ENTROPOLOGY – Part II/II

entropy

Here’s Part I


4. Negentropic Debt

A number of interventions in the discourse on the Anthropocene have adopted for their purposes a term derived from Erwin Schrödinger’s 1943 lectures at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, later published as What is Life?: The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell – namely, “negative entropy”[1] or, as Léon Brillouin felicitously abbreviated it in his 1953 study of information systems, “negentropy.”[2] In the section entitled “Order Based on Order,” about three-quarters through this lecture series, Schrödinger observes to his audience that “the laws of physics, as we know them, are statistical laws. They have a lot to do with the tendency of things to go over to disorder… The general principle involved is thermodynamics (entropy principle)[3].” He then proceeds to the issue at hand, the question: “What is the characteristic feature of life? When is a piece of matter said to be alive?”

“Living matter,” Schrödinger notes, differentiates itself from inert matter by evading “the decay to equilibrium”:

When a system that is not alive is isolated or placed in a uniform environment, all motion usually comes to a standstill very soon… After that, the whole system fades away into a dead, inert lump of matter. A permanent state is reached, in which no observable events occur. The physicist calls this the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, or of ‘maximum entropy.’”[4]

The distinction Schrödinger arrives at, is that a life system “feeds on ‘negative entropy’”:

It is by avoiding the rapid decay into the inert state of ‘equilibrium,’” he argues, “that an organism appears so enigmatic; so much so, that from the earliest times of human thought some special non-physical or supernatural force (vis viva, entelechy) was claimed to be operative in the organism, & in some quarters is still claimed.[5]

For Schrödinger (& not only Schrödinger of course), in place of any mysterious life-force there is instead “metabolism” – that is to say, a system of exchange (μεταβάλλειν). But this metabolism isn’t reducible merely to a redistribution of “matter” or “energy,” but rather “Every process, event, happening… in a word, everything that is going on in Nature means an increase of the entropy of the part of the world where it is going on. Thus a living organism continually increases its entropy,” & so “It can only keep… alive, by continually drawing from its environment negative entropy.” Consequently, “the essential thing in metabolism” is that it “feeds upon negative entropy, attracting… a stream of negative entropy upon itself, to compensate the entropy increase it produces by living…” [6]

By a slight inflection, this metabolic compulsion can be seen as underwriting conditions of political struggle within the “social organism” equivalent to that principle, already set down by Spinoza, of “the impulse (conatus) of self-sustainability at any price, impressing upon every life the form of a flight forward.” [7]

5. Ideo-metabolic Production

This concept of “metabolic exchange” has encouraged some confusion among cultural theorists, in part informed by Marx’s concept of metabolic rift[8] – in reference to ecological crisis tendencies under capitalism – & in part by an attribution of what amounts to subjectivity in the principle of negentropic exchange. In a recent text entitled “Dreams & Nightmares: Beyond the Anthropocene Era,” Bernard Stiegler writes: “A consensus exists in the scientific community, whether among physicists or chemists or biologists, that life is what defers the process of entropy, that is, what retains energy, transforms it & organises it into organs, organisations that constitute organisms.“[9] Yet as Derrida (to whom Stiegler is also alluding here) makes clear, “No doubt life protects itself by repetition, trace, différance (deferral). But we must be wary of this formulation: there is no life present at first which would then come to protect, postpone, reserve itself in différance.”[10] In addition, this deferral does not correspond to a retention (e.g. of energy: living systems, in any case, consume food & so energy cannot be conserved). Nor is there any entity to which the term “life” corresponds that decisively produces its own Being through a consumption of negentropy, rather it is the metabolic pre-disposition of entropy itself that gives rise to entrained – or entroped – structures of “spontaneous” self-propagation, as efficient conduits for the maximisation of entropic flow. (This synchronous arrangement, or resonance, defines what is called negentropy, since the one is in direct proportion to the other, as we will see discuss later.)

