Houses of Eternity

Cesar A. Martinez

“Art is the exposure to the tensions and problems of a false world such that man may endure exposing himself to the problems and tensions of the real world.”
Morse Peckham (Man’s Rage Against Chaos)

“The study of Homer and Picasso are once again a class prerequisite, a luxury for the wealthy.”
Curtis White (Bad Science of Something Else? Orion Magazine)

“…the thinkers, the artists and the heroes { } …They are lonely, self-centred, not by choice but by necessity. Genius has no place for team-work. Poets and prophets do not go into committees.”
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (An Idealist View of Life)

“Our critique of science, technology and the industrial system is a critique of progress.”
Miguel Amorós (‘Fondements élémentaires de la critique anti-industrielle’, Préliminaires)

“There is a universalizing tendency in the prediction research, an imperialist impulse that reflects the ebullient moment of discovery, the enthusiasm of mastery, and the deep desire not only to control future behavior, but also to colonize other disciplines. In this sense, the scientific quest to render parole more scientific was also a struggle against other disciplines.”
Bernard Harcourt (Against Prediction)

Something has been circling around the back of my head –or my thoughts, more accurately— for a few months. I wasn’t quite able to articulate it to myself, and in a sense I’m still not fully able to, but I can at least sense the general issue. And the issue has two forms, or two branches as it were. First is a sense of the general decline of public discourse, and more acutely a decline in philosophical discourse. The second aspect is a quality of absence in much political writing, or discussion. And by absence I mean there seems to be something missing in not just the way topics are presented but that something is missing or wrong with how these topics are themselves defined.

The short version of what I refer to is that people have stopped reading.

Jeffrey Silverthorne (city morgue).

I suspect social media and the internet altogether play a pivotal role in this. Few people read anymore and this is, in the second or third generation of non readers, starting to have societal level affects. I have a memory of New York when I first got there in the 70s. And it is a memory of discussions — daily discussions with a variety of people, artists, activists, thinkers — and my memory is that these were discussions of a sort I rarely have anymore. Almost never. I have probably six people I know personally that I have real discussions with. And forty years ago, now, in NY but in LA, too, there were dozens of people. There were debates about history and society and reality. People read and often there were so many references that we, all of us, had stacks of books with us at home that were piling up because it was so hard to keep up. Gramsci, Debord, Marcuse, Adorno, and poets like Wright and Bly, Donne and Dante, Artaud, and then new work on Shakespeare or Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, or on painters or art history. Or Wittgenstein, or Marx, or Lautreamont. It was a constant kind of education. Last time I was in NY and last time I was in LA, there was exactly none of this. (actually there was one). Nobody had probing questions or books they were excited about. The most one got was a recommendation to see the new show at MOMA or the Getty. That is, if you were lucky enough to get even that.

So to return to the internet: I think some kind of cognitive paralysis has taken place. Yes one can find a lot of good valuable analysis of current events. And this is something very valuable and to be placed on the plus side of this cosmic ledger I have in my brain. But I also see a stunning amount of bad thinking, careless and sloppy and undisciplined. And to be clear, I think everyone is guilty to some extent. I think social media breeds sloppiness. But also, there is an unsettling sense of psy-op stuff out there. Nothing I could back up, but people who are identified as critical theorists, or political theorists, who people rags like Jacobin (as an obvious example) or the LAReview of Books. There is good stuff at these places, too (I think anyway) but there are writers who genuinely deserve skepticism. One recent brand (for that is what these writers are) was calling out Adorno and Horkheimer as, in some fashion, CIA operatives or pro Imperialists. Partly this is just refining your brand. Like Burberry uses plaid. Burberry forged its identity in the 1920’s with the modern ‘trench coat’ (it actually twenty some years earlier invented garbardine). It then articulated this early identity as ‘British heritage’. And then the iconic ‘check’ or plaid. This check appears in even non apparel items (like handbags etc). So this is what brands do. Burberry pushed for associations with British heritage (not Zulu slaughter or the famine in Madras and Bombay in the late 1870s….but you know….class hierarchies mostly) and with celebrity identification (Emma Watson, Royal family, Victoria Beckham), high social status and sophistication and exclusivity. OK… my point is that Burberry is selling a sense of social approval far more than it is selling scarfs or raincoats. And so it scores very high with consumers who desire social approval. It is the conservative version of Ralph Lauren Polo, in a sense.

Daniel Göttin

Instinctively ‘intellectuals’ do branding as well. On the left there are those figures, identifying as Marxists always, who find targets to further consolidate their brand (French postmodernists, or of late, the Frankfurt School). Citing such revisionism is the intellectual version sporting Burberry racing gloves. Its branding. Often there is a fair amount of truth (like with French post modernists or pointing out Foucault has a deeply reactionary side– though this is now sort of getting out of hand) in their broad stroke positions. But that is the nature of this stuff. And through this brand consolidation there is a rear guard defense of the status quo taking place. Even as these writers attack Horkheimer for his carefulness in language when he first got to the US (fleeing, you know, fascism) they are themselves working for a branding foothold within the very ideology they claim to war against. And this is the real point here; these intellectual left brands are writing or giving youtube lectures or podcasts the better to recuperate their cred — and all are University grads and often PhDs, it should be noted. They are not looking to ask deep questions. They are doing a kind of insidious snitching. Its like being an intellectual influencer, not an intellectual.

