Friday, December 12, 2014

Literally, Zombies

“While there seems to be a danger in taking corridors as metaphors for literary communication, the status of metaphor within language as a device of transport between signifiers implies that the figure and the space fulfill the same function, and have similarly attendant problems.”
~Kate Marshall, Corridor

“A writing that is not structurally readable – iterable – beyond the death of the addressee would not be writing.”
~Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context”

            In a recent episode of The Newsroom Leona Lansing gives a short, but great, speech on the ambiguity of the word “literally”; a word that, following its definition, shouldn’t really be all that ambiguous…
            I like Leona Lansing almost as much as I like language.  Literally.
            The Oxford English Dictionary cites the primary definition of the word “literally” as follows: “In a literal manner of sense.”  This primary definition is followed by subsidiary definitions, of which the first elaborates on the primary definition: “a. In a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.”  The second subsidiary definition falls in line with the first: “b. Used to indicate that the following word or phrase must be taken in its literal sense, usu. to add emphasis.”  In both senses, the word “literally” signifies something like a strict adherence to a kind of materiality or tactility; in other words, and at the risk of falling into tautology, “literally” means that something is what it is.  If something is literally transcribed, then its transcription matches the original; if someone literally went to pick up groceries, then that person is physically in the process of going to get groceries.
            At this point, many readers have probably guessed where I’m headed.  The final subsidiary definition of this primary definition departs from the traditional sense of the word:
c. colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.
*Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).
I would be shocked to discover someone unfamiliar with this tertiary sense of the word “literally”; many of us hear it every day, and likely as many of us use it every day.  The OED cites the Herald-Times in Bloomington for an example of the controversy over this use of the word: “2008, Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana) 22 Oct. a8/1: ‘OMG, I literally died when I found out!’ No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.”  In this final sense, the word “literally” has literally come to mean its exact opposite; it now may be used in two different (antithetical) senses.  “Literally” can literally mean “not literally.”
            As a phenomenon of language, “literally” provokes some necessary questions of meaning.  Although impossible to pinpoint, the literally phenomenon plausibly may be said to have originated as a jocular form between friends, or as an instance of social irony; in either of these cases, its use may very well have been intentionally inaccurate: “Try this beer, it is literally the best beer ever made.”[i]  The speaker would likely acknowledge, if pressed, that her use of “literally” is ironic, and was intended as such; unless she has tried every single beer and can recall the taste of each one on command, it would seem unlikely that she can affirm a single beer as the best.  Even if we grant her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that she meant it was the best beer she has ever had, the problems of memory and the recollection of taste still arise.
            After these early instances, the idiom began to catch on and, upon achieving a degree of regular usage, the speakers no longer necessarily intended their utterances as ironic, or were even aware of the etymologic reversal of the word.  However, despite the almost automatic inclusion of the word (“It was literally the funniest thing ever,” “I am literally going to punch you,” etc.), few people protested or admitted confusion.  Instead, the word slipped casually into our ordinary conversation and assumed its apparently rightful place as a functional idiom of the English language.  Some grizzled curmudgeons might growl and shake their heads before eagerly rushing into a heated diatribe of the deplorable status of spoken English; but I can’t help but smile at this perplexing phenomenon of “literally.”
            It’s literally amazing.
            Now, am I being literal; or am I being literal…?
            Despite the pleasure it gives me to let this word dance circles around us, I would like to try and understand it more.  Perhaps the best way to start is to ask us if any other words can be (or have been) used this way, and what the quality of such uses is (i.e. what exactly is happening when we use them).
            The literally phenomenon occurs when “literally” is used in an antithetical sense to its traditional meaning; or, in other words, when we say “literally” but we actually mean “figuratively.”  Another word for “figurative” would be “metaphoric” or “allegoric,” and the OED specifies this; the first subsidiary definition states that “literally,” in its traditional sense, means “not figuratively, allegorically, etc.”  There is thus a distinctly literary sense to the word’s opposite meaning; if something isn’t literal, then it is metaphorical, or allegorical, or figurative – it appeals to language in a way that relates between words, rather than making a direct reference between words and something that is actually happening.[ii]
            Other words operate similarly.  “Sick” has mutated to mean something along the lines of “exciting” or “impressive” (e.g. “That song is sick!”).  The words “up” and “down,” traditionally opposites, have evolved to share the same meaning when appealed to in response to whether or not one wants to do something: “I’m up for that,” or “I’m down for that.”  In these cases, the meaning of the general sentiment trumps the meaning of the individual words.  “Up” and “down” appear to mean the same thing, and “sick” appears to mean something good or enjoyable as opposed to something traditionally considered bad and lamentable.  Both of these cases exhibit the phenomenon in which opposites conflate, or in which opposite words come to mean the same thing.  However, “literally” stands out from the crowd for one important reason: it is the word that we use to describe the very situations we’re dealing with.  In other words, someone who isn’t privy to the alternative meaning of “sick” might be forced to ask how the word is being used: “Are you using ‘sick’ literally?”  “Literally” is what we might call a meta-linguistic term; it is a word we use to talk about the meaning of words.
            Ultimately, all language functions this way.  The only way we can talk about language is by using language, and this is one of the pesky difficulties surrounding the production of meaning.  But we can still appreciate the singularity of “literally”; it is a word whose mutation has effectively exploded our ability to talk about it: “Do you mean ‘literally’ literally?”  But how can I ask this if the meaning of the word itself is ambiguous?  How can I be sure that my “literally” will be understood in the traditional sense?  While admitting that a certain level of normative, or ordinary, linguistic operations ensures that such a question achieves its desired meaning – that of whether an ambiguous use of “literally” is being used in the traditional sense or not – we must still acknowledge that such a conversation becomes, for all intents and purposes, nonsensical.  It loses its internal relativity.  When the word “literally” is opposed to itself, how can we explain the success of our expressions?