Among other things, Stiegler’s formulation is concerned with what appears to be an entirely paradoxical maintenance of surplus (energy reserve) in the deferral of entropy (stagnation/non-exchange/non-circulation), which will also have unintended implications for how he construes a political economy. For now, however, Stiegler envisages this retention/organisation as a process of “exo-somatisation,” or externalisation – i.e. of thought into hybrid realities: in this, the term coincides to some extent with hyperstition – since this deferral of entropy is ultimately attributed to a kind of embodied-embodying agency or intention. “The function of reason,” Stiegler writes, “is to produce negentropic bifurcations against entropy in general & against its own entropy in particular – here,” he adds, “we must spell entropy with an ‘a’ & an ‘h’: anthropy.”[11] Such an embodied-embodying entropy/anthropy cannot help but evoke a “transhumanist delirium”[12] – by which the anthropos is transformed into an agent of self-supersession, thus aligning the concept of “negentropy” with an idea of emancipation, in this case signifying a certain end: “the end of the Anthropocene, in the epoch of disruption, which makes obvious that the Anthropocene is no longer sustainable, no longer liveable…”[13] But as Althusser already reminds us in his examination of Capital: “Once the anthropological given has been removed, the space remains, which is precisely what interests us…”[14] – this space which is also that of a différance, of a general substitutability, marking (under the pretence of a “deconstruction”) the interval of a return in Stiegler of what amounts to a “subject of History” in the very form of its negation.[15]

This interval or transposition from Anthropocene to a post-Anthropocene, or Neganthropocene, is itself supposedly accomplished through an exo-somatisation. Exo-somatisation, we are told, “is a bifurcation in the history of life”: a “new regime of negentropy” coinciding with a transposition to “neganthropology.”[16] Neganthropology is in turn taken to define the différance (this is Stiegler’s appropriation of Derrida’s term)[17] of Anthropos; the “differing & deferring” of the “end of Anthropos,” which constitutes an imperative: “it is inconceivable for us,” Stiegler insists, “to remain in the Anthropocene. We will have to conceive, invent & exo-somatise the Neganthropocene, & for that we need a neganthropology that will allow us to enter into a new era… a new age of political economy,” of a “noetic dream.”[18]

6. Exosomatism

How is it possible to differentiate this exo-somatisation from a post-humanism that all too readily resembles a transcendental agent – & indeed rationality – of humanity’s living on, beyond the end of its own “unsustainable,” “unliveable” epoch, if simply under a regime of inverted terminologies?

What is clear is that this exo-somatisation is envisaged simultaneously as exchange & retention, a transformation & a conservation. Its relation to a mode of political economy is articulated in terms of “freedom,” “combat,” “law”: “Freedom is what produces negentropy,” Stiegler says, “it is what generates negentropic acts. Freedom does not mean the freedom to choose” – as in Marx’s false choices – it is rather “the freedom to combat an entropic state of fact in order to establish a new negentropic reality. This entropic state of fact is precisely a state of fact within which a new negentropic reality sets up a new state of law…”[19] The immediate question here is how Stiegler’s eschewal of false choices is able to distinguish itself from a purely arbitrary bifurcation that feeds back into a “vicious circle” of quasi-supersession (from “new states of fact” to “new states of law”), & which accomplishes nothing more than its own exo-somatic reification: not as différance, but as a merely procedural negation-of-negation that is, “in fact,” an algorithmic rationality’s attempt to materialise a raison d’être. What, after all, is the imperative of the “us” in Stiegler’s figuring of the Anthropocene, to “conceive, invent & exo-somatise the Neganthropocene,” other than to avert the reality of that “end of Anthropos” that arrives (& is simultaneously deferred) under the guise of a recuperative Neganthropos? Of Being under the guise of a certain (instrumentalised) non-Being? That is to say, of a subjectivity defined within what Stiegler calls “Automated Society.”[20]

In doing so, this very conscientious exo-somatisation will have reinscribed a movement of “externalisation” which philosophy has, at least since Plato, associated with technē & the production of automata, by which technology broadly speaking is conceived as a prosthesis of reason. Its purpose, Stiegler informs us, will have been “to produce bifurcations,” “to implement the function of reason” so as to “make noetic life possible in the universe”:

Now is the time for this thematisation. And this is why it is time to take seriously what Binswanger & Foucault tell us, but while taking equally seriously what Azéma shows, namely, that noetic man is above all an oneiric man. This oneiric & noetic form of life has the capacity to exteriorise its dreams & thus to realise them in the form of technics – the issue being that technics produces pharmaka, which can always turn the dream into a nightmare.[21]