And this reminds me of a recent discussion (again) regards Celine. The great French writer, antisemite, misanthrope and quasi facist. And perhaps Celine is the ultimate litmus test for how we look at authorship. Among those who fought for Celine’s release from prison (and over all, who have defended him) were Henry Miller, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Vonnegut. And a dozen others, really. I read Journey to the End of the Night in 1972. My late friend and mentor Terry Ork had given me a copy and said read it. I did. Later Murray Mednick, I discovered, was a huge admirer of Celine. And for playwrights, maybe more than anywhere else, Celine holds special importance. The current edition of the NYRB has a piece by Alice Kaplan on the newly discovered manuscripts of Celine. Here.

It’s a relatively puerile piece of criticism, but it isn’t terrible and its less woke than one might have feared. And Kaplan is right that Celine was the repressed voice of the angry lower middle classes, and proletariat. It is the voice of class damage and class wounds. And whatever else it is, at least two of his novels (Death on the Instalment Plan and Journey to the End of the Night) are singular masterpieces. Among the greatest work of the century.

Society today runs on a kind of algorithmic autopilot. And the more invested one’s life is in the institutions of society, the less possible is it to think outside those institutions. There are certainly illusions of societal criticism, but they tend toward subtle recuperations of society, not real criticism — but herein lies another problem. So pervasive is institutional dogma, so pervasive are the rote reflexive reasoning of technological logic (instrumental thinking) that it is often hard for social critics to recognise this reductive quality in their thinking.

Lewis Morley, photography.

The spectre of ‘progress’ intercedes here; the implicit desire for results, for goals, for conclusions, tends toward automatic validation of ideas couched in ‘progress’, even if unspoken. Even if unconscious.

“Curiously, the attributing of a predictive character to dreams is a recurrent thread in countless so-called primitive cultures in the Americas, Asia, and Africa today.”
Sidarta Ribeiro (The Oracle of Night)

“In ages of crude, primordial cultures, man thought he could come to know a second real world in dreams; this is the origin of all metaphysics. Without dreams man would have found no occasion to divide the world. The separation into body and soul is also connected to the oldest views about dreams, as is the assumption of a spiritual apparition, that is, the origin of all belief in ghosts, and probably also in Gods.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (Human, All too Human)

Judithe Hernandez

I wrote last time about childhood amnesia (as possibly another register of remembering) and of the day dreams of children. And I think now its important to consider the evolution of dreaming. Sidarta Riberio’s book, The Oracle of Night is a useful primer. And it would seem logical to consider the earliest expressions of dreaming, for that is likely on some level what they were, in Paleolithic cave art. But when considering cave art, the oldest now dated 67 thousand years BC. The Blombos petroglyphs are dated even earlier, slightly. New stuff is discovered all the time. In Sulawesi, in Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, and in China. What must first be considered or asked is how human consciousness has changed. If it has.

What were the dreams of those who carved and painted and stencilled these walls? I think to ask that question requires that a number of other issues being explored first. And it also means that some of the topics the Frankfurt School examined and worth looking at again. For this is about history, about how humanity has lost (I think) the last remnants of non instrumental reasoning.

“In Egypt, care for the dead began and spread through the building of mastabas, “houses of eternity,” which predated the pyramids and were constructed for people who were not a part of the royal family.{ } During the Neolithic and Bronze ages, the cult of the dead flourished around the world, as contact between geographically distant groups increased. In the south of Egypt, funerary pyramids stretched up the Nile as far as Nubia, in what today is Sudan. To the north, on the island of Malta, about seven thousand skeletons were deposited in an underground complex of interconnected chambers, dug into the rock six thousand years ago. This is the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, a necropolis constructed by a Mediterranean Neolithic culture notable for its enormous tomb megaliths, which can be found on Crete and in Troy and which resemble the dolmens and menhirs of northern Europe. They were dwellings for souls that were able to leave at night, wandering randomly…{ } In Jamaica in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the very high mortality rate for both slaves and whites was accompanied by a considerable preoccupation with funeral rites. In western Africa and the parts of the Americas touched by the black diaspora, especially in Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti, concern about the souls of the dead was lively. The occurrence of similar beliefs is striking among the Bahian Candomblé, Cuban Lucumi, and Haitian Voodoo. In Brazilian Umbanda, which is marked by religious syncretism—catalyzed from its very beginnings by a deep unease in Christianity about the fate of souls—it is believed that dreams are the portal for communicating with divine beings and the souls of people who have passed away.”
Sidarta Ribeiro (Ibid)

Joyce Weinstein

“In Plato the abolition of the family accompanies the abolition of property: property is patriarchal, communism fraternal. So also in Marxism: Engels connected the family with private property and the state; society has been patriarchal and will become fraternal.Marxism, in succession to Locke, picked up the cause of brotherhood. The history of Marxism shows how hard it is to kill the father; to get rid of the family, private property, and the state.”
Norman O. Brown (Love’s Body)

The very first section of Love’s Body, written in 1966, is a remarkable dissection of property and kinship. The first two paragraphs are very important, I think:

