Introduction to Inorganic Demonology: Reza Negarestani and The Exorcist

This is an edit of a transcript for a presentation I gave as part of “Remarkable Things: The Agency of Objecthood & the Power of Materiality”, a conference on the power and value of apotropaic art, hosted on 10th March 2018 by the University of Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre. Special thanks to Kathryn Thompson and the organisers of the event.

What I want to talk about today is an idea I’ve encountered that I think bears an interesting relationship with the subject of today’s conference (apotropaic objects), the inorganic demon, which is a term that appears in Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani’s 2008 book Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials. As a text that appropriates elements of fiction in order to synthesize new methods of doing philosophy, Cyclonopedia has been important to my research for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve presented on any part of its much vaster whole. Although not a structurally integral concept to the book – in fact, the elucidation of the inorganic demon appears as an endnote to the main text – a closer examination of the concept will hopefully serve to intrigue and provoke some of the ideas surrounding objecthood as understood vis-a-vis both popular philosophical traditions and apotropaic studies. Regardless, the tone of this presentation is not meant to be philosophical in a classical sense, but more speculative, accessible, and open-ended.

Simply put, Negarestani’s inorganic demon is a relic or artefact of ancient origin, which houses or otherwise allows a demon to interact with the human world. They are most typically found in narratives of the supernatural horror or fantasy genres. However, I don’t wish for us to demote our understanding of the inorganic demon to a comfortable dark mirror image of the wholesome apotropaic object. I want to propose that the relationship between the apotropaic object and the inorganic demon is more intricate and less oppositional, using the example of the Sumero-Assyrian demon Pazuzu as it is presented in William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and by Negarestani and others.

As suggested already, Negarestani introduces the term “inorganic demon” in a somewhat obtuse way. He buries it in the notes of Cyclonopedia’s prophet, the renegade archaeologist Dr Hamid Parsani, who functions in the book as a sort of complex mouthpiece for Negarestani and the quasi-real Hyperstition collective’s speculative ideas. The book’s first clearly defined chapter details Parsani’s investigation into an obscure Zoroastrian relic called Khaj-e-Akht or the Cross of Akht, which is described by its researcher as

an inorganic demon, a sentient relic with the ability to numerically grasp all the undercurrents and inconsistent events of the Earth as modes of narration. (Negarestani: 13 – emphasis added)

The term does not recur elsewhere in Cyclonopedia, save for in a lengthy endnote, where it is given a thorough treatment. Before examining that let us first be aware of the qualities of the Cross of Akht just detailed. Of course, the intelligence Negarestani-Parsani takes the cross to be not merely a passive, insensate piece of wood, but “sentient”, active, and possessing some degrees of intelligence and agency. (How we are to define these latter terms is of course a matter of contention, a conversation which cannot take place here if brevity is to be maintained.) From the quoted sentence we are also informed that the Cross of Akht’s affective capacity incorporates the potential to tap into the recessive narratives of the Earth as they flow beneath the topsoil; a mode of narratology Negarestani elsewhere refers to as “petropolitics”. This also qualifies the Cross of Ahkt as a “hyperstition”, or a fictional element with agency, which occupies a host (such as a reader) with the intention of crossing over into reality. In the way we might believe in a superstition after experiencing some coincidental “back luck”, we as readers believe that Hamid Parsani is an actual figure, or the Cross of Akht is an actual object, and they somehow transcend their fictional beginnings. This is an important function of the inorganic demon, so now I will present a sort of edited summary of that endnote I mentioned earlier, as to familiarise us with the basic principles of inorganic demonology.

Inorganic demons,[1] also called a xenolithic artifacts, are usually depicted in horror and science fiction as objects made of inorganic materials such as carved stone, wood, or metal. They exhibit a series of dualisms intended to deceive the humans that encounter and uncover them: they simultaneously exhibit a sensuous tactility (“provocatively exquisite” in form) and an immaterial permanence; they are local, yet elsewhere; they represent the pinnacle of human scientific endeavour, yet are highly impious and mocking to anthropocentric modes of existence – physics, philosophy, religion, and so on.

Their autonomy alone marks their outsideness to the human and its ecology, the planetary biosphere; this is why they are frequently associated with alien life forms and defined by the prefix xeno- (outside). (Negarestani: 223)

The role of the inorganic demon is that of a facilitator of the Outside, a generation of symptoms that fold the interiority of anthropocentrism (the limits both of human knowledge and its fullest capacities) outwards, and allow the Outside in, to take advantage of the human host’s specific capabilities: communication, mobility, influence, and political power.

All inorganic demons (or relics) exist in relation to one another through a common lineage: a complex demonological framework of three distinct classes. First-class relics are whole objects; second-class relics are fragments of a whole relic, sometimes scattered, sometimes requiring a ritual regathering in order for their activation to take place. Finally, third-class relics are contaminated objects, having come into contact with higher-class relics: of less potential, but still containing the possibility of ruination. The demon’s ability to transfer its centre of power is therefore not limited to human hosts; however, we must remember that such a manoeuvre is purely a strategic means of survival, not an ultimate goal.

