Tehran Behind the Screen

Published in Domus, No. 1027, September 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 9.00.42 PM
Photo by Giovanna Silva

Nasr Theatre, located in the back garden of Grand Hotel Lalehzar, was definitely the place to go for a hip night out in downtown Tehran in the 1940s. By the end of that decade, it had already changed name and appearance to Tehran Theatre when, on 5 June 1950, its then manager and Member of Parliament Ahmad Dehghan was assassinated in the Theatre offices. Hasan Jafari, an employee of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, was convicted and sentenced to death during a controversial trial, where the big elephant in the room, a plotted murder or an attempted coup, was deliberately overlooked.  

This story serves as the main backdrop to the 1998 memoir An Innocent to the Gallows, a work of personal investigation as well as an archeology of legal reports by Abolghasem Tafazoli, the lawyer who defended Jafari’s case in court. But there are many more unrecorded stories buried behind the sealed doors of old and often dilapidated theatres and cinemas around Tehran. Such an architectural body, one must remember, contains the double spirit of two lines of past events –– that which happens on as well as off the stage or the screen.

Metropole Cinema, for one, was inaugurated in 1946. One of those better-known cinemas on Lalehzar, it was renamed Roodaki after the revolution, and was eventually shut down in 2008. The design of a modest but strictly modern symmetrical grid, with a tall, projecting sign extending vertically across the facade, is only a minor legacy of Vartan Hovanessian. An Iranian-Armenian designer, architect, and civil engineer, his name is now synonymous with cement and Streamline Moderne, distinctive of a golden era in the history of urban development in Tehran.

The building once again met with the cinematic apparatus during the filming of Masoud Kimiai’s 2013 thriller Metropole. A vulnerable widow, escaping a group of hired goons, takes refuge at an old cinema, owned by two chivalrous young men. The space of the cinema is kept barely operating as a billiard club and storage for motorbikes. But Metropole is cast as both the location and a character, incarnated in the others whose stories unfold all over its ruins.

The film was an attempt to release the spirit of drama from within a forsaken sanctuary, to let the cinema live a second life, to animate its corpse, and exert the force of passion and ecstasy on those who are lured into it. Despite checkmarking some Iranian New Wave essentials, including heavy-handed dialogues, as well as crisscrossing good old Noir with oriental machismo, the film was mainly received with jeering reactions during its premiere.

Another landmark of this sort would be Radio City Cinema, which is located on Valiasr (Pahlavi) Street and was opened in 1958. Designed by Heydar Ghiai, whose other works include the former Senate of Iran (now the Secretariat Assembly of Experts for Leadership), this Googie edifice used to be embellished with populuxe neon works on the face of its giant and gentle curve. It was famous for regular screenings of fresh arrivals from Hollywood, also for the red velvet cover of its cozy chairs.

Hosted by Radio City, The Bubble, a 1966 science-fiction by Arch Oboler, was the first 3D feature ever shown in Iran, right after the international popularization of Space-Vision technology. But the transparent shield and entrapping force field that characterize the film seem to still hold the cinema captive, isolated inside a bubble, right where it is and has always been. It survived a fire in 1974, but was terribly damaged during the Revolution and, of course, shut down right after. Before being left totally abandoned, it was briefly reopened as a pharmacy in the war-torn 1980s. Currently, above its entirely glass storefront, a Bowl of Hygieia and another sign that reads “Peace be upon you, Imam Khomeini” are still hanging on the scaly facade.

Almost all of these buildings are technically confiscated properties, occasionally caught up in legal arguments between different (para-)governmental organizations, including the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation or the Foundation for Preserving and Propagating the Values of Holy Defense, on the one hand, and the Bureau of Beautification within the Municipality of Tehran, the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran, or even some burgeoning private art institutions, on the other.

In late 2017, another campaign was successfully wielded by a large group of the culturati for the preservation of Nasr Theatre. The proposal is to turn it into the Theatre Museum, which will also come with a cafe and all the fuss. However, the spectral and the corporeal, as well as the dramatic and the mundane, had, from the beginning, populated these places together. Now the only way out from destruction, or a rusty storage, is to accept museumification. But what would be left of a cinema if the spirit of drama is exorcised? What would raise and fulfill curiosity for a night at the museum? It is the pull of imagination that seems to have vanished, and no museum can simply bring it back.

A Butterfly Effect Across the Chronosphere

Lecture delivered at Armen Avanessian & Enemies #30: Ethnofuturisms on the occasion of the publication of Ethnofuturisms (Merve Verlag, 2018), Roter Salon, Volksbühne, Berlin, September 2018.

How do ethnic conditions and regional micro-histories influence the future as such?” This question might seem much easier to answer if reversed, for there have been many episodes of preordained futurity imposed upon local lifetimes that were and are still being lived under the circumstances of one colonialist script after another.