This production of possibility for “noetic life” – being itself a narrative of premonition, as the purview of a certain futurity or what might be called manifest destiny – is sublimated here through a fictional correspondence with a deferral of entropy which, Stiegler adds, “I believe to be the true stakes of what Derrida called différance with an ‘a.’ But Derrida himself did not see this clearly.”[22] The point perhaps being that in différance there is, in fact, not a deferral of entropy, but deferral as entropy: the “death,” in Derrida’s reading of Freud, at the “origin” of life (& which inscribes all of its operations).[23]

7. The Instrumental Unconscious

Stiegler’s claim that exo-somatisation corresponds to a radical potential within différance that Derrida himself failed to grasp should be treated with an appropriate degree of scepticism, since, under the “sign” of différance, what is being summoned in Stiegler’s text is rather a type of techno-Hegelianism.[24]

Even if the implementation of a “function of reason” from a production of bifurcations did not imply a prelapsarian self-sufficiency – a “reason” from which this prosthetic function could be derived, as the “model” of an originary bifurcation – its “noetic dream” nevertheless remains that of a teleology destined to “conceive, invent & exo-somatise” one. This movement from Anthropos to Neganthropos – from “noetic life” to an “externalised” “function of reason” – bears all the traits of a dialectical mystification, in which supersession is always recuperated for the self-preservation of the power of enstatement “itself,” as both the subject & form of power, of History (even of socalled post-History), & of “the State” as such, since the Anthropocene here is an “era” or “epoch” only to the extent that it sustains itself[25] as a mode of duration & thus as a “genre” of Reason, whose “negation” is in fact the instrument of its propagation (not, as Stiegler says, simply as “a new state of law,” but as the Law of Genre itself).[26]

The true meaning of exo-somatisation comes into view as the effective outsourcing of a global regime of power in the expansion of the work of resource-exploitation, expropriation & expenditure. It corresponds, in neoliberal economics, to the mechanism of “continuous growth” (an apparent refutation of what Marx, in a restatement of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, calls the “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”)[27] that requires a perpetual profit-margin creep abetted by ever-more-virulent forms of enforced inequality & a “reserve” of alienated labour (negentropy).

The Neganthropocene, as Stiegler defines it, possesses at best the character of a “regime change,” in which a certain ambivalence in its binary organisation comes into view. The freedom entailed in such a movement can be no more than a structural bias: the handy-dandy alternation or oscillation of signifiers for the Law, even if they apparently constitute its “governing” terms – Anthropos/Neganthropos – & so representing at best a diversion, detour or détournement of subversion itself. Contrary to the assertion that such a movement is productive of a “new reality” – a sur-reality, even – what this re-inscription attempts is a homeostatic reduction of différance to a simple opposition, designed for no other purpose than to preserve the Law under whose sign it would indeed represent a false choice – were such a reduction possible in anything other than appearance.

This re-inscription of precisely those dualisms (inside/outside; physis/technē, etc.) that the polysemy of différance deconstructs[28], echoes what Benjamin Noys has described in instrumentalist terms as “The aim of accelerationists… to engage with technology & forms of capitalist abstraction[29] so we can invent a new post-capitalist future.”[30] Just as with Stiegler’s insistence that “humanity” accomplishes itself by “organic projection” – that is, “by projecting organs outside itself” – such an engagement needs firstly to be understood as nothing but abstract & technological, such that any agent of acceleration or noetic exo-somatisation could never be, as it were, internal to itself. So too the “noetic dream” cannot stand in an objectified relation to “technology,” just as “negentropy” cannot “produce… différance,” since différance/technē already inscribe the “economy of negentropy.”[31] Moreover, neither does such a thing as “humanity” exist, here, other than as a moralistic alibi (Sloterdijk) for processes of exploitation that are subsumed under an appeal to a common future, whose accomplishment in reality can only be effected by an impoverishment of that mass of “humanity” (& socalled inhumanity) that must labour in its production.

8. The Whole Existence of Structure

On this point it is instructive to return to the discourse from which Stiegler’s terminology derives, situated as it is at the intersection of physics & biology, if not politics & psychology. The thermodynamic interpretation of evolution has recently produced some interesting theoretical outcomes. In a series of papers co-authored since 2014, Jeremy England has advanced the thesis – devolved from Prigogine’s ideas on dissipative structures – that what we call “life” is not in opposition to entropy, but is itself a function of entropy, produced by it, dependent upon it, & engineered – in a manner of speaking – to maximise its increase. In this scenario, evolution, from its inception, is an economy of ever-increasing efficiency in circulation & expenditure, rather than an economy of conservation, or “energy retention” (however this might be conceived).