            In order to understand what is going on here, we have to turn our attention away from the words themselves and to the phenomenon of meaning.  In an essay, “What Nonsense Might Be,” Cora Diamond addresses the titular problem through an example posed by G.E. Moore: “Scott kept a runcible at Abbotsford,” in which “runcible” appears as “nonsense word” (5).  Diamond goes on to explain that what makes the statement nonsensical “is not the meaning of the word ‘runcible’ but its absence of meaning.  It is clear that if we defined ‘runcible’ in a suitable way, we could turn the sentence from nonsense to sense” (7).  Diamond argues that this understanding of nonsense reflects Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory that there can be no “positive nonsense,” or “nonsense that is nonsense on account of what it would have to mean, given the meanings already fixed for the terms it contains” (16).  This negativity of nonsense, in other words, derives from the fact that a term must fall outside of a language game entirely; not that it might mean something inappropriate due to its placement in a different language game, but that it fails to function in any language game.  “Runcible” is, simply speaking, not a word.  Had we replaced runcible with even the most inappropriate word – for instance, “disease” – we might still comprehend some vague impression of meaning.
            “Scott kept a disease at Abbotsford.”
Well, this is certainly an odd statement. – How does one keep a disease? – Does he have a disease in a petri dish? – But Scott’s a librarian. – Can’t librarians keep diseases in petri dishes? – Can we come off it? – Oh!  I know.  He must be talking about his wife. – She is a disease. – Ha!  Well, that solves that.
As unlikely (or offensive) as this chain of logic might seem, we can imagine how it may materialize as the meaning of the phrase; and this brings us back to the centrality of “literally.”  While it may be that Scott perhaps kept an actual disease at Abbotsford, meaning also develops by comprehending the word in a figurative sense.  The meaning effect, the production of meaning out of seemingly inappropriate words, turns on the ambiguity between literality and figurativeness.  Even the most ludicrous statement effects meaning if it is comprised of conventional words:
            “The crabapple sprung a yellow of shortage soap.”
As apparently nonsensical as it gets, no?  And yet, as soon as we process its superficial alienism, our minds immediately begin to intuit how these words might relate, what qualities they share, or even how they resist each other; and from this automatic process, we find that meaning suddenly begins to spring into existence.
            This is because meaning is never a matter of inert matter.  Meaning comes from minds, and minds are linguistic and conceptual.  Meaning arises from the interaction of ideas, images, and words, spoken and unspoken.  Meaning cannot be dissociated from its figurative force.  As Roland Barthes has developed in his structural philosophy of language, sentences operate an different levels of meaning: “A sentence, as we know, can be described, linguistically, on several levels (phonetic, phonological, grammatical, contextual); these levels are in a hierarchical relation, for if each has its own units and its own correlations, necessitating for each an independent description, no level can in and of itself produce meaning” (“Structural Analysis” 101).  In another essay, Barthes expands his theory of meaning to include what he describes as denotative and connotative messages, which can be simply described as literal and figurative: the denotative message operates at the literal level of the words themselves, while the connotative message calls upon the reader to intuit an unspoken complex of meaning operating between the denotative message and its relation to the signifying field (“Advertising” 174-5).
            All of this is a fancy way of saying something rather counterintuitive.  We can say something and literally mean something entirely different, or possibly the exact opposite.  Meaning works in mysterious ways, and some of those ways exceed our intentions; in other words, there is something strangely inhuman about meaning.  The connotative, figurative aspect of language haunts everything we say, threatening every utterance with the potential for misunderstanding.  In the case of “literally,” this hauntology (to borrow from Derrida) encounters the supreme moment of its paradox – its presence and absence – since multiple meanings inhabit the same word simultaneously.  In fact, an even more intriguing phenomenon emerges when we realize that the literal definition of “literally” resists the etiology of meaning.  When someone says, “The mailman left you an envelope,” a literal interpretation involves no interpretation at all; it simply assumes a normative correlation between the words and the purported delivery of an envelope.  However, let us imagine that the recipient is expecting a wedding invitation; or perhaps she fears a court summons; or perhaps she expects nothing, and the announcement of a letter inspires some confusion.  All of these possibilities encounter the blossoming of meaning, according to Niklas Luhmann: “The function of meaning is the indication of, and control of access to, other possibilities” (Luhmann 48).  We have no say in the matter; excess meaning takes over our speech, whether we want it to or not.  Meaning works to silence the speaking subject, obscuring and burying the literal and summoning the spirit of the figurative.
            In other words, there is a zombie rising from the grave of language.
            The zombie is both dead and yet living, the living dead; it is both human and nonhuman, the estranging quality of the inhuman.  As a figure of modern fantasy, the zombie occupies an important place in the cultural unconscious: ranging as far back as Poe’s M. Valdemar (taken as factual upon its initial publication), the masses have been fascinated by the figure of the living dead – primarily, I believe, because humanity fears the living dead it perpetuates in its own image.  The zombie masses are the popular masses, the zombie drive is the murderous compulsion we all (at some time or another) sense within us; but finally, and most importantly, the zombie registers the same paradox engendered in our discussion of “literally.”
            The zombie is, first and foremost, a body; but it is a body that embodies meaning itself.  The zombie is that which it is not, both living and dead; just as literally must be that which it is not, both literally and figuratively.
            In his book The Parallax View (2006), Slavoj Žižek outlines the importance of the inhuman, as a concept, for his own work.  He describes the inhuman as “a terrifying excess which, although it negates what we understand as ‘humanity,’ is inherent to being-human” (22).  Does our language exhibit a similar terrifying excess; and if so, how do we describe this excess – this phenomenon of being both literal and figurative, of generating meaning from this relationship between the literal and figurative?  And what does “literally” have to tell us about this excess?  Science fiction scholar Seo-Young Chu tells us that figurative language “occupies a special place in science fiction.  Occurrences of figurative language in SF texts and contexts have an interesting tendency to elicit literal interpretation almost as a matter of course, especially among readers well versed in SF” (10).  When we discuss an individual of marginal status – for instance, an antebellum slave – and describe this individual as being treated inhumanely, or as inhuman (to return us to Žižek’s term), we appeal to a figurative use of language in order to make a point; African slaves actually are human, but were treated as though they were not.  However, in a science fiction novel such as Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? we find the inhuman literalized in the figure of the android.  Androids are treated as something other-than-human because they are other-than-human.  This science-fictional move in fact does not reify what it means to be human, but rather redirects the question of race toward the question of what it means to be human.