“Freud’s myth of the rebellion of the sons against the father in the primal, prehistoric horde is not a historical explanation of origins, but a supra-historical archetype; eternally recurrent; a myth; an old, old story. Freud seems to project into prehistoric times the constitutional crisis of seventeenth-century England. The primal father is absolute monarch of the horde; the females are his property. The sons form a conspiracy to overthrow the despot, and in the end substitute a social contract with equal rights for all. This anachronistic history directs us to look for the recurrence of the archetype in the seventeenth century.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

This is why all the conflations of communism with fascism are so irritating. Peter Brook, the great theatre director, died this week. Brook’s book The Empty Space remains essential reading, not just for those in theatre, but for anyone. And I say that though I disagree with much of it. But it doesn’t matter. And really it is or was the ‘idea’ of Peter Brook that mattered more than Brook at a certain point. Celine was an antisemite and yet I teach his work. Celine invented a kind of speech. A way to talking in text. Brook helped to invent modern theatre. Celine did, too. From where did this idea of the policing of thought and opinion come from? Attacking Adorno and Horkheimer means you do not understand their importance. You cannot say ‘oh I didn’t like Peter Brook’. It doesn’t matter if you did or not, what matters is that you can examine the ideas in Brook, and that you recognize that Brook was a kind of template — a vehicle for deep discussion. So was Celine. So was Adorno, and to a lesser degree Horkheimer.

Sandro Botticelli (detail Adoration of the Magi, 1476) Presumed to be self portrait.

Allow me a brief digression before returning to Norman O. Brown. Curtis White (in his book The Science Delusion) quotes Stephen Hawking —“Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.” (From The Great Design). That Hawking is a turgid writer and a strangely one dimensional thinker may seem surprising and yet on another level he is the perfect exemplar of instrumental myopia. This aside is part of an excellent chapter by White on scientism. On the bigotry against philosophy (and the humanities). Hawking also blithely dismissed Foucault and Barthes. But so have Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But the actual issue here is described by science historian John Gribben, who openly acknowledges that contemporary physics doesn’t *mean* anything. It works (sic) but has no meaning. And yet, the cultic ascension of science since (especially) WW2 has played a significant role in the shrinking of experience in the contemporary world. The atheist world view is one that (and White’s list is longer) fails to mention Dostoyevsky, Paulo Freire, liberation theology and Kierkegaard, or Buber and Tillich and Merton — and Hitchens also invokes ‘reason’. Enlightenment reason as the great corrective. And this is the point of my digression. The narrowness of Hitchens vision would of course end up in some strange ahistorical fawning over ‘Enlightenment reason’. Its a sort of Walt Disney level summation of what is good, or soon to be good in ‘tomorrowland’ (with the help of a few rehabbed Nazis).

“To bring the case closer to home, is our own passionate approval of the most massively destructive social system in human history—capitalism and capitalist militarism—an expression of conscience? Even though our Predator missiles may occasionally (or regularly) fall on children, are we sorry that we have them? Or are we proud of our high-tech ordnance? If you were to go to an air show—the fighter jets and bombers ripping through the suburban sky—and suggest that we’d feel very differently if these machines were bearing down on our town and that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for allowing them to bear down upon others, how many in that crowd would agree?”
Curtis White (The Science Delusion)

Takuma Nakahira, photography.

White also reminds us that there was deep criticism and skepticism about Enlightenment reason immediately after the fact (as it were) in the form of William Blake, Swift, and nearly all the Romantics. There was a deep fear of what Blake called ‘ratio’ (scientism, really) and the loss of something deeper when religion was cast aside.

“…the monsters brought forth by the “sleep of reason” but those monsters—efficiency, rational totality, social administration—made possible by reason itself. In spite of its obsession with Jews, the horror of Nazism was not a religious nightmare; it was a nightmare of administrative efficiency. If the Catholic Church’s response to the Nazis was inadequate, what of the response of the scientists, technicians, and businessmen at the Krupp corporation, or at I. G. Farben, the German chemical company that collaborated with the Nazis? Even worse, notoriously, Nazi eugenics was based on scientific research done in the United States. ”
Curtis White (Ibid)

Ok, perhaps this wasn’t such a digression. Most of the populations of the world live in extreme poverty (by western standards). A poverty the wealthy nations of the West mostly created ad hoc. To prosper the West had to create poverty. And when found, to insure the poverty continued. The administration of life is the real legacy of the Enlightenment. And this has been true at least since the Industrial revolution. And the successes of socialism were short lived, or stressed and mediated, through the direct interference of the Capitalist west. The administered life is partly a definition that includes an unwavering belief in progress, and progress has meant direct punishment of competition. The fear of communism, of the Soviet Union was reflexive and deep. Wall Street and those captains of industry in the US and UK were determined, no matter the cost, to stop communism from ‘spreading’ (sic). And running alongside this class system of aggression were notions of efficiency and bureaucratic organization. This was what science became, very quickly in fact.

Armando de la Garza

But to return to Brown’s examination of ‘liberty’ (the title of the opening chapter of Love’s Body) the idea of fraternity becomes rather complex. Freud rewrote his anthropology several times over the course of his life. In the final retelling of his myth the contrary of patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity. In Plato, the governing principle is fraternity. In Aristotle it is the Father. This is Sparta vs Athens (in mythic terms anyway).

