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Avatarship and the New Man: Reading Ideology, Technology and Hope

Adrian at the eco and vitalist friendly Immanence has posted some thoughts on Avatar worth directing our gaze over to, as they are in some consonance with my own which I am still mulling: Avatar: Panthea v. the Capitalist War Machine: Bambi Fights Back. Some of his response is in consideration of Russ Douthat’s op-ed review, which I will not entertain here, mostly because I do not like New-York-Times-speak, and actually refrain from reading it when I can. (There is something mind-benumbing about how the Times – its op-editors included – aesthetically presents “thought”.) My resistance to the Times aside, Adrian makes 5 or so which I reproduce here:

  1. Douthat thinks that that’s mainstream and that Hollywood is fully behind it, but it’s really still the insurgent religion to muscular Christianity and militarist nationalism. This is one of the rare films in which the Goddess (Mother Nature & the Natives) takes on the Capitalist War Machine and… well, you’ll have to see who wins.
  2. The good white boy messianically leads the natives in rebellion against their overlord invaders — which makes it Christmassy in more ways than Douthat’s Solstice-timed op-ed suggests.
  3. The Na’vi and their planet, Pandora (Pan-Thea, the tree-forest-rhizome-neural-network Goddess and World Soul, Pandora whose box, when opened, unleashed a million megatons of reality on humanity — it’s pagan mythology with a sledgehammer; gotta love it).
  4. The ethnographic theme — the translation/mediation between two opposed cultural worlds, science and anthropology’s dependence and ultimate answerability only to empire/colonialism/militarism, and the cultural intermediary’s desire to go native, is overly stereotypical but, for the Hollywood thriller format, not badly done. It will propagate the gone-to-Croatan meme for a new generation.
  5. Ideology: Behind it all is the Spielberg factor, i.e., that the overt message (‘Man vs. Nature’, or rather high-modernist techno-capitalism vs. Body-Shop-nature-tech) is undercut by the implicit message that it is science, technology, and Hollywood magic — the Image Industry, the Spectacle — that enchants us and brings us what we really want. And they bring us new life, maybe eternal life, through the New Age science of neuro-energetics, gene-splicing, virtual-reality, and all the rest. ‘Jake Sully’ the Na’vi avatar (not the marine) is, after all, a zombie: his body is a remote-controlled, genetically-engineered robot.

As you can tell from my original review, yes, the film is loaded. And I really like many of the features Adrian brings out. It is a smörgåsbord for anyone seeking to make a symptomatic reading of either the film or, via its achievement, our society.  One can pick and choose any number of dishes and fill your ideological/critical plate. I can’t really address the first two of Adrian’s points other than to say that the contradiction between the two forms of Christianity and whiteness perhaps performs a framework for what becomes an absolute and aesthetic multiplicity. I say “a” framework, and not “the” framework, because I sense that there is a narratological overload that Cameron’s film is operating by, one which can be dichotomized in any number of mapped directions. The counter stories that are embedded in their very lamination, our mythological heritage (which for moderns is made up of cinema), they bristle almost with fracticality underneath as stereotypes wrestle with becoming archetypes, becoming, more importantly. allegorious beings. There is in this film a cartological confusion, as if satellite images all selecting out different features of a landscape were layered confusedly upon each other, combined with some hand-drawn maps of significance, and then animately shuffled through, to expose the alter of our world. The very impacted yet temporally spaced nature of the plot features, perhaps inspired by video-game modulation, serves both as our disorientated potential for renewal, and hone’s our ideologically trained animal-like senses into expert tracking and thus, directed experience. (We scent THIS ground, like an idealized native american hunter, noticing every twig snapped.) This is our land.

I am mostly interested in the last three points: going native, going zombie and going goddess. It is correct I think to mark out the “remote control” aspects of these plot features, it is worth pointing out that the war-machine also had remote-control experiences which extended itself out into environments. It is more the case that if Pandora represents a battleground of a kinds, it is one of a race to seal the breach which is implied in the “remote” in remote control. It is a story of connectivity conducted under a technological matrix which imposes upon its viewer the very conditions under contest narratively. Oddly enough it puts the viewer ecstatically and epistemologically in something of the moral (I want to say, but am not allowed to) position of actant in an enhanced world. What do I mean by this? Spinoza says that when we regard something to be “like” us we become affected with whatever it is experiencing. This is a primarily feature of the aesthetic experience, and I would say groundwork for how we know anything about the world at all. Thus there is something to the alien experience. That is, the dis-embodiment of environments that propels the mind further, tendrilling our knowledge out like so many Pandorean root-synapes, to similarities. Avatarship is a primary relationship to the world, and as such requires the fundamental plot point of the film, that we must be able to become our avatars, and not just inhabit them. We must recognize our bodies in them, not reflexively as if glancing in the ideological mirror, but kinesthetically, mutually.