In a talk given in 2014 at the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm), England defined the physical properties of “life” as:

  1. Self-replication;
  2. Sensing, computation, & anticipation;
  3. Effective absorption of work from environment

According to England’s observations, “when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) & surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy.”[32] Adapted “through rounds of iterative selection”[33] –this tendency to spontaneously align with a dissipative increase effectively engineers “self-replicating molecules,” in which the algorithmic corresponds to life-processes. Thus “self-replication,” England argues, is a process that “must invariably be fuelled by the production of entropy.”[34] Computer simulations have shown that, with a high statistical probability, self-replication does indeed undergo “extremal thermodynamic forcing” capable, in theory, of producing complex life-systems. It is, in the parlance of Noys, inherently accelerationist. Moreover, it marks an accelerationism whose agency is not some alien entity – “in the sense of being a register of alterity or radical disconnect from the world,” as Negarestani puts it[35] – but is the law of entropy itself.

These novel self-replicating structures do not evolve despite their dissipative character, but because of it: they are not “tolerant” of change but change-determined, since this is the very basis of their self-organisational possibility. The emergence of life-systems may thus be conceived as a function of resonance (the oscillative character of dissipation interacting with itself in synchronisation to achieve increase – or what England calls “resonant adaptation”).[36] In such a system, différance would describe the minimum energetic cost of maintaining a far-from-equilibrium state & the (iterative) mechanism of its driven stochastic evolution.[37] Yet what drives it is not a Stieglerian exo-somatisation – of a latent “libidinal economy” translated into a “function of reason” (from chemotaxis to an approximation of Anthropic “intelligence”) – but an emergent computation in the en-troped structure of evolutionary possibility itself, (what Althusser, echoing Marx, calls “an authorless theatre”[38]) defining a “Noösphere” analogous to Fuller’s synergetics, a global “geometry of thought”[39] or internet of everything.

To rephrase a formulation of Derrida’s, vis-à-vis the Freudian death drive: Is it not already entropy at the origin of a life which can defend itself against entropy only through an economy of entropy…?[40] This would imply, contrary to Stiegler’s insistence upon exo-somatisation, that – as Althusser says – “the existence of structure” is “in its effects”; “that the effects are not outside the structure, are not a pre-existing object, element or space in which the structure arrives to imprint its mark: on the contrary, it implies that the structure is immanent in its effects… that the whole existence of the structure consists of its effects.”[41] Or as Benjamin Bratton has recently observed, “infrastructure orchestrates decisions.”[42] In the Grundrisse Marx describes this as “a particular ether which determines the specific gravity of every being which has materialised within it”[43]; an “ether” that may be said to be constitutive of a general ecology of mind. Such an overdetermination of structural logic is a mode of entropement; its movement not that of a “Neganthropology” but of an entropomorphology. Or simply, entropology.

9. Entropology’s “Inorganic Body”

Just as the movement of entropy has been weaponised, so to speak, in the movement of alien capital, so too the logic of entropement needs to be contended with on the level of this movement’s rationale. That is to say, in the absence of any teleology, this movement is nevertheless directed by the drive towards ever & ever greater dissipation: it is this drive that defines the entire evolutionary rationale, its “decisive” orientation. Evolution is, so to speak, its “inorganic body”; its “body-without-organs.”

Certain tendencies of “accelerationist” thought have recently reprised the belief that an “integrated incentivising complex of consumer capitalism”[44] is the driving force of techno-social evolution & that there needs to be shown that there are other possible “motors… for driving human progress” – whereas it is necessary to recognise that the very framework of such “possibilities” is determined, not by the viability of competing models of human incentivisation, but by the field of entropological drives within which both human & non-human agency alike are inscribed. Such a generalised rationale assumes a proto-cybernetic form in Marx’s early investigations of capital, as what he terms the “social brain.” This “brain” corresponds to a distributed agency in the operations of capital that encompass the entire field of techno-social relations: what Marx thus intuits as a “general intellect” & which at a certain point in Notebook V of the Grundrisse (“Circuit of Capital”) also elides with “general conditions of production” (inclusive of systems of “communication”). Thus:

The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, & to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect & been transformed in accordance with it.[45]