“Advection” is the term used in meteorology to explain the transfer of heat or matter by the flow of a fluid, especially horizontally in the atmosphere or the sea. If considered in the context of so-called “temporal climates,” advection can evoke a familiar trope, the butterfly effect, which emerged from within hard sciences and has since appeared in fields as far as extreme fiction, as well as late capitalist spoken language, given how chaotic we routinely feel the world has gone… A groundbreaking discovery, it actually was a bit of a disappointment to all weathermen, and their avid audience, who thought received announcements were or even could be quite accurate.

Ethnofuturisms exist and exert their force in the manner of a butterfly effect across what could only suggestively be called the “chronosphere”. This is to suggest the very complex materiality as well as the planetary expanse of temporal resources, similar to what is at stake in the currently critical condition of other terrestrial resources as well as fluid and atmospheric elements.


The hyperstitional artifact of the “chronosphere,” or infrastructure time, or AirTime, is the realm through which temporal advection is regulated, that is, the horizontal transfer of the “heat or matter” of time, in all its fluidity, across our planetary history.



. . . the rebirth of a non-neologism, a heretical transvaluation . . .

Realized in collaboration with Armen Avanessian and published by Merve Verlag, this volume includes contributions by Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Sophia Al-Maria, Aria Dean, Kodwo Eshun, Steve Goodman, Anna Greenspan, and Karen Orton. It also includes the introductory essay “Ethnofuturisms: Findings in Common and Conflicting Futures.”

This anthology should by no means be considered exhaustive, but only a first step toward a new field of research that might once be called Comparative Futurism.


Instrumental Xenotation

H. P. Lovecraft, Susan Sontag, Linda Trent, Walter Benjamin, and Tom Ford

An uncharted island in the Pacific is home to the “nightmare corpse-city” called R’lyeh. Earlier, “measureless aeons behind history,” alien beings descended from the stars high up in the sky and “died vast epochs of time before men came,” but survived ever after below the abyssopelagic zones, lying in the nether wastes of the earth. The Great Old Ones live a germinal death, through which they haunt and possess the sensitive by molding strange dreams of great Cyclopean cities, “for only thus could their language reach the fleshly minds of the mammals,” who would then get infected with feverish hysteria and lethargic delirium. H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” as aligned as it is along the meteoritic tail of his other weird stories, is an arcane tale of openness. Dank and cracked stones, fragments of rotting walls and the cancerous rise of morbid flora and fungi near the swamp and lagoon country south of New Orleans, where the cultists gathered in response to the call of the Great Old Ones; the abnormal and non-Euclidean geometry of the dream-place with its “vast angles and stone surfaces too great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth” and “loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours;” the monstrous stone pillars sticking out of the sea and “heaved to the sun and air” near the muddy and weedy coastline of R’lyeh — these all correspond to the dimensional wreckage and interphyletic collisions of the necrotized geospheres that characterize the exhuming pest of life and the ungrounded death, while the disterminalized becomings of “dead Cthulhu who waits dreaming” incarnate in verses of a language shivering at its extremes and, more remarkably, in documents, objects, bas-reliefs, statuettes, fetishes and idols delivered in dreams.

But “the dream is in fact the telling of the dream,” said Susan Sontag while conversing with John Berger about storytelling in a 1983 episode of Voices on Channel 4. Berger had previously said that “stories begin at their end; the story of Romeo and Juliet, in a sense, begins at their death, that is when the story is given form. The end is not always death, but it quite frequently is… A life gains its full meaning in death, it is only then that a life is readable,” hence narratable. Sontag, of course, could not disagree more. She finds this way of storytelling fundamentally dependent on true lives, having been lived as precedents for stories, and utterly concerned with truth, thus hindered by it. There are no people and no lives outside of language, before the writer writes the story, as there is no experience of the dream before one accounts for it. Commenting on death as the vindicating telos of life and as the condition of fiction, Sontag suggests marriage as an equivalent to death, “that is, if one sees life only as having a meaning because it leads up to something, then it could be that it leads up to its end or it leads up to, at least, its transformation,” as marriage was traditionally viewed as a transformation. “Life is seen,” she says, “as whatever that leads up to this [ending or turning point] and what happens next is considered as another life, or another kind of life.” Shakespeare, again, is the model, whose tragedies end up in death and whose comedies end up in marriage. Against this teleological conditioning, obviously loaded with sociopolitical exigencies too and not only demands for literary novelty, the function of storytelling, she says, “is to introduce a sense of the fantastic, which might include the absurd,” to let the prism of reality keep receiving and refracting all the meaningless and absurd particles too, that is, “to establish the rights to intensity… to restore the claims of intensity.” She is pointing to the kind of feature found in the works of Edgar Allen Poe, which do not tell posthumous stories “but… real stories… stories of generally a disaster, which may or may not end in death… they are terrifying stories, they are fabulous stories…” These ideas, more or less, resonate with those of the fashion designer Tom Ford as told in an interview with Vogue Voices, where he says that although his “heart lies in reality,” but film also is reality for him, because actors and actresses did actually say those words, they did actually walk through those sets, and that film did actually happen, in a parallel reality, “forever sealed in film.”