Fortunately, at this stage Negarestani has provided us with a sort of seven-point plan, almost like a “life cycle” of the inorganic demon as it passes from sentient relic to activated contaminant within a host body and back again into deactivated slumber (although of course, these demons are immortal, and occupy living qualities only by proxy). I’m going to run through these stages quickly before turning to the case example, that of The Exorcist. I should reinforce that these seven points constitute the entirety of Negarestani’s writing on the inorganic demon in Cyclonopedia; this is the extent of the detail available:

a) We are told that the inorganic demon is “parasitic by nature”, and that their systems of possession are activated by a range of human states of fascination with the objectivity of relics: their extension through local physical space, or “realism of objects”. The demon is ignited not only through its untimely awakening, but entices the prospective host through its tactility and unearthly aesthetic qualities. This is of course why a demon would choose a mysterious and beautiful object over an ordinary or uninteresting one as its counterpart on the physical plane: it makes it easier for it to get inside us.

b) The demon exacerbates its victim’s fascination through “xeno-excitations”, synthesizing what we might describe as “wisdom” in the victim. We’ve already seen how the demon’s objective is to funnel the Outside through its host: this includes alternate knowledges and modes of perception, ways of sensing and thinking beyond what is ordinarily knowable. Think of Tolkien’s Ring, how it not only draws in all that it comes into contact with (human, hobbit, elf, etc.), but how when worn grants insight into unseen and unheard forces.

c) This is when symptoms of possession begin to develop and manifest themselves. The victim is overcome with “incurable afflictions” and “progressive maladies”. This is because of either the demon’s preliminary attempts to prepare the host for inhabitation, or the host’s nervous recoil to the accommodation of the foreign body. Both of these triggers ought to be recognised simultaneously. The demon’s approach to transformation of the subject, or “reprogramming the logic of organism”, can be viewed as the very stimulation of the host’s adaptation to Outside logics, logics posed by Negarestani as inherently overwhelming on the level of anthropomorphic subjectivity. The inorganic demon’s infiltration poses such insurmountable challenges to human conceptions of the subject-object duality that breakdown occurs at the very level of the subject.

d) The organic subject and inorganic demon-object are now seen to intertwine in a way considered to be inextricable through conventional methods and treatments. Transference from the inorganic relic to the sentient host has given way to affirmation (unconscious affirmation on the part of the subject). The demon’s intelligence has now irreversibly augmented that of the host, now existing side-by-side in an outwardly schizophrenic configuration. The demonic agent is now secure, and conventional techniques of separation may prove fatal to the subject.

e) Affirmation of the embedded demonic sentience gives way to activation. For this to happen, the demon’s nervous system, or “spiritual matrix”, must “be charged by sufficient external stimuli from the human host.” This takes the form of a feeding upon the human’s extreme affective capacities, when we may consider a human quality to be at its most “pure”: pure joy, fear, pain, piousness, or faithlessness, for example. According to Negarestani, the demon is aided immeasurably in this endeavour by the “absurdity of human openness”, humanity’s spiritual vulnerability to the imperceptible Outside. These comments suggest an image of human bodies rather like a computer connected to a vast, exponential network without antivirus software installed, hopelessly requiring several updates. Negarestani also characterizes this state as a “Call” or an open invitation to the inorganic demon as agent of the Outside.

f) Separation of inorganic demon and host is possible only through the use of another demon, but of course this allows the consequences of awakening another inorganic demon to play out. Through this new influence, the original demon succumbs to what Negarestani calls its “forsaken status”: the spiritual matrix is closed, and the demon returns to hibernation in its inorganic state. Interestingly, Negarestani suggests here that human sovereignty is dependent on the hibernation of inorganic demons, who would otherwise suppress the narrative of human singularity if able to run amok.

g) Finally, the inorganic demon is deactivated only on returning to its original “lair”, the unique location for its eternal rest. The object it embodies is then relegated to a mere treasure, a demotion from the possessing to the slave classes of reliquology.

This imagining of the inorganic demon that I have just detailed suggests many provocative things about the nature of the object as traditionally understood by what I suppose we ought to be calling anthropic materialism. We could summarise the key features of such an a priori understanding as follows: that objects are made up of matter; they exist either merely physically, or else ideally, in the image of the mind; they do not possess an intelligence or a point of view; they exist primarily in relation to what we call “subject”, the invariably more noble study of philosophy. Of course these are only crass generalizations on my part: we could point in several directions for examples wherein objects are approached in more favourable ways, for example in the role of AI or object-oriented philosophy. And as well of course there is the more theoretical work being done on apotropaic artefacts, of which the inorganic demon exists as a cruel counterpoint or sadistic challenge. It would be misleading, however, to label the two classes of enchanted relic as somehow opposing one another in function and intent – an Eros and a Thanatos each vying for our attention. We will see how through its appearances in The Exorcist, as well as in Middle Eastern tradition the demon Pazuzu is able to illustrate the pliable motives and strategies employed via its representation as an inorganic demon, and how we might further consider the supposed objectivity of objects.