            The interplay between literal and figurative governs our reception of these narratives.  Our contemporary critical discourse on slave relations suffers no illusion that slaves are somehow less-than-human; we know that blacks are just as human as whites.  In a novel such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the similarities are less obvious unless we read the novel at a critical level; while the novel literalizes the concept of an inhuman other (in the form of an android), it also channels the energies of the racial dilemma.  Not only can we read Dick’s novel as both literal (i.e. humans and androids) and figurative (i.e. whites and blacks), but we must read the story of slavery and race relations as both literal and figurative.  In the original discourses and traditions surrounding race relations from early Atlantic modernity, the logic of Western thought identified blacks as literally other-than-human.  The human, which we consider today as far more inclusive, is a historically exclusive and restrictive institution – a constructed institution that emerged specifically through a white, male, Euro-American logic, and was also designed in contrast to that which didn’t conform to its implicit characteristics: white, male, straight, Euro-American, etc.
            Once we see this institution as constructed, we can determine the role of linguistic excess.  The human, as Žižek tells us, is always something other than itself.  As an institution, it labors under the threat of dissolution.  This is not because of any actual external threat, but because of the arbitrary nature of our own beliefs about what the human is.  Thus, every time we use the word “human,” whether we intend to or not, we use it in a simultaneously literal and figurative sense.  When, after making an error, we say “I’m only human,” we mean: a) that we are this literal thing, this body with limbs and a mind, capable of making errors, and b) that being-human connotes imperfection, that “human” stands in metonymically for “flawed.”
            The phenomenon of “literally” exposes that which is common to language in general.  The blunt truth is that we never mean literally what we say.  The very act of speaking, of participating in language, necessitates an interplay of the literal and the figurative, so that there will always be a meaning that exceeds denotative message.  This idea makes some people nervous because we do not want to imagine that language works without us; but while it cannot speak itself, it does operate beyond our control.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this idea not only makes people nervous, but absolutely terrifies them; because when you dig down far enough you begin to realize that language is a bit like a zombie.  Dead letters, spoken utterances on decommissioned frequencies iterating off into space.  It was Jacques Derrida who explained, in his essay “Signature Event Context,” that to “be what it is, all writing must, therefore, be capable of functioning in the radical absence of every empirically determined receiver in general.  And this absence is not a continuous modification of presence, it is a rupture in the presence, the ‘death’ or the possibility of the ‘death’ of the receiver inscribed in the structure of the mark” (8).  That is, the logic of language entails that it persist beyond the death of the one who uttered it.
            Language is literally the living dead.

Works Cited
Barthes, Roland. “The Advertising Message.” The Semiotic Challenge. Trans. Richard Howard.   Berkeley: U of California P, 1994. 173-178.
–. “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives.” The Semiotic Challenge. Trans.             Richard Howard. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994. 95-135.
Chu, Seo-Young. Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? A Science-Fictional Theory of     Representation. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010.
Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” Limited Inc. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1988. 1-  23.
Diamond, Cora. “What Nonsense Might Be.” Philosophy 56.215 (1981): 5-22.
“Literally.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014.
Luhmann, Niklas. “Meaning as Sociology’s Basic Concept.” Essays on Self-Reference. New          York: Columbia UP, 21-79.
Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

[i]               In fact, the first use in this sense recorded by the OED is shockingly early: “1769, F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83: He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.”
[ii]               There are more complexities to this than I have time to treat in this essay.  Certain theories of language contend that language is always a play between words, or signifiers, and I do not necessarily refute this; but as far as the meaning, or sense, of “literally” goes, it is useful to speak of it as though it assumes a certain correlation to a non-linguistic, or physical, occurrence.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dr. Freelove (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love... capitalism?)

            I must admit to a personal… flaw? drawback? vendetta?  I’m not sure what to call it.  Anyway, I can’t help but get into political and economic debates with other people, despite the fact that I’m not an expert in either politics or economics, and I often choose opponents that are.  Because of my stance in both fields, I’m usually interpreted by my opponents as being somewhat left-of-center, let’s say; and I wouldn’t disagree with that kneejerk assessment, although I think that, more often than not, these horizontal categorizations along the political spectrum are, at best, convenient without being enlightening, and, at worst, obfuscate and polemical.  I have no idea what a libertarian socialist is, or how someone votes for Mitt Romney and yet maintains a woman’s right to choose.  Categorically speaking, these categories make no sense; and yet people fall into them, thus endlessly confounding the convenience of the political spectrum.  False consciousness, cognitive dissonance…?  Perhaps.  But it doesn’t change the fact that these contradictions exist, and they make categorization difficult.
            I’m writing this post because I can’t even begin to think of what to call myself, despite the fact that others often seem all too eager to pick a label for me.
            The debate I have more than any other is with self-professed advocates of the free market over the efficiency, structure, and power dynamics of said market.  Already, I’ll bet I’m looking pretty left to some people right about now.  It’s true: I don’t agree with the free market because I don’t think there exists a free market – there never has existed one, and there never will exist one.  I think that the market is always manipulated by vast amounts of capital already accumulated, and I think that such manipulation makes it next to impossible for any entity to operate truly freely in a market setting.  I will agree with this bare minimum: that a market can fluctuate through varying degrees of voluntary action and that access to such voluntarism depends on one’s already-determined financial standing.  I do not believe that there exists any such thing as exit or escape from the market.  Exit equals exclusion (whether self-imposed or not, it remains exclusion nonetheless).
            There, my cards are on the table – all bleeding hearts, running red like the Soviet flag, no?  Well, go fish (I don’t really play cards), because the communist card is one I don’t carry (I feel this metaphor beginning to crumble… like a house of cards…).
            No, I don’t count myself a communist.  Far from it, in fact.
            I have no communist vision, nor do I know how a full-fledged communist system would work.  I find Marx’s work fascinating and relevant, but not particularly applicable in an organizational sense.  Marx is relevant, I believe, for his trenchant critique of free-market economics, but not for his elucidation of a working sociopolitical system.  I also read numerous post-Marxist scholars and theorists, some of whom consider themselves communists, some of whom do not; but I have no commitment to the communist cause.