“The Call of Cthulhu,” too, reads like a posthumous story. Purportedly “found among the papers of the late Francis Wayland Thurston,” it thus begins not with Lovecraft himself, despite the mainly first-person narrative, but with his invented character, Mr. Wayland Thurston, going through the notes left behind by his granduncle, a professor of linguistics, after his death. And at the end of the story, the narrator himself is convinced enough to anticipate a strong sense of ensuing fatality, after obsessively having studied and researched the notes, objects and stories that all revolved around Them. In a way, They have always been beside him, their affective presence always too close, and it is only then that he knows this, at the end of the story. This fascination with or attraction to horror is a mix that, as Mark Fisher points out, should be counted as the particularly “weird” characteristic of Lovecraft’s stories, which also dovetails with the fondness and danger that are simultaneously driven through necrophilic bonds. But the more important indicator of this characteristic weirdness is the quality of “real externality,” as Lovecraft himself notes on writing weird fiction. Such reality is the fruit of Lovecraft’s obsession with the outside but is entirely and exactly different from Ford’s “sealed” reality. The really exterior manifests its exteriority by making irruptions into the spatial dimensions and temporal coordinates of the familiar interior, that is when the recognizable here-and-now gets punctured by the unknown then-and-there (Fisher 2016). The outside is, once again, rendered in an extra-proximal relationship to the familiar world.

The effects of extra-proximity on reality are best traceable when concerning the Necronomicon. Endowed with mysterious and dangerous dominion over those who study its esoteric words, this written contagion is not merely a fabulation, in contrary to, say, Poe, but an instantiation of exteriority (Fisher 2016). Similar to other Things in other Lovecraft’s stories, it is more than occasionally discussed and meticulously but not fully described in details as a para-fictional entity that makes it then possible for other elements borrowed from the objectively familiar reality, most remarkably including places, geographies and institutions, to collapse onto the fictional side — simply because it pushes against the membrane of the extra- proximal sphere and spreads it out across the parcels of reality, where it is invoked. And it does so in a very particular manner. “Lovecraft generates a ‘reality-effect’ by only ever showing us tiny fragments of the Necronomicon. It is the very fragmentary quality of his references to the abominable text that induce the belief in readers that it must be a real object… [He] seemed to have understood the power of the citation, the way in which a text seems more real if it is cited than if it is encountered in the raw” (Fisher 2016: 24). This “reality-effect” is the hyperstitional potency of a fiction, by which it can be effective and make itself real. The main reason why fictions become hyperstitions is the “consistency of the fictional system” (Fisher 2016: 25), a network of multiple tales, to which the initial author loses control. In fact, it is this consistency that enables the “collectivization of the fictional system” (Trent 2004) — because of the fragmentary eruptions of the reality-effect, conveyed by the prismatic Things, a multitude of readers and authors have explored the Cthulhu mythos and released unshed stories welling up in its many undiscovered corners beyond the journeys of Lovecraft himself.

Walter Benjamin, one of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, also happened to leverage great importance on citations. Benjamin wrote at a time when what the future held was the impression that “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy, if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious” (Benjamin 2007: 255), an extra-proximal horror from which no distance is attainable, haunting both those who are gone and those who have not yet come with equal valence. Benjamin is preoccupied with alternatives for transmissibility across history, a way for seizing the past from the present standpoint other than by clinging on the ladder of an instrumental tradition whether with a prospective or retrospective inclination, both dependent on linear filiation. Against this fabricated continuity, inadequate to the ruptures of modernity, he poses the idea of cuts and breaks, wrenching the phenomena from the continuum of tradition and making them transmissible again. It is by the shock of citation that “disturbing strangeness of past vestiges” make eruptions into the present (Simay 2005), “arresting thought and allowing reality to collide and roll over it in search of another and until then unacknowledged history” (Taussig 2000). This is a fight over the past and its true meaning. And for Benjamin, as he writes in “Convolute N,” truth is not to be revealed but manifested in a “flash” of recognition, a fleeting image stitched together in a flickering constellation (Benjamin 2002). Lovecraft would not have been too surprised if had heard of the momentary constellation or the figure of the lightening, writing of the “day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality,” or more literally, of “all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things.”