As I have pointed out in the comments section to Adrian’s post, Cameron spent seven years scuba diving after the wealth the film Titanic brought him. One can easily recognized the diving features of the film, in particular when Sully first playfully and childishly smacks luminescence to stimulate it. A junior diver is the one that touches everything (often killing it to some degree). But it is not the portrayal of diving that Cameron was after, I suggest. It was the kinesthetic transferral, the displacement, the suspension, the alien drift, the wobbly wonder that bombards a diver, no matter how experienced. When every single living thing in an environment is physiologically superior to you. When every single living thing is aesthetically more beautiful. When your own suspension is technological and precarious before what can only be called a witnessing. The effect is ecological. Not in any ideological sense, but in a theorein manner. The spectacle is not remote, it attaches with all the physicality as the Na’vi attatches to its ride animal. It is an over-sense.

I think that this is a message in the construction of this film. Indeed the ideological and plot-character layerings work to dis-fuse the viewer in any number of directions, sending her or him into sweet spots of recognized cover, core inter-relation. But this is only a means for the potential to remove the “remote” in remote control. To assume the avatarship of one’s life. For this reason the racial component is an interesting aspect of the plot telling. There certainly is a “white” amid the ethnicity (and animality). But I think we should be careful not to polarize this into an essential binary (there is a “male” as well, and also a “class”). Instead what the experiments of technological achievement suggested by the film imply is something of the order that anatomy IS destiny, or rather, anatomy is possibility. Sully must take on the anatomy of another species in order to perform their world. Ultimately though, our anatomy is our technology (and not just our signification). Our bodies are made of the fibres, and switches, and tempos of all that extends us into the world. “White” is simply that which consciously refuses this dis-location as a mode of its own affect control. In this way there can be said to be something “white” in the Na’vi as well.

We must transmute our anatomies before the alien of the world. For those viewers that granted innocence to the film, Cameron already has performed a first transmutation. And sometimes those who have not logged hundreds of hours in the technology are better suited for the avatarship.

The Magic of Court Rooms: The Science of Experiment

Amanda Knox and Magical Transformations of Law

It has been noted by some that in the history of Science there are great dues to be paid to the instrumentalism of magic itself. Far from being opposed to science, magic with its ritualizations and isolations of practices, its heavy dose of the instrumentalization of forces beyond the human, was more a proto-science. This is found from the Hellenistic Age and its daimonology all the way to Newton’s devoted alchemical experiments and theorization. Part of the backbone of this understanding is the realization that the private space filtering of effects (the laboratory of both the magus and the scientist) is key to both producing literal truths, but also to cloister subjective powers such that “magic” happens. The Amanda Knox case seems to show us as well that courts are like laboratories too. These are isolated environments where specifically defined differences are selected out such as to produce a kind of extra-court, transcendent product…justice. But just as well these magical operations, these operations of selection and hermeticism, can tend to produce fantastic magic of the unexpected kind. Especially in cases which bear the currents of strong social shift, the “laboratory” effect actually can work to condense and focus these sub-realities so to conjure something more. It seems that these are not the failings of courtrooms, so much as the effect that comes with truth-procedures themselves.

A Taxomomy of Evils and the Demoness Ontology of Powers in Vitalism

In my few past posts I have begun exploring the ideo-figural aspects of the mythological figure of Zuggtmoy, a reported Demoness Queen of Fungi (seemingly drawn from the common stock of the sexualized evil of the D&D world). First I sketched out a fictional Encyclopedia entryin the style of Borges to get a feel for the mixtures of knowledges, histories, myths and reference that make up our co-ordination upon mytho-poetic reality. Then I took her more seriously, and investigated both her ontological expansionas a principle and a kind of incarnational exemplification in the unique properties of slime molds.