            No, much to Greg Gutfeld’s dismay, not all academics are closet commies waiting for the revolution.
            I am not a communist, socialist, or any form of collectivist, even though I may believe that government can successfully and ethically implement functioning welfare programs (the mechanics of this, however, are controversial and should always be up for debate).  In fact, if I had to admit which way I lean, I would claim to lean toward capitalism, although not for the reasons that my free-marketeering opponents might think.[i]  I lean toward capitalism, but I do not equate capitalism with the free market; I am interested in capitalism because I see in it something profoundly modern, something terrifyingly science-fictional, and something capable of inaugurating a radical new epoch, albeit at the expense of massive amounts of human suffering.  I feel ethically responsible to challenge such suffering at every turn, but I simultaneously feel obliged to feed the monster, so to speak – to let Benjamin’s storm of progress run its course.  Something inside me is terrified by such a proposal; but something else inside me wants to witness the monstrosity, because I believe that no matter how violent or ruthless capitalist innovation may be for the human race, it is the catalyst for something unimaginable – the posthuman race.
            While I don’t equate capitalism with the free market, capitalism still consists of the market.  Ideas of capitalist development into something else entirely aren’t new; even Marx argued that the logic of capitalism gravitates toward communist revolution.  My own tendencies regarding capitalism, however, derive from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari:
To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization?  For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character.  Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (Anti-Oedipus 239-40)
So to speak, capitalism already introduces an inhuman quality of civilization, the machinic and autonomous grinding of production itself.  Any educated proponent of the free market will tell you that value only subsists in the subjective desires of a consumer; but capitalist development still treats value as though it were material, existing in vast quantities somewhere between factories, industries, companies, floating like cumulus clouds above the interpersonal social scene.
            This is not to say, of course, that capitalism is a kind of subsistent entity, a behemoth in its own right, prowling the globe and feeding on the sweat and desires of those unaware.  As Ray Brassier has helpfully explained in a recent interview, capitalism is not a living system:
There’s a temptation to hypostatize capital as though it were an impersonal, wholly autonomous agent subsisting quite independently of the myriad of little human subjects who compose it. This strikes me as a mistake. Here I think a sober appreciation of the mechanical banality of the processes through which capital reproduces itself might obviate this tendency to mystification: this seemingly fantastic, supra-personal complexity is not due to some mysterious self-moving cause or superhuman agent but an effect generated by the myriads of micro-processes that compose it: it is neither more nor less mysterious in its operations than any other complex, multi-layered emergent phenomenon. This kind of emergence and complexity are banal and ubiquitous. (Brassier, Ieven, “Noise”)
Capitalism possesses no agency, Brassier explains; it does not brood over its lowly denizens, quietly planning the destruction of the human race.  It is not a conscious system; but it is, however, an ecosystem, and a distinctly modern one.  Ecosystems, no matter how singular, individuated, and isolated their inhabitants may be, play an active and constant role in the manipulation of those inhabitants.  Whether parasitic or symbiotic, organisms cannot help but coexist in feedback with their environment.  Capitalism, for all its apparently human qualities, is the inhuman ecosystem in which we live and breathe.
            “In a sense,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terrifying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes” (140).  Capitalism, in the words of Deleuze and Guattari, stands in opposition to the laws of a culture, even while it purports to participate in those laws.  Capital, in other words, eternally resists the laws that attempts to govern it, and this is how capitalism exceeds even the free market: even where the immutable libertarian law of voluntary (inter)action would have individuals admit the free behavior of their neighbors, capitalism insists upon violence, corruption, and betrayal.  Its impetus is accumulation, and its logic is manipulation.  The free market is little more than a hypothesized and idealized vision dreamt by those upon whom the boons of capitalist production have befallen in order to justify their success.
            At this point, free market advocates are likely fuming in rage due to the fact that I have (seemingly) disputed the legitimacy of their success.  While they would be correct, a clarification needs to be made: I dispute the legitimacy of success because, in a capitalist system, no legitimacy of accumulation needs to be made.  Rationalizations and excuses for capitalist success, all disguised in the noble and honest vestments of the free market, conceal an empty occurrence, a contingent effect of capitalism itself.  Such excuses and rationalizations have been made because, as is the case in all histories, there are those who draw the short stick; and, as is the case in all histories, the short stick crowd is fucking pissed.  The free market is an invented ideal of human behavior intended to make capitalist success appear innocent and peaceful.  In fact, there is no such thing as a free market – the market, in all its human variations, will always be accompanied by bloody skirmishes and forms of ritual sacrifice.  Capitalism represents the dark, inhuman shadow of our social organization.
            In a provocative and semi-satirical piece, “Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy,” Reza Negarestani refines Deleuze and Guattari’s argument that capitalism insists fitfully toward dissolution:
The ubiquity of capitalism […] is affirmed precisely by its identification as a liquidating storm which is in the process of dethroning the human from its terrestrial ivory tower.  And it is this undulating deluge toward dissipation of matter and energy that either deceitfully mimics or genuinely coincides with the cosmic extinction or the asymptotic disintegration of the universe on an elementary material level, that is to say, the ubiquitous and all-inclusive cosmic truth of extinction, the truth of extinction as such. (186)
Damn.  Kind of macabre, Negarestani.  But oh well, civilization is for the birds, right?  I don’t pretend to understand exactly what Negarestani is saying (for those interested in a truly wild ride, check out his incredible book, Cyclonopedia – and be sure to have your thinking caps on), but I think the general point remains clear.  There remains a fascination among scholars, academics, and wannabe-philosophers with capitalism as an accelerating process toward a novel form of life.
            I like novel forms of life.  It’s why I read science fiction.  Of course, I’m all for survival and perpetuating the human race; but at the same time, I’m okay with the fact that our time may be over soon.  Capitalism, it seems to be, is the herald that sounds the horn, and it has been sounding it since humanity crawled out of Plato’s cave and began writing on the walls (which is to say, since before Ancient Greece).  This is why I don’t consider myself a communist.  I consider myself a capitalist.  I will continue to debate the ethical obligation to protect animals, to help the poor, to fight for a woman’s right to choose, for a gay’s right to marry, and for a black child’s right to walk in the street without fearing the policeman’s bullet.[ii]  I will continue to argue for all these things, but I won’t argue for the downfall of capitalism because, if capitalism truly is the dark shadow that haunts human society, then it cannot be torn down.  It cannot be escaped.
