Main Aesthetics After Finitude

Aesthetics After Finitude

, ,
Traditionally aesthetics has been
associated with phenomenal experience, human apprehension and an
appreciation of beauty—the domains in which human cognition is rendered
finite. What is an aesthetics that might occur ‘after finitude’?
Year: 2016
Language: english
Pages: 244
ISBN 13: 9780980819793
Series: Anamnesis
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Aesthetics After Finitude


Anamnesis means remembrance or reminiscence, the collection and recollection of what has been lost, forgotten, or effaced. It is therefore a
matter of the very old, of what has made us who we are. But anamnesis is
also a work that transforms its subject, always producing something new.
To recollect the old, to produce the new: that is the task of Anamnesis.
a series

Aesthetics After Finitude
Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson and Amy Ireland, editors Melbourne 2016

PO Box 40, Prahran, 3181, Melbourne, Australia
© the individual contributors and 2016
This work is ‘Open Access’, published under a creative commons license which means that you
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National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Title: Aesthetics after finitude / Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson
and Amy Ireland, editors.
ISBN: 9780980819793 (paperback)
Series: Anamnesis
Subjects: Aesthetics.
Finite, The.
Other Creators/Contributors:
Brits, Baylee, editor.
Gibson, Prue, editor.
Ireland, Amy, editor.
Dewey Number: 111.6
Designed and Typeset by A&R
This book is produced sustainably using plantation timber, and printed in the destination market reducing wastage and excess transport.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland
1 Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore23
Marc Couroux
2 Art Theory/Fiction as Hyper Fly39
Prudence Gibson
3 Art, Philosophy, and Non-standard Aesthetics53
Thomas Sutherland
4 The Nuclear Sonic: Listening to Millennial Matter71
Lendl Barcelos
5 Geolog y Without Geologists89
Douglas Kahn
6 Folding the Soundscape :: An ad hoc Account of Synthes\is99
Adam Hulbert
7 Transfinite Fiction and the case of Jorge Luis Borges111
Baylee Brits
8 Picture that Cyclone127
Stephen Muecke
9 Enter the Black Box: Aesthetic Speculations in the General Economy of Being139
Laura Lotti



After Finitude

10 The Murmur of Nothing: Mallarmé and Mathematics157
Christian R. Gelder
11 Accelerationism, Prometheanism and Mythotechnesis171
Simon O’Sullivan
12 Pink Data: Tiamaterialism and the Female Gnosis of Desire191
Tessa Laird
13 The Emergence of Hyperstition203
Chris Shambaugh (and Maudlin Cortex)
‘The Krakatoan Chimera’204
Chaim Horowitz
14 Noise: An Ontolog y of the Avant-garde217
Amy Ireland
After After Finitude: An Afterword229
Justin Clemens

Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

This is a paradoxical book. And deliberately so. To invoke an ‘aesthetics after
finitude’ is to call up a problem of intimidating scale and gravity. It opens onto
questions of the post-human, the inhuman and the outright nonhuman. It problematizes theories of perception and phenomenality in artistic practice and in
the reception of the works it produces. It attempts to ask how it might be possible
have an aesthetics without the subject that has traditionally theorized, practiced
and legitimated it. But problems are the friends of philosophers and artists alike.
Perhaps, at times, this is the sole thing they share. To begin with a solution is to
risk positing an ideology and not a project.
In February of 2015, we posed this problem to a heterogeneous group of sonic, artistic, and poetic practitioners as a means of consolidating the work we had
begun several years earlier as part of the ‘Aesthetics After Finitude’ research network, a group based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
It seemed to us that art and art criticism were having trouble digesting the demands placed on them—not only by the efflorescence of new philosophies of realism and materialism that has characterized the opening decades of the twenty-first century, but also because philosophy was threatening to colonize this
space without art, leaving it behind in its preference for science and mathematics. ‘If the question of a speculative aesthetics has largely been neglected by philosophy’, we suggested, ‘it is because art has not yet posed it with a sufficiently difficult problem’.1 This book brings together the work of the diverse group
of philosophers, writers, sound and visual artists—spanning six countries and
four continents—who contributed to the Aesthetics After Finitude conference
in February 2015, and thereby represents a constructively transdisciplinary and
cosmopolitan range of approaches to that challenge. While we don’t think we
have solved the problem of an art without the human, or an aesthetics after finitude, we are confident that the texts that make up this volume confront its difficulty with the intelligence, creativity and dedication such a project demands.
        1. Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson and Amy Ireland, ‘AAF 2015: Call for Papers and Works’, Aesthetics After Finitude, Web:, 13th May, 2014.



Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

Above all, they demonstrate a collective desire to insert art back into the space
of non-anthropocentric modalities of thought, and work through the subsequent
provocations for metaphysical discourse.
The thought of finitude has been the mainstay of Western philosophy for
three centuries, culminating at the end of the twentieth century in irresolvable
proclamations of cultural indeterminacy and the infinite digressions of the linguistic turn. Yet, faced with the rapidly changing terrain of early twenty-first
century scientific and technological developments and their correlative upheavals in the domain of the social, the reign of finitude seems to have finally found
an objective limit. Pitted against these new problems and possibilities, traditional philosophical apparatuses can be disabling rather than enabling. The irony
of creating work in the Anthropocene is this: just as our species has dominated
the development of conditions of life on earth, so too has it been displaced from
a privileged position within it. If humanity is now something to be constructed
rather than imposed, how can we energize and repurpose aesthetics beyond the
ontological and epistemological limitations of human finitude?
Traditionally, aesthetics has been attached to phenomenal experience, and
above all to the singularly human apprehension and appreciation of beauty. Indeed, aesthetics as a subject of enquiry seems inextricably bound to experience
and affect, precisely the domains in which human cognition is rendered finite.
What, then, do we mean by the strange formulation of an ‘aesthetics after finitude’? At first, this notion seems entirely counter-intuitive. Should we not seek to
retain our phenomenal existence as it is, creating art focused not on dehumanization, or even the liquidation of ‘human’ modes of being, but instead on their
sanctity? Should the task of art not be conservational (if not conservative)? It is
the premise of this anthology that the time for such comforting aesthetic husbandry has now passed. The identification of the Anthropocene (an act of naming which intuits an end), the new social and political paradigms of finance capitalism, and the unprecedented cultural, technological and ecological pressures
of life on today’s earth (and perhaps, even off it) leave traditional affective and
representational economies of art wanting. The demands placed upon aesthetics by the contemporary situation are varied. To take one particularly notable
example, the last thirty years have seen a groundbreaking exposure of our neural ‘selves’. The advent of fMRI and new theories of consciousness and decision-making have stripped the humanist aura from the subject of perception and
interpretation.2 Novel scientific images of the thinking and feeling self confound
aesthetic theory precisely by uprooting the model of the ‘self’ that legitimates
it. How does aesthetics—the domain of thinking perception, the beautiful, the
affecting—account for itself in an age where scanners can produce apparently literal images of perception, trace the influences of events below the threshold of conscious apprehension and, indeed, manipulate neural activity without
        2. The work of Thomas Metzinger has been particularly significant in bringing neuroscientific advances to the humanities disciplines. Metzinger’s theories of the self as virtual, rather than something
that is or something that we have, are crucial to any comprehension of a human subject that is neuroscientifically valid rather than simply experientially ratified. See, for instance, Metzinger’s seminal work
Being No One, Boston, MIT Press, 2004.



the need for phenomenal stimulation? What happens when perception can see
itself? Simultaneous with this shift in neuro-affective technologies is an equally unprecedented cognitive demand: the advent of our recognition of climate
change or ecological catastrophe. Conceptually grasping such a large-scale and
distributed change in geophysical dynamics makes unprecedented demands on
human perception because such changes rarely provide local or visible instantiations.3 The phenomenon whereby a major event is not experientially available
to us is not unique to climate change. This structure is replicated today in the
torsions of financial capitalism, a source of major economic crisis and a domain
so rapid and complex that it now operates in excess of perceptual traction—
even for those whose job it is to understand it. 4
Although climate science, neuroscience and contemporary theories of the
market seem to be radically disconnected domains, they all participate in a
broad shift in the possibilities and problematics of perceptive technologies, introducing novel cognitive, environmental and biopolitical circumstances that
an aesthetics bound to the human subject has trouble accounting for. The problem that comes into focus here is one of scale. There is a fundamental mismatch
between our spontaneous apprehension of reality and the scientific data that
contradicts this experience. We can either continue to veer towards ignorance
or we can create new ways to grapple with these complexities.5 Art has a lot to
offer this situation.
As well as being formulated in response to the urgency of the human situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century, these pressures arise alongside the recent and profound shift in contemporary philosophy attributed to
thinkers such as Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, François Laruelle and
Reza Negarestani, among others.6 The work of these thinkers is pertinent to the
        3 . For example, how do we comprehend what Timothy Morton calls a ‘hyperobject’: a thing ‘that
is massively distributed in space and time relative to humans’? Morton’s flattened vision of aesthetic
experience develops hyperobjects as constructions or aggregates that have no specific locality, are inter-objective and are widely distributed. Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects Minneapolis, Minnesota Press,
2013, p. 1.
        4. See Elie Ayache, The Blank Swan: The End of Probability, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 2010. The
aesthetic and ontological implications of high frequency trading and algorithmic capitalism are addressed by Laura Lotti in this volume, see Enter the Black Box: Aesthetic Speculations in the General Economy of Being.
        5 . The recent emergence of the discipline of agnotology, which studies the deliberate manufacture of
ignorance, is a good example of a disciplinary response to this increase in both complexity and vulnerability manufactured by the new challenges presented by neuroscience, climate science and the emergence of finance capitalism. Agnotology is briefly discussed in Laura Lotti’s paper in this volume, see
note 4.
        6. Importantly, the way for such thought has been one paved by feminist thinkers (notably those connected to the materialist and techno-feminist movements of the late twentieth-century) such as Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz, and Sadie Plant. For a discussion of both the pioneering claims and limitations of these thinkers in relation to realist and materialist conceptions of art, see
Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey and Suhail Malik’s introduction to Realism, Materialism, Art, Christoph
Cox, Jenny Jaskey, Suhail Malik (eds.), Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2015, pp. 23-25. More recently, Catherine Malabou has been a forerunner in suturing naturalist theories of brain plasticity to feminist politics in a way that straddles late twentieth century continental philosophy’s investment in deconstruction
and twenty-first century neuroscience, see (for example) Catherine Malabou, Changing Difference, trans.
Carolyn Shread, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011. Meanwhile, a younger generation of feminist thinkers