The foundations of Marx’s “general intellect” ultimately reside in those operations of entropy in which the socalled forces of nature themselves originate (as “man’s inorganic body”) & in which the dynamic of “alienation” evolves towards a consciousness & a production of subjectivities that is not modelled on the human but produces it. This is the very contrary of a persistent strain of humanistic Marxism in which alienation is instigated against subjectivity & which, through a correspondingly inverse movement, initiates what Matteo Pasquinelli calls “the belief that the technologies of industrial automation (already looking like robots) might become a true agent of political change & social emancipation under the command of public education” (that is to say, as the instigation of an alienation of power).[46]
In an attempt to establish a “labour theory of AI,” Pasquinelli identifies in this movement what amounts to a general repetition automation or technicity. The source of this observation is credited equally to Marx & the inventor of the Analytic Engine, Charles Babbage,[47] & is summed up in the proposition that “a machine always emerges by imitating a previous division of labour, machine intelligence included”[48] :

Marx had already quoted Babbage in The Poverty of Philosophy during his exile in Brussels in 1847 &, since then, adopted two analytical principles that were to become pivotal in Capital in drawing a robust theory of the machine & in grounding the theory of relative surplus value. The first is what could be defined as “the labour theory of the machine,” which states that a new machine comes to imitate & replace a previous division of labour. This is an idea already formulated by Adam Smith, but better articulated by Babbage due to his greater technical experience. The second analytical principle is usually called the “Babbage principle” & is here renamed “the principle of surplus labour modulation.” It states that the organisation of a production process in small tasks (division of labour) allows exactly the necessary quantity of labour to be purchased for each task (division of value). In this respect the division of labour provides not only the design of machinery but also an economic configuration to calibrate & calculate surplus labour extraction. In complex forms of management such as Taylorism, the principle of surplus labour modulation opens onto a clockwork view of labour, which can be further subdivided & recomposed into algorithmic assemblages. The synthesis of both analytical principles ideally describes the machine as an apparatus that actively projects back a new articulation & metrics of labour. In the pages of Capital the industrial machine appears to be not just a regulator to discipline labour but also a calculator to measure relative surplus value, echoing the numerical exactitude of Babbage’s calculating engines.[49]

It would not be fantastical to see in this logic of modulation an implicit entropement at work, as the recursion of a “division of labour” in its relation to both the principle of conservation & the drive towards expenditure. By precisely such a (neg/entropic) movement of self-alienation & re-circulation does capital represent the operation of its “transcendence” by transforming the crises of production into an expanded “means” of self-propagation – that is to say, of an auto-poiēsis. Marx describes this via a chain of metonymic substitutions (i.e. “divisions of labour”), such that “part of the capital, depreciated by its functional stagnation, would recover its old value. For the rest, the same vicious circle would be described once more under expanded conditions of production, with an expanded market & increased productive forces.”[50]

By situating Taylorism’s productivist machine-psychopathology in advance within a generalised technicity, the “general intellect” of the Grundrisse can indeed be seen to evolve in Capital, as Pasquinelli proposes, “into a machinic collective worker, almost with the features of a proto-cybernetic organism, and the industrial machine becomes a calculator of the relative surplus value that this cyborg produces.”[51] If only because this relative surplus value is the necessary irreconcilability of the “machine” & “cyborg” to any thought of capital that does not recognise that the division of labour which produces the machine in the first place is the alienation at the origin of value itself. Thus:

It was not the invention of the steam engine (means of production) that triggered the industrial revolution (as it is popular to theorise in ecological discourse), but rather the developments of capital and labour (relations of production) demanding a more powerful source of energy. The steam-engine itself, such as it was at its invention during the manufacturing period at the close of the seventeenth century, and such as it continued to be down to 1780, did not give rise to any industrial revolution. It was, on the contrary, the invention of [tooling] machines [Werkzeugmaschinen] that made a revolution in the form of steam-engines necessary.[52]

And if the “division of labour” is, as Pasquinelli says, “the political inventor of the machine,” this technē politikē must itself nevertheless be distinguished from a product of that engine of perception in which alienation is misrecognised as a political artefact rather than as the pre-condition of any (political) relation whatsoever. Thus is the repetition automation of this “division of labour” marked by a recursive, topological relation to its cause. At the same time, the irreconcilability it describes – between a generalised technicity with the implied teleology of “relations of production” – is not the flaw in capital’s totalising movement, but indeed “the contrary.” In this, wherever it arises within this system, irreconcilability always corresponds to that dynamic interval in which a certain dissipative (“entropic”) social production is ever more accelerated & ramified towards its ideal form.[53]