            When the time comes for capitalism to implode, for the catastrophic (for us, likely) singularity that brings about the novel form of life, we will have no conscious hand in it.  When capitalism’s time is over, there will nothing we can do to stop it.
            I seem to have lost the humor with which I began this post.  Perhaps it wasn’t humor at all; maybe I mistakenly find myself really funny.  This may not be the case with my patient readers (if you’ve made it this far, bravo – that Negarestani quote is murder), and if so then I apologize.  A close friend of mine often reminds me that I lack a sense of humor when it comes to literature and writing.  It seems I prefer a somber tone of scholarly discipline that likely compels many readers to slam their laptop shut and unfriend me on Facebook (it appears that “unfriend” is now an official word, as Microsoft Word doesn’t count it as a spelling error).  I entertain no illusion that this is because I’m any good at scholarly writing; it’s more likely that I just enjoy rambling on about very boring topics.  In either case, I felt the need to compose this piece because I want to rectify a misconception or two: that all academics are card-carrying commies, that we hate wealth and success, and that we want to see the rich tarred and feathered and shipped off to Mexico City.
            I understand the convenience of choosing a label.  I also understand the entertainment value in it.  Just imagine how the ratings skyrocket on FOX News every time Eric Bolling calls Obama a Marxist-sympathizer who prefers hip hop over country music (I don’t know about you, but when I hear the over-produced drawl of Toby Keith’s voice, I feel the sudden urge to shoot something… preferably Toby Keith).  But unfortunately, I don’t consider myself a Marxist, or a communist, or a socialist, or a libertarian socialist, or a socialist libertarian, or to-hell-with-it-I’m-sick-of-this-shit.  I do consider myself a critical thinker, and even if I get half the things I say wrong, I can promise that I’ll never stop reevaluating my thoughts.  If there’s any political position to be had out of this, point me in that direction.  If not, then pour yourself another glass, because this is going to be a long, long night.
Works Cited
Brassier, Ray. “Against an Aesthetics of Noise.” nY: website en tijdschrift voor literatuur, kritiek   & amusement, voorheen yang & freespace Nieuwzuid. Interview with Bram Ieven. nY,      2009. 8 Sept. 2009.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert     Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. New York: Penguin, 2009.
Negarestani, Reza. “Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy.” The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Eds. Levi Bryant, Nick            Srnicek and Graham Harman. Melbourne:, 2011.

[i] On a side-note, an idea for a satire: The Free Marketeers: All For One, and… well, can I keep it?
[ii] Something I find humorously apparent in political debates today is that when a democrat or leftist argues for a woman’s right to have an abortion (for example), conservatives often interpret this argument as a kind of obligatory commitment; that is, that all women should have abortions, or that all people should become gay and marry other gays.  The personal offense that many on the right take to leftist arguments is quite hilarious.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Orbital Subject: On the Question of Planetarity

In Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (2010), Richard Elster evinces the definitive quality of the desert: “‘Time falling away.  That’s what I feel here […] Time becoming slowly older.  Enormously old.  Not day by day.  This is deep time, epochal time.  Our lives receding into the long past.  That’s what’s out there.  The Pleistocene desert, the rule of extinction’” (72).  The encroachment of matter, the gradual disappearance of the human against a backdrop of a landscape older than organic life.  The primary character in DeLillo’s short novel is neither the narrator nor Elster, but the earth itself.  The earth; not as a home, or even as a world, but as a planet.
            There is a growing trend in contemporary literary and philosophical circles toward planetarity.  I will attempt to better define, and understand, this term in a moment; but first, I want to highlight what I consider to be some examples of this trend.  In 1980, Deleuze and Guattari published A Thousand Plateaus, which featured the enigmatic “10,000 B.C.: the Geology of Morals” and their discussion of “strata”; in 1991, Jean-François Lyotard published The Inhuman, in which the essay “Can Thought Go On Without a Body?” explored the concept of solar catastrophe, and Jacques Derrida published “‘Geopsychoanalysis…’ And the Rest of the World”; Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: an Essay on the Necessity of Contingency in 2006 (published as Après la finitude), which explored the possibility of thinking the world before humanity, in the form of the “arche-fossil”; Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (2007) in which he takes up Nietzsche’s challenge to think through the problem of nihilism via Lyotard’s concept of solar extinction and Freudian trauma; Reza Negarestani’s meta-generic Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (2008), which imagines humanity as a blemish upon the age-old struggle between a rebellious earth and a tyrannical sun; in 2010, Eugene Thacker published In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. I, a text that pushes what it means to think of the earth as a “planet” as opposed to a “world”; and, in 2013, Ben Woodard’s On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy, which pursues an admirable combinatory approach that draws on several of the previously mentioned works.
            In literary circles, Susan Stanford Friedman’s 2010 piece “Planetarity: Musing Modernist Studies” sets forth a potential direction for assessing the chimera of modernism.  Near the conclusion of her essay, Friedman questions the role of the planet in modernist literary scholarship: “Planetarity in its very name evokes the Earth in deep time.  Does the planet have its own modernities, crises distinct from those of the human species?  The critical practices of re-vision, recovery, circulation, and collage can examine the meanings of the non-human world for the human and the interaction of human modernities with the Earth as a planet in the cosmos” (Friedman 493).  Friedman espouses a symbiotic modernism, one that takes the planet into account without abandoning the human; a modernism for humanity that retains the fragility and volatility of its home in the universe.  Friedman specifies that planetarity “is an epistemology, not an ontology” (494); she intends it as a broadening of traditional scopes, a re-framing that allows us to shape our knowledge of ourselves and our environment in, if not more objective, then more inclusive terms.  Friedman’s planetarity functions as an accommodation for the human; for its works of art and literature, for its politics and culture.