Cyclonopedia pazuzu p116 no caption
Figure 1: Pazuzu-demon

To note the general characteristics, features, and capabilities of the demon Pazuzu and what they might signify for the film’s narrative, we can turn to Cyclonopedia one last time.[2] The most relevant to this discussion include the association of Pazuzu with the dust of the southwestern wind. As a “dust enforcer”, a scavenging agent from the Outside, Pazuzu’s methodology involves the whipping up of dust clouds and soups, and subsequently the relaying of diseases and plagues. For Negarestani, this dust-harvesting and -disseminating activity signifies the infiltration of the ancient demonical into the global politics spiralling around the perpetual and insoluble conflicts of the Middle East, which are able to draw in the ideologically disparate West through its’ nations’ addiction to oil. This forms part of Pazuzu’s “schizotrategy”, defined as “[s]trategies for being opened (by), not being open (to)”, (242) the methodology of possession. Aiding this mission are the demon’s two pairs of wings and specific configuration of its arms – the right pointing upwards and the left downwards, which “suggests a swash-backwash model of epidemics”.

The following film clip is taken from the opening of the film. To quickly summarise: the film opens on an archaeological site on the remains of the ancient city of Nineveh, in and around modern-day Mosul in northern Iraq, where we see the protagonist Father Merrin uncovering two crucial artefacts which later play important roles in the narrative, which is what I want to concentrate for the remainder of the presentation. This is Merrin’s first real encounter with the power of Pazuzu, a power manifested in above all other things the wind (note west-southwest direction behind the statue), and also the dust being carried by the wind, which we can see in big clouds at the end. Both the novel and the screenplay describe Merrin and Pazuzu here as “ancient enemies squared off in a massive arena”, which is what the last shot is trying to convey, before the narrative relocates to Georgetown, Washington, where the victim Regan MacNeil is staying, and the remainder of the events take place.

This is Merrin’s first real encounter with the power of Pazuzu, which is manifested in above all other things the wind (note west-southwest direction behind the statue), and also the dust being carried by the wind, which we can see in big clouds at the end. Both the novel and the screenplay describe Merrin and Pazuzu here as “ancient enemies squared off in a massive arena”, which is what this last shot is trying to convey, before the narrative relocates to Georgetown, Washington, where the victim Regan MacNeil is staying, and the remainder of the events take place.

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Figure 2: St. Joseph’s medal excavated at Nineveh
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Figure 3: “Amulet” head of Pazuzu statue excavated at Nineveh

I’m now going talk about the relics themselves, which are excavated by Merrin in the scene prior the one shown above (this is all in the first ten minutes of the film), because I want to explore the question of how Pazuzu’s awakening in northern Iraq relates to his presence being felt in a relatively distant and indirect manner elsewhere in the world. The two objects I wish to concentrate on are these: the first is a small medal, which is not actually unearthed by Merrin himself but another archaeologist, and immediately afterwards a stone object discovered by Merrin, which is referred to as an “amulet” in both the novel the film is based on and the screenplay (both written by Blatty), which is in the shape of the head of Pazuzu. Now the biggest mystery of the film is undoubtedly these two objects and how either of them or both of them, possibly working separately or in tandem, are able to unlock, transfer, and subsequently contain Pazuzu, and thereby set in motion the events of the narrative to come. The straightforward answer is that there is no obvious, nonspeculative pathology of these objects, but it appears that their role in driving this narrative is indispensable.

Let us first examine the medal. The first thing about it that we are asked to consider is its position as an anachronism within the site where it is found. Merrin tells us: “This is strange”, to which his colleague replies: “Not of the same period.” (although this is apparently a mistranslation of the conversation conducted in Arabic: according to William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist, From Novel to Film, Merrin is actually saying “What’s this doing here?”, an even more explicit foreshadowing). This medal does not appear in the novel as such, save for in the form of the “Saint Christopher” owned by the other protagonist Father Karras, and therefore was a revision made more significant considering the otherwise relative faithfulness of the adaptation.

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Figure 4: St. Joseph’s medal with inscription visible

The inscription reads “Sancte Joseph ora pro nobis”, or “Saint Joseph pray for us”. The Christian Saint Joseph is a patron of, among other things, people in doubt, children, and dying people, and naturally is a more recent revered figure than those of the ancient Assyrians of Nineveh where the medal is unearthed. Father Karras wears a visually identical medal around his neck, which during a dream sequence is seen falling onto a stone floor, possibly the stone steps outside the house where the MacNeils are staying. Karras’s medal is torn from his neck during his final struggle with Pazuzu. Following this, and Karras’s pleas to “Take me!” and not Regan, the demon transfers its centre of power into him. Now possessed, Karras jumps from the window and falls to the base of the steps, leaving the medal still inside Regan’s bedroom. Following this climax, the MacNeils’ housekeeper Sharon retrieves the medal and gives it to Chris MacNeil (wearing the white gloves: I know you can only see the hands in these shots). Chris then gives the medal to Father Dyer, Karras’s friend at Georgetown University. This is where the original cut of the film ends, but in the Extended Cut, Dyer gives the medal back to Chris and asks her to keep it herself, either as a memento, a confirmation of Chris’s journey from atheism to Christian faith (and we ought to remember that Blatty was a devout Catholic); or as holy protection, the much-lauded apotropaic object.