10. Techno-teleology

The “circuit of reproductive consumption” – driven & in fact organised by the movement of entropy – is not a “loss of meaning” in itself,[54] but instead what Bataille defines as the “relation to this loss of meaning.”[55] It is related “to no presence, no plenitude”[56] – which nevertheless permits it the non-appearance of a certain ideality. A certain reality, in fact. Even if this movement does not produce new conceptual unities (Stiegler’s “exo-somatisation”), it retains – by way, or by default of, this non-production – a relation to that which opens the question of meaning. This is the mark of its self-evidence. Consequently – & despite appearance otherwise – there can be, as Derrida shows, “no possible opposition” between “an economy of circulation (a restricted economy)” & a “general economy” (an economy of expenditure without reserve).”[57] In both formulations production – as reproductive consumption – remains bound to a cybernetic pro-gramme, vested in a base materiality of the “real.”[58] The repetition automation of Bataille’s “pure expenditure” is no exception. Entropy always entails the work of dissipation, & this work extracts a cost & imposes a value – even if it is under the sign of a non-value, to which the “system of expenditure” can only relate (without recuperating). In other words: to which it can do nothing other than relate.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud had proposed that consciousness itself – as the phantasmatic surface-effect of what, in the “Note upon the Mystic Writing-Pad,” is presented as a kind of writing-machine – must be understood as psychic expenditure, discharge, expiration (of the “excitatory processes” of sensory experience, etc.). The idea of preservation of “life” (which Freud calls the reality principle) is always linked to the maintenance of a certain mode of inscription as expenditure, so that when we speak of preservation we are speaking of expenditure itself as repetition, or more specifically as repetition automation (i.e. the “pure” relation of différance). This automation, vested in a generalised technicity, defines the contours of what insistently figures as the “real.” It marks an event horizon, between a hermeneutics of thought itself & the admission of the Freudian “thing” – that thing that thinks – in which the work of comprehension (& work as such) is inscribed as if in advance of itself as the index of an impossible object. This thing has nothing to do with any representation or resemblance: of socalled human intelligence, for example, or of its divinity in the form of a Pure Reason. “It” is that to which it is only possible to relate: it is that complex of relations “itself.” If this impossible object may be signalled by the term Noösphere, it is solely to the extent that its “worldliness” remains irreducible to historical thought (of an Anthropocene, to be exact) which could be in any way situated as the object of its own transcendence (or even as the subject of a noetic dream of the “post-Anthropocene”).

It is not accidental that the Noösphere coincides – in the metaphorics of a certain non-teleological, recursive & broadly “ecological” thought – with what is subsumed in the operations of what Freud terms the unconscious. Rejecting the “Kantian theorem that time & space are ‘necessary forms of thought,’” Freud contends that “unconsciousness mental processes are in themselves ‘timeless.’ This means in the first place that they are not ordered temporally, that time does not change them in any way & that the idea of time cannot be applied to them.”[59] The co-ordinates of this End-of-History are given to correspond to all the “unfulfilled but possible futures to which we still cling in phantasy, all the strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, & all our suppressed acts of volition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will.”[60] Contingent upon which is thus also “the value of play” as defining “pure productivity”[61] – which is to say, pure expenditure. To the extent that this Kantian “Free Will” only simulates the “free-play” of a signifying economy, its “spontaneity” is that of a mimēsis of spontaneity: freedom posed as the translation of “nature” into Reason.

The entire domain of the Noösphere – in which Stiegler’s “noetic dream” is necessarily subsumed – needs also to be considered in this light.

If posthumanism seeks to transcend what at the same time, & in the same gesture, it reinscribes by imitating the previous “division of labour” in the nature/technology dichotomy, what does its entirely predictable appeal to dialectical Reason mean to accomplish if not the mystification of the real as that which, on its own cognisance, alone “comprehends” the socalled Anthropocene? Is this not the trajectory of Stiegler’s “noetic dream,” in its desire to turn the tables, so to speak, as that which exceeds the dissipative systems of anthropocapitalism, as neganthropology? A dream of Reason that in its transcendental delirium engenders monsters, just as in Goya’s vision, retold by Feuerbach, Marx, Bataille, Derrida? This delirious slumber which “must be effectively traversed so that awakening will not be a ruse of dream. That is to say […] a ruse of reason. The slumber of reason is not, perhaps, reason put to sleep, but slumber in the form of reason.”[62]