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

problems raised above in their divestment of the primacy of critical and subject-bound dimensions in philosophical thought, instead giving full weight to
rigorous speculative and pragmatic modalities of exploration and experimentation. The phrase ‘aesthetics after finitude’ is a reference to—and refiguring of—
the title of one of the key catalytic philosophical works of the early 21st century:
Quentin Meillassoux’s extended essay Aprés la finitude or, After Finitude.7 This essay emerged from a wider philosophical project in which Meillassoux develops a
concept of the absolute in order to construct the basis for a realist and materialist
philosophy. Meillassoux argues that philosophy has been impaired by the idea
that there is an inescapable correlation between thought and experience, perhaps the most powerful presupposition in Western philosophy since Kant. Meillassoux’s term, ‘correlationism’, describes a traditional tenet of modern thought
that claims we can only access the world through the distorting lens of experience. The ‘correlationist’ maintains that reason and thought are bounded by
the experiential, and thus any noetic hold on the noumenal is inevitably a contradiction. Meillassoux seeks to construct a habitable space within that contradiction by following its own logic: at once denying a naive purchase on the real
whilst also formalizing an escape route ‘out of’ the phenomenal bind.
After Finitude begins with an appeal to rehabilitate primary and secondary
qualities. A secondary quality, following Meillassoux’s account, is a sensation
that we derive from an object, i.e. we burn when we touch fire. A primary quality is an attribute of an object: for example, its colour. For post-Kantian philosophy, this distinction breaks down almost immediately when we realize that
colour, an attribute of the object that is supposed to be independent of our perception or its effect on us, is in fact entirely dependent on the capacities inherent
to the unique structures that configure and circumscribe human sense perception. Meillassoux, however, wants to restore the possibility of the primary quality, which severs the idiosyncratic affordances of human perception from that
which we know exists. This issue of primary and secondary qualities can be figured as representative of the entire philosophical consensus of ‘correlationism’.
For Meillassoux, ‘what decisively discredited the distinction between primary
and secondary qualities is the very idea of such a distinction: i.e. the assumption
that the “subjectivation” of sensible properties (the emphasis on their essential
link to the presence of a subject) could be restricted to the object’s sensible determinations, rather than extended to all its conceivable properties’.8
are responding in their own ways to the challenges outlined above. Alexandra Pirici and Raluca Voinea’s Manifesto for the Gynecene proposes an ‘expanded’ and ‘inhuman’ humanism, compatible with both
‘machinic desires and existing forms of life’, while Laboria Cuboniks hijacks the formal abstractions of
category theory to outline a plan for the construction of a ‘transmodern’ universalist politics, founded
on the anti-naturalist insights of queer theory and transfeminism in Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation.
Both appear (in German translation) in Dea Ex Machina, Helen Hester and Armen Avenessian (eds.),
Berlin, Merve, 2015, and online (in English): Alexandra Pirici and Raluca Voinea, Manifesto for the Gynecene,, January 2015; Laboria Cuboniks, Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation,, June 2015.
        7. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, London, Continuum, 2008.
        8. Ibid., p. 2.



One of the ways in which Meillassoux will return to primary qualities is to
reassert a renewed form of the Cartesian thesis that ‘all those aspects of the object that can be formulated in mathematical terms can be meaningfully conceived as properties of the object in itself.’9 He then goes to great lengths to show
how a statement such as this is impossible to accept in the current philosophical
milieu; a milieu dedicated to the primacy of the subject: ‘We cannot represent
the “in itself” without it becoming “for us”, or as Hegel put it, we cannot “creep
up on the object from behind” …’.10 Meillassoux’s strategy is exemplary in its attempt to confront Kant on epistemological terms. After all, this was the Critique
of Pure Reason’s brilliant maneouvre—to transfer the dispute between dogmatic rationalism and empirical scepticism onto epistemological terrain, a context
(inspired by the latter) in which Kant could then reconstruct a philosophical position capable of satisfying the demands of a new critical methodology. Consequently, the legacy of finitude is first and foremost an epistemological problem
and—no matter how enthusiastically one wants to hurtle into ‘speculative’ terrain—it does no good to forget that one of the most important objectives of the
first Critique was to purge philosophy of spurious metaphysical constructions that
cannot furnish a proper epistemological foundation for whatever it is they claim.
By engaging Kant’s legacy on its own terms and attacking it at its strongest
point, Meillassoux’s ‘speculative materialism’ discovers an epistemological loophole that opens onto the real. The path it locates between the ‘for us’ and the ‘in
itself’, or the phenomenal and the real, is necessarily one cleaved by knowledge.
Importantly, for Meillassoux, speculative activity is constituted by a
‘non-correlational mode of knowing’, which does not necessarily infer a metaphysical standpoint.11 In fact, he deliberately keeps metaphysics and speculation
separate, defining the ‘factial’ (the absolute facticity of the correlation—the fact
that there might be an ‘in itself’ different from the ‘for us’ and that this ‘might’
refers to a real ‘in itself’) as ‘the very arena for speculation that excludes all metaphysics’ in accordance with the precision that metaphysics either posits a necessary entity or relies on the principle of sufficient reason to access the absolute.12
Thus, for the speculative materialist, the speculative act is buoyed up by the absolute possibility that any theory entertained about the ‘in itself’ is potentially absolutely true, while the correlationist ‘is incapable of disqualifying any hypothesis about the nature of the absolute’.13 Mounted, thus, from the epistemological
foundation that Meillassoux has carefully and painstakingly laid (via the deduction of factiality—and ultimately ‘hyperchaos’), the speculative act attains an
unprecedented level of gravity.
        9. Ibid., p. 3.
        10. Ibid., p. 4.
        11. Ibid., p. 119, italics added.
        12. Ibid., p. 128. ‘Factiality’ is the principle of unreason: ‘everything in the world is without reason,
and is thereby capable of actually becoming otherwise without reason’. Alternatively put, factiality is the fact
that ‘[e]verything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to
logical laws; and this is not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but
by virtue of the absence of any superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing.’ Ibid., p. 53.
        13. Ibid., p. 65.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

At the end of After Finitude, Meillassoux evokes Kant’s declaration that his
critique of reason equates to a Copernican revolution in thought. ‘Yet this is
where we encounter a rather disconcerting paradox …: when philosophers refer to the revolution in thought instituted by Kant as “the Copernican revolution”, they refer to a revolution whose meaning is the exact opposite of the one we
have just identified’, this latter being that of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus,
who—against reigning theological models of the time—discovered the fact of
the earth’s revolution around the sun.14 In light of this decentralization of the human subject’s place in the universe by science, Meillassoux argues that Kant’s
‘Copernican revolution’ is in many ways a ‘Ptolemaic counter-revolution’. For, at
the precise moment that modern science was trying to give us knowledge about
‘the nature of a world without us’ in which ‘the truth or falsity of physical law
is not established with regard to our own existence’, Kant returned humans to
the centre of epistemology. Against Kant, Meillassoux holds fast to the original
‘Copernico-Galilean event’ which ‘institutes the idea of a mathematical knowledge of nature’.15
Outside of Meillassoux’s own employment of the metaphor, the famous
Copernican shift—away from the geocentric model of the universe and the
privileged place of humanity within it, to a much less forgiving cosmic viewpoint—can be understood as a parallel event to the recent developments in neuroscience, the possibility of ecological catastrophe, and the era of algorithmic
capitalism mentioned above. Furthermore, just as the most significant astronomical revolution of early modernity did not unleash some radical potential of
human thought but rather restricted it (buffering the human subject from the
world by a rousing philosophical investment in phenomenal being), the ‘deracinating effect’ (to borrow a favourite phrase of Negarestani’s) of these new developments threatens to turn us further inwards, back towards the safety and familiarity of hermeneutics, the unquestioned valuation of subjective perception,
and a return to the discourse of authenticity.16 Speculative philosophy counters
this by seeking once again to go ‘beyond finitude’ (in Meillassoux’s words)—to
refigure the relation between phenomena, the human subject, and the cosmos
that delivered those Copernican truths in the first place.
Meillassoux is not the only philosopher to attempt to recalibrate our conception of the relationship between the real and the phenomenal without ultimately falling back into the human. Over the last decade, several schools of ‘speculation’ have emerged under the various banners of ‘non-philosophy,’ ‘speculative
realism,’ ‘object oriented philosophy,’ ‘accelerationism’ and ‘new rationalism’.
The 2007 Speculative Realism conference at Goldsmiths, University of London,
was a key event in this history, bringing Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant,
Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux together to sound out novel config        14. Ibid., p. 114.
        15. Ibid., p. 124.
        16. Recent works notable for their rejection of authenticity as a viable locus for political and social
action are Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work,
London, Verso, 2015 and Laboria Cuboniks’ Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation,, June 2015.