The second object, the amulet head of Pazuzu, does appear in the novel, although in that version of the narrative it is not unearthed by Merrin personally as is shown in the film. In both versions, however, Merrin’s colleague does utter the line “Evil against evil” upon Merrin’s inspection. But there is something additionally strange to this depiction of Pazuzu, in that it seems incomplete. Being that it is a head only it is missing the key features associated with the demon, such as the four wings and the specific posture of the arms, which we see immediately in the next scene, where Merrin travels to the statue on the site of the palace of Ashurbanipal. Given the importance of these features in Pazuzu’s representation, we can only conclude that a body did or still does exist and has become separated over time.

As for the missing body, we may look across to Georgetown after the mysterious death of Burke Dennings, whose fall to the bottom of the steps prefigures Father Karras’s. Here the detective Kinderman discovers what is described in the screenplay as “a fragment of clay from a crudely made sculpture”.

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Figure 5: Lieutenant Kinderman at the stone steps, overlooked by Regan MacNeil’s bedroom
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Figure 6: “Fragment of clay” found at the base of the steps by Kinderman

This is as clear it can be made out, and admittedly it still isn’t very clear. I’ll leave it to personal speculation as to whether this is supposed to be a Pazuzu body or not. Personally, I think this was made by Regan during the early stages of her possession, as she is shown in the film to be a keen sculptor and illustrator. Perhaps this is an attempt at a “regathering” of the fragments of Pazuzu’s inorganic demon, or maybe a new host body for Regan to impart the demon onto, regardless this is an unsuccessful attempt. I also want to return to the Karras dream sequence alluded to previously, where the Saint Joseph’s medal was dropped, and highlight this zone at the base of the steps as a point of convergence for many of the supernatural phenomena of the narrative. This is also where Karras dies while hosting Pazuzu, his being the “body” that replaces this one of the sculpture, this time more successfully, albeit at the cost of a man’s life.

As I’ve already suggested, the question of these objects’ journey across the narrative and the logics of their transportation is perhaps secondary to their seemingly active/ated inhuman sentience and implied causality. Which brings me back to Pazuzu itself and its manifestations around Regan, particularly in her room where she is bedridden for most of the second half of the narrative. I feel it is here where the complex relationship between the condition of the objects as sources of contamination (or inorganic demons) and sources of inoculation or protection (or apotropaic artefacts) can be most visibly examined.

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Figure 7: The ever-open window in Regan’s bedroom

In the room we have features resonant with what we know about Pazuzu: the open window though which an icy wind blows through serves as a portal for the Outside to infiltrate (consider it is Pazuzu itself that keeps opening it – being opened by rather than being open to). There are the physical, and if we choose to be pious, moral signs of deterioration within the victim herself; the sickness of body and mind brought about by the plague of the demon’s inhabitation. And at the centre we have these objects in proximity: the small statue outside the window, which we may assume is either causing or worsening Regan’s condition as a second- or third-class relic; and the St. Joseph’s medal worn by Father Karras during his visitations, which we might believe to be a protective relic for the priest, and instrumental in driving Pazuzu out of Regan. The counterparts of the two objects which were found buried together in Nineveh, and which signify the beginning and ending of the narrative.

Now, if we return to Negarestani’s notes on the inorganic demon with all of this in mind, we can observe the xeno-excitations caused by Merrin’s contact with the amulet, the progressive maladies and otherworldly consequences enacted by the host (Regan) through another fragment of the same amulet (whether original or not is unimportant), the subjective reprogramming and schizophrenic changes, and, finally, the imposition of another spiritual object as a method of exorcism (the medal but also the holy water and other Christian paraphernalia). But if we consider how Pazuzu is defeated, it is not through a deactivation of the inorganic relic but murder (suicide) of the host (Karras) – martyrdom, if we wish to go that far. Regan is healed, as we can see at the end of the narrative, but only through what amounts to a temporary fix, with the potency of the inorganic demon undiminished and therefore free to possess again. And this is where we may see Pazuzu’s host object as not only a source of malevolent power, but also as its own perverse apotropaic object. For if we follow this interpretation to its limit, we find The Exorcist to be not a story of salvation and purification via the magnificent power of Christ, overcoming the hideous polytheisms of an ancient and frightening otherworldly past. What we find instead is an atheistic and amoral overflowing of nonlinear narratives, subverting the dominant Christian one at every turn. We see Pazuzu in its other role, that of a protector of still further unfathomable Outsides, more terrible afflictions tearing at the anthropocentric known universe. We know this Pazuzu was worn as an amulet, as a desire to let the demon inside the host, to ward off Lamashtu, who was said to kidnap and consume children. In conclusion, we ought to read The Exorcist not as a triumph over pre-Christian superstition, but as a hyperstition, an actualization of recessive narratives on both fictional and metafictional levels, driven in this example by the concrete objectivity of autonomous relics.