            Let us momentarily contrast Friedman’s perspective with that of Brassier, as expressed in Nihil Unbound:
[S]ooner or later both life and mind will have to reckon with the disintegration of the ultimate horizon, when, roughly one trillion, trillion, trillion (101728) years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment.  Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter.  All free matter, whether planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based in protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience – irrespective of its physical basis.  Finally, in a state cosmologists call “asymptopia”, the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary particles.  Atoms themselves will cease to exist.  Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called “dark energy”, which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness. (Brassier 228)
I’ll give everyone a minute to catch their breath and, hopefully, salvage some remnant of our fragile optimism before continuing.  Brassier’s glimpse of reality in the vast and distant depths of time – time beyond human experience – leaves little to the imagination; and yet, Brassier illuminates the moment when imagination is exactly what is no longer possible.  Brassier’s planetarity takes a more nihilistic stance, envisioning the extinction of humanity and asking his readers to think this extinction as a fundamental component of life itself.
            Both Brassier’s and Friedman’s visions of the planet as a thing separate from humanity, as a subsistent object, force a hard question: what is the point of thinking something that so resists our thought?  What room can we make for something we cannot speak with, something we cannot relate to in any cognitive manner?  How can we make sense of a planet that may not make sense?  And if its resistance overcomes us, then what point is there in persistence?  I want to take these questions seriously, but I do not intend to provide answers to them.  Rather, in the spirit of contemporary geophilosophies, radical ecologies, and planetary models, I want to suggest that we can begin to think seriously about pursuing these questions if we implement the model of a possibility space.  It must be grasped that there are no simple answers to these questions; this is the wonder of scholarly exploration.  Instead of looking for answers, our contemporary speculative epoch must instead seek out possible solutions to serious problems.  As Ralph Ellison’s narrator confessed in Invisible Man (1952), our world has “become one of infinite possibilities.”
            A possibility space is an abstract term that describes a contingent material situation, even if its unrealized possibilities remain virtual.  Basically, a possibility space contains a specific set of conditions and objects that, due to their position within the possibility space, attain quantifiable and testable character traits.  These traits may be in active use, or they may be latent (or virtual); but in both cases, these traits are real.  Even if a possibility is never actualized, it remains materially supported by the conditions of the possibility space.  So, as Manuel DeLanda describes (2011), a possibility space must be seen as verifiable and materially present: “an unmanifested tendency and an unexercised capacity are not just possible but define a concrete space of possibilities with a definite structure” (Simulation 17).  We can associate the shift toward planetarity with a corresponding shift toward an apprehension of global cultural systems and ecological phenomena as possibility spaces, as indicated by the increasingly speculative philosophical developments after the Second World War (poststructuralism, deconstruction, structural Marxism, schizoanalysis, etc.).  More specifically, we might say that the development of modernism – in the humanities and the sciences – coincides with a general critical mentality that perceives the global situation as fragile and contingent.
            This may sound like a plea for relativity, especially when we consider the manifestation of this mentality in the modern, and postmodern, novel.  However, I would contend that what appears as relativity (and, in some cases, rightfully may be called so) is more often a push toward thinking the unthought space of the earth itself; its existence, its relation to human bodies, its symbiosis with organic systems, its position in a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, etc.  This tendency heralds a major component of the modern posthuman epistemology, and we can find instances of this growing planetarity in the work of philosophers Brassier and Meillassoux, not to mention biologist Stephen Jay Gould (whose “deep time” signifies the geologic time of the earth’s accretion and existence beyond the Anthropocene).  In order to explore this effort of thinking the earth, or the shift toward planetarity, I want to turn toward the evocative short story “Human Moments in World War III,” also by Don DeLillo (1983).
            In this short story, two astronauts – the unnamed narrator and his partner Vollmer – orbit around the earth at a distance of 220 kilometers; the same distance that the International Space Station orbits, although their craft is never identified as such in the text.  As the story develops, the astronauts intercept unidentified signals that appear to be the transmissions of forty- or fifty-year-old radio programs.  The source of these signals is never revealed, and the story concludes with the narrator admitting that Vollmer has “entered a strange phase” (337).  By the close of the narrative, it is questionable whether the narrator and Vollmer retain their humanness. 
            Throughout the course of the story, DeLillo describes their subsequent views of the earth and affective (perhaps even physiological) response to their isolation.  In the opening lines, the narrator writes that Vollmer “no longer describes the earth as a library globe or a map that has come alive, as a cosmic eye staring into deep space” (325).  Vollmer’s former reaction to the earth – the way he sees it – it as something that sees him, that looks back.  It becomes a living map, which suggests an interesting conflation between the dead letter of topographical representation and the un-representable spontaneity of the organic.  The earth can never be observed in its totality since it explodes the boundaries of their portholes, since it always keeps one half hidden; and yet, the earth grounds the astronauts, despite their elevation: “To men at this remove, it is as though things exist in their particular physical form in order to reveal the hidden simplicity of some powerful mathematical truth.  The earth reveals to us the simple awesome beauty of day and night.  It is there to contain and incorporate these conceptual events” (327).  Day and night, the narrator tells us, are relative to one’s position on, or relationship to, the earth; but his words also hint at something beyond relativity, a mathematical consistency.
            The earth, he claims, circumscribes day and night as they are known by humans.  This duality conditions the frame of human knowledge, but the earth presents a perspective that contains this duality, presents it in its objective regularity apart from the subjective experience of it on the planet’s surface.  The earth occupies a space from which certain phenomena, which we assume to be fixed and natural but whose occurrence we can only induce, appear in their objective cosmic structure:
            “‘I still get depressed on Sundays,’ [Vollmer] says.
            ‘Do we have Sundays here?’
            ‘No, but they have them there and I still feel them.  I always know when it’s Sunday’” (326).
Vollmer’s elevation obliterates his experiential relationship to the days of the week, but provides a different form of connection to the concept “Sunday.”  He comprehends the material quality of Sunday as an event coinciding with a real relationship between the earth and the sun: “‘The whole day was kind of set up beforehand and the routine almost never changed.  Orbital routine is different.  It’s satisfying.  It gives our time a shape and substance.  Those Sundays were shapeless despite the fact you knew what was coming, who was coming, what we’d all say’” (327).  Orbital Sundays, in contrast to terrestrial Sundays, attain a broader objectivity that allows observers to comprehend their cosmic materiality.