The ambivalence in which this compulsive dichotomisation is in fact founded, isn’t opposed to the movement of entropy (which is differential & not teleological), but is the condition of its différance. For the same reason, entropy can no longer be said “to reduce life to its original condition in inanimate matter”[63] but to situate the impetus of “life” (& every other mode of production) in a generalised condition of technicity. And if the real power of mimēsis derives from the fact that it “can accommodate itself to political systems that are different, even opposed to one another,”[64] then it is insufficient simply to appeal to an increase in scales of complexification – to a mere accelerated repetition automation & a certain gratuitousness in the logic of expenditure – as availing some kind of (artificial) intelligence automatically productive of a critique of (capitalist-humanist) value. By situating an “alien” ambivalence as the “sign” of that which must remain non-exchangeable as a use-value, it marks not the limit of exchange-value as such, but of its subsumption into a phantasmatic non-ideology: the totalising subjectivisation of this entropomimesis – call it, xenocapitalism.[65]

The essay first appeared in the Alienist VII magazine (January 2020).


[1] Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life?: The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944).

[2] Léon Brillouin, “The Negentropy Principle of Information,” Journal of Applied Physics 24 (1953): 1152-1163.

[3] Schrödinger, What is Life? 68-69.

[4] Schrödinger, What is Life? 69.

[5] Schrödinger, What is Life? 70.

[6] Schrödinger, What is Life? 73.

[7] Qtd in Sloterdijk, “The Anthropocene,” 329.

[8] Marx, Capital III, 195ff: Marx refers to “social metabolism” – the term “metabolic rift” itself was coined by John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism & Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).

[9] Bernard Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares: Beyond the Anthropocene Era,” trans. Daniel Ross, Alienocene: Journal of the First Outernational (June 2019): 9 (alienocene.files.wordpress/2019/06/bs-dreams.pdf)

[10] Jacques Derrida, “Freud & the Scene of Writing,” Writing & Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 1978) 203.

[11]Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 6.

[12] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 1.

[13] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 23.

[14] Louis Althusser, “The Object of Capital,” Reading Capital: The Complete Edition, trans. Ben Brewster & David Fernbach (London: Verso, 2015) 337.

[15] The question here is one already posed by Derrida: “Under what conditions, then, could one mark, for a philosopheme in general, a limit, a margin that it could not infinitely reappropriate, conceive as its own, in advance engendering & interning the process of its expropriation (Hegel again, always), proceeding to its inversion by itself?” Jacques Derrida, “Tympan,” Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) xiv.

[16] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 10.

[17] See Jacques Derrida, “Différance,” Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) 1-28.

[18] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 11.

[19]Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 23 – emphasis added.

[20] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 23.

[21] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 23.

[22] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 21.

[23] Derrida, “Freud & the Scene of Writing,” passim.

[24]The dialectical movement of Anthropos/Neganthropos is both instrumental & finite (premised upon a sequence of ends, of unsustainable epochs), & totalising (it seeks to account for the transcendence of the epochal as such). The “end of the finitude of man,” as Derrida says, “the unity of the finite & the infinite, the finite as the surpassing of the self – these essential themes of Hegel’s are to be recognised at the end of the Anthropology when consciousness is finally designated as the ‘infinite relation to self.’” Jacques Derrida, “The End of Man,” Margins of Philosophy, 121.

[25] Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 23.

[26] See Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge, 1992) 221-252.

[27] See both the Grundrisse (1857) & chapter 13 of Capital volume III (1894) – the principles of the 2nd law of thermodynamics were stated by Kelvin (1851) & Claussius (1854) virtually contemporaneously.

[28] Derrida, “Différance,” Margins of Philosophy, 1-28.

[29] The expression “capitalist abstraction” is pleonastic, since capitalism is abstraction, evolved into a system of self-propagation.

[30] Benjamin Noys, “Accelerationism as Will & Representation,” The Future of the New: Artistic Innovation in Times of Social Acceleration (Amsterdam: Valz/Antennae, 2018): academia.edu/3982789/Accelerationism_as_Will_&_Representation – emphasis added. 