Notes

[1] The following exegesis (until section break) is of note 4 (223-225) of Cyclonopedia (see Bibliography and Filmography below).

[2] Specifically, the chapter “The Dust Enforcer” (113-121).

Bibliography and Filmography

Blatty, W.P. (1974) William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist from Novel to Film, Toronto/New York, Bantam Books.

Blatty, W.P. (2011) The Exorcist, London, Transworld Publishers.

Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne, re.press.

The Exorcist Wiki (no date) “St. Joseph’s medal”, available online at http://exorcist.wikia.com/wiki/St._Joseph_medal.

The Exorcist [film] (1973), dir. Friedkin, W.

Pazuzu image (Figure 1) is a scan of Cyclonopedia (116). Featured image and all other images are screenshots taken from The Exorcist.

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A Note on Hyperstition and Hidden Writing

To interact with Hidden Writings, one must persistently continue and contribute to the writing process of the book.[1]

In the landmark Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Reza Negarestani identifies a proposal towards a new method of narratology: that of Hidden Writing. It supposes we read texts not only in light of, but through their plot holes.[2] The reason for doing so is that texts are diagrams that are themselves networks of lines, crosshatching and bifurcating the earth. Earth is perceived as a singularity, terra firma; that is, a solid object: a hegemony, whether technical, capitalist, biological, or otherwise. But what are solids but “particles built up around flux,” “objective illusions supporting grit, a collection of surfaces ready to be cracked”? Never permanent, always decomposing. Robert Smithson was correct in identifying the process of “de-architecturing”, the decoupling of subject from form, a primal “return to dust or rust” which is characteristic of all elemental singularities, organic or inorganic. And what is effected by this decomposition, when fanged noumena detach and fling off this ill-considered subjectivity? The reduction of mind from matter, the emergence of the Cartesian fissure: a “mine of information”, a hole.[3]

The condition of any ‘solid’ mass (Negarestani uses the earth as an example, in his account of the exiled Iranian archaeologist (refashioned as “paleopetrologist”), Dr. Hamid Parsani) can be interpreted as “( )hole complex” (“with an evaporated W”): a reimagining of Deleuze and Guattari’s “holey space”[4] better equipped to synchronize with Cyclonopedia’s other multi-tentacled concepts. ( )hole complex attests to the meticulous choreography between solid and void, and the void within solid (“void excludes solid but solid must include void to architectonically survive”).[5] Similarly, narrative needs inconsistency, gaps, flaws, derailment and chaos. Narrative operates within limitations, is compressed into a linear trajectory through various forms of time (chronological; the destructive cosmic time identified by Quentin Meillassoux, which pours from schizzes in the hyper-chaotic absolute;[6] the “abysmal” modes of the inner Earth known as Incognitum Hactenus[7]) for which the page, the screen, and the earth serve as milieus, capturing its radiation as chlorophyllous leaves capture light. There is simply more happening inside narratives than they themselves are able to express on their surfaces. A main plot is used as subterfuge, or “hypercamouflage”, to smuggle in a multiplicity of subplots that once exhumed, irrecoverably alter the form of their host.[8] Thus the hegemony of primary interpretation and the illusion of the coherency of plot are savagely torn apart from the Inside.

This is not to say that Hidden Writing only operates on the level of representation.[9] There is an explicitly acknowledged debt in Cyclonopedia to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘machinic thinking’:[10] everywhere there are machines – “real ones, not figurative ones”.[11] Likewise, narratives are actually transformed (“deformed”, “defaced”, or “messed up”) when explored internally (“exhumed”) by outside forces, through the navigation of the complex web of interconnected plot holes effectuated by the reader’s becoming-vermin, as opposed to an external (surface-level) appreciation. Far from upholding an illusionary fidelity and sense of incorruptible representability in its textual analysis, as is the case with “so-called hermeneutic rigor”; Hidden Writing, according to Negarestani, “can be described as utilizing every plot hole, all problematics, every suspicious obscurity or repulsive wrongness as a new plot with a tentacled and autonomous mobility.”[12] Stories that write other stories, machines that produce other machines…

***

Otacon: Raiden? About this Colonel of yours — I found out where he is.

Raiden: Where?

Otacon: Inside Arsenal.

Raiden: What?

Otacon: I’ve checked out all the possibilities, but I keep coming back to Arsenal. It isn’t a relay point, it’s the origin of the signal.

Raiden: …

Otacon: And, the encryption protocol it uses is exactly the same as that of Arsenal’s AI — the so-called GW.

Raiden: …What the hell does this mean?

Otacon: I think it means — you’ve been talking to an AI.

Raiden: That’s impossible!