urations of the real. The nomenclature of ‘speculative realism’ has become increasingly obsolescent as each of these philosophers has gone on to develop the
role played by realism in their individual projects, yet the initial impetus to go
‘beyond the correlation’ remains.
Grant’s revision of Schellingian Naturphilosophie presents a realism that spans
both nature and the domain of Ideas (with nature as primary but co-productive
with the thought it thinks through). Grant seeks to understand human thought
as the latest product in an asymmetrical, generative, naturalist epistemology.
One that can never turn back to capture the conditions of its own production,
and therefore, is always necessarily incomplete. Grant understands this epistemological rift as a motor for a form of natural-physical speculation that can only
move forwards in time, away from the question-mark of its ground. Epistemology is thus retained in Grant’s thought, but under very specific temporal conditions. Just as nature ‘mountains’ or ‘rivers’ or ‘planetizes’, ‘nature thinks’—
what we discover in thinking nature, is that nature is thinking us.17 This activates,
as Ben Woodard has put it, a productive ‘relation between speculation and the
sciences, between postulates of creative thinking and speculative practices’.18
Grant suggests that this timely re-elaboration of Schelling’s transcendental naturalism operates as an alternative to the static transcendental structure proposed by Kant, and that, if the importance of Schelling’s work has been neglected, it is due to a mix of inaccurate criticism and the formidable bulk of
the writings he produced. This may, as Woodard points out, invite accusations
of ‘occultism’ from the Kantian critic who would prefer to maintain an inherent ontological separation between the human (marked by the capacity for reason) and nature. But such accusations, Woodard continues, can be countered by
the equally virulent claim that the ‘very division of the thinker and the thought
is just as occult and ungrounded as [Schellingian] hyperconnectivity’.19 What
Grant’s Schelling provides, then, is a transcendental structure that immanentizes thinker and thought, explaining thought in terms of its natural constitution.
This amounts to a denial of exhaustive interiority. As Grant has written: ‘The
Idea is external to the thought that has it, the thought is external to the thinker
that has it, the thinker is external to the nature that produces both the thinker
and the thought of the Idea’.20 All are different strata of a productive nature, coordinated via a sheaf of exteriorities, and animated by contingencies on all levels. What this leaves us with is a vision of nature that is ungroundable and irreducible to its aggregated parts.
Graham Harman, famous for developing an ‘object oriented philosophy’
(OOP) that refuses the centrality of human consciousness, has perhaps strayed
        17. Iain Hamilton Grant, ‘Speculative Realism’, Collapse III, Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2007, p. 344.
        18. Ben Woodard, ‘Ultraviolet’ in Prismatic Ecolog y: Ecotheory Beyond Green, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen,
Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2013, pp. 252-269.
        19. Ibid. p. 255.
        20. Iain Hamilton Grant, ‘Speculative Realism’, Collapse III, Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2007, p. 339.
It is important to note that the notion of ‘externality’ here is meant to describe the condition of something raised to a new level, rather than something made foreign.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

furthest from the original premise of overcoming correlationism.21 Like correlationism, object oriented philosophy begins with an affirmation of an epistemological limit: we can never know the reality of the objects we encounter. In
a fashion similar to Meillassoux’s speculative materialism, object oriented philosophy then radicalizes the correlationist position, but where speculative materialism pushes finitude into a positive epistemological premise (‘hyperchaos’),
object oriented philosophy extends finitude beyond the bounds of the human
to bestow it naively upon everything.22 This extension of the negativity of finitude cannot occur without mobilizing a series of spurious metaphysical assertions. Namely, that nonhuman objects encounter other objects as sensual objects (following a consummately human model), and that all objects have a real,
transcendent core that withdraws from access. Rather than presenting a means
by which this failure of knowledge might be overcome, however, object oriented philosophy relocates the finitude of the human subject to the object (or from
the real object to the sensual object that it relates to with sincerity, in Harman’s
schema) where it becomes an essential property, and thereby switches an epistemological assertion for a metaphysical, ontological one. For Harman, what begins as a negative epistemological claim about the human subject becomes a
positive, though untenable, metaphysical claim about the object.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of Harman’s philosophy for those working in art and aesthetics has been his claim that, for OOP, aesthetics is ‘first philosophy’.23 This is sustained by his concept of ‘allure’, an ‘aesthetic’ rather than
epistemological mode of access. As a means of apprehension of the real, allure
operates akin to Heidegger’s broken hammer (in accordance with the model
outlined in Harman’s realist reading of the tool-analysis).24 In order to apprehend something of an object’s real core, one must experience the detachment
of its real, unified essence from its phenomenal accidents. When it surprises us
by coming to pieces in our hands, something that exceeds the hammer’s phenomenal presence makes itself apparent specifically by not being explicable in
terms of the object’s phenomenal instantiation. Allure is thus a modality of failure: in failing to capture the real, allusion forces it to separate from certain sensual qualities, purportedly generating a momentary negative image of the unified, real object. Thus, allure rises up to replace knowledge as the exemplary
instrument of realist discovery. The claim that all objects relate sensually liberates aesthetics from the human-world relation and allows it to exist as a potential modality for all object relations. Furthermore, following Harman, because
the real resides at the heart of every object and necessarily withdraws from access, allure furnishes the sole means of communion between real objects; it is the
        21. See, for example, Graham Harman, Guerilla Metaphyics: Phenomenolog y and the Carpentry of Things,
Chicago, Open Court, 2005 and The Quadruple Object. Winchester, Zero Books, 2011.
        22. As Peter Wolfendale has put it in his recent book on Harman, ‘properly understood, Harman’s
work should be seen not as a critique of correlationism, but a consolidation of its central tenets.’ Peter
Wolfendale, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2015, p. 6. Italics added.
        23. For an AAF critique of this position, see ‘Ontology for Ontology’s Sake’,, April 2013.
        24. Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, Chicago, Open Court, 2002.



singular occasion in which real objects might ‘touch without touching’. Aesthetics, then, not only absorbs epistemology, but in a way that has been very seriously problematized by recent criticism, it absorbs causality as well, leading Harman dangerously close the dogmatic metaphysics he so energetically disavows.25
Object oriented philosophy has, for understandable reasons, been taken up
with great enthusiasm by the art world, ultimately giving artists and other practitioners a ‘philosophical’ explanation of something they had been doing all
along: interrogating the being of the ‘stuff’ they work with, and relishing the
impossibility of resolving art into any definite discursive trajectory. Whether or
not object oriented philosophy will eventually proceed to push art and aesthetics beyond the established orthodoxies of the art world remains an open question, one upon which its value as a problematic thought and therefore an enduring philosophy, ultimately rests.
Ray Brassier’s work on nihilism and philosophical realism seeks to reinstate
‘the coruscating potency’ of reason as an ‘invigorating vector of intellectual discovery rather than a calamitous diminishment’ of the human being in an indifferent world.26 Brassier is the philosopher who has distanced himself most vehemently from what is—or was—called ‘speculative realism’, yet his work stands
as one of the most powerful cases for a reassertion of a philosophy that goes beyond the creation of meaningfulness in or for human existence; Brassier indeed
develops a philosophy of the meaninglessness of the human. His best-known work,
Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, concludes with the claim that ‘it is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction’.27 This allows Brassier to re-vision philosophy as an ‘organon of extinction,’ developing the very task of thought in a speculative register by enabling
it to think that which it is not, or, more specifically, to place thought ‘after finitude’.28 This move also allows us to think that which goes beyond empiricism;
‘extinction,’ Brassier reminds us, ‘is real yet not empirical’.29
Similar themes can be located in the work of Reza Negarestani, whose current philosophical project seeks to sever the umbilical cord between thought and
empirical method. Acknowledging the complexly bounded nature of conceptual
creativity, Negarestani exhorts us to ‘recognize speculative thought as a particular navigational scheme corresponding to schemata of a Universe that explicitly express its contingency, bottomless continuity, invisible layers and alternative
passages or conceive the meaninglessness of the free sign, the unbound modality of the eternal and the in-divisibility of 0 qua nothing of nature for thought’.30
The navigational scheme activates a space in which thought can be unshackled from empiricism, opening passages to futures otherwise foreclosed by a situation that sees thought as receptive rather than enactive. For art, this entails an
        25. Peter Wolfendale, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2015, esp. pp. 97-105.
        26. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007, p. xi.
        27. Ibid., p. 238.
        28. Ibid.
        29. Ibid.
        30. ‘Reza Negarestani, ‘Notes on the Figure of the Cyclone’ in Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, Eugene Thacker (eds), Leper Creativity; Cyclonopedia Symposium, Punctum Books, New York, 2012, p. 290.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

understanding of the creative act as part of an ongoing, open-ended and emancipatory labour of abstraction, for which art’s self-transformation—in complex
unity with other modes of thought and practice—is key. Taking its model from
contemporary mathematics, this ‘labour of abstraction’ describes a conceptual
movement between local and global contexts, and the dynamic, reciprocal modification of thought and matter set in motion by it.31 Because thought and matter
must be held to the intrinsic demands and constraints of one another, subjective
intentionality and objective stubbornness—taken independently—no longer
constitute a sufficient explanation for the paths a vector of exploration will take.
Instead, thought must be deployed to destabilize matter, and matter must be
understood to destabilize thought in a synthetic process of ‘differential-integration’.32 This process is ‘emancipative’ because it incrementally liberates thought
from both external causes (such as material determination) and any teleological
exigency that threatens to restrict it in advance. Thus, art participates in a pragmatic dialectics of turbulence that cannot be isolated from broader political, scientific and cultural concerns bound up, for Negarestani, with the emancipation
of the human qua ‘inhuman’.33
One of the most interesting aspects of these particular lines of ‘speculative’
thought is their commitment to non-academic modes of writing. An investment
in the conceptual possibilities of science fiction, horror and pulp fiction is common to all the thinkers cited above, and can—at least in case of Brassier, Grant
and Negarestani—be traced back to the work of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit and its wild blend of philosophy, fiction, science, occultism and sonic experimentalism. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, or Ccru, was active at the University of Warwick during the mid nineteen-nineties and reflected
the uncompromisingly experimental approach of its founders, Sadie Plant and
Nick Land. Plant is best known for her cyberfeminist writings, usually taking
the form of feminist reconfigurations of technological histories and presented in
a consummately nonlinear fashion, wise to the novel formal exigencies of the
nineties internet and hypertext.34 Although her work has been accused of techno-utopianism or even a total disavowal of the material, Plant always espoused
a rigorous materialism, one that took the virtuality of cyberspace seriously and
attempted to understand the complex nature of the loops that fed embodied female existence into the anarchic and disembodied space of the web.35 Evoking
an imminent shift in agential structures corroborated by the technological de        31. For a sketch of the mathematical models Negarestani seeks to operationalize as epistemological modes of exploration, see Fernando Zalamea, Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics, trans.
Zachary Luke Fraser, Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2012, and Guerino Mazzola, The Topos of Music: Geometric
Logic of Concepts, Theory and Performance, Basel, Birkhäuser, 2002.
        32. Reza Negarestani, Torture Concrete, New York, Sequence Press, 2014, p. 4.
        33. On Negarestani and Brassier’s current philosophical projects in relation to art practice, see Simon O’Sullivan, Accelerationism, Prometheanism and Mythotechnesis, in this volume.
        34. Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
        35. See Plant’s much overlooked essays, Sadie Plant, ‘The Future Looms: Weaving Woman and Cybernetics’, Body Society, vol. 1, no. 3-4, November 1995, pp. 45-64 and Sadie Plant, ‘On the Matrix:
Cyberfeminist Simulations’ in David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy (eds.), The Cybercultures Reader,
London, Routeledge, 2000, pp. 325-336.



