Theory-Fiction

Tactics and Extravagance

2019-01-29

I am wrestling with an awful zeal for the authority of completeness. To be solid, to be one: what a terrible passion, and yet, how comfortable.

Vagrancy, extravagance—I follow Thoreau here.1 Yarded by my tradition and my training, I, too, want to speak somewhere without bounds, to leap over the fence, to translate myself. I do not want to be the expert who exchanges my competence for authority.2 I do not want to contribute to the “economy of the proper place.”3

I wanted to say something about theory-fiction, but to do so would be for me to stake my claim, to apply a strategy through which I might “produce, tabulate, and impose [a] space[]” of authority and expertise. Instead, let us be tactical: use, manipulate, divert!4

Terence Blake showed me first. Citational belonging; “transverse” practice of the link.5 Blake wants to go without the spectrum designated by the hyphen in theory-fiction; he wants to think polygonally.6 Applying Feyerabend, Blake considers his effort an attempt at Homeric, rather than Socratic, thought. What strange Olympians exist here beyond the proper place?

Blake writes in response to Gregory Marks and Joshua Carswell. Marks cites Mark Fisher’s Flatline Constructs to delimit his thinking, and I follow. I find Fisher making use of a popular formula: “The becoming-fiction of theory is necessarily accompanied by the becoming-real of fiction” (Fisher 156).7

Marks is responding to his own prior three attempts. His list feels comprehensive, final—though finality is likely impossible for a form that “leaks and cracks” as does this one (Simon Sellars, cited by Marks).

Carswell, concerned with the lure of authority such a list entails, mounts a critique of Marks’s canon. And so, we have discourse, of which the internet yields more:

Alienocene: Journal of the First Outernational. Their list begins with a citation from Guy Debord: “We did not seek the formula for overturning the world in books, but in wandering. Ceaselessly drifting for days on end, none resembling the one before.” Once again we are without bounds. Kindly, they provide links to texts as well.

Macon Holt, “The Terrifying Ambivalence of Theory-Fiction.” I read: write everything down. Holt cites Tom McCarthy’s narrator in Satin Island; McCarthy’s narrator cites Bronisław Malinowski. So much belonging—too much. I’m saturated with what Holt terms the infinitely remixable.

S.C. Hickman points me to Bratton, Baudrillard, Roden, Vico, Negarestani, and more.

Ghosts discuss theory-fiction on Reddit.

A tag collects posts at punctum books.

Kodwo Eshun’s course at HEAD-Genève for the Critical Curatorial Cybernetic Studies program intends students to construct “a vocabulary of a future notation.”

Lauren Fournier’s Autotheory. Autotheory (which, in Gregory Marks’s schema, is Theoretical Fiction, or Self-Writing as Theory) is “a particularly performative mode of citation,” a “practice of performing, embodying, enacting, processing, metabolizing, and reiterating philosophy, theory, and art criticism.”

So, we might say: all these ways of making do (see note 5, below).

I am exhausted—this curation has drained me, but this curation, I hope, has arrived at nothing, in the end, no statement or position, no essential definition of the topic, only an exuberant signification.

Perhaps de Certeau’s words are best, by way of a conclusion:

We witness the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.8


Notes

  1. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), 289. See also Sean Ross Meehan on Thoreau’s extravagance and Annie Dillard’s exuberance at his blog

  2. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 7. 

  3. de Certeau, 55. Original emphasis. 

  4. de Certeau, 30. 

  5. Citation is an ethics for being-with: see Cary Wolfe’s introduction to Donna Haraway, Manifestly Haraway (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), ix. For “transverse,” see de Certeau, 29, on the “countless ways of ‘making do.’” 

  6. He, too, follows Thoreau: number six on his list (and a happy coincidence to be number six here as well). 

  7. Mark Fisher, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction (New York: Exmilitary Press, 2018), PDF. This formula, too, I receive at a distance, from the editors’ note preceding Henri Lefebvre’s “Review of Kostas Axelos’s Toward Planetary Thought” in his State, Space, World (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 254: “Lefebvre reflects in detail on Axelos’s reformulation of the young Marx’s aphorism in his doctoral thesis that the ‘world’s becoming philosophical is at the same time philosophy’s becoming worldly’ (see Karl Marx, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. L. D. Easton and K. H. Guddat [New York: Doubleday, 1967], 62).” We are nothing but quotations of voices (de Certeau)—and so, we are everything. 

  8. de Certeau, Dedication