Thursday, 31 October 2013

Whence does the Earth procure its food? A three-legged enquiry into the question of sovereignty, with particular reference to a recently imagined construct which has been designated ‘the safe space’


Building and thinking are, each in its own way, inescapable for dwelling. The two, however, are also insufficient for dwelling so long as each busies itself with its own affairs in separation instead of listening to one another. They are able to listen if both-building and thinking-belong to dwelling, if they remain within their limits and realise that the one as much as the other comes from the workshop of long experience and incessant practice.
The European garden orb web spider (Araneus diadematus) enjoys its ascendancy during the last weeks of September and the first weeks of October. It stretches its web across paths and passages, windows and vents, and over precisely those nooks and crannies into which one must cringingly reach out one’s reluctant hand. 
Perhaps the reason for its flourishing at summer’s end is due to a particular niche it has discovered beyond the left wall of minimal complexity (I am contractually constrained from describing this as its purpose) which is to suck up floating invertebrates during those last days before plunging temperatures enforce the seasonal suspension of all such flighted beings. 

In this way, the araneus diadematus ensures that at least some of the highly concentrated bundles of energy embodied by wing-borne arthropods are conserved within the animal kingdom rather than their being lost to simple decomposition in the frost and thaws of winter. 

And so it comes to pass, that the feeder shall also be the fed upon. The araneus, which manifests itself in summer’s final hour, and in the guise of a fin de siecle decadent (which consumes its own web at night, to re-spin it at daybreak) is a veritable sitting duck for birds (tides of blue, great and longtail tits harvest them from hedgerows and from under eves). With one peck, the birds gain an energy packet from stationary spiders equivalent to several flies and without having to expend any energy chasing them (e.g. nutritionally, spiders are 63% protein compared to the 15-30% protein of flies).

The Araneus therefore parablises the position of the expropriated expropriator, the  ambusher who is himself  ambushed. In its state of readiness for that which will fall into its parlour, the spider (as a metaphorical paradigm for what is merciless) is peculiarly vulnerable to attack from above. In general, and the araneus is no exception,  umwelt-type structures solidify around inputs and outputs, the nuts and bolts of energy conservation - they do not factor in a strategic capacity for anticipating higher order threats to their integrity. 

And so the parable of the spider’s stratagem unveils itself as a neat encapsulation: he who strikes down is, in turn, also struck down upon. Perhaps more messily, we may also observe how the predated predator cannot conceive of that which threatens it from outside the logic of its life-world

Each and every final incarnated moment is relinquished uncomprehendingly to, or at least in a state of defencelessness against, that which causes its end. This blindness towards the death which comes from above is a sort of default clemency that is inherent to what is otherwise red in tooth and claw. That the prey’s life-world collapses immediately at the touch of the predator is an indication of the presence of a trip-switch, based in the absence of conscious dread, which short circuits any unnecessary suffering and thus yields up death without any residue of murder. This blindspot, or structured vulnerability, to death from above, is what human consciousness has sought to overcome as a means of refusal of its predators. Consciousness is a ruse to get past every other predator’s inbuilt limitation, that of having eyes set in the front of the head. Human consciousness is backward and upward looking. 

In nature, purpose, or directionality, within the life-world is structurally oriented towards what is lesser... all life-worlds, in the absence of consciousness, are constructed around a downward gaze which is triggered by the set of component prompts and processes that produce its interior. The life-world itself is an emergent structure that clambers up out of the multiple and complex relations between these simple prompts and metabolic circuits. 

For this reason, the life-world could be said to know that of which it is directly an outcome (i.e. the flows of energy which are immediately plugged into it). This spider knows the last flies of autumn, but it becomes progressively less knowing of more generalised forces (freak climatic shifts, higher order life forms) and of those bundles of energy which are the outcome of remote sequences in energy transfer. 

As an example of a unilateral incomprehension within an arbitrary relation between remote evolutionary lineages, the life-world of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in South Georgia does not register, and thus cannot protect itself from, the rats preying on its eggs anymore than the dogs in Kafka’s story perceive the human masters amongst them. 

At this point we observe how the abstract knowledge carried forward by consciousness intervenes in the process of life-world construction and alters it irrevocably. The history of a space is the history of consciousness within that space. Specifically, it is the materialised knowledge that is bound into its structure - an intervention which both tears out the local umwelt-given input/output cannulae and replumbs the resultant false space, the human life-world, into a remote energy supply.  Thus consciousness, which tenses like the orb spider, at the centre of its edifice, anticipates, or rather, dreads that which it should not know. 
...there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumour of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise --then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.
The ‘safe space’ (the homely space), which consciousness seeks to create, materialises the anticipation of higher order, or remote, threat... ironically, this remote threat, like the red death, is already inside, and is structured by the safe space itself. The safe space, the walls of thorn surrounding the Sleeping Beauty, the tower in which Rapunzel is locked, is safe only to the extent that it baffles ordinary level attention... otherwise, it is a provocation to, and a cynosure of the ambivalent forces which swirl through consciousness. 