            Throughout the story, the astronauts circle the earth, but it is not only a gravitational center.  It is also a narrative center, a center that fixes a specific meaning for the characters.  I am interested here primarily in the figurative language, the imagery, of orbiting.  We can think of this term narratologically, in the sense that plots typically orbit around certain diegetic objects or characters, actions or events.  I would compare the novelistic text to a text that has become conscious of its existence as an assemblage of textual raw materials that logically orbit around a gravitational-narrative center.  In some cases, this center may be difficult to identify, or it may be a collection of objects; but the novel of the mid-to-late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries reflexively presents itself as a singularity, and here we reencounter the notion of the possibility space.  As a singularity, a novel comprises a possibility space; that is, a novel partakes of a set of material conditions (other singularities) that come together to introduce a possibility space: “a given emergent effect involves describing not only a concrete mechanism but also the singularities structuring the possibility space behind the stabilizing tendencies manifested in those mechanisms” (DeLanda, “Emergence” 389).[1]  We must here resist our temptation toward a tradition, that of comprehending the novel as something linear.  No linearly interpreted meaning inheres in a novel, since linearity necessitates the temporal participation of a normative reading subject.  Opposed to linear interpretation, we must push in the direction of a new conception of reading; something along the lines of Franco Moretti’s distant reading, or N. Katherine Hayles’s hyper reading.  Following in the vein already established by terms such as “singularity” and “possibility space,” I want to venture a label for this new kind of interpretive method: emergent reading.
            Emergence affords the only possibility of registering planetarity in any productive way.  In order to account for the majestic scale of the planet and the cosmos it inhabits, we must contextualize it within scientific concepts that exceed the scope of the human: deep time, light years, gravitational singularities.  We must elevate ourselves so that, like Vollmer, we might begin to observe the earth beyond our grounded subjectivity.  Planetarity demands thinking the earth in various contingencies, within and beyond human thought, and as something that subsists without human beings but that achieves its planetarity through the perception of humans.  This reflexive relationship approximates a dialectical model, but also introduces a new way of thinking dialectics; one that complements our invocation of emergence.  On a planetary scale, we must envision dialectics as feedback loops.[2]  In moving beyond conceptual human models, we entertain the vast organicism of a world not-for-us, a world replete with mutual symbioses, life threatening the differentiation of embodiment, deterritorialized in Deleuzian flux, a bio-cybernetics of always-already technologized vitality.  If we assume a planetary position, the earth begins to look not only like something that conditions our existence, but as something that reacts to us.  The earth has thoughts of its own.
            Reza Negarestani imagines a thinking, reacting earth is imagined in his Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials.  Negarestani’s Lovecraftian tale portrays the earth in revolutionary resistance against the sun, a struggle that has conditioned human history in everything from mystery cults to political conflicts:
[P]etroleum and fossil fuels exemplify another Telluro-conspiracy towards the Sun’s solar economy: trapping the energy of the sun accumulated in organisms by means of lithologic sedimentation, stratification, anaerobic decay and bacteria in highly stratified sedimentary basins.  In this sense, petroleum is a terrestrial replacement of the onanistic self-indulgence of the Sun or solar capitalism.  Earth dismantles the hegemony of the Sun on a subterranean (blobjective) level. (Negarestani 19)
Reading Negarestani’s novel (if it can be described as such) takes effort, but yields rewards for those who abandon traditional expectations of reading.  Cyclonopedia presents a complex of meaning that does not surface through linear narrative, but only as a whole; through beginnings that must be revisited upon finishing the text, and through various plot elements and “( )hole complexes” that only volunteer meaning through recodification.  Like the earth itself, seen from Vollmer’s orbiting space station, the text of Cyclonopedia cannot be seen in its entirety, and it remains conscious of this fact.  One must “read” the text not from start to finish, but from middle to finish, then back to start; or leap from the introduction to the conclusion, then fill in the beginning; or choose chapters at random.  If read as a traditional novel, Cyclonopedia appears as something strange and obscure, as a manuscript that might be discovered in the depths of an Umberto Eco novel; but this manuscript offers little explanation as to its purpose.  Cyclonopedia, to the contrary, comments on its existence as an example of “hidden writing.”
            The genre of hidden writing embraces codification as a means of appearing to write about one topic while actually writing about something else.  It is a subsurface text, a subtext, and Negarestani compares this subterranean meaning-complex with the ritualistic penetration of the earth itself: “For an archeologist who reads the site through inconsistencies and through the profound defectiveness of what is available through the surface, the cenotaph, as an empty tomb, presents a hole in the story which points in an exact and unmistakable direction: the entrance to the warren compound of the necropolis or the real underground network” (64).  The hidden component of the text derives from the simultaneity of a geo-cosmic system, an atemporal body that resists linear interpretation.  It is composed of layers, and penetration to the core reveals no secrets.  The analytical process must be simultaneous and omni-topic; the singular occupation and comprehension of an entire spatial system.
            In Tom McCarthy’s Men in Space, Anton Markov begins to understand the implications of this system: a system that spans countries and continents, aesthetics and ideologies.  Held in question over charges of murder and possession of a stolen painting, Anton begins to see hope for his release: “[…] Anton can see that if he can just get to that point, feel out its axis, pull the strands in a particular direction, in particular directions around it, then a turning force will be produced, a moment, and the leverage will spread a change through the entire network: everything will move together in a way he wouldn’t ever have thought possible, until now” (174).  McCarthy’s surrealist novel (and yet not so surreal as its predecessor, Remainder) explores the complexities of global relationships in the aftermath of the Cold War, and the aforementioned quote expresses the dynamics of these relationships in explicitly spatial language.  The planet takes precedence over human subjects as the stage for this emergent system of relationships to develop, and this planetary language is reinforced through McCarthy’s use of orbital imagery.  As artist Ivan Maňásek works to copy a painting, he imagines himself as a satellite: “He pictures himself in the air again, gliding along the groove of an invisible ellipse, or higher, out in space, a planet orbiting a sun around a ball of intense, burnished gold” (127).  Descriptions of orbits occur multiple times in the novel, illuminating a model of interacting bodies that comprise an always-changing system; a system bound by material laws, physical laws, but at work on a plane of sublation, of aesthetics and affect.  A language of planetarity.