velopments of the time, Plant’s works looked forward to an emancipatory future
that would empower women, queers and anybody (or thing, for that matter) traditionally sidelined by the Western notion of what counted as ‘human’. Nick
Land, Plant’s co-conspirator during the years of the Ccru (and indeed, throughout much of the nineteen-nineties), has made a name for himself as academia’s
unassimilable part. His unorthodox approach to philosophy, always conceiving
of it as a multiplicitous, experimental and practical pursuit, culminating in some
of the strangest lectures, conference papers and intellectual and political experiments of the last two decades, has ensured his near-total effacement from histories of institutional thought, and an almost mythological place in pop histories of the time.36 The incandescent energy of his deliberately cryptic texts often
leads to superficial, although impassioned, responses to his work. This is, perhaps, at the cost of a deeper examination of the consequences of his philosophy,
one that contains the germ of many of the strains of speculative thought pursued by the thinkers surveyed in this introduction, as well as those—at one or
two generations’ remove—contained in this book.37
In Land’s philosophy, Kant’s model of experience appears as the product
of a pathological compulsion to control thought’s relation to its anarchic outside, with synthetic a priori judgement as the prototype for what would come
to be known in the idiolect of Land’s experimental fiction as the ‘Human Security System’.38 Auto-prophesying the eventual payoff of his heterodox way of
‘doing’ academia, Land opens ‘Spirit and Teeth’, an essay bearing the polemical subtitle ‘A Preliminary Post-Mortem’, by referring to an outmoded Hegelian Geist as nothing more than ‘parody or nostalgia’, a development that has
been ‘trafficked to the edge of worthlessness’ by Hegel’s successors, ‘before finally succumbing to an irreparable marginalization by the scientific advances of
experimental and behavioural psychology, neurology, neuroanatomy, cognitive
science, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, until it becomes a sentimentalism, a
vague peripheralized metaphor, a joke.’39 At its core, Kantianism enervates the
noumenal by stabilizing it in advance through the consistency of its relation to
the human subject. Radical exteriority proves troublesome for phenomenology because it can only be examined in this repressed form: its utter indifference is always already reconfigured as human-correlated difference. True openness to alterity appears only in the lineaments of death, a folding of the exterior
        36. Simon Reynolds, ‘Renegade Academia: The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit’ (unpublished feature for Lingua Franca, 1999), Energy Flash, http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.
sg/2009/11/renegade-academia-cybernetic-culture.html, 3rd November, 2003.
        37. See Marc Couroux, ‘Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore’; Adam
Hulbert ‘Folding the Soundscape: A Speculative ad hoc Account of Synthes/is Plateaux in relation
to Actual Control’; Simon O’Sullivan ‘Accelerationism, Prometheanism and Mythotechnesis’, Chris
Shambaugh ‘The Emergence of Hyperstition’, and Amy Ireland ‘Noise: An Ontology of the Avant-garde’ in this volume.
        38. Nick Land, ‘Meltdown,’ in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, Robin Mackay and Ray
Brassier (eds.), Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011, 443. Elsewhere, Land refers to Kant’s critical philosophy as
‘the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth.’ Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, London, Routledge, 1992, p. 2.
        39. Nick Land, ‘Spirit and Teeth: A Preliminary Post-Mortem’, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings
1987-2007, Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier (eds.), Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011, p. 175.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

back into the interior, the inscription of an irrecuperable excess into the system
which must expel it in order to persist. 40 Like Meillassoux, Land sees Kantian
critique as modernity’s founding anxiety (a pre-apprehension of capitalist synthesis), but where Meillassoux deploys a reinvigorated philosophical rationalism
against philosophical irrationality, Land actuates his critique of critique beyond
the frontiers of both philosophy and the transcendental human subject, returning during the night to smuggle heterogeneous matter over their borders. 41 ‘To
repeat Kantianism’ he writes ‘is to perpetuate the exacerbative displacement of
critique, but to exceed it is to cross the line which divides representation from the
real, and thus to depart both from philosophy and from the world that has expelled it into its isolation. Critique is a matter of boundaries… It is inherent to
critique that a terrain of unthinkability is delineated, or that limits are set to the
exercise of theoretical endeavour’. 42 Whatever it is that lies beyond the jurisdiction of the Human Security System, something other than philosophy will be
required to make contact with it.
This willingness to move beyond the domain of legitimate philosophical expression arises from a shared desire (inherent to the thought of the real) to speak
from or with the outside, as well as being indicative of a more general drive to
collapse theory into practice. This connection has been developed more recently by Eugene Thacker in his Horror of Philosophy trilogy, in Negarestani’s crypto-fictive text Cyclonopedia, Jussi Parrika’s The Anthrobscene, and Benjamin Bratton’s Dispute Plan to Prevent Future Luxury Constitution. 43
The essays in this volume approach the question of an aesthetics after finitude with a variety of different concerns. The ‘post-empirical’ world imagined
in the philosophies detailed above is also about new power structures. Laura
Lotti’s essay considers neoliberalism as a regime that secures and distributes
power via aesthetic means. By investigating the aesthetic operations of neoliberal hegemony, Lotti elucidates several hypotheses for what it means to make
‘sense’ of power today. Other essays approach what we take to be the companion
phenomenon to this age of fiscal crisis: climate change and the advent of the Anthropocene. Three essays deal directly with speculative approaches to the environment. Prudence Gibson delves into the puncturing possibilities of a fictional
and hyper-objective fly. She enacts environmental adaptation and sustainability
by writing alongside French artist Herbert Duprat’s caddisfly artworks, and as
        40. See Nick Land, ‘Teleoplexy’ in #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, Robin Mackay and Armen
Avenessian (eds.), Falmouth, Urbanomic, 2014, pp. 509-520.
        41. Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, (London, Routledge,
1992) p. 27. In his later work Land would hand critique over to an a-subjective, materialist technics that
is ‘increasingly thinking about itself’, invoking the dissolution of theory into the pure practicality of
self-generating matter as a means of subverting the distinctions between cognitive representation and
fictional speculation, as well as human and machinic agencies.
        42. Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, (London, Routledge,
1992) pp. 5-6.
        43. Eugene Thacker, Horror of Philosophy vols.1-3 (In the Dust of this Planet, Starry Speculative Corpse, Tentacles Longer than Night), Winchester, Zero Books, 2011-2015; Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, Melbourne,, 2008; Jussi Parikka, The Anthrobscene, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2015, and
Benjamin H. Bratton, Dispute Plan to Prevent Future Luxury Constitution, Berlin, Sternberg, 2015.



an encounter between theory and fiction. Douglas Kahn’s chapter is a heliological examination of the geologic, and the ascendancy of the geological during
the Anthropocene, whilst urging us to keep carbon in the ground. His reinterpretation of the Icarus myth, ‘Reverse Icarus’, tells the provocative story of the
burning earth. In ‘Picture that Cyclone’ Stephen Muecke considers the bugarrigarra vision of a cyclone. For Muecke, the bugarrigarra (‘the Dreaming’) renders the cyclone both a ‘strange-attractor’ and a ‘hyperobject’, providing a model by which to rupture the ‘zone of exclusion’ around Nature characteristic of
modern thought.
As Muecke has written elsewhere, a speculative aesthetics opens up a definition and field of practice for art that protects the autonomy of the artwork:
‘The point of a speculative aesthetic is that space is opened up for artworks to
engage with even more force than before. Engage with what or with whom?
With the viewer, certainly. With the art institutions, certainly… with politics,
even with the sciences… But without reducing art in each case to something else:
to a human emotion, to making a living or a reputation, to a political necessity or a scientific truth’. 44 Thomas Sutherland’s essay tackles this problem directly, addressing the philosophical tradition that views art as secondary to the a
priori, in terms of the seemingly contradictory philosophical ‘use’ of art to illustrate that very a priori. Sutherland develops a rigorous account of Laruelle’s
non-standard aesthetics, showing how it offers a way out of these traditional aesthetic stalemates.
Alongside these examinations of the economic and ecological implications
for aesthetics, four essays consider ‘aesthetics after finitude’ in relation to narrative, poetics and signification more broadly. Baylee Brits investigates a theory of
‘generic literature’ in terms of theories of infinity and totality. Her essay looks at
the way that the generic sign—a concept developed in Meillassoux and Badiou’s
work—can be found in narrative fiction. A generic literature is the form of a literary aesthetics that is ‘after finitude.’ Christian Gelder considers the relationship between mathematics and poetry through Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Ses purs
ongles’, arguing that sound remains poetry’s minimal condition, even when it is
dealing with ‘nothing’, in contrast to Cantorian mathematics. Tessa Laird unscrambles the nested vagina of the chaotic mother goddess Tiamat in Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, focusing on the preface by Kristen Alvanson. She charts
the trope of the colour pink as a feminine gnosis throughout this text and as lipstick, matching sweaters, nail polish and flowers in related film, sci-fi and video
art. Amy Ireland’s contribution dramatizes the limits of human modes of representation, drawing creative production out of its restricted domain within the
arts and applying it to the cosmos itself. Alien cities, parables about rats, Italian futurism, the steam engine and the cybernetics of Nick Land and Michel
Serres come together in the construction of a receiver for signals transmitting
from outside.
Hyperstition and sonic theory infiltrate further chapters, converging in experimental approaches to categories of knowledge and experience. Chris Sham        44. Prudence Gibson, The Carpentry of Speculative Things, UNSW Sydney 2012, n.p.