However, as much as the lines of filiation and the bonds of philia configure dissimilar epistemogeometries, neither “the past from time immemorial” (Benjamin 2002: 464) should be mistaken with “measureless aeons behind history,” nor “the eruption of a prehistoricity into the present” (Taussig 2000) with “an irruption, through time and space, into an objectively familiar locale.” The distinction lies in Benjamin’s attempt to formulate a moment of historical awakening, when the fantasy of tradition is shattered and its instrumentalization is manifest, while Lovecraft, quite to the contrary, deepens the dreams, endorses instrumental transmissions and actually “traditionizes” the objects (Simay 2005). That is the birth of the tradition of hyperstitional actualities, a weird genesis that is always open to further fabrications and projective extensions to prior or later points of origin, exactly as Benjamin described it: “Origin, although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis. The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance” (Benjamin 1998: 45). This “process of becoming and disappearance” is critically diagnosed and laid bare when the dialectician flips it into “a specific mix of repression and of expression,” that is, the instrumental basis for becoming a social being who learns to know what not to know (Taussig 2000). But that same process is intensified and hyped up toward further actualities if “the production of the new,” the becoming, is “disclaimed and disguised by the author,” as writes Fisher. “Lovecraft’s retrospective projection of newly minted mythos into the deep past,” his strategy of “retro-interring” (Fisher 2016: 22), molds the dark matter of dream into objects of hyperstition. Eventually, by setting up a paradoxical but consistent strategy, Lovecraft takes creative advantage of what Benjamin, in the name of truth, rigorously tries to criticize.

All citations, if not specified otherwise, are from Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”.


Books and Articles:

  • Benjamin, Walter. (2007). Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books
  • Benjamin, Walter. (2002). The Arcades Project, trans. H. Eiland, K. McLaughlin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Benjamin, Walter. (1998). The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne. London: Verso
  • Lovecraft, H. P. (2011). “The Call of Cthulhu,” in H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction. New York: Barnes and Noble (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.aspx) [10/12/2016]
  • Lovecraft, H. P. (2011). “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, in Supernatural Horror in Literature and Other Literary Essays. Maryland: Wildside Press (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/nwwf.aspx) [15/12/2016]
  • Simay, Philippe. (2005). “Tradition as Injunction: Benjamin and the Critique of Historicisms”, in Walter Benjamin and History, ed. Andrew Benjamin. London: Continuum
  • Taussig, Michael. (2000). “The Beach (A Fantasy)”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 249-278
  • Trent, Linda. (2004). “How Do Fictions Become Hyperstitions?” Hyperstition Blog, 19 June 2004 (http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003345.html) [3/1/2017]

Web and Television Productions:

Objective Hyperreality vs. Hyperobjective Reality

The following is an overrun footnote that had to get expelled from my dissertation-in-progress. Here in exile, may it rest in peace.

Jodi Dean argues that the Internet, on the one hand, “imagines, stages and enacts the “global” of global capital. But on the other this global is nothing like the world — as if such an entity were possible, as if one could designate an objective reality undisturbed by the external perspective observing it or a fully consistent essential totality unruptured by antagonism” (Dean 2005: 67-68). Latent in Dean’s argument is that the reach of capital is beyond “our specific worlds,” beyond the image of the global that the internet puts forth. Then, it can be surmised that capital has captured “an objective reality” beyond the specific worlds of situated experiences. Although the totalizing ruse of the imagined global makes it seem as if “everything is already there” inside the network (69), the foreclosed outside cannot exceed a planetary scale regardless. Put differently, capital has already captured the objective reality of the planetary scale as its launchpad. The planetary scale is where the informatic infrastructure of capital is installed, it is the operative horizon of all the satellites orbiting the earth and all the fiber optic cables spread across the bottom of the oceans.

In this sense, what was surmised from Dean’s argument — namely the planetary scale that capital has already expropriated as its own objective reality — can be better explained if dubbed, following Timothy Morton, in terms of a hyperobjective reality. But we might need to first briefly examine Jean Baudrillard’s conception of hyperreality.

When the real itself, or that which bears the function of the real, is generated by models and doubles that bear no reference to an original reality, all that is left is the “Precession of Simulacra.” Hyperreality is inaugurated by “a liquidation of all referentials — worse: with their artificial resurrection in the system of signs” (Baudrillard 1994: 2). The theory of simulacra is among the first attempts to account for the cultural logics of a new era of capitalist development, for which postmodernism has come to stand as the most ubiquitous designation. This era is marked by “an operation of deterring every real process via its operational double, a programmatic, metastable, perfectly descriptive machine that offers all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes” (2). Here capitalism is exclusively carried on by the symbolic exchange of signs which are ungrounded from any real referentiality that would have hitherto determined their value. Exchange or abstraction itself generates the real of capital. Hyperreality, therefore, is based on the dissolution of the “sovereign difference,” hence the signs of the real being substituted for the real. This makes it a challenge to think about an objective hyperreality.