[31]Stiegler, “Dreams & Nightmares,” 24. Here Stiegler seeks to equate an “economy of entropy” with “libidinal economy,” by appeal to a certain Freudian language that should cause us to recall Derrida’s injunction that “The difference between the pleasure principle & the reality principle, for example, is not uniquely, or primarily, a distinction, an exteriority, but rather the original possibility, within life, of the detour, of deferral (Aufschub) & the original possibility of the economy of death.” Derrida, “Freud & the Scene of Writing,” 198.

[32] Qtd in Natalie Wolchover, “A New Physics Theory of Life,” Quanta Magazine (22 January 2014): quantamagazine.org/a-new-thermodynamics-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-20140122 – emphasis added.

[33] S. Sarkar & J.L. England, “Sufficient Physical Conditions for Self-Replication,” Physical Review E 100 (2019) (abstract).

[34] Jeremy L. England, “Statistical Physics of Self-Replication,” The Journal of Chemical Physics 139 (2013).

[35]> Reza Negarestani, “Unidentified Gliding Object: The Day the Earth was Unmoored,” Šum 11 (2019): 1653.

[36]What is called evolution may thus be understood not as a process of “selection” (among competing forms) but of “resonant adaptation” (différance), comparable to the semiological (Saussurian) principle of differences without terms. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Indirect Language & the Voices of Silence,” Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964) 39: “What we have learnt from Saussure is that, taken singly, signs do not signify anything, & that each one of them does not so much express a meaning as mark a divergence of meaning between itself & other signs. Since the same can be said of all signs, we may conclude that language is made of differences without terms; or more exactly, that the terms of language are engendered only by the differences which appear among them.” 

[37] Cf. J.M. Horowitz, K. Zhou & J.L. England, “Minimum Energetic Cost to Maintain a Target Nonequilibrium State,” Physical Review E 95 (2017).

[38] Althusser, “The Object of Capital,” 349.

[39] Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics: The Geometry of Thinking (New York: Macmillan, 1975).

[40] Cf. Derrida, “Freud & the Scene of Writing,” 202.

[41] Althusser, “The Object of Capital,” 344.

[42] Benjamin Bratton, The Terraforming (Moscow: Strelka, 2019): strelkamag.com/en/article/excerpt-bratton-the-terraforming.

[43] Karl Marx, Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy [Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie], trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin, 1973) 106-7.

[44]Roc Jiménez de Cisneros, “The Accelerationist Vertigo (II): interview with Robin Mackay, CCCB Lab (5 November 2014): lab.cccb.org/en/the-accelerationist-vertigo-ii-interview-with-robin-mackay/

[45] Marx, Grundrisse, 706: “Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, & to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect & been transformed in accordance with it; to what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process.”

[46] Matteo Pasquinelli, “On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect,” Radical Philosophy 2.06 (Winter 2019): 43.

[47]See Charles Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (London: Charles Knight, 1832).[1] Pasquinelli, “On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect,” 47.

[48] Pasquinelli, “On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect,” 46-7.

[49] Marx, Capital III, 179.

[50] Pasquinelli, “On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect,” 47. 

[51]Pasquinelli, “On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect,” 47 – emphasis added; see Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1990) 496.

[52] Just as global debt economics is ramified in the self-transcending myth of the post-Anthropocene.

[53] Jacques Derrida, “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve,” Writing & Difference, 271.

[54] Qtd in Derrida, “From Restricted to General Economy,” 270 – emphasis added.

[55] Derrida, “From Restricted to General Economy,” 272.

[56] Jacques Derrida, “Economimesis,” trans. R. Klein, Diacritics 11.2 (Summer 1981 [1975]): 4.

[57]“It is also in this sense that the contemporary biologist speaks of writing & pro-gramme in relation to the most elementary processes of information within the living cell. And finally, whether it has essential limits or not, the entire field covered by the cybernetic programme will be the field of writing. If the theory of cybernetics is by itself to oust all metaphysical concepts – including the concepts of soul, of life, of value, of choice, of memory – which until recently served to separate the machine from man, it must conserve the notion of writing, trace, grammē, or grapheme, until its own historico-metaphysical character is also exposed.” Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976) 9.

[58] Sigmund Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud [SE], trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press & The Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1954) XVIII.28.

[59] Freud, “The ‘Uncanny,’” SE XVII.6.

[60] Derrida, “Economimesis,” 6.

[61] Derrida, “From Restricted to General Economy,” 251.

[62] Freud, “Why War? [Letter to Albert Einstein, September 1932],” SE XXII.211.[1] Derrida, “Economimesis,” 4.

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