Baylee Brits, Prudence Gibson, Amy Ireland

baugh, faced with the problem of elaborating the concept of hyperstition, presents us instead with an enigmatic document, skating through strange temporal
loopholes to demonstrate hyperstition in the only way truly appropriate to the
concept itself—via the apocryphal intensification of coincidences. Marc Couroux and Adam Hulbert’s texts conspire with each other, extending this trajectory in the direction of sound studies, deploying the concept of hyperstition to
explore modes of resistance, co-optation, and reconfiguration of the phono-affective control structures inherent in late capitalism. In ‘The Nuclear Sonic: Listening to Millennial Matter’ Lendl Barcelos seeks a way to ‘sonically interrogate’ zones of exclusion created by nuclear catastrophes. Barcelos initially looks
at work by Jacob Kirkegaard and Peter Cusack to elucidate a form of ‘nuclear sonic investigation’, before turning to analyse sound works of exceptionally long duration by Jem Finer and John Cage. Barcelos’ preliminary questions
and speculations on ‘millenial matter’ open up the possibility of nuclear listening or listening radioactively. Finally, Simon O’Sullivan’s essay surveys the
strengths and weaknesses of Accelerationism and Prometheanism in relation to
art practice and subjectivation, focusing on different forms of ‘fictioning’—from
the afrofuturist mythologies of Sun Ra and the assemblages of Mike Kelley to
the hyperstitional practices of the Ccru—and finds them wanting. In response
to what he perceives as a dearth of libidinal content and an adequate theory of
the subject, O’Sullivan proposes the practice of mythotechnesis, a form of collective experimental and synthetic modelling that operates on a diagonal between rational and affective modes of apprehension in order to generate unforseen and unknowable possibilities in the midst of the given and the known.
The varied and fractious ‘new realisms’ and ‘new materialisms’ explored at
the beginning of this introduction have inevitably stultified into camps divided by allegiances to one or another thinker. The volume that we present here
has no such allegiance, and does not seek to present or develop a single line or
type of thought. Indeed, we attempt to move past the groups and disputes of this
decade of speculation to present cutting edge work that exceeds the parameters
of what is now an entrenched ‘scene’. Equally, these essays are not beholden to
the original ‘anti-Kantian’ requirement that characterised germinal speculative
thought. Rather, the essays in this volume present different positions on speculation and participate in different readings of Kant and the tradition of critique,
appropriate to a rapidly transforming constellation of ideas and practices liberated from the strictures of factional fidelity.

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the
Marc Couroux

In December 1995, I found an unsigned note tacked to the student board in the
music building of McGill University. It stated (in broken English) that shortly after I had participated in a series of neurological experiments testing perfect pitch ability, a conversation had been overheard which suggested there was
more to these sessions than met the ear. The message, destroyed in a house
fire ten years later, alleged that a neural program or ‘algorithm’ could be implanted in subjects with substantial mnemonic capacities who are also ‘good
hummers’, though the modalities of this invasive operation remain to this day
utterly mysterious. A stimulus of some kind was to trigger an internal generation of melodies, each of which would get stuck until expunged, externalized
by humming, jumpstarting contagious circulation. Though the experimenters were apparently of mixed feelings concerning the effectiveness of this implantation (as the note indicated, if in a tortured tongue), the intention was that
these generations would proliferate as anticipations of corporately-valenced
What follows is an attempt, admittedly provisional, to digest the implications
of this still-cryptic transmission. It traverses multiple creative iterations tasked
with pinging some of the still-murky domains adumbrated by the haunting frequency of this aberrant missive, concretized by subsequent investigation into
corporate technologies of viral sonic infestation before online modalities definitively entered their metastatic phase. This method is adopted in order to situate
the 1995 event as a lynchpin in the elaboration of a network of sonically abductive procedures instantiated by the imperatives of emergent neuromodulatory
research. To dismiss this communication (however roundabout) as the practical
joke of a conspiratorial crank would occult the opportunities it affords to induce


Marc Couroux

effective revalencings of psychosonic capture operations into forces hurtling towards a future beyond capitalist instrumentalization.
What concerns us here pertains to the domain of the phonoegregore, a spectral
sonic cabal. Though the diagram (fig. 1) which accompanies this debriefing appears split into upper and lower realms—the upper assembling elements constitutive of cybercapitalist circulation, the lower, techniques for intensifying, neutralizing, subtending such elements—it is in reality a totality the parts of which
can be equally appropriated by any phonomagus, and employed to leverage the
disposition of a given spacetime. In other words and at all times, the descriptive
modes used below to frame contemporary cyberaffordant machinations can be simultaneously thought as prescriptive invocations, taking as credo that any position asserting that neurobiological abduction by Capital is inevitable and hermetically foreclosed to any possible escape is insufficiently nuanced. The notion
that art and its constitutive assemblages might become preemptive again, functionally virulent, instead of playing perpetual catch-up to the new (military-industrial-entertainment-etc.) avant-gardes of our era, is absolutely key.
Edison is said to have expressed his fear of a shadowy phonic consortium
gaining access to the disembodied, objectified words of an individual, ripe for
circulatory contamination. His anxieties were well founded. The schizophonically1 mobilized effects of recording and transmission technologies were indeed
appropriated by the few to gain power over the many—see Hitler’s use of radio (and Roosevelt’s fireside chats), as well as the fake broadcasts (ferried by a
CIA-run radio station, overseen by future Watergate co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt) that precipitated the fall of Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz in
1954 (the Árbenz Effect moniker applies to any mètic2 hijack of technological predispositions to achieve maximal results). One might do well to also recall the
brutally effective hyperphonochasmic operations targeting Democratic candidate
Howard Dean in 2004,3 acoustically, electronically isolating the excitable politi        1. Schizophonia = split sound, referring (especially) to the electronic decoupling of sound from its
source both spatially and temporally. Coined by Canadian composer and acoustic ecologist R. Murray Schafer. However, as sonic theorist David Cecchetto points out, sound, in general, ‘only comes to be
at all through the differential act of hearing, which is the very act that would place it where it isn’t.’ In
this sense, all sound is properly schizophonic. See David Cecchetto, Humanesis: Sound and Technological
Posthumanism, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2014, p. 2.
        2. From mètis, cunning intelligence in Ancient Greece. According to Detienne and Vernant, mètis “implies a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine
flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years.” Mètis functions in situations that are “transient,
shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous…which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact
calculation or rigorous logic.” Because of its essentially deceptive, resourcefully stratagematic character, mètis was “thrust into the shadows, erased from the realm of true knowledge,” though it is enjoying
a renaissance in contemporary times. See Marcel Detienne & Jean-Pierre Vernant, Les ruses de l’intelligence: La mètis des grecs, Paris, Éditions Flammarion, 1974. See also these recent publications: François
Jullien, A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press,
2004. Robert C. H. Chia & Robin Holt, Strateg y Without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action, New
York, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, ‘Ghost in the Shell-Game: On
the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence’, The Funambulist Papers, 45, 2013. (
        3 . Lisa Parks, ‘The 2004 Presidential Election and the Dean Scream’ (February 4, 2005), available at

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore

Fig. 1—The Domain of the Phonoegregore



Marc Couroux

cian from the crowd whose enthusiasm spurred him on in the first place, a case
study of phonoegregoric media manipulation reaping the advances made by
Glenn Gould and his multiple microphone phonochasmic experiments from the
mid 1970s. 4
However, the phonoegregore of note here is presumed to operate quite differently, exerting control through the mobilization of biosonic propensities of select individuals—musicians with perfect pitch—converting the latter into hosts for
a continuous production of abductive melodic tropes through embodiment and
externalization. In 1995, I underwent a series of experiments charged with uncovering the neural correlates of perfect pitch.5 Neural activity occurring during pitch recognition exercises was visually tracked via a Positron Emission Tomography scan. As far as I knew then, these probes were exclusively conducted
for this purpose. Though the additional abilities pertaining to memorization
and humming were part of the introductory questionnaire, they had not been
flagged as experimental variables. The note’s most compelling allegation concerned the implantation of a tune-generating algorithm, a detail which resonated retrospectively during a very strange period beginning one month after the
last experiment, in which curious melodies began to surface in my mind while
transiting through various public spaces. These fragments of tunes emerged
spontaneously, like slogans, taglines or streaks of graffiti appended to the particular structure being traversed. It wasn’t quite like the phenomenon of cryptomnesia, in which something memorized is experienced as new on recollection,
as these tunes were autonomous, paradoxical entities at once familiar yet indubitably alien.6
Regardless of their provenance, these melodies functioned as earworms, sonic aberrations that obsessively reiterate without conscious intent, often ingrained
by febrile attempts to recollect a hastily adumbrated musical passage, now inaccessible. (The Shazam app and its robust fragment identification would later render such mental efforts redundant.) The common technique of earworm
neutralization consisting in replacing the fragmented hook into its original context by listening to the entire piece from whence it came (thus recovering the integral whole, an overall structural picture in which every element is in its place, The “crowd” version
of the “Scream” is available at, while the broadcast version can be found at
        4 . These recordings involved the alignment of an array of microphone pairs extending from the interior of the piano (close mic) to the back of the hall, allowing for cinematic zooming away from and
into the musical object of attention, enabling constant shuttling between an intimate closeness devoid
of context to an overpowering of the putative signal by its resonant effects. See Gould’s mixing session
for Scriabin’s Désir and Caresse dansée (Op. 57) at
        5 . An individual who can effortlessly identify a pitch (by its letter name or Hertz value) or can (inversely) reproduce one accurately on request is said to possess perfect or absolute pitch, in contrast with an
individual with relative pitch for whom the relations between pitches take precedence.
        6. It was closer to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E affiliated poet Hannah Weiner’s clairvoyant writing: ‘I
SEE words on my forehead IN THE AIR on other people on the typewriter on the page.’ (Epigraph
to the Clairvoyant Journal 1974: March-June Retreat, New York, Angel Hair Books, 1978.) See