An aesthetics of the hyperreal is made apparent by visual technologies that attempt “a frisson of vertiginous and phony exactitude, a frisson of simultaneous distancing and magnification, of distortion of scale, of an excessive transparency” (28). Baudrillard charts microscopic vision, pornography, and the generics of An American Family, a 1971 reality TV series, as harbingers of hyperrealistic aesthetics. Such aesthetics presents that which comes across as effectively and operationally more real than what previously operated as reality, or for that matter as sex or as nature. If effective signs and symptoms of the real can be generated and operationalized without the real preceding them, then is an objective diagnosis of (hyper)reality possible any longer? I might not sat objectivity is technically precluded, but has perhaps lost its significance, because hyperreality does not leave anything out. It does not rest on any preexisting territory that could be previously mapped by a logic of “imaginary coextensivity.” It first produces the map, and its territory will be generated thereof. There will be no imaginary, no sign or symptom which is not as real as reality used to be, if not more. And there will neither be a reality as such because “no imaginary envelops it anymore” (2). Objectivity, in the sense of the faculty of distinction between that which can be accounted for as true fact and that which is false, is threatened when confronted by the hyperreal, which is “produced from a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (2). Hyperreality resolves the question of objectivity by invariably enabling it in regard to all the operative elements that take part in an order that functions as same as the real used to.

The loss of an objective reality is therefore occupied by a kind of materialist indeterminacy or, as Morton would say, “a boiling whirlwind of impermanence” that is today’s capitalism (Morton 2010: 130). This loss, however, has always been fundamental to capitalist operations, or to an understanding of the world and its reality after capitalism. “There was no world before capitalism,” writes Morton. Nature only shows up and becomes intelligible as Nature once attempts at terraforming Earth have already been made, when Nature has de facto vanished: “Things are first known when lost” (132). Global warming and the planetary extents of nuclear contamination, among others, shape what we refer to as the world and also bring about the end of the world, rendering the operational capacities of such a concept redundant. In other words, following its fundamental mechanism of dissolution and abstraction, capitalism “creates things that are more solid than things ever were… things that appear almost more real than reality itself” (130). These things are hyperobjects, “things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans… [T]he sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism” (Morton 2013: 1). Speaking of a universe entirely assimilated into the matrices of late capitalism, Morton refers to the most widely cited sentence that Karl Marx quoted from Macbeth, “all that is solid melts into the air,” and continues, “at the very point at which the melting into the air occurs, we catch the first glimpses of the all-too-solid iceberg within the mist” (20). Therefore, that which was previously intended as an objective reality of the world as such can now be only traced in a search for hyperobjective realities.

Important in this transition is also a revision of postmodernism. “The ultimate goal of this project,” writes Morton of postmodernism, “was to set up a weird transit lounge outside of history in which the characters and technologies and ideas of the ages mill around in a state of mild, semiblissful confusion” (4). The confusing indeterminacy of hyperreality, so to speak, gives way to the shocking reality of hyperobjects. Finally, while the simulacra and the genesis of hyperreality were frequently ascribed to televisual effects, their hyperspace seems to be now populated by the all-too-real hyperobjects that, by extension, locate the pursuit of objectivity on the internet and computational networks of various kinds. Nonlocality, after all, is one of the key common properties of hyperobjects. Just like the distributed networks of planetary informatics, “one only sees pieces of a hyperobject at any one moment;” local manifestations that are not the direct equivalents of the larger totality (4). Morton proposes the practice of an “Ecological Thought” that can attend to the future of these hyperobjects, a mode of thinking that can attend to an “Ecology without Nature.” Since hyperobjects or, we could say, the hyperobjective reality of the internet and its distributed networks outscale us so massively that although we know that they are there, we cannot point to them directly (12), the ecological thought needs to stand in as a mode of “irreductionist thinking” that can encounter the “scalar dilemmas” that hyperobjects present (19).

Despotic Ophidiophobia

The following is an overrun footnote that had to get expelled from my dissertation-in-progress. Here in exile, may it rest in peace.

Gilles Deleuze once distinguished the late twentieth century societies of control from disciplinary societies that reached their height almost one hundred years earlier. The latter initiated “the organization of vast spaces of enclosure… Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point” (Deleuze 1992: 3-4).

The “continuous change,” “self-modulation” and “transmutation” are crucial points for outlining the relationship of Iran’s economic order at large to the planetary apparatus of capital since the late 1980s. The neoliberal logic of capitalism, only principally speaking, does not require all the walls to come down. Adaptation, as a mode of conduct, is coded into its coils. Ahmadinejad’s fanaticism, therefore, can be understood as a phobic reaction, a hysteria, in the face of the consistently shapeshifting and “complex coils of this serpent,” as Deleuze called it. Ahmadinejad’s administration, in this sense, was ophidiophobic, to stay with the analogy. We can take a detour here and briefly discuss how ophidiophobia resonates with the issue of survival and thus goes beyond the tradition of modern pathologies.