To follow through though, the tug of evil, itself, remained. For in her representational quality for the powers and speech of matter (M), one cannot dismiss the host of erotic, desire-imbued machinations that such a feminine modern archetype seems to carry. If such a demoness has a message to philosophy, conceptual evil is inscribed in its flesh. Below is a diaried entry on what must only be an outline of what such a con-figuration signifies…sometimes I believe it pays to think figuratively like this, as my guidepost thoughts on Achilles (and Sloterdijk) and also Antigone might show.

Demon and Law

Under the question of Zuggtomoy, fungal darkness the issue of the “demonic” necessarily must be raised, for the very subversive, if hierarchical nature of any ontological claim of thisorder appeals to a kind of intentional and performative domain. In such a view the historical understanding of literal magic and demonology proves revelatory, seen in the West primarily in the syncretism of the Hellenic and Leventine world, eventually subsumed under a mono-ideational Orthodox whole, Judeo-Chrisitan completions of local deities, mechanisms, which really must be seen as techniques. For it is in the techniques, and thus the technologies of magus traditions that at least one strong root of the scientific laboratory can be found. In a sense, demonology in its historical form expresses scientific instrumental multiplicity (subjects, laws, means and device), a multiplicity that resists the singular moniker Science.

The Demonic as a Locality of Powers and Means

When one questions the demonological, one is ultimately questioning a locality of techniques, that is until the demon (or δαίμων) becomes elevated to the status of a god wherein it starts to operate with something of a law-universal, a universal yet still constrained and specific in its manifestation, by circumstance. So as we  approach the demonic figure of Zuggtmoy (however fantastical) and work from her the possibilities of an ontological truth, we must address her in both her local, perhaps cult-like incarnation – for instance the kinds of things we might learn  from the structures of slime molds – but also potentially law-like, and therefore god-like revelations, as we might understand her domain, her sphere of actions, so as it to be a continual and constitutive plane for the very condition of our existence and agency.

Invariably as well, the subject of evil must be taken up, for ultimately and historically the homogenization of belief under any normalization of formal practice involves, or has involved, the creation of an entire sphere into which their actions can be categorically confined. Which is to say that the supra-lunar and astral projections of a hierarchy of powers that mark the syncretization of Hellenized Egypt (PGM) upon the spread of Judaism and Christianity under the crush of Roman occupation (the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and all the apocalyptic and liberation re-ordering of the universe that follows), wherein every demon or daimon – even ever dead person – exudes a kind of tiered capacity of force, this is disbanded in favor of  a great domain binary of Good/Evil, Heaven/Hell, Life/Death, eventually to be purified into Presence/Absence and Being/Non-Being. When one  recognizes the historiography of demonology one appreciates the ideological use of the objective binaries that end up calculating a mirror dimension, whether or not these two dimensions are ever in theory or theology ever reconcilable or made disjunctive.

The Legalism of Pure Affection

But if we are to take up evil we must do more that understand the historical struggle between local powers of belief and practice (expressed as technique), and the hegemonic orthodoxy of homogenization, one must also look at the very conceptual core of what seems to show itself in the Law alone. This is the way in which law determinations that regulate the bodily pleasures (and pains) of others in a register of normativity themselves necessarily embody a pleasure. That is, there is ever the pleasures of regulating pleasure, a sweetness of investment which is ever occluded in the very recursive (and body continuity) circuit of their circulation, the very “contentless” nature of their nature of their content, which for Kant is demarked by the absence of pathological self-interest, or reason. The subject reaches the intensive apogee of its pleasure capacity to the degree that it refuses pleasure, perhaps the greatest pleasure of all (theoretically at least).

We can see this of course in de Sade’s inversion of Kant (first exposed by Horkenheimer and Adorno in Dialectics of Enlightenment, and then by Lacan in “Kant avec Sade”), wherein ultimately the subject becomes the pure instrument of Nature by embodying as best one can the very disinterested destructive power of evil, accomplished through the buiding of bodily circuits of repetition and pleasure coursings that enact – but locally, as devices -the universal powers of Nature’s transformations: that is, the very neutral but intense for of the law itself. You can see this measured enforcement of depersonalized traverse in the in situ figure of the Red Wax sewing thread which characterizes the narrative and argumentative acme of Philosophy in the Bedroom (published the same year, 1795, as Kant’s “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”), wherein disease is “rationally”  and literally sewn into the very body of the mother, creating the picture of a supposed universe within the universe, a relation that ultimately shows itself as a perversity, a cruelty:

[The scene from Philosophy in the Bedroom, in which Eugenie (well-born) sews up and destroys her mother's own womb, in a kind of even further radicalized and profane Antigone (anti-birth), if that can be imagined; not only sewing but making of the mother's body a field of excruciating intensity, signifying the null-fruition of the act]

EUGENIE – Excellent idea! Quickly, quickly, fetch me needle and thread!… Spread your thighs, Mamma, so I can stitch you together-so that you’ll give me no more little brothers and sisters. (Madame de Saint-Ange gives Eugénie a large needle, through whose eye is threaded a heavy red waxed thread; Eugénie sews.)