“Warriors, all equal” is fraternal organization. The Spartan educational system sent the boys away from home at the age of seven, into the wilderness, to be initiated in boy scout or wolf cub packs, in which each boy lived, ate, and slept together with his coevals. The adult military organization prolonged these groupings and the principle of being boys together (the “peers” or homoioi) into a total way of life. The mess halls, *syssitia*, where the Spartan warrior lived, ate, and slept together with his comrades, correspond to the primitive institution of the men’s house. Spartan society was a hierarchy not based on either property or blood, but on graduated degrees of initiation—initiation into secret societies. Thucydides named secrecy as the distinctive principle of their polity.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

What is germane here, in Brown, is the complexity of societal evolution. The energy of fraternal organization is at war against the family. Or at least against the Father. It is also the energy of youth. And this seems rather pertinent today. And relevant in the light of Paris 68. Marcuse gave a fascinating interview in 1979, not long before his death I believe. (

Ortega y Gasset saw the primeval political organization as the secret society — and one that is driven by youthful energy. It is, on one level, anti utilitarian. It is a force of irrationalism. It is in conflict with the senility of the senate (per Brown). Eros vs Thantos. Politics is, then, derived from juvenile criminals, brothers are brothers in crime (Lacan saw this when he said mothers can only love us as criminals).

Richard Serra (drawing)

“Or as social contract thinkers see it, the social contract establishes corporate virtue as an asylum for individual sin, making a moral society out of immoral men; men whose natural inclination, according to Hobbes and Freud, is murder.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

The social contract as Super Ego. Brotherhood is always a quarrel over paternal inheritance. And even if this is not ‘always’ so, it is often so, and it is a foundational tension regardless. Heraclitus saw justice as both the solution of the quarrel and its perpetuation. Equals as rivals. There is something in this even if I doubt the absolute nature of this tension, this strife. The mythic narratives of societal organization remain relevant, and one of the problems with today’s ideological (official not real) expression of tolerance and inclusion is that it is based on lies. Cornford (quoted by Brown) posited the ‘the prototype of all opposition or contrariety is the contrariety of sex’. Or Malinowski, ‘in every act there is a sociological dualism’. Yin and Yang. Even Marx observed the eternal recurrence of events in history ( first as tragedy and then as farce). The Satyr plays after the tragedies. Political parties as secret societies, the deals made in smoke filled back rooms are still the dividing of the body of the Father.

Brown quotes a statement from the Chinese Communist Party, published in the NYTimes in 1963:

“According to this principle, the relations among fraternal parties should under no circumstances be like the relations between a leading party and the led, and much less like the relations between a patriarchal father and his son . . . the attitude that Comrade Khrushchev has adopted is patriarchal, arbitrary, and tyrannical. He has
in fact treated the relationship between the great Communist party of the Soviet Union and our party not as one between brothers but as one between patriarchal father and son.”

The incoherence of the current ‘woke’ agenda, transsexual promotion, is the vaudeville expression of an officially discredited myth, a myth that returns anyway. Only this time as farce.

Sam Tchakalian

“But Romanticism goes science one better: it also liberates us from the scam—the delusions—of science, of technology, and of the reign of the ever more efficient administration of life that has been the essential human problem in the West for the last two centuries.”
Curtis White (Ibid)

The corporate takeover of life, in all its various manifestations — from automation to digital IDs, to increasingly draconian restrictions on the daily pleasures of life, is or has reached a point of diminishing returns. There is almost nothing left to restrict. And at this point the discussion of A.I. appears yet again. For there is such a profound anthropomorphism in all discussions of artificial intelligence (including the term itself) that is tends to get in the way of any analysis. Firstly, one should question why the desire to believe in machine sentience is so strong. And I think this entire post is an argument about that, in a sense anyway. The desire to believe Google might have created ‘consciousness’, or sentience, is a ‘desire’, a primal yearning to be both God (creating life) and to be its servant. But more on that below. First one has to look at what it means to be ‘alive’. And Peter Godfrey Smith is the best guide to that question, in my humble opinion. He is the best guide to an aspect of that question anyway.

“But in humans, at least, some kinds of memory also feel like something. As Thomas Nagel put it in 1974, there is something it’s like—something it feels like—to have a mind. ”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Metazoa)

If very brief outline, the earth is believed to be just under 5 billion years old. Life began, it is believed (and defining life is, again, much debated) around 3.8 billion years ago. And it began with what Smith calls ‘the taming of the charge’; meaning electrical charge. And this is itself one of the profound mysteries of life and existence– electricity. For it remains nearly impossible to define. But 3 and a half billion years ago cells began to organize vis a vis electrical charge. There is no record of this, its pure speculation. But given what came next it is a logical enough premise. Cells created ion channels — this is the taming of charge. Why did that happen? Again, there is only speculation and none of it very convincing. But moving forward life included sponges, coral, and things like sponges, presumably. And cnidarians —

Antonello da Messina (Virgin Annunciate, 1476)