Snakes originate in the Cretaceous period from around one hundred million years ago. Descending from the now extinct amphibians of the Class Reptilia, their limbs grew shorter and shorter over thousands of millennia, enabling them to overcome the difficulties of life underground — a certain flexibility without which many other reptilians could not and did not survive. This makes snakes the oldest species alive today, meaning that their origins of life precede that of many more recently developed mammals, who had to advance a perceptive ability to focus on environmental threats in order to survive and to follow the path down the line of evolution. Hence a fear of snakes and serpents, and of spiders for that matter, which have been among the most longstanding threats coexisting with the mammalian ancestry.

These extra-pathological aspects of the ecobiological deep time are reflected in certain productions of popular culture in the modern era, including the reptilian humanoids and the Serpent Men, a fictional race created by Robert Howard in the 1920s, which fuel many more contemporary conspiracy theories about the mainstream politicians and their ties with secret cults who can adopt anthropomorphic appearances, manipulate human societies, and roughly speaking, have control over all global affairs.

The allegory of the serpent suggested by Deleuze as the image of late capitalism, its networked disposition and the accompanying logic of control reflects a sense of triumphant survivalism that relies on a particular anatomy or architecture, that of the flexible, shape-shifting coils that spread across and stretch into and out of dimensions that challenge the validity of an anthropic principle in the face of technocommericial forces of global capital. Hence a reflection, too, of the overarching agency of capital and its nearly unmappable, untrackable reach, of how an inexplicable system operates beyond the aims, intentions and agencies of humans and, as Mark Fisher put it, how seemingly “conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity” (Fisher 2016: 11).

Taking these allegorical attributes seriously, Reza Negarestani suggests the figurative substance of oil to replace the serpent, which therefore eschews the immediately racist connotations of how reptilian survivalism has been reflected in the white racial frames of the Western culture. Capital’s survival is registered by the oil and its “petropolitical undercurrents.” Put differently, capital’s enduring life, lubricated by oil and consummated in the emergence of “war-as-a-machine,” occupies an agency and a timeframe beyond that of humans:

Petroleum poisons Capital with absolute madness, a planetary plague bleeding into economies mobilized by the technological singularities of advanced civilizations. In the wake of oil as an autonomous terrestrial conspirator, capitalism is not a human symptom but rather a planetary inevitability. In other words, Capitalism was here even before human existence, waiting for a host (Negarestani 2009: 27; emphasis added).

David Joselit’s “On Aggregators” in Farsi

A Farsi translation of David Joselit’s essay “On Aggregators” (2013) published on the occasion of Slavs and Tatars: Nose to Nose, Pejman Foundation, Tehran, June 2017.

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_ رونمایی از کاتالوگ نمایشگاه «دماغ به دماغ» به همراه مقاله‌ی «درباره‌ی گردآورنده‌ها» فردا جمعه، ۹ تیر، در بنیاد پژمان: کارخانه آرگو. به همین مناسبت تور بازدید از نمایشگاه ساعت ۶ بعدازظهر برگزار خواهد شد. Launch of "Nose to Nose" exhibition catalogue together with an article by David Joselit, tomorrow (Friday, June 30th) at Pejman Foundation: Argo Factory. In conjunction with the book launch, there will be a tour of the exhibition at 6 pm. @pejmanfoundation @argofactory @studiokargah @saamKeshmiri @aria.kasaei #pejmanfoundation #argofactory #slavsandtatars #nosetonose #davidjoselit #saamkeshmiri #ariakasaie

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“Post-Capitalist Desire”: An Introduction

to rigor, rage, and courage…

Written as an introduction to Mark Fisher’s 2012 essay “Post-Capitalist Desire,” this text was featured in the accompanying publication to The Fisher-Function public program series.

Built upon the intricately sketched landscape of Capitalist Realism, at the heart of the naturalised order of appearances assumed to render all alternatives impossible, ‘Post-Capitalist Desire’ is a climax in Mark’s commitment to envision a future for the left. It calls into question capital’s long-established monopoly on desire.

Why should a desire for technology and consumer goods appear necessarily to mean a desire for capitalism? The conflation, Mark argues, results from capital’s opportunist aligning of technology and desire. This occurs on capital’s own terms when “anti-capitalism entails being anarcho-primitivist”: finding solutions in a self-organizational ‘organicist-localism’ while maintaining a stance that is anti-technological, anti-mass production. An explicitly antagonist left falls short of gaining traction on the libidinal flows of social drive that are already animated by capital and are further enabling its processes in return.

A post-capitalist politics begins with affirming that this structural antagonism should therefore be reconsidered because of its being heedless of capital’s programmed reality. But it also refuses to remain caught up in ideology critique, circumscribed under the crust of complaint and denunciation. To strategize against capitalism is to summon and reclaim the possible “Real(s) underlying the reality that capitalism presents to us.”1

Mark identifies the challenges that a future-oriented left needs to face by tying conservative, reactionary statements that hold up capital’s techno-libidinal conflation to a certain strand in the writings of Nick Land from the 1990s. Via Land—the ‘avatar of accelerated capital’—Mark exposes how the prime mandate of capitalism is to capture libidinal circuitries and channel public desiring in certain directions rather than others.

