17 November 2006

Spoiling the surprise

Hyperstition: a fiction that makes itself real. Example: H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos - after the ideas had been popularised in fiction, people decided to bring the Necronomicon (crappy Mysticism 101 versions of it, anyway) into existence and start worshipping the slimy, tentacular Elder Gods, for what reason I'm sure I'll never understand. Another example: Karl Marx's proletariat as a class-for-itself - the idea that industrial workers were capable of actually taking over the world - came into glorious life for just a few years in Russia. (Born 1917, certainly dead by 1928.)

I think it's one of the errors of vulgar magicians to just believe you can pick a meme, any meme, at random and use psyche-fixing technology to just bring it into existence. Doesn't work like that. It has to have resonance in the actually existing real world, physical and political. (To use an IT metaphor: you can screw around with the software all the time but it won't change the hardware - although it can put it to different uses.) People started worshipping Cthulhu et al - as far as I can tell - who would have been Satanists before Satan stopped being scary and devolved to a mere symbol of having a good time all of the time. The content of the Cthulhu meme is pure alien terror - and when it gets worn out through overuse, something worse will come along. (I sometimes wonder when nerds will legitimately start summoning Sadako from Ringu. That would be at least funny.)

A successful memetic operation will work backwards in time - in other words, pick a possible future, and attempt to make it a real present. Dialectical materialism is the process of seeing which futures are possible, based on the contradictions of the present, and what kind of pressure on what kind of points right now will bring about which future. Believing that there is change, that the future will be more than the present with faster cars and smellier air, is in fact a revolutionary act in itself.

Engels said that the struggle had to be carried on on three levels at once: industrial, political and ideological. This seems intriguingly similar to - although predating! - Freud's schema of id, ego and super-ego; or perhaps even Lacan's three "registers", the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. In modern capitalism, industry (not just metalbashing, but mass-production on the basis of wage labour in all its forms) is a dirty, grotty, disavowed area which we are encouraged not to think about at all, but nonetheless is what keeps the whole system physically running. Like the id or the Real. The ideological level is the level of the abstract, of concepts, of memes; the political level is where reality and will interface. Since the industrial in the last instance determines everything, any real fundamental change must lead to real fundamental change in that very area which society - and pretty much every schema of magic I know of - doesn't want you to look at.

For we Chaos Marxists, we are carrying on a kind of "alchemy" on the ideological plane. But to be powerful and real, the thought-forms and concepts we are playing with must original on one of the "lower levels", and return to it. The most powerful magic of all is what causes change on the level of the subconscious mind; on the level of Industry; on the level of the reality which doesn't go away when we stop believing in it.


Speaking of Ringu - I think that mythos is so powerful because it is based on what would happen if the first rule of our culture's control techniques - that perception = reality - were actually true. I watched the American version (The Ring) first, and for me the first legitimately terrifying thing in that movie - prefiguring the grand finale - was when Naomi Watts plucks a fly off the TV screen and thus smashes the division between image and reality.

We are reassured from our childhood that image is *not* reality - "it's just a story, it's not real", etc. But then the ideology which rules modern capitalism is precisely that perception is the same thing as reality. So much of the ideological effect on this culture relies on what Slavoj Zizek calls that "...and yet..." effect. I know on an intellectual level that X is bullshit, but I act like it's real and therefore it becomes real for me at least. The control techniques of modern capitalism are based on making people react to what they "see" in the media as if it were real. Watch Ringu and realise what it would mean if that were actually true.

Conversely - this formula is behind what Antonio Gramsci said about "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". I know that it's very unlikely that we will smash the capitalist order in my lifetime, but if I damn well act like it is going to happen, then I could make it happen.


  1. "I know that it's very unlikely that we will smash the capitalist order in my lifetime."

    You would be surprised at how fast things can happen.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments. I don't write much very often anymore, but the collision of magic and communism is the dialectic which inspires me right now. Keep it up.

    "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

    Yes. I am very unused to hearing communists use somewhat nebulous/mystical/psychological terms like "will." But, yes.

  2. I also found the ring movie to be surprisingly scary, and Im a hellraiser fan (interesting though that pinhead the main icon of the hellraiser moves was not intended to be the flagship) it got to me precisely as you said, by even if briefly challenging the paradigm of reality and image. No I wouldn't summon Sadako, but I wouldn't mind trying to summon Naomi Watts :D

  3. Hello Doloras. I´m writing you from Argentina. I wanna tell you that I understand exactly what you are saying. The way you connect the dialectic with the memeplex theory. I´m a fan of G. Morrison too, and I was thinking the same about him and how the artist who can live like a burgeois claim that everyone can live in that way ad stopped thinking about the people.
    Well, all I wanna say is that I like the banishing/materialism/occult/meme/chaos/ritual/gramsciesque megamix!
    ...oh, and sorry my rudimentary english.

  4. brightboy: Muchas gracias para las palabras amicas. Tú ingles es más que mi español. :)