EUGENIE, from time to time pricking the lips of the cunt, occasionally stabbing its interior and sometimes using her needle on her mother’s belly and mons veneris – Pay no attention to it, Mamma. I am simply testing the point…

LE CHEVALIER – The little whore wants to bleed her to death!

DOLMANCE, causing himself to be frigged by Madame de Saint-Ange, as he witnesses the operation – Ah, by God! how this extravagance stiffens me! Eugénie, multiply your stitches, so that the seam will be quite solid.

EUGENIE – I’ll take, if necessary, over two hundred of them… Chevalier, frig me while I work.

LE CHEVALIER, obeying – I’ve never seen a girl as vicious as this one!

EUGENIE, much inflamed – No invectives, Chevalier, or I’ll prick you! Confine yourself to tickling me in the correct manner. A little asshole, if you please, my friend; have you only one hand? I can seeno longer, my stitches go everywhere… Look at it I do you see how my needle wanders… to her thighs, her tits… Oh, fuck! what pleasure!…

So how do we reconcile these two aspects of evil, the historiographical understanding of demonology as local technique subsumed and normalized, and the localized device building between bodies which performs a machinic if cruel transformation (and transfiguration) of affects…of surplus?

If anything, as we grasp the possibilities of a Zuggtmonic drive in the auspice of the demonic image of Zuggtmoy herself, both the cruel inscription of affects upon bodies in evacuated regimes of formal legalism, localized historically specific machina of bodies joined, yoked, and the local power techniques that are ever under hegemonic universalization (and, it seems, binary polarization in abstraction). The Law as instantiationally and concretely cruel and effectively homogenizing.

Elevating Local Demons

Where does this leave us unto the cruelties of godlike elevation of demonic Zuggtmoy? What kind of transformations and seeing-throughs  are possible through her fungal if brutal consumptions at the border of death and decay? What is gained by the elevation of her local technique to a universalized though context-bound law is the capacity to see constructives as not strict inside/outside binary machines, but as material relations established with the radience that covers death and decay itself, ones that appreciate staged, cyclictic (and not categorical) transitions between individual and collective, ever within the halo of decay’s release of constitutive elements; but always with the risk that the identification with the demoness may take hold of your subjective boundary and transform you through decay, putrification and thereupon growth itself, creating new sites for radiance. Ever the risk if we are not to participate in totalitarian cognizance and its absolute pleasure economies.

Related comtemorary posts elsewhere: Naught Thought here, there and whence;  Complete Lies thence; The Whim thither; Eliminative Culinarism (6-11-09) wither.

Huygens’s Lens

This struck me as such a remarkable image, one that I have found in my just nascent research into Spinoza’s lens-grinding techniques (Huygens was a companion and nearby neighbor of Spinoza’s in the years 1664 and ’65). This is the lens with which Huygens discovered the first moon of Saturn (in March of 1655), and then the rings, as unlike Descartes before him he embodied his studies on the nature of optics.

There are several things that are eye-catching. First is its thinness and size. Likely ground by hand, it is merely 5.7 centimeters across and yet has a focal length of over 3 meters. It is only 3.4 millimeters thick.

Then there is the inscription at the edges, found scratched into the wax-yellow material:

A line from Ovid:

Admovere oculis distantia sidera nostris : They carried distant stars to ours eyes.

In anagram:

Saturno luna sua circunducitur diebus sexdecim horis quatuor : With Saturn, his moon circles itself around in 16 days, 4 hours”

It is this artifact of discovery, the materiality of the lens, emphasized by inscription, the presence of the poetry and the observation, that we glimpse something of the physicality of sciences, and the conceptions that enlighten it.

Later, when other moons besides this one were discovered, Huygens simply called this moon, “my moon”. One gets a sense of the personal, material and historic conception of invention.

 

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