As Mark calls them elsewhere, “libidinal technicians”2 have embedded their parasitic mechanisms into everyday life and grown their ‘semiotic excrescences’ on the bodies of individuals. It is then made clear that a traditional ‘leftist-Canutist’ attitude is incapable of desire-engineering. It is fundamentally opposed to such engineering in its anti-libidinal insistence on conservatism: “preserving, protecting and defending”.

Determined to break from Landian thanatophoric fatalism, Mark incites a post-capitalism commensurate with the ‘inorganic nature of libido’—the death drive. This is not a desire for death or for the extinction of desire, which is characteristic of both the apocalyptic acceleration of deterritorializing processes and of the ‘ascetic-authoritarian’ measures imposed by communist states. Rather, it is a desire to push an organism’s life out of obdurate homeostasis, away from a life forcefully lived along the lines of preservation and protection.

In ‘Utopia as Replication’, Fredric Jameson turns to Marx to restate that destratifying forces of capital tend toward “the centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labor.”3 In other words, capital tends towards the emergence of the General Intellect and the growth of monopoly, of a reterritorialised extremity after ultimate deterritorialisation. Jameson, in a self-admittedly perverse move, tends to identify this monopoly, best exemplified in the post-Fordist context of late capitalism by the largest company in the world, Wal-Mart, as a utopian phenomenon.

Mark argues for a turn from the anti-capitalist ‘no logo’ call to a post-capitalist ‘counterbranding’ via Jameson’s outlining of a utopian method, where a logical operation of inverted genealogy was attempted—a genealogy of contingent futurities. To locate utopian impulses in the preconditions that are already reserved in the present is to target that which was promised by the cultural revolutions of the left and yet was never delivered; spotting the ‘residual’ only to leave it in search of the ’emergent’.

The demand of this pursuit of abandoned promises is to address and rework substructures that lend support to the apparent reality, away from the underlying Real(s) and fundamentally designed against the fulfillment of desires—only feeding and stimulating them enough to be always worthy of capture, ready to be milked. Hence the recovered evocation of ‘designer socialism’, in the absence of which the design of capitalist realism has been made to appear unrivaled.

It is then evident that the Landian take on the death drive and the ‘historical-machinic force of libido’ is biased against taking the reterritorializing turn, deeming it impossible, or its possibility insignificant. However, it is in the course of this turn that the left needs to implement its ‘counterlibidinal’ politics. “[D]isarticulating technology and desire from capital”, while simultaneously intensifying the processes of deterritorialization only in the manner of “de-anchoring […] the libidinal fragments from the capitalist sigils with which they are arbitrarily articulated”, as Mark prefigured in ‘Digital Psychedelia’, an essay on The Otolith Group’s Anathema.4

To march toward and build (around) an Acid Communism requires “a new use of digital machinery, a new kind of digital desire: a digital psychedelia, no less. […] It dilates time; induces us to linger and drift”, as it “rediscovers the dream time that capitalist realism has eclipsed.”5 To host post-capitalism is to expand the presumably unaffordable spans of time from the side of the future. As Jameson maintains, “[s]uch revival of futurity and of the positing of alternate futures is not itself a political program nor even a political practice: but it is hard to see how any durable or effective political action could come into being without it.”6

[1] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero Books, 2009), p. 18.

[2] Mark Fisher, ‘How To Kill a Zombie: Strategizing the End of Neoliberalism’, in openDemocracy. 18 July 2013.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (Penguin, 1976), p. 929.

[4] Mark Fisher, ‘Digital Psychedelia: The Otolith Group’s Anathema’, in Death and Life of Fiction: Modern Monsters – Taipei Biennial 2012 Journal (Spectormag, 2014), pp. 160–166.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic (Verso, 2009), p. 434

This Is the Sea, Isn’t It?

Commissioned by Mohammad Salemy for the project This Is the Sea, this text was presented at artmonte-carlo, April 2017.

The CIA World Factbook has listed one Belgian-owned ship that flies the North Korean civil ensign.

Even the two largest landlocked countries in the world, Cambodia and Mongolia, have been offering flags of convenience to foreign-owned merchant ships since the mid-1990s.

Registries are often run out of office buildings in countries other than those nations whose colors flag the vessels, managed by corporations that specialize in engineering legal leeways and anonymous mobility like no wishful cyberutopia could promise.

There is a history of how compositions of venue and vicinage can pave the way for a walk, arranged to escape trials, right across the narrow strips of near-impunity.

Before 1548, the English jury did not have the power to pursue cross-county homicides.