“Many cnidarians have a complicated life cycle, proceeding through a series of different bodily forms. These transitions are a bit like metamorphosis, as in caterpillar to butterfly, but not quite the same, as the bodies not only transform but multiply at more than one step; it is as if a caterpillar could make many butterflies, as well as a butterfly many caterpillars. The two adult forms a cnidarian can have are the polyp and the medusa. A polyp is usually fixed to a surface, often shaped like a cup. The medusa is the familiar jellyfish body, swimming in open water with streaming tentacles. Many cnidarians cycle between these two bodies. Corals and anemones only live as polyps.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

Cnidarians all have stingers, too. And this remains a mystery as well. The biggest split in evolutionary history has to do with the development or onset or appearance of nervous systems. Jellyfish have nervous systems but sponges do not. A nervous system is defined as a cellular system that has electrically excitable cells and chemical signaling between cells. What is relevant here is the complexity that appeared in comparatively short order. And that even in simple organisms the electrical complexity can be enormous (bees for example, with tiny brains but with impossibly large neuron connectivity. The chemical aspect is also hugely complex (see nerve toxins for example and how vulnerable humans remain to such things). One other significant development took place at this time and that was the development of muscle.

“With this transformation of animal life in our sights, let’s think for a moment about the mind-body problem in the background. Ordinary ways of thinking furnish us with a number of concepts that help us get a handle on what minds do. One is the concept of subjectivity. This concept arrives in a complementary pair with another: agency. Subjectivity is a matter of seeming, of for-me-ness. It points toward experience as something that happens to a person. Agency is a matter of doing, trying, initiating. Agency is by-me-ness; it is being a source of action and its effects. It points toward the things a person makes happen.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

Sebastion Salgado, photography.

The Ediacaran age saw a receding glacial age and increases in oxygen (though this was still a low oxygen environment). And late in the Edicarian came three particular stages. The first is not so important and saw mostly odd leaf shaped organisms at the bottom of deep seas. But in the second stage, called The White Sea assemblage, roughly 560 million years ago, came sudden activity in shallow seas, what has been described as microbial mats with algae and perhaps more.

“There is also an enigma called Helminthoidichnites. This fossil, christened with that unbelievably difficult name (Hel-min-thoid-ich-night-ies) in the nineteenth century, had initially been found in less ancient rocks, and interpreted as the tracks of a small burrowing animal—perhaps a worm or crustacean. Similar traces were eventually discovered in Ediacaran rocks…”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

This represented the first scavenging creature. The first organism that ate the dead.

Scavenging leads to predation. But there is no real evidence of this. And then the Ediacaran period ends. This story goes on of course, with the significant appearance of bilateral bodies. First in flatworms of various kinds. Many with very bright colours, also a first in this long saga. All were hermaphrodites. Then slugs and various Crustaceans. The came the Cambrian age, 540 million years ago. The appearance of all manner of organism seems to arrive on earth. Mollusks, and other shelled creatures, shrimp and conspicuous eyes. Creatures that could ‘see’ you if you stood before them. There followed other developments, among them more complex eyes, both compound and camera (like humans) and antennae. And faster movement. And at some point there is the hermit crab. And the first sense of pain in an organism.

“The word nociception refers to the detection of damage, along with a response to it. (It is pronounced “no-see-ception.”) Nociception is very common in animals, but it often lends itself to interpretation as something like a reflex. So biologists tend to regard nociception as not sufficient for pain, and they look for markers of something more, something that seems tied to a feeling of pain. All these markers, in animals that can’t report to us how they feel, are controversial to some extent. They include tending and protecting wounds, seeking out pain-killing chemicals (the same drugs that work in us, in many cases), and some kinds of learning from the good and bad consequences of actions.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

These crabs will leave their shell when shocked, for example, only later to return to inspect the discarded shell to see what caused the shock. This seems an important development. Pain tends to be a profound marker for sentience.

Judit Reigl

“During this period I read more about these shrimp. I learned that they are long-lived, territorial, and monogamous—mating for life. In aquarium settings they are listed as living for as much as five years. Banded shrimp can also recognize each other as individuals. In an old study from the 1970s, mated pairs were separated for a night or two and then reunited, and compared with shrimp who were separated from their mate and returned to another individual, a stranger. The strangers were of similar size and appearance to the lost mate (as far as humans could tell), as well as being of the same sex. The shrimp could tell the difference. Strangers, when brought together, both courted more and fought more. Mates tended to resume normal behavior.
This study reported that in the wild, mated pairs tend to stay within antenna’s reach all day, but apparently wander (especially males) for a few meters at night and return before daylight. They seem to spend much of their lives in just a square meter or so of territory.”

Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

I have spent so much time on this because it does relate to the contemporary pathologies of the advanced (sic) West. And this leads inevitably to the discussion of consciousness. Godfrey-Smith quotes John Searle:

“Imagine that you wake from a dreamless sleep in a completely dark room. So far you have no coherent stream of thought and almost no perceptual stimulus. Save for the pressure of your body on the bed and the sense of the covers on top of your body, you are receiving no outside sensory stimuli. All the same there must be a difference in your brain between the state of minimal wakefulness you are now in and the state of unconsciousness you were in before.… This state of wakefulness is basal or background consciousness.”
(Consciousness,” Annual Review of Neuroscience 23 )

Justin Mortimer

This raises another question, which is the feeling of presence. And there are countless theories regarding this. The subjective awareness of ‘being’.