Otacon: The Colonel probably isn’t GW per se. GW was most likely stimulating cortical activity in the dormant part of your brain through signal manipulation of your own nanomachines. The Colonel is in part your own creation, cobbled together from expectations and experience…

Raiden: That’s crazy…

Otacon: But it’s probably the truth. The virus may be starting to affect GW, which would explain the Colonel’s behavior.

Raiden: It was all — an illusion? Everything I’ve done so far…?

Snake: Raiden!

Raiden: Snake — what’s happening around here?

Snake: I don’t know. What I do know is that you’re standing right here in front of me. Not an illusion — flesh and blood.

Raiden: …

***

The narrative of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is full of holes. Ostensibly packaged as a blockbuster videogame for the then-state-of-the-art entertainment system, the PlayStation 2, back in 2001, it is in fact (to the disappointment to many gamers) a hypertextural theory-fiction being continuously interrupted by gameplay and cinematic cut-scenes. MSG2 operates according to its own timescale: principal character/actor/soldier Raiden’s conversations with the CO and other military personnel over the nanos (nanocommunication system: imperceptibly small biotechnical implants which make the relay of vertically-aligned operative commands, not to mention surveillance, all the more efficient[13]) unfold dramatically while the battlefield is held in suspension – ten minutes, thirty minutes, the action can wait. Don’t worry if the enemy can hear you (they can).

In the narrative’s third act, the authoritative voice known simply as the “Colonel” begins to exhibit outward signs of radical schizophrenia. These signs are linked by the nomadic rebel trio (the American-born Solid Snake and Otacon gradually wrench Raiden over to their side, the covert NGO Philanthropy) to a virus they had previously installed onto the onboard AI (called GW) of the H-bomb-carrying Arsenal Gear, done in an attempt to neutralize a terrorist strike directed at Wall Street. Eventually Raiden is convinced by Otacon that his commander was a purely fictional entity, an avatar of GW, and that his schizophrenia was induced by the contagion of the “wormhole cluster” program installed onto its system. But should we be as convinced? After all, schizophrenia is not caused by a virus, it is viral, “the very nature of virulence, empiricism, and hence the true nature of the brain.”[14] The most schizophrenic character is not GW, it is Raiden, who after all, has partially manifested the image and voice of the Colonel (based on his experience of playing the previous game, Metal Gear Solid, another narrative trick). What kind of fiction has Raiden let loose?

***

I would like to examine Hidden Writing’s relationship with another concept partially generated by Negarestani: hyperstition. An early definition for this term can be found in Ccru’s online glossary, which lists hyperstition as an “[e]lement of effective culture that makes itself real, through fictional quantities functioning as time-travelling potentials.”[15] Additionally, in Cyclonopedia, hyperstition is interpreted as “a seemingly forgotten website,” a “password-protected laboratory”; itself “a location for exploring a diverse range of subjects from the occult to fictional quantities,” which finds itself “swarming with renegade academics, pyromaniac philosophers and cryptogenic autodidacts”.[16] Indeed, there was a forum called Hyperstition which operated between 2004 and 2008, of which Negarestani certainly contributed towards (many of his posts have since been deleted, presumably as they later developed into published material).[17]

Although hyperstitional entities adopt a variety of guises, frequent tactics deployed involve tactics of subterfuge and a blurring of authorship across malleable boundaries of fictionality. “Fictional quantities” (to adopt the established Deleuze-Guattari term),[18] their causes and effects, fluctuate between states of becoming and Being, ungrounding themselves at each fresh attribution and appearance. An archetype for such an entity can be found in Professor Challenger, whose zoological studies were first widely publicized in works by Arthur Conan Doyle (beginning with The Lost World). Challenger takes on a new dimension in Deleuze and Guattari’s “The Geology of Morals”, which reveals him to be the self-proclaimed originator of schizoanalysis/nomadology, and in which he is observed by the authors “[giving] a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology”.[19] Hyperstitionally, Challenger’s actuality is a side issue: he remains a valuable tool for the authors not only to dispense their own experimental hypotheses and conclusions, but as Anna Greenspan notes, to “populate thought” and “produce something new”,[20] by generating anti-identity in the gap between subject and appearance. But more than this, the “carrier” or “puppet” (in this case Challenger) benefits by leeching off its diegetic meal, becoming-multiple and achieving something close to real existence. It’s no coincidence that many hyperstitional entities (Challenger, Land, Barker, Parsani, Negarestani, the Old Ones) are reclusive authors, which come pre-packaged with their own weird narratives.

Hyperstition is a narrative in flight, and can only be observed in motion. It crawls across narratological conceptions of the world autonomously, non-linearly and non-monotonically, in many directions. And this is where Hidden Writing can be drawn back into the fold, as a provider of a transportation network that fully enables hyperstition’s functioning. Through the interconnected complexes of plothole tunnels, fashioned by sprawling multiplicities of subplots (“Hyperstition is methodically inextricable from a ‘polytics’ or promotion of multiplicity”)[21] bursting out from within their host (main) plot, a hyperstition can navigate the resultant ( )hole complex and achieve its primary objective: becoming-real. This can only occur through a continual process of ungrounding and de-authorizing, delegitimization and a capturing of and experimentation with artificially engineered feedback.