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore


pace Adorno7) was singularly ineffectual. The worm lacked affiliation with any
previously extant entity. In effect, these slogans were not synecdoches for greater totalities, but simply splinters that referred to nothing but themselves, lying
in wait for future associations. The infectious nature of these self-generated superearworms induced an irrepressible urge to surface them by humming them
out, thereby donating them to unsuspecting, temporarily adjacent bystanders
(perhaps in the vain hope that the latter’s attenuated aptitude for phonographic incorporation might neutralize the bug).
In retrospect, I began to understand how the recipient might function as
a cog, a temporary way station for a symbiant intelligence within a larger system. A virtual superearworm fund, latently percolating in each subject, periodically engenders singularly robust iterations affected with a sufficiently high
glischroidal8 index. The need for a ‘good hummer’ began to make sense, externalization being integral to transfer. According to the tenets of cognitive capitalism, in full swing by that time, the individual is enslaved via the capture of what
Marx termed general intellect; her affects, ideas, communicational skills vampirized, creative intensities sucked out and put to work. The evolving earworm
diagram described here appeared to function analogously to emergent cyberaffordant modes, proper to the just-in-time phase of capitalism, which requires a cybernetic system of instant feedback in order to minimize stockpiling and continue accumulation. The constant extraction of information from every domain of
an individual’s life (that occurs most often in the background of daily activities)
operates to preempt future initiative by constantly predicting her next consumptive move, thereby embedding her ever deeper. Noise, far from being a nuisance
to the system, is in fact essential to periodically restart it. ‘There is no failure,
only feedback’—a fundamental maxim of neuro-linguistic programming.
This actualization of the future in the present effectively (but stealthily) closes off any options the system cannot afford, pretending to openness (and convincing the subject of this) while operating within a set of clearly delimited boundaries. Norbert Wiener’s first-order cybernetics9 aimed to predict the movement
and behaviour of enemy aircraft during WWII, by continuously gathering information about the opponent and feeding it back into the system, gradually improving the latter’s predictive ability. After the war, the Macy Conferences provided the impetus for an improved, second-order cybernetics to be applied to
the social realm, in order to keep the death drive from exploding into actualiza        7. Theodor Adorno, ‘On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening’, in The Culture Industry: The Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 29-60. Adorno lamented the manner in which the listener is absolved of the responsibilities of structural listening through newfound abilities allowing ingress to a unified work outside of its linear (irreversible, ephemeral) unfolding,
resulting in its fragmentation into islands of “sensual pleasure torn away from the functions which give
them meaning”; the greater concern being the depletion of the individual’s ability to patiently construct
a long-term narrative by negotiating discrepancies, contradictions, polarities.
        8. Glischroid, from the Greek γλισχροσ (viscous), is a term appropriated by psychiatrist Françoise
Minkowska-Brokman to describe the “epileptoid personality structure” and reappropriated by Félix
Guattari to characterize “affect (that) sticks to subjectivity.” See Anna Munster, An Aesthesia of Networks:
Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technolog y, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2013, pp 110-113.
        9. Cybernetic, from kubernesis (Gr.) = steering, governing.


Marc Couroux

tion again. ‘How would we rig the maze or problem-box so that the anthropomorphic rat shall obtain a repeated and reinforced impression of his own free
will?’ dixit Gregory Bateson.10 Indeed, the Bateson Nudge is still employed today by the mavens of choice architecture, to preemptively and strictly limit possibility under-the-radar. (The hyperphonochasm11 is a particularly astute version of
it.) The möbius modality is the means by which an individual, a culture, a society
become system immanent. It governs imperceptible condition mutations through
a creeping incrementation, each notch insufficiently distinct from the previous
to significantly rupture a perception of status quo. It is the regime under which
the emergence of a new stratum of abduction cannot be apprehended by dint
of an individual’s submission to an endless succession of presents, steadily progressing through control and communication feedback processes. Radical systemic shifts—phase changes—are only meant to be detected retrospectively (if
at all), by which time reversal potential has been fully quashed into impotent
The public spreading of inscrutable melodic tags might be better understood in terms of later developments in priming, indispensable to the cyberaffordant model, involving a slow, background introduction of information that becomes creepingly pervasive, such that the figure—or product—that eventually
emerges against this inscrutable canvas appears inevitable, logical.
Where memory is concerned, musicians, given the mnemonic imperatives
of the profession, constitute the greatest percentage of individuals disposed to
storing phonographic incorporations, internalized auditory material of extended duration (most typically of a musical nature) that can be recalled at will. Details regarding frequency, rhythm, dynamics, timbre, and associated effects are all internally audible and accurately reproduced on cue. Auditory resolution increases
dramatically among musicians endowed with perfect pitch abilities. A particular instantiation of the incorporation will often be triggered by an environmental factor—linguistic, musical, affective—that engenders internal playback (a
phenomena known more commonly as phonomnesis). Baddeley suggests that recorded material might be incorporated via a subvocal rehearsal process that continuously refreshes the memory trace through the use of one’s inner voice.13 This
        10. Gregory Bateson, ‘Social Planning and the Concept of Deutero-Learning’, in Steps to an Ecolog y of
Mind, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 170.
        11. The hyperphonochasm surgically severs a subject from its acoustical milieu, delivering it into schizophonic chaos through a judicious control of reverberation. Beyond its acoustical valence, reverberation indexes relative (critical) distance from an originary impulse via the attendant distortions the latter has shouldered along the way; the inevitable accretion of rumours (noise = rumore (It.)), latencies and
other détournements makes plain the need for robust reverb management, and a more vigorous promotion of vectors deemed useful to persist (and to be reinjected into actuality) once the original emission has died off.
        12. The möbius strip is a paradoxical entity with only one boundary, simultaneously one-sided and
two-sided: the tracing of a continuous line on its surface—without ever breaking contact—involves the
contouring of what appear to be two loops, which one might term introductory and normalization cycles.
The first cycle is completed when the point on the opposite side of the inceptive point is paradoxically
reached (without deliberately changing sides); the second, when the original point on the initial side is
regained. In fact, there is only one global loop that encompasses both cycles.
        13. Alan Baddeley and Barbara Wilson, ‘Phonological Coding and Short-Term Memory in Patients

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore


process appears indispensable in extending the length of the incorporation beyond that afforded by the capacities of the phonological store, which can only maintain three to four seconds of material in active memory before decay sets in.
It still remained unclear why particular fragments became obsessively
lodged. I returned to the idea of noise as that which tethers one more securely to a cybernetic system. The day before leaving for an extended vacation, I
watched a 1970s TV movie entitled Strange Homecoming,14 which included a scene
enveloped by an oddly memorable musical theme. Away from my hypomnesic environment, I spent an entire week fruitlessly attempting through various mental procedures to surface the irritant. Back home, I maniacally scrubbed over
the same music15 until it began looping in my mind autonomously. Though the
incongruity of this particular theme fostered the fixation, it could not have become ingrained without my vigorous efforts. (Mètic intelligence would be impotent without an understanding of how one is as implicated in the mechanisms of
entrapment as the putative target.)
The incongruity index expresses the degree of deviation from normative melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic conditions that requires excess cognition on the
part of the listener, absorbed in the effort of identifying the anomalous nature of
the mysterious event. This surplus effort to pull back perceived incongruity into
an existing category induces an earworm—a more or less deeply lodged fragment, most often of music, that appears to have no purpose other than its obsessive reenactment in the mind of the afflicted individual—which is why sonic
branders (inspired by the work of Dr. James Kellaris, among others) are interested in mathematizing a particular hook’s deviation in order to more effectively abduct. In addition, formulas exist that calculate the average amount of repetitions needed to naturalize a deviation, contingent on its incongruity index. This
naturalization process is tantamount to the half-life of the deviation—its gradual decay into the normative where it can do no more direct harm, though all the
while it effectively conditions future potential by withdrawing into an expanding virtual. Types of deviation include: an awkward melodic leap of incipient
unattractiveness, an unexpected harmonic modulation, rhythmic asymmetries
and foreshortenings, metric aberrations, etc. These deviations are often sucked
into controllable territory by the conscious mind without undue effort and without lasting parasitic effect, which is why the magickal art of deviation requires
constant practice and perpetual amendment in alignment with prevailing sensible distributions of cultural matter.
I had no recourse but to design a recontouring machine, given that ironic mental control (as theorized by Wegner16) only redoubles earworm embedding. Such
a device is populated by an inalienably local (therefore provisional) set of deviwithout Speech’, Journal of Memory and Language, 24, 1985, pp. 490-502.
        15. A video work, Strange Homecoming: A Structural Comedy, restaged the febrile backwards and forwards scrubbing described here (this time silent, unlike the sonorous rewinds and fast-forwards of Adumbrate_57):
        16. Daniel M. Wegner, ‘Ironic Processes of Mental Control’, Psychological Review, Vol. 101, No. 1, 1994,
pp. 34-52.