“ A wide range of illusions arise, sometimes through brain injury but inducible to some degree in experiments, in which a person feels them self to be somewhere other than where their body is. Just about every possible distortion is found. A complete “out-of-body experience” is one case, along with others in which you half-see and half-occupy a body that is projected as an image into your field of vision. In psychiatry, disturbance of a sense of presence, such as a “feeling of unreality,” can be an important symptom of a looming problem.”
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Ibid)

I said in our recent podcast that this feeling of unreality is paramount to contemporary society. That our loss of experience has come to feel like the famous rubber hand experiment. All technical descriptions of experience leave a feeling of incompleteness. And the missing element is presence. Or, from another perspective, thereness.

One final thought from Godfrey-Smith, on insects.

“Another conclusion is that insects do not have pain-like experiences of damage, but do have something more like moods and emotions. Evolution might have suppressed and modified some features of experience in insects, to fit their short, routinized lives.”

Bees can be encouraged in ways that result in upbeat moods, and also the opposite. This is all within the context of bee-ness. What does it mean feel like to be a bee? We cant know that. But it is clear that they exhibit complex behaviors akin to emotions. Where does that leave the consciousness topic?

Anton Giulio Bragaglia, photography.

I think it is worth a short digression on Norman O. Brown here. Throughly out of fashion today, Brown is wildly in need of a revisit. Steven Shapiro (Pinocchio Theory) is one of the few thinkers I can find who defends Brown and recognizes just how radical was his vision.

“Brown seizes upon this difficulty to argue that sublimation is largely a bogus category, and that it is not a substitute for repression but a continuation of it by different means. The very idea of sublimation — moving from something “lower” to something “higher” — involves stunting the potentialities of the body, and setting up a hierarchy between mind and body, or even a total Cartesian separation of mind from body. For Brown, a radical desublimation is the only way to go: a return to the wisdom of the polymorphously perverse body, a rejection of goal-oriented culture in favour of living in the moment; an acceptance of death as part of life, instead of our dread of death which ironically turns life itself into a living death.”
Steven Shapiro (Pinocchio Theory, 2005)

In the opening of Life Against Death, Brown focuses on the primacy of the idea of repression.

“For if it were possible to explain these phenomena on behavioristic principles, as the result of superficial associations of ideas, then they would have a cause but no meaning. ”

This is very much to the point here. The instrumentalization of psychoanalysis is a piece with the cult of scientism generally. These things *have* meaning. Repression is the key word in the whole system; repression signals the psychic structure of conflict. Brown notes that Freud ‘ illustrates the nature of psychic repression by a series of metaphors and analogies drawn from the social phenomena of war, civil war, and police action.’ Psychoanalysis today is centered on adjustment, an adjustment to a system of deep unresolvable tensions. Computer modelling and AI have become convenient short cuts to actual analysis. And this is, as Bernard Harcourt has noted, an assault on other disciplines. Algorithmic prediction replaces clinical evaluation and historical context. And it has bled into discussions of AI and consciousness.

Bly once said a sick society is one that confuses the mythic and the everyday. Burning women as witches was his example, among many. Today the loss of traditional learning has meant the transhumanist movement is now a cartoon caricature of mythic meaning.

Drawing of lunar eclipse, by Al Biruni, approx. 1020.

“The fraternity is itself the mother. “The journey of initiation is ended. It goes from the mothers to the mothers. Although in reality the young man is henceforth to be separated from the mother,symbolically he is brought back to her…The young man is put into a hole and reborn—this time under the auspices of his male mothers.”
Norman O. Brown (Love’s Body)

Brown is quoting Roheim above, from Eternal Ones of the Dream. The loss of the symbol, and of initiation, has meant literal and empty dress up games. Melanie Klein wrote a good deal on symbolism of mother earth, of the female symbolic landscape. That for children’s play with toys was always linked to the idea of the mother’s body, and in particular the inside of the mother’s body. As boys (though girls, too) grow they find new toys to continue the excavation. The role of commodification casts a long shadow on this, today.

“…it begins in the paleolithic caves. Human history begins in caves. Inside the caves are labyrinthine passages. The paleolithic caves, which revealed, or concealed, the paleolithic paintings, are labyrinths of twisting, narrow slippery corridors and galleries along which intruders have to grope, often on hands and knees, before reaching the hall where the paintings are. “Les Trois Freres needs half an hour’s walk through a succession of corridors to the chamber whose principal figure is wholly visible only after the crawl through a pipe-like tunnel and negotiation of a rock chimney, with a foot on either side of the chasm. The descent to Labastide is a vertical pit. The cave opens from its side, a hundred feet down, into another pit that leaves only a narrow ledge by which passage can be made to vast corridors.”
Norman O. Brown (Ibid)

Brown notes the trajectory of underground cave to above ground cave; the pyramids, the ziggurats, the skyscrapers. Each step is further mediation and dilution of the journey. The idea of the exile loomed large for Adorno, as it did for Benjamin, too. The wandering is there in Dante, it is in Melville, too, and it is of course a central narrative trope of the Old Testament. The entire AI/consciousness debate begins to feel ever more irrelevant. It is a failure to experience life. It is asking the wrong questions.