***

Fascinatingly, hyperstition as a deauthorizing, deartificializing process has enjoyed an increasingly prominent life in the field of liberal, utopian politics. Notably, Srnicek and Williams spoke of hyperstitions as “orienting narratives with which to navigate forward”, which “operate by catalysing dispersed sentiment into a historical force that brings the future into existence”, in their expansive post-work programme outlined in Inventing the Future.[22] Similarly, a “hyperstitional manipulation of desire’s puppet-strings” as a means towards the reengineering of cultural “memetic parasites” is a contingent tactic within the operations of the “xenofeminist” collective Laboria Cuboniks (themselves a continuously becoming-hyperstition).[23] But in order to understand how this political tactic has been envisaged, and how it could operate on the plane of minor politics, we must turn again to Cyclonopedia.

Without burrowing too far into its terminology and Parsanian demonological agenda, it is claimed that, from the petropolitical standpoint, an accurate understanding of the political functioning of the Middle East can be obtained from its placement atop the flows of oil which circulate the globe: economically, historically, geographically, politically and ideologically. Oil is “supreme narration lube” that upsets the anthropo-Western hegemonies of the operations of globalization: its production and distribution easing works of Middle Eastern minor literature which (literally) unground any other system of global dynamics through plot holes of the earth. As an exhumed primordial soup which infuses the past into the future, oil is autonomous, a “global conspirator”, the flow of which “poisons capital with absolute madness,” usurping it as the dominant deteritorializing machine; while at the same time “bleeding into economies”, parasitically infiltrating and influencing world politics and inscribing oil’s own projections for a successful future. In short, oil is a multitude of political hyperstitions, and in Cyclonopedia, the most alluring and contagious ones.[24] Oil can teach us about an additional quality of the hyperstitional form: that at core earth temperature, its most stable state is that of a viscous liquid (much like the core earth). But oil itself is also a subplot of another hyperstition, the one attributed to “Negarestani”. And Cyclonopedia, when viewed as a main narrative, begets possibilities for further political tactics imbued with the desire to become reality.

Through the politics of Hidden Writing, the aforementioned authors of Inventing the Future and “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”, have exponentially built on their dual roles: as hyperstitional parasites of Negarestani’s achievement; and carriers who facilitate the contagion through mutation of their political schemas, and recalibrate the virus into potentialities for their own hypergeneric and hyperspecific ends. In the case of Srnicek and Williams, the hyperstitional form operates as a diagram of progress, installed as a system of expansion and ruthless self-criticism.[25] This system is subsequently auto-reflexive, capable of withstanding any argument and adapting to any unforeseen change in temporal environment: as time moves forward on the chronological scale, the post-work schema will absorb any economic or political shocks – to the extent its limitations will allow – and continue to carve out a tunnel through ( )hole complex to enable a future of its own engineering to germinate. And this will occur through contagion of the idea, spread to other (human) carriers via a multichannel attack on all media fronts.[26] The tactics involved in actualizing the “world without work” will therefore become polyvocal and leprous – original inauthenticity.[27]

Laboria Cuboniks address the inauthenticity already rampant in the textures of a social media which facilitates the “puritanical politics of shame” through its virtual carriers: user profiles. The emergent politics of “moral maintenance” are seen to obstruct debate on issues of gender discrimination and wider issues concerning segregation and oppression, and to uphold a rigorous, victimizing conservatism. The solution is beautifully accelerant: “We want neither clean hands nor beautiful souls, neither virtue nor terror. We want superior forms of corruption.”[28] Persist with the new viral technology and methods of socialization, but adapt. Exhume and take command of the underlying corruptive forces emerging as subplots within this medium, but overcode them with outsider feminist antibodies, watch them explode, and spread the xenofeminist disease across a diverse array of socio-political causes and institutions. Enable and transmit the oily flow of hyperstition, “which brings a time of the aeons, a geological time, through a hole in historical time.”[29]

***

Colonel: Raiden! They’ve got Rose!

Raiden: What!

Colonel: Rose is being held in the holds!

Snake: It’s a trap!

Rose: Help!

Raiden: Rose!

Snake: Raiden, get a grip!

Raiden: But Snake!

Snake: It’s a trap. Since the Colonel doesn’t exist, there’s no way he can take Rose hostage.

Raiden: Yeah — you’re right…

Snake: I am right.

Raiden: …OK. … Does Rose — exist — ?

Snake: Don’t be weird. She’s your —

Raiden: What if I’ve never really met her…

Snake: What?

Raiden: If the Colonel is something that I partly dreamt up, then… everything I remember about her could be…

Snake: Don’t jump to conclusions!

Raiden: You and Otacon are the ones that say the Colonel never existed.

Snake: Raiden!

