rome, the genocide of Native Americans be the ass-backwards pathogenic warfare of the colonizing Europeans, etc. It’s happening again, too: the Middle East, eaten whole by conflict, is the only region of the world where air quality is improving. Will this be inscribed on the aerologos? Impossible to say.

The point of this post is to maintain that the world-without-us is not simply or even predominantly a tool of critical literature, but a useful heuristic that throws harsh light on the eschatology of our discourse. The apocalypse is a complete deterritorialization, but the world-without-us is more helpful because, while asymptotic, it possesses a sickening gravity; one can’t help by feel we are being pulled to it, breaking through thresholds the whole way down. It is only asymptotic because once we arrive there will be no hominids left to perceive it, of course. The world-without-us is not a technique of literature or theory – though both are doubtlessly useful, and I’m not attempting to shit on either – but is a geo-ontological reality. It’s what lies at the bottom of the slope.

Urban meteorology

One of the most exciting possibilities of a new materialist approach to architecture and urbanism lies in the divorce of form & space within the architectural diploid-construct. Though Levi Bryant fuses the two with his term “hylospatial” to denote the architectural act (a term I have taken and ran with), this phrase still allows us to dilate upon a contradistinction: “architecture” is a linguistic rarification, processed, smoothed, curated; “hylospatial” is a nasty compound kluge of word. This is what architecture is: the inaccurate and poorly-undertaken fusion of matter and energy, to use De Landa’s slightly mystical terminology. It is an unfortunate chimera – unfortunate because we can never talk about all of architecture all at once: only about space or form. There’s always a catalyzing agent and a subservient one.

In attempting to formulate a new architectural optics in a new materialist vein, I’ve begun thinking of architectural as atmospheres. The architectural atmosphere is the collision between space and form. It is space, but space that is itself thought of as full (with compositional differences etc.) and heavy (what is the weight of the column of air that is constantly crushing us on the planetary surface?), both of which are typically properties of matter; following these reasons, it has form, but a form that is highly defined by exteriority (the void, the solid) and conditional behaviors (an atmosphere is never static from one moment to the next). If we think of architectural atmospheres in an array, we produce an urbanism through agglomeration. These atmospheres have a multiplicity of traits – some are massive and low, spindly and tall; they can be joined into fields of startling density or left disparate. This makes an urbanism a meteorology, reacting on us by making our focus the nature of the atmospheres (and their interstitial exteriorities) and paraverting the dialectical figure-ground. All becomes a flat field, with intimations of structure and population to uncover as analysis of the totality continues.