“According to Freud, civilization begins with the methodical inhibition of the primary instincts. Two chief modes of instinctual organization may be distinguished: (a) the inhibition of sexuality, ensuing in durable and expanding group relations, and (b) the inhibition of the destructive instincts, leading to the mastery of man and nature, to individual and social morality. As the combination of these two forces sustains ever more effectively the life of ever larger groups, Eros gains over his adversary: social utilization presses the death instinct into the service of the life instincts. But the very progress of civilization increases the scope of sublimation and of controlled aggression; on both accounts, Eros is weakened and destructiveness is released. This would suggest that progress remains committed to a regressive trend in the instinctual structure (in the last analysis, to the death instinct), that the growth of civilization is counteracted by the persistent (though repressed) impulse to come to rest in final gratification. Domination, and the enhancement of power and productivity, proceed through destruction beyond rational necessity. The quest for liberation is darkened by the quest for Nirvana.”
Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud)

Lars Strandh

Now, Brown, and Marcuse, too, eventually, reject sublimation — and certainly Reich and Brown both saw sexual inhibition as more complex that it appears above. Marcuse a paragraph later cites Geza Roheim, and Ferenzi, both, in their criticism of this idea of sublimation. It is the failure of Eros, its insuffiency, that is expressed in the terrors of the last hundred years. Slavery, colonialism, fascism, Capitalism itself, are regressive forces; toil over pleasure and performance over gratification (per Marcuse)…

“They aim not only against the reality principle, at non-being, but also beyond the reality principle — at another mode of being. They betoken the historical character of the reality principle, the limits of its validity and necessity.”
Herbert Marcuse (Ibid)

“The allegedly value-free concept of progress, which has become since the nineteenth century increasingly characteristic of the development of Western civilisation and culture, contains in fact a quite specific valuation, and this provides the immanent principle of progress according to which modern industrial society has actually evolved. Its decisive elements can be characterized as follows. The highest value is productivity, not only in the sense of increased production of material and intellectual goods, but also in the sense of the universal domination of nature. The question arises, productivity for what?”
Herbert Marcuse (Five Lectures)

What is expressed today, on a societal level, are what Marcuse called the derivatives of the death instinct. And he makes a comment, almost an aside, that is actually hugely significant: “They aim not only against the reality principle, at non-being, but also beyond the reality principle — at another mode of being.”
(Eros and Civilization)

Relic of Saint Blaise, Bishop of Sebaste. 1260. Armenia.

Progress is untethered from anything resembling ‘reason’. Beyond the reality principle. The advent of the internet and a system of psychic capture and conditioning that are the various platforms of electronic media have reshaped (or perhaps just fine tuned, but extensively) the parameters of consciousness. Nobody has any idea what progress means at this point. It is utterly divorced from emancipation of need, certainly, and it serves only the irrational desires of a tiny percentage of humanity. There is widespread angst and fear, but also anger. A deep intuitive sense of life being stolen. And yet the constant assault of empty distractions keeps a majority of people in a state of anxiety and confusion.

“By the sixteenth century, Christianity had already begun to consider oneiric revelation as a source of blasphemy and damnation at worst, or irrelevance at best. As exemplified in the trials that led to the imprisonment of the theologian Giordano Bruno and his execution in 1600, dream visions began to be seen as a sign of heretical influences. The discrediting of dreams deepened in the eighteenth century, with the rationalism that is at the root of both science and capitalism.”
Sidarta Ribeiro (Ibid)

The sudden appearance of electrical light caused a dramatic drop in the hours of sleep for most western countries. Ribeiro notes that artifical light causes…“…a misalignment of the circadian rhythms, that is, the biological rhythms synchronized to the rotation of the Earth on its axis over a period of twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and four seconds.”

There is much research on sleep in animals, and its evolutionary development. It seems likely even early organisms of the Cambrian period had periods of quiescence. But I want to conclude here with some of Ribeiro’s research on hallucinogens used in the Amazonian rainforest.

“ the Brazilian neuroscientist Dráulio de Araújo, my colleague at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, coordinated some research into brain activity under the effects of ayahuasca with a focus on the ability to imagine visual objects. Brain activity was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the carrying out of two consecutive tasks: visual perception with open eyes and visual imagination with closed eyes. { } “Before presenting the results of this study, one caveat must be mentioned. I took part in the experiment design and the first gatherings of data for this research at the hospital of the University of São Paulo in Ribeirão Preto, where Araújo was then professor. I can attest to how hard it is to bring the ayahuasca experience into a magnetic resonance scanner set up inside a hospital. This is both because of the physiological changes described above and because of the beliefs of the volunteers, who considered the scanning sessions a particularly difficult passage through the portal to the spiritual world. The volunteers were followers of Santo Daime, one of the main syncretic religions to use ayahuasca as a sacrament, along with the União do Vegetal and Barquinha. To those people who practice this syncretic cult rooted in symbols from the Amazon rainforest, the hospital environment, where it is believed that souls are suffering and are frequently disembodied, is particularly challenging. { } Building on the research on ayahuasca, Araújo collaborated with the Indian physicist Gandhi Viswanathan, along with then doctoral student Aline Viol and other researchers from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, to show that the consumption of the brew increases the degree of cerebral connectivity. With this increase in entropy, the mind is effectively able to become more “open,” reaching a more flexible state in which thoughts about the future or the past are no longer mentally identified with the reality they represent, but rather freely associated. Similar phenomena were observed with other psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin and LSD. It is therefore easy to understand what led the Neolithic shamans to use psychedelics to provoke divinatory visions. These substances are called entheogens, or internal manifestations of the divine, with the same Greek root as the word enthusiasm: bringing God inside.”
Sidarta Ribeiro (Ibid)