The homely space, perversely, also encloses the uncanny (Das Unheimliche) or that which is most remote, i.e. consciousness itself (or rather, the threat which consciousness poses) is thus the structural origin of what is called ‘domestic violence’ (i.e. the intimate bringing together of remote sequences of defences, walls, locks, lights, weapons, that have been set in anticipation against what was represented as an external threat). 

Consciousness is nothing but the foreboding of that which threatens it. It is a secondary state of immersal arrived at from a position of separation, an aesthetic luxuriating within, a thrilled ethics in readying for, what is about to go wrong. Consciousness is a transgression against the given form of the umwelt (where this is understood as a full involvement in the merciful comedy that is inherent to there being no presentiment of that which must destroy it.) Consciousness anticipates and prepares against representations of the world, representations which it has formulated. Consciousness awaits in trepidation for what it has made of the outside, and the safe space is the place in which it abides...  

THERE is a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where I sit (not the one which has been so well allegorised in the admirable Lines to a Spider, but another of the same edifying breed); he runs with heedless, hurried haste, he hobbles awkwardly towards me, he stops -- he sees the giant shadow before him, and, at a loss whether to retreat or proceed, meditates his huge foe -- but as I do not start up and seize upon the straggling caitiff, as he would upon a hapless fly within his toils, he takes heart, and ventures on with mingled cunning, impudence and fear. As he passes me, I lift up the matting to assist his escape, am glad to get rid of the unwelcome intruder, and shudder at the recollection after he is gone. A child, a woman, a clown, or a moralist a century ago, would have crushed the little reptile to death-my philosophy has got beyond that -- I bear the creature no ill-will, but still I hate the very sight of it. The spirit of malevolence survives the practical exertion of it. We learn to curb our will and keep our overt actions within the bounds of humanity, long before we can subdue our sentiments and imaginations to the same mild tone. We give up the external demonstration, the brute violence, but cannot part with the essence or principle of hostility. We do not tread upon the poor little animal in question (that seems barbarous and pitiful!) but we regard it with a sort of mystic horror and superstitious loathing. It will ask another hundred years of fine writing and hard thinking to cure us of the prejudice and make us feel towards this ill-omened tribe with something of "the milk of human kindness," instead of their own shyness and venom.
The safe space is created as the spatial extension of the vigilance of consciousness, which sets itself against the threats which consciousness itself poses... specifically, it is the defence against transgressions against a representation of safety, and which appear on its terms as ‘principles’ or rules. 

A spider’s responses (Hazlitt’s example is probably Tegenaria domestica) are triggered by the vibrations it waits for within its life-world (i.e. it is readied for that to occur which is lesser than it, but of which it is also an outcome) but it has no anticipatory capacity for the response it triggers in Hazlitt’s web of unconscious association and patterning in his vigilant awareness - it does not know consciousness, it does not know the swept floor of the space in which consciousness abides, it does not know it transgresses by its very appearance the principle of interiority of the place. But it does transgress. For conscious vigilance, the spider, which manifests besides the hearth of the safe space (and after Lou Reed) appears as an evil thought, as a transgression against the swept floor. 

Then the safe space is a mysterious interiority fraught with dangers - one enters it carefully, as if lifting the lid on a box full of scorpions. So, in order to reveal its constraints, something of the mechanism of consciousness must also be shown. We can see from Hazlitt’s account that the safe space depends upon an immaturity in consciousness which seeks to attribute and personify threats to the life-world from out of those signs which trigger its capacity for vigilance. 

The state of vigilance is triggered by perceived transgressions, and as consciousness is already itself a transgression (i.e. it breaks through, via its anticipation of death from above, the frontier for recognising abstract pattern), its tolerance thresholds are set ideologically in the form of conscious (i.e. invisible) territorial principles. Transgression, the breaking through of a web of invisible rules, is thus registered as an indicator of external and dangerous intent. 

From out of these components (artificial life-world domain; a monitoring awareness; the preparedness for external hostility; a policing function; attribution through pattern recognition; speculative personification), the entire relational process activates a self-reductive and viciously circular trigger/response apparatus: i. the ground of the safe space is swept clean and thus separated from nature, according to the application of abstract principles; ii. a vigilant consciousness monitors the observance of the principles which define the space; iii. a transgression of the principles indicates the approach of a presence; iv. the presence is personified by attribution of a projected intent; v. as the presence has already been registered as a transgression, the intent must be hostile; vi hostile intent triggers the reinforcement of the abstract principles which define the space; vii. the territorial space is thus reasserted by an act of clearance or expulsion; viii. the space becomes inseparable from the movement of the monitoring gaze and repulsive gesture; ix. the guardianship of the space is inseparably associated with its personified ownership; x. and yet the process of abstraction inherent within consciousness registers transgression even within the gaze and behaviours of its guardians - these too are inadequate and thus intolerable, and must also face expulsion.