            Human bodies thus find comparison to terrestrial matter in McCarthy’s novel.  When the unnamed investigative character pursues several of his targets late in the novel, McCarthy conflates bodies with a dug, perforated earth: “He stopped in front of Subject and showed him the spade.  Spades are for digging holes, and mouths are holes.  Ears too, with inner and outer compounds.  Why do I write this?” (229).  Like Negarestani’s plot holes of hidden writing, McCarthy’s holey surfaces reveal layers and vast networks, multiple planes of interpretation, particularly as they orbit the central image of the novel: a mysterious icon painting that defies traditional iconography.  Meaning fluctuates and mutates through human interlocutors, but it would fail entirely without its center of gravity, the planet that rotates and revolves beyond human scales of time and narrative.
            These various manifestations of planetarity – DeLillo’s Point Omega, Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, McCarthy’s Men in Space – all were published within the past decade (DeLillo’s “Human Moments” was published in the ‘80s, but informs much of his later fiction).  These examples point toward a trend that I am identifying as a subsumption of the human; not a resistant to the human or a rejection of humanity, but a reframing of humanity within a nonhuman scope.  These texts interrogate the production of meaning as a fundamentally material process, and attempt to understand how thought, ideas, and meaning can separate themselves from their material origins.  As long evolutionary consequences of earthen matter, human bodies (along with animals, vegetables, and microbes) are circumscribed by the accretion and existence of the planet.  Human meaning can never exceed its historical conditioning as an inhabitant of a planet whose contingent development supports life (of a sort).  Meaning thus only ever exists in a kind of feedback loop: a symbiosis between humanity and the planet it inhabits.  Like symbiotic relationships on the purely biological level, meaning must be rendered in terms of matter and materialism.
            This is what the language of planetarity offers.  It affords us the opportunity to approach meaning in a modern, materialist sense.  Here we revisit our two unintuitive claims: a) that meaning, that which is traditionally considered idealist, is in fact materialist, and b) that the earth, cosmic matter itself, that which serves as the original source of meaning, must also serve as its destruction.  As Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), matter continuously drives toward disorganization, deterritorialization; a complete dismantling of any interpretive effort.  However, while Deleuze and Guattari encourage the schizophrenia of their philosophy, our language of planetarity does not abandon the temptation, attraction, necessity of meaning; and this is the strength of planetarity, the reason for its appearance in recent literature, and Friedman’s emphasis on it as a kind of modernism.  In the wake of Deleuze and Guattari’s ruthless deconstructivist breakdown, contemporary writers have attempted to salvage the lure of meaning but without reverting to Kantian transcendentalism.  For these 21st-century authors, meaning subsists; but it can be explained as a material, not transcendental, phenomenon.
            There is nothing in the universe that we are not meant to know.  To make such a distinction is to remove the notion of meaning from the realm of material possibility; that is, something beyond knowledge deems it appropriate for us to know.  This is to relinquish meaning to the sphere of the ineffable and the absolute.  It is to make meaning necessary, rather than contingent on material circumstance.  Social systems of meaning and value are emergent phenomena that arise from complex arrangements of material components.  Meaning appears in relation to the possibility space created by its material source, and crystallizes into apparently abstract, free-floating essences.  But meaning is only free-floating in retrospect; as it actually unfolds in material reality, meaning is only ever a singular manifestation within a possibility space.  Envisioned as temporal progress, meaning appears inevitable; but reconceived within a nonlinear possibility space, meaning emerges as a contingent phenomenon.  It is a consequence of endless feedback between organisms and the material forms that condition their perception of the world; between conscious life and the planet to which it clings.  Is this not a way for us to approach Friedman’s planetary modernism?  Is this not a method of comprehending the importance of planetarity for modern thought?
            The language of feedback loops and symbiosis fills the void left by transcendentalism and metaphysics – the language of biology, geology, and planetarity.  That meaning arises from the relationships between organisms and their environment; and here, finally, we must acknowledge the final turn of the screw.  The importation of these terms – feedback loop, symbiosis – also take the place of one of the most important methodological concepts in literary history: the dialectic.  The interaction of thesis and antithesis serves as the abstract model for the material processes that we are identifying here.  Dialectics must be retrieved from the realm of ideal abstraction and implemented on the level of the material; on the plane of the planet.  Once we reposition ourselves as human subjects in constant symbiotic mutuality and parasitic struggle with the earth-as-planet; only then can we begin to conceive of meaning as simultaneously material and indispensable for our existence.  Meaning is the screen of language, ideation, and representation that mediates the impossible void between the planet and its conscious subjects.  Planetarity, as a methodology, must consistently and critically contextualize meaning itself as part of a process occurring between not only human subjects, but between human and planetary subjects.
Works Cited
Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. London: Palgrave Macmillan,           2007. Print.
DeLanda, Manuel. "Emergence, Causality, and Realism." The Speculative Turn. Eds. Levi R. Bryant, Nick Srnicek, Graham Harman. Melbourne:, 2011. 381-392. Print.
-. Philosophy and Simulation. London: Continuum, 2011. Print.
DeLillo, Don. “Human Moments of World War III.” American Gothic Tales. Ed. Joyce Carol      Oates. New York: Plume, 1996. 325-338. Print.
–. Point Omega. New York: Scriber, 2010. Print.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Planetarity: Musing Modernist Studies.” Modernism/modernity. 17.3             (2010): 471-499. Print.
McCarthy, Tom. Men in Space. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. Print.
Negarestani, Reza. Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne:,      2008. Print.

[1] This quote is taken largely out of context, but I unfortunately don’t have the space to go into a deep discussion of DeLanda’s notions of emergence and singularities.  For more information on these complex terms, see DeLanda’s illuminating material on the subject (cited below).
[2] This comparison has been made by Hadi Khorshidi and Marzieh Soltanolkottabi in their “Hegelian Philosophy and System Dynamics.”