***

I want to conclude by returning to Raiden’s predicament. An open-ended carrier, or a “sink” for “eccentric agendas”,[30] he performs the superlinear tasks transmitted into his corrupted biosystem via a demonic Colonel-vector partially engineered by his own imaginary. He navigates an extra-diegetic narrative as an extra-diegetic subject: a xeno-subject, resembling the totality of the cyber-military flows which converge and compete within him. The only end to his mission that can be envisaged is an inhumanly engineered one. By allowing his schizophrenic narratives to diverge, and selecting from those unleashed narratives the most effective vectors of progress on which to cling (Snake, Otacon, Arsenal), Raiden performs a feat of Hidden Writing, boring his way out of the virtual battlefield and onto the New York streets, and camouflaging amongst its citizenry pack.

Notes

[1] Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne, re.press: p62.

[2] Ibid: pp60-65.

[3] Smithson, R. (1979) “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, available online at https://monoskop.org/File:Smithson_Robert_1968_1979_A_Sedimentation_of_the_Mind_Earth_Projects.pdf. For a more thoroughgoing analysis of Smithson’s “abstract geology”, see Shanmugaratnam, A. (no date) “Glimpsing the Cosmos Through Cracks in Our Chrysalis”, available online at https://www.academia.edu/24976491/Glimpsing_the_Cosmos_through_Cracks_in_Our_Chrysalis_A_Research_File_on_Elysia_Cramptons_Music_and_Writing. For another perspective on the fissure within object-quality continuity, see Harman, G. (2008) “On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl”: pp355-7, in Mackay, R. (ed.) Collapse IV, Falmouth, Urbanomic: pp333-64.

[4] Deleuze & Guattari (1987) “1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine”, in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [Mille plateaux: Capitalisme et schizophrénie]. Trans. Massumi, B., Minneapolis/London, University of Minnesota Press: pp351-423.

[5] Negarestani: p44. This comment is a reference to Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism.

[6] Meillassoux, Q. (2012) After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Brassier, R., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic: p64.

[7] Negarestani: p49.

[8] Ibid: pp61, 241, 62.

[9] The folly of representational thinking with Cyclonopedia is given careful consideration by Melanie Doherty, in “Non-Oedipal Networks and the Inorganic Unconscious”, in Keller, E., Masciandaro, N., & Thacker, E. (eds.) (2012) Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium, New York, punctum books: pp115-29.

[10] For the sake of the example provided below, this is true; however, the authors of Cyclonopedia (an amorphous “hyperstitional” collective of contributors occupying the interstice between the virtual and the actual, or the fictional and the non-fictional, of which Negarestani and the text’s subject Dr. Hamid Parsani are the most easily identifiable) present radical alternatives to the Deleuzo-Guattarian models of war machines elsewhere in the text.

[11] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1984) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [L’anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie]. Trans. Hurley, R., Seem, M. and Lane, H., London, The Athlone Press Ltd, p1. Cf. Welchman, A., “Machinic Thinking”, in Ansell Pearson, K. (ed.) (1997) Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer, London, Routledge: pp211-229.

[12] Negarestani: p61 [my emphasis]. Cf. Marshall, K. (2012) “Cyclonopedia as Novel: (A Meditation on Complicity as Inauthenticity)”, in Leper Creativity: p148.

[13] During one such transmission, the theme of surveillance is granted full, unambiguous immanence, when Raiden is told that it is no exaggeration to assume that “whoever control[s] the NSA facility could move the world.”

[14] O’Toole, R. “Contagium Vivum Philosophia: Schizophrenic Philosophy, Viral Empiricism and Deleuze”, in Deleuze and Philosophy: p175.

[15] Ccru (no date) “Glossary”, available online at http://www.ccru.net/id(entity)/glossary.htm. Steve Goodman, in his book Sonic Warfare, dates the Ccru journal Digital Hyperstition, in which the glossary appears as its final component, to 1999.

[16] Negarestani: p9.

[17] http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/. The date cited in Cyclonopedia for the “tumultuous discussion” over the uncovered Parsani notes which kickstart the text, 11 March 2004 (p9), is, somewhat pleasingly, inconsistent with any visible entries.

[18] Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: p153.

[19] Ibid, A Thousand Plateaus: pp43, 40.

[20] Greenspan, A. (2004) “Hyperstitional Carriers”, Hyperstition, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003707.html.

[21] Land, N. (2005) “Hyperstitional Method I.”, Hyperstition, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004711.html.

[22] Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015) Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London/New York, Verso: p75. Cf. my work “Review: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams”.

[23] Laboria Cuboniks (2015) “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”: 0x0D. Available online at http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/.

[24] Negarestani: pp13-14, 19, 130, 25-8

[25] Srnicek & Williams: p75

[26] Ibid: pp164-5.

[27] Cf. Negarestani: p191.

[28] Laboria Cuboniks: 0x0C.

[29] Wark, M. (2012) “An Inhuman Fiction of Forces”, in Leper Creativity: p41.

[30] Land. “The term ‘eccentric agenda’ is being coined technically here, to cover an immense terrain, namely: every hypothesis, belief, emotion or commitment that can be evacuated from the principles of hyperstitional activity.”