The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice or, simply, the Murder Act of 1774 secured Britain’s supreme authority over the American dominions, maintaining the principle of local jury trial.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the first of its kind, overflows the almost impeccably rectangular territories of Wyoming into the neighboring Idaho and Montana, preserving a potential death zone, a federal enclave immune to the enforcement of state law, reserved for the perfect crime (Brian C. Kalt, “The Perfect Crime”).

The suspension of legal command is still looming in the loopholes that, 370 kilometers away from the shore, float in the high seas of evasion and efficiency.

A shade of gray folds back on another, waves of indeterminacy stratify into zones of exception.

On the horizon rests the utopia of independent jurisdictions, looping whirlpools of self-regulated counter-sovereignties, proxies for secrecy…

The platforms of floating seasteads are raised to let the consequences of every action or transaction exceed the limits of maximum entropy, leave behind the retroaction of an ex post facto law, deviate and descend, discover new regions of disorder, dissolving in the patterns of the wild tides.

A company’s solid performance should match a solvent’s molecular capacity to dissolve the grains of debt into smooth solutions.

The logics of fluidity through the ducts of global capital often recommends meeting insolvency with enforced liquidation. The logistics of flux necessitates an extended process of molecular intensification, passing through unheard-of potentials for full-fledged sogginess as phase transitions that pursue the principal ends of entropy dissipation.

Planting loopholes into the ducted network is an alternatively oversaturated solution, formed by flowing in directions more varied than those defined by entropic tendencies, which slide into an equilibrium of perfect internal disorder.

Loopholes are isolated infinities. Popping up infinitesimally and folding inward infinitely, they stir the network, further complicating its whirling turbulence to no foretold end.

A system too loopholed to stay inside its enclave, or to remain well demarcated from a surrounding environment, spills over into the looping infinity of sub-spiraling special administrative regions.

Growing complexities take advantage of defined boundaries, displacing them not by pushing back or forward, but by folding them deep in or far out.

The high seas warp the mainlands.

Trafficking slaves from the Swahili coast to the Arabian Peninsula, Omani ships sailed off into isolation, at the height of the Sultanate in the 18th century, unmoored into independence from land-locked state institutions, and developed on-board tendencies, whether cultural, idiomatic or sexual.

Xaniths in Oman, Hijras in Pakistan, Mashogas in Kenya… Washing up on coasts that border on the Indian Ocean and turning inland, gender fluidity is a feature of maritime identities. Not mermaids springing from the shape-shifting volume of the sea, fantasies stemming from heterosexual frustration and melting away into watery fairy tales, but exercising their being as doing, they originate in the characteristic versatility of marine societies (Ahmad Makia, “Treading Gulf Waters”).

Carried over to shore leaves and pouring into the land are relationships and practices born at sea, the registered birthplace of lives delivered on the ships surrounded by water.

Some would say that amidst the transoceanic nightmares that colonialism induced in and out of wakefulness, certain gifts were also granted, right on the deck, an “anarchic mix of sailors and slaves and riff-raff plying the waves… humming with creolized languages and music and preindustrial visions of the Rights of Man” (Michael Taussig, “The Beach (A Fantasy)”).

The water gleams in the first rays of a rising sun. What else is carried over to the shore by the approaching waves?

For the slightly indeterminate purposes of this text and the context it shares with the contemporary state of plastic arts, it would sound almost nothing short of corrupt to invest even a single line in a vain attempt to engage with the ruthless currents that fatally devour the lost futures of millions of tormented souls on the run and in search of a refuge, whose bodies often end up washed up on coasts.

Not a message in a bottle, but the plastic bottle itself is plastic enough. Although lauded as the very idea of its transformation, branded by the promise of tracing the movements of a shape in flux, plastic is nothing but a container, acting as “a sealant, a barrier… materializing the desire for impenetrability, for objects, bodies, and selves to be discrete, for categories not to mix, for a monadic identity separated from its environment” (Heather Davis, “Life & Death in the Anthropocene”).

The pressures of molecular obduracy exceed the excitations of formal versatility. This is a war of polymers, waged by a more commercial than scientific matter that is best deployed by the chemistry of biofinance.

The only shape traceable in its reluctant footprint is that of a still extractionist capitalism, rejuvenated in the substrate spirit of a cheap substance and the conditions for a commodity society post WWII, which is still struggling with the sporadic waterspouts of the neo-Empire — surely more frequent than their meteorological counterparts.

The will to conquer distant territories, once resisted on an unprecedented scale, folded back into a river of black-boxed vortices, unpredictably flooding its banks.

If fluxional self-regulation bounces off the “inmost end” (Brian Massumi, The Power at the End of the Economy), if the molecular scale is where the capitalist frontline is drawn, then what are the chances for bypassing the middle phase of liquidity altogether? What does it take to organize more directly across the full spectrum of intermolecular extremization? The seasick dream of phase transitions: a politics of deposition, a politics of sublimation.