Marc Couroux

ational functions feverishly tasked with the de-emphasis qua defusing of a resilient earworm, especially of algorithmic, superearworm variety. This machine
discretizes the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic components of an earworm in order to calculate iterated deviations, peculiarly calibrated to donate a subliminal impression of change whilst preserving coherent contour-identity—a fractal
positioning, in other words, erratically vacillating between familiarity and paramnesia (déjà entendu). The recontouring machine operates in real-time via deaf
recording procedures that segregate components within a given textural totality
from one another, capturing them in strict indifference to adjacent context in
order to curtail the temptation to produce deliberately memorable gestalts. Recontouring machines have been known to backfire, chiefly from insufficiently
rigorous deviation design: an anomaly that too drastically exceeds parametric
boundaries risks becoming a new object of obsession for the listener, unaware
that an earworm is about to ingress. 84 recontourings of the Strange Homecoming
theme were generated and chained to each other without pause, yielding a surface impression of perpetual restarting—as if looping back to the beginning—
even as each variation secretes a remaindered, infra_legible difference from the
next. A delicate operation.17
With this in mind, I remembered that not all of the self-generated melodies
had successfully lodged themselves. Only those with a sufficient incongruity index managed to gestate until expulsion. The next stage was crucial: the reboning,
bodily reappropriation of the recombinant tune-machine’s automated generations through humming. An affectively valenced, flexibilized, boned hum considerably lubricates transfer to unsuspecting temporarily adjacent individuals.
Glenn Gould attributed his increasing incapacity to accurately perform a given musical passage to the overwhelming influence of foreclosing mentations,
preemptions of the future, the anticipation of difficulties ahead in a given timeline physically blowing back in the present. Gould’s solution to this debilitating
condition consisted of obliterating any acoustical evidence of ongoing physical
efforts, masking it by the massed effects of multiple vacuum cleaners, televisions,
and radios operating at full blast.18 Once a properly embodied relationship with
the passage in question was restored, so was its sonorous resultant (i.e. the noisemakers were shut off ). Some accounts report successful displacement of phonographic incorporations through humming, though the testimonies of many
primers suggest that this form of repeated externalization has little long-term effect on the integrity of the inner recording.
In my case, the accretion of a number of debilitating, self-perpetuating failure-inducing algorithms quickened the demise of my career as contemporary
music interpreter, no longer able to negotiate the affordance model of the linear concert ritual still predicated on structural listening,19 a collapsing crystalliza        17. This accumulated bundle of infra-variations was later entitled Structural Listening, accessible at
        18. Jonathan Cott, Conversations with Glenn Gould, Boston, Little, Brown & Company, 1984, pp. 36-41.
        19. In this modality, listening is organized according to a constant push and pull between parts of a
given structure and the latter’s gradual, temporally irreversible consolidation. Such a framework, mobilized by constant dialectical interchange within linear evolution, reflected a more general conception

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore


tion of past-present-future much favoured by Adorno. My brain was anticipating
a model that had not yet arrived. A few years after the onset of this algorithmic
condition, which could not seemingly be put to any productive use, I attempted an exorcism of these embedded modalities via the fractal playing-out of infra_legibly distinct contrapuntal entanglements, one indistinguishable from the
next. le contrepoint académique (sic)—performed at the hallowed Festival de Musique
Actuelle de Victoriaville in 200020 —was a rather desperate venture constituted by
a permanent refusal to settle on any possible object of obsession, seeking to outwit mental melodic production through a logic of constant rupture and bodymind short-circuiting.
The Squier number (named after Major General George Owen Squier, founder of the Muzak Corporation) describes the composite degree of discrepancy between a recording and the (phonographic) incorporation of it by a subject. Internal playbacks of incorporations are often induced via auditory latching, within
the general purview of entrainment, a mode by which a subject attunes to environmental signals, often manifesting through the autonomic synching of bodily movements with adjacent rhythms. (Entrainment is also indispensable in the
maintenance of collective egregoric synchronization.) Latching will occur most
often without one being aware of it—given a generalized passivity towards music’s schizophonic ubiquity—frequently coming to consciousness retrospectively, after the original signal has dissipated; the simple realization of the just-heard
sound’s disappearance may internally reinstate it, automatically inducing the
playback of an extant phonographic incorporation. A significant enough deviation between the subject’s incorporation and its analogue diffused through the
air may foster, on becoming aware of the discrepancy (on reentry), a feeling Keats
might have described as embarrassment, a surreptitious coming-upon-oneself, a
momentarily unsettling non-self-concordance. Raymond Scott’s 1964 Soothing
Sounds For Baby series, consisting for the most part of extended repetitive rhythmic structures, was marketed as music to put your child to sleep. In fact, portions of his work may well have been used to investigate latching potential in
very small infants temporarily caught in the gap between conscious and unconscious mind. Though cybercapitalist power has harnessed the autonomic valences of entrainment, binding them to individual consumption, any publically
disseminated stimulus risks fomenting unlikely bonds between subjects mutually interpellated by it, who may choose to negotiate and overpower it together,
through discrepant reappropriations, rebonings.
However, concomitant with the gradual substitution of the jingle-slogan by
the brand-password—in the wake of sensory overload and the increasing unreliaof life as an ongoing narrative, in which one’s self-situation depends on the ability to form continuities,
establish polarities. Such auto-fashioning requires for its continuing potency a foundational stability
hard to come by within post-Fordist precarity, which dissolves permanent horizons into expedient, expendable presents, anxious instants insufficiently energetic to foment productive bonding.
        20. Fragments of this performance can be viewed at The performance garnered hyperbolic reviews symptomatic of a generalized inability to ground its paradigm-evading strategies. For an assessment 10 years on, see Marc Couroux, ‘Introductory note to le
contrepoint académique (sic)’, Le Merle, Vol. 0, No. 0, Autumn 2011, pp. 49-52 (https://www.academia.


Marc Couroux

bility of time—audio branders had developed the technique of preemptive self-distortion, initially to defeat issues glaringly exposed by the 1989 release of John
Oswald’s Plunderphonics album in which the genetic structures of iconic pop were
subjected to disfiguring manoeuvres of urgent concern to the corporate phonoegregore, fearing disastrous and potentially irreversible image-damage. (This
explanation runs contrary to the general consensus that the records were destroyed purely for reasons of copyright violation.) Researchers speculated that
if they endowed their sigils with capacities to absorb distortion from all sides
with no loss of integrity—chiefly through the timbral engineering of a unique
soundprint—any future attempt at détournement by phonoinsurgents could be
preemptively forestalled.21 As Teilhard de Chardin put it: ‘All real integration is
based on prior differentiation. […] Only union within diversity is creative. It increases complexity, and brings about higher levels of organization’.22
I then understood why the phonoegregore was not content to simply implant
a robustly immutable earworm, but instead a program for generating embodied variations. It was preemptive self-distortion in full florescence, correlated to
the subtleties of the incongruity index. Instead of running the risk of a melodic trope decaying into ineffectiveness, better to constantly induce variations displaying sufficient incongruity to force automatic pullback and redoubled implantation. When a melodic figure in the same lineage eventually emerged in
the context of an advertisement, it would appear as new (incipience effect), and yet
distinctly primed for by a multiplicity of same-but-different entities. This avoidance of a too crude ground-to-figure correlation might explain the success of the
phonoegregore at covering its tracks.
A faultline in the cyberaffordant paradigm rears its head: the possibility of
ruination by overidentification, in which too-rapid dispersal blows back, prematurely
terminating the future effectiveness of a particular viral entity. This was acutely evident in 2001 with the punctual ascent and quick oversaturation of Kylie
Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, the title itself reflective of a cavalier arrogance too sure of its abductive potency. Never underestimate the indeterminate potential of bad connections.
Ejection from the cybernetic folds of the perpetually preemptive phonoegregore can be equally dispatched via the strategic deployment of psychedelic adjacencies, formations inevitably spawned within a colloidal23 dispersion in which
        21. PSD recasts a common technique among institutions of control, involving the integration of plausibly comprehensive internal critique and dissent into a corporate image, multiple alibis conspiring to
disguise a severely curtailed range of possibilities, such that resistance is promptly declawed. The perception of sufficiently legitimate options encourages the continued occlusion of the operating system
(normalized, therefore inaccessible to direct engagement) within which each choice has already been
        22. ‘Toute intégration réelle se fonde sur une différenciation préalable. […] Seule l’union dans la diversité est créatrice. Elle accroît la complexité, conduit à des niveaux plus élevés d’organisation.’ Cited
in Tiqqun, ‘L’hypothèse cybernétique’, in Tout a failli, vive le communisme!, Paris, La Fabrique éditions,
2009, p. 278. English translation:
        23. Colloid: ‘A homogeneous non-crystalline substance consisting of large molecules or ultramicroscopic particles of one substance dispersed through a second substance. Colloids include gels, sols, and
emulsions; the particles do not settle, and cannot be separated out by ordinary filtering or centrifuging
like those in a suspension.’ (OED)