Paul WInstanley

For the tribes of the rainforest, waking life is not seen as superior or more important than dream life. Reality is divided between the seen and the unseen with equal importance given to each.

Death in life is a topic of writers like Joyce (Dubliners in particular) and Beckett. But also Dostoyevski and even in film directors like Hitchcock (Psycho) and Tarkovski. The list is very long. Ribeiro notes, too, the Old Testament (God speaking to Abraham, ordering the killing of his son). The Koran tells the same story only the patriarch is ordered to murder in a dream. Infanticide is a subject that runs throughout tragedy and various texts of antiquity. These are the myths of the death instinct. And one might speculate that the fear and denial of death looms over much of the AI/android discussion. Throughout history societies have felt the ned to protect themselves from the dead. Even those they loved. The Catholic church still traffics in Reliquaries. All the way back to Homer, there are dreams of meetings with the dead. In Shakespeare there are ghosts of the dead. In Dante and Frank Capra, the dead appear, or emissaries from the afterlife, and this has never left culture, even today. The fantasies of AI are only the rationalising of a denial of the spiritual, the rationalising of the loss of experience.

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  1. Regino Robainas says:

    The fighter’s dilemma: Existing conditions
    become increasingly intolerable-supress &
    repress at deeper intensities of nihilistic
    energy. And any hope for escape appear foreclosed
    by dreadful expectations of ill consequences if a
    standing of authentic defiance be pursued.

    And, on that cheerful sentiment, I would really
    appreciate more discussions about Gunther Anders
    who appears to me as a flash of revelatory

  2. Regino Robainas says:

    Although violating the recommended cannon, the
    first essay is followed by a suitably depressing
    Science Fiction/Fact elucidations:


  3. John Steppling says:

    that counterpunch piece is typical of counterpunch these days. As if the democratic party were somehow better than the republicans? WHo is president…oh a democrat and what is the US doing in Ukraine? But for these writers thats not fascism.

  4. Regino Robainas says:

    I think I understand your position on
    this problem. However, I hesitate to
    assign the “fascist” designation to
    those that do not appear to be advocating
    fascist policies invluding some who- while
    I disagree with some of their positions as
    regards the vaccine for example, may be in
    the streets ready to fight the budding
    storm-troopers to be. I like many CP
    writers- Ron Jacobs, for instance- &
    despise the likes of St. Clair(sp?).

  5. John Steppling says:

    i used to like jacobs. Now, not so much.

  6. Regino Robainas says:

    As a sort of top secret confession, I
    used to like Heidegger. Now, not so much
    either. As well. But I couch a reactionary
    affinity for the author of The Birth of
    Tragedy… And also could have been caught
    holding long “imaginary” conversation with
    the dyyonysian ghost.

  7. John Steppling says:

    look, Heidegger is a conundrum. Its not as if he never wrote good work. Most of his most severe critics admit this. Even Adorno. But…one has to see it in the light of his rather enthusiastic embrace of national socialism. Ron jacobs like most of the left lost his edge. its a big topic to be sure.

  8. Regino Robainas says:

    I see. I, who lost & found my edge a
    long time ago, if i ever rode the edges
    properly at all, kind of relate. But,
    i’m glad I never synced with Fascists.
    It bothers me that I derived dark
    solace from the terror & uncanniness of
    that epoch & aftermath. I could my
    own “insufferable” situation against
    that dread background & feel my own
    load inmeasurably lighter.

    I want to suggest that Nietzsche’s
    Master versus Slave moralities and
    overman should be parsed into a
    radical agency that does not exclude
    solidarity & other more intense forms
    of caring. Without neglecting to
    reject the slavish traits of historical
    judeo-christian civilazations. And, following
    FN, being renurtured by ancient Greek

  9. Great post, John. Who was it who said Celine “irrigated” modern writing, helping everyone from Miller, Fante, Bukowski to Norman Mailer jettison a kind of Victorian high mindedness. I just read a Paula Fox novel — the Western Coast — that reminded me of Journey. Do you know her work? The Widow’s Children is an uncanny masterpiece. Also, of course, Brook and Norman O. Brown — both of them central to that moment in the 1970s when the art and thought in the West articulated a full critique of normative consciousness. There is no way back if you fully internalize those kinds of voices. And no way forward, evidently, given what we now encounter. I loved encountering Shaviro in this post too — I’ve met him twice, oddly enough. His Without Criteria is an important book — curious if you know that work — and I have enjoyed his Pinocchio blog as well. Loved all the turns you take in this piece, including, of course, the dip into primitive neurology. Looking forward to the next post!

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