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore


perpetually recombinant auditory surfaces enter into temporary electrical relationships with one another by virtue of haphazard temporal and spatial proximities. (Psyche + delos = made manifest to the mind). The baker’s dough analogy
is fitting: two extreme points on a slab become adjacent after a mathematically-determinable number of folds.24 Terms need only hang together in the same
general spacetime for factual coalescence to occur.25 Phonoegregoric propaganda understandably deplores the waning of attention and concentration characteristic of colloidal capitalism (a lachrymose pining for an empty category considering William James’s reminder of how focus and distraction are perpetually
complicating each other), fearful of an uncontrolled festering of the viral powers
of psychedelic adjacency. Indeed, a state of permanent distraction—the primary
perceptual modality of the twenty-first century—unlocks unprecedented capacities to induce synchronicities, making effective previously unsuspected correlations. A metastatic spread of such entities may indeed constitute an indigestible challenge to the stealthy incorporation of phonoegregoric earworms, given
the unstable fracturing and resynthesizing typical of mutant rhythmanalyses.26
Predictably, Burroughs’s insistence on the functionalizing of art to unshackle its capacities to effectuate changes in reality was deliberately downplayed.
Genesis P-Orridge recounts a story of the author casting a spell on an eatery
whose proprietors had maligned him by walking back and forth in front of it
playing a barely audible tape on which ‘trouble noises’ were cut into characteristic field recordings captured in that location. Shortly after the action had begun, the joint closed without explanation.27 With the volatility and accessibility of
schizophonic practices thus exposed—their capacities to fold time and space—
it was deemed preferable to defuse Burroughs within the equivocating realm of
postmodern stylistic experimentation, rather than let him further expedite the
mass propagation of techno-actualization principles.
In a Sedimental Mood (alien furniture music28) is a work of concentrated adjacency-making constituted by convulsive reorderings of a set of concatenated
variables, syzygetically (and paradoxically) tasked with eluding the abductive
        24. ‘N comme Neurologie’ in L’abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, Directed by Pierre-André Boutang, 1989,
Paris, Éditions Montparnasse, 2004, DVD. See also Charles Stivale’s summary and translation of the
abécédaire at
        25. Immediately after 9/11, a minority of Americans were inclined to ascribe co-conspiratorial responsibility to Saddam Hussein; contrast with the 70 per cent endorsement garnered in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq following copious media efforts at engineering adjacencies (Atta, Al Qaeda, Prague, Hussein, 9/11, etc.), without explicitly declaring inviolable causal linkage.
        26. The notes to DJ xenaudial’s Adjacent Exposure mention ‘double earworm inductions’ and ‘hearing
one thing through another, semi-permanently’. The album kicks off with a stunning superimposition of
Al Green’s I’m Still in Love With You and the theme from the 1971 tearjerker Love Story, amusingly titled
I’m Love Still Story In Love Love Story With Love You Story. Free download at https://xenaudial.bandcamp.
        27. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, ‘Magick Squares and Future Beats, The Magical Processes of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’, in Richard Metzger (ed.), Book of Lies, New York, Disinformation,
2003, p. 106.
        28. IaSM was released under the moniker Algorithmic Moods Inc.: For a discussion of the work’s occult valences (including a rundown of its generative conceits
in the form of classifieds), see eldritch Priest, Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics
of Failure, London, Bloomsbury, 2013, pp. 222-5.


Marc Couroux

properties of memorability while compelling and maintaining attention in the
moment. This returns us back to the process of fractal listening impelled by the
recontouring machine. In a fractal listening experience, an affective intuition
of non-repetition is perpetually undercut by a cognitive ratification of identity.
It shuttles the listener between local specifics (deviations with various capacities
to be registered as deviations) and an accumulating shadowy shape-shifting totality, constantly updated by information from this transient matter, forever deferring its termination into a graspable gestalt. The incapacity to categorically
identify ongoing recursion within the convulsions of unresolution almost inevitably engenders temporal anomalies, folds, a general buckling of teleological integrity, and an expedition of uncontrollable interpenetrations of past, present,
and future; all the while, a virtual field of potential stealthily expands, unceasingly leveraging the perception of change. Any isolated iteration is thus summarily demoted to transient status, lacking the resilience to firmly establish itself. This modality takes into account the inevitable process by which repetition
pressures incongruity to reverse into new forms of congruity (through a gradual ablation of idiosyncrasy); it therefore must remain constantly on the move.
Anadumbration is the process that effects the perpetual postponement of any unifying perceptual paradigm through the febrile shuffling of parameters. Adumbration is a term developed by philosopher-phenomenologist Edmund Husserl
denoting the continuous accumulation of various perspectives (shadings = abschattungen (Ger.)) of an object into a multi-dimensional mental consolidation. Appropriating Husserl’s theory by détourning it (for highly practical purposes), English artist Norman Wilkinson originated29 at the tail end of World War I one of
the most notorious applications of anadumbration via dazzle camouflage, a technique involving the painting of stripes of contradictory size and directionality
on a vessel, such that the opponent’s ability to coherently grasp its coordinates
(size, speed, heading, etc.) is accordingly impeded.
Any attempt to defeat a listener’s propensity to terminate perception when
confident that an experience has been identified, categorized, captured is invariably enhanced by the use of anadumbrative tactics. Indeed, the ungestalting deviations of anadumbration forestall any preemptive extraction from a system
by preventing conscious seizure of its modalities; ungraspable from an extrinsic vantage point, their mysterious implications cannot be comfortably integrated qua dismissed. System immanence is guaranteed by a rapid containment of
discrepant surfaces powered by the efficient operations of the Freudian secondary process, by which a subject backtracks into a rational second-order justification from an incoherent first impression, summarily deleted. Anadumbration is
a chronocrypsic30 operation, tasked with time camouflage, asymmetrically imbricating incongruent temporalities while prosecuting integumentary impressions
of a wholly illusory kind.
        29. Roy R. Behrens, ‘The art of dazzle camouflage’, Defense & Security Analysis, 3.3, 1987, pp. 233-243.
Behrens suggests that the technique of dazzle camouflage was already in existence by the time Wilkinson arrived on the scene to “invent” it (1917).
        30. Crypsis: Defensive maneuver characteristic of certain species consisting in altering appearance
to match the (background) environment.

Xenochronic Dispatches from the Domain of the Phonoegregore


Adumbrate_57 (infra_legible training music for the late capitalist subject31) investigates such templexing wormholes through rewind, fast-forward, stutter and dropout procedures. Dazzle camouflage’s use of differential blending—breaking up
surface continuities by collapsing portions of the figure into the (back)ground—
also works effectively in the time domain via the abutment of inconsistent, incomplete iterations of a given material that increasingly destabilize the constitution of an accumulated ground in memory. Intimate knowledge of the shifty,
time-dependent operations of the möbius modality can betray the boundaries of
the (cyber)affordant model and its perpetual upgrading (qua normalizing) of
fictional entities to the status of inviolable fact (the contingent provisional promoted to generalized permanence), prying open channels within which synthetic constructs may be insinuated (illapsus = flowing, gliding in), inf(l)ecting
feedback loops accordingly. Such infradermal infiltrations behave parasitically,
forcing the distorting operations of time into consciousness. Moreover, the möbius modality affords the recovery of occulted valences from historical practices—by retrospectively surf(ac)ing un-adumbrated (un-normalized) pasts—in order to gain expedited access to the future.32 To boot, this particular experiment
is wholly dependent on the mètic ruses of technoablation, charged with blunting
incipience through the möbiusoidal occulting (backgrounding and consequent
disappearing) of a technology’s operational identity, such that certain valences
associated with contiguous materials are suppressed from conscious attention.
Technoablative stratagems simulate and mutate the infrastructural shibboleths
of a given device—exploiting the listener’s propensity to accept the latter as
relatively immutable—thereby opening the floodgates to prodigiously productive bait-and-switch potentials. In Adumbrate_57, each time forward playback resumes (after any of the four interruptive incursions), it does so with another version of itself, functioning as if the same, which occasions subliminal alterations
of the listener’s capacity to form a coherent gestalt.33
Given the messy contingencies and vampire effects inevitably engendered
by the passage of time, it’s no surprise that the chronically chronophobic phonoegregore would want to arrest its deleterious progress. Melody and rhythm
require time to unfold, whereas a vertical, timbral structure can detonate instantly, according to the principles of sonic niching, by which highly effective intra-species communication operates in the animal world (see Bernie Krause’s
work).34 Bare traces requiring no more than a few milliseconds to be actualized can intercalate themselves rhythmically between other signals without any
undue effort—affectively tuned passwords promptly accessing worlds of associa        31. Listen at
        32. Nick Land describes the task of the ‘hyperstitional cyberneticist’ as ‘closing the circuit of history
by detecting the convergent waves [that] register the influence of the future on its past.’ Delphi Carstens, ‘Hyperstition’, 2010 (
        33. Further details re. Adumbrate_57 can be found in Marc Couroux, ‘Towards Indisposition’, in
Marc-James Léger (ed.), The Idea of the Avant Garde—And What It Means Today, Manchester, Manchester
University Press, 2014, pp. 255-262.
        3 4. Bernard L. Krause, ‘The Habitat Niche Hypothesis: A Hidden Symphony of Animal Sounds’,
Literary Review, 36/1, Fall 1992, pp. 40-45; Bernard L. Krause, ‘Bioacoustics, Habitat Ambience in Ecological Balance’, Whole Earth Review, 57, Winter 1987.


Marc Couroux

tion through chronoportation. In the absence of suitable crannies for tactical incursion, a judiciously constituted timbral cocktail riding unoccupied frequency
bands can superimpose itself on a complex acoustic scene with no loss of communicational integrity. The quest for an ever-reduced abductive threshold is
therefore a matter of intense speculation and experimentation. While cruder
methods simply splinterize extant references into immediately legible, timbrally specific incarnations, autonomically activating prior phonographic incorporations (capitalism functions most effectively when the subject does its work),
recent branding tendencies privilege the development of radically contained,
psychoacoustically tweaked fragments without history, that more effectively resist the subject’s attempts to expunge them. The construction of these overcompressed units is highly inflected by research on human phylogenetic development and the somatic effects (breathing / heart rate) of specific acoustic wave
patterns that activate deeply embedded survival mechanisms tied to hearing,
though in this case it is the survival of the cybercapitalist system that motivates
the abductive project.35
A chronophobic individual, a clear in the parlance of père-scientologue L.
Ron Hubbard, thinks in instantaneous bursts, without the digressive, deliberative ramblings of an inner voice, without time. Clement Greenberg’s Augenblick:
the totality of the artwork is accessible in the blink of an eye, before cognition
takes things up. Francis Bacon conjured paintings meant to explode directly onto
the nervous system. Strategically deployed formalisms with the capacity to preempt
conscious apprehension can effectively delimit the range of available experience. Control requires time for its feedback operations, but needs to conceal this
fact—by parcelizing it into manageable presents—lest the enslaved subject appropriate its modulatory effects to foster embodied continuities and self-eject
from the communicative bind with capitalism.
Pierre Schaeffer, a French telecommunications en