Consciousness, like Rilke’s fig tree (‘...you completely omit your blossoms/ and urge your pure mystery, unproclaimed, into the early ripening fruit’), as it is triggered by the specific instance but also oriented towards the abstract rule, seeks to categorically collapse every transgressive presence with the restatement of violated principle into a singular rule. From the perspective of consciousness, ensconced in its safe space, all instances of presence are violations of abstract principle... no presence may truly uphold, that is live up to, the demand of the principle. 

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by ‘belief systems’ which are nothing but moveable safe spaces. The tragedy of political consciousness is that it inhibits the nuances which are not expressible in terms of principle. The believers’ real, but inadmissible, ambivalence for their beliefs leeches into their practice and poisons them. Nobody really believes in ‘revolution’ or ‘communism’ any more than they believe in God, but they utilise these terms to describe the ‘war machine’ in which they travel, and through which they set out (to a limited extent) the constraints on the relations of their engagements with the world. 
4.121. Propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them. What finds its reflection in language, language cannot represent. What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language.
Propositions show the logical form of reality. They display it.
Belief systems function as safe spaces but for the believers trapped inside, the space’s constraints will not permit their other thoughts to appear there. As a political project, the safe space is precipitated from out of an atmosphere of wounds, failure and denunciation. The safe space thus appears politically as an aggressive defensiveness, a sweeping motion which clears a defined domain. The domain condenses around very primitive registers of internalised belonging and externalised exclusion. Those creatures that are to be excluded are readily identified with transgressions against the principle of the swept floor and are ideologically evaluated as morally responsible for their transgression. 

The safe space is a representation of the commune. It is a politically specific expropriation and re-presentation of the history of the human life-world. The first of its two taproots reaches down into the genealogy of the retreat, the asylum, of sanctuary, of the swept floor and cleared space and into the utopian ideal of the gemeinwesen. The second root draws from the history of enclosure, of husbandry, the homeland, the fortified compound, the secured property and  the domesticated space. 

The safe space, by its reference points, and by its inclusive/exclusive mechanism, is a ruin of patriarchal form... it corrals the livestock against the wolves but like Titorelli’s studio, the gaze which its walls should exclude is already inside (‘Everything, floor, walls and ceiling, was made of wood, between the planks narrow gaps could be seen’) its perimeter has become porous, its interior vulnerable to the point of being almost undefendable.

Even if the safe space appears politically as a dubious ideal it is also a practical measure directed against a real problem. Political sects and rackets routinely recruit the young and naive and this proves to be an ideal context for veterans to prey upon them in numerous sub-registers, sexually, psychologically, emotionally, economically. However, the underlying rationale of these lesser pathologies is the relation of domination inherent to radicalised interiorities. 

The repressive space of the radicals is created through the production of a set of principles, which are transmitted interpersonally from the powerful lawgivers to the powerless recruits - the structuring of consciousness-transmission (in a domain where principles, often unconscious, and sometimes hidden, must not be transgressed against) puts the lower ranks and new recruits automatically at a disadvantage in relation to the militants and prefects who are to organise them. Undoubtedly, this double bind arrangement is increasingly treacherous where it is openly stated that all have an equal say. Who can truly know what stratagems feminist men might really pursue in the context of recruiting women to their safe space? 

Thus the safe space, as it encloses a vipers’ nest of unconscious counter-tendencies and barely sublimated violent impulses, is only ever to be realised as a self-suppressive elective dystopia. In practice, it is merely a differently vulnerable space, procedurally hostile to an authentic community. In the context of a truly human community, neither the victims of transgression nor the perpetrators may be constrained by a ‘safe space’, i.e. by a domain structured around the observance of rules (where the rules themselves are transgressive and imperfectly express the ambivalent forces they unleash within the space).  

Even so, the safe space is a representation of a social necessity, imperfect though it is. The human community must develop robust and resilient forms which inclusively process even those elements of human behaviour which seem to injure it - the community must develop the capacity to metabolise instances of ‘transgressive’ pathologies as intrinsically belonging to the processes of its own good health.... otherwise, where the pathologies proliferate and overwhelm the community (as in the cities of the plain), the community itself is lost. Those who have transgressed, the reviled, are us. 

Even so, predatory behaviours (beginning with the practice of recruitment) continue to proliferate within the radical milieu, and the safe space as a deliberate response to this may only inadequately process the noxious material of it, if at all. It is likely that the milieu does not have the resources to cope with socially engendered destructive traits... and even if it did, its unconscious purpose has always been to cultivate in cramped spaces the toxic molds of sect consciousness - thus nothing proves more corrosively transgressive to the community than the fundamentalist observance of its rules. 

It would be better for humanity if all radical and revolutionary organisations voluntarily disbanded on the grounds of the crimes committed by its members upon each other - the safe space must fling open its windows and disperse the foetid miasma at its heart    

But that is nothing. It means nothing. More generally, and working with the grain of consciousness, it is possible to conceive how its pathologies might be therapeutically processed to the benefit of the human life-worlds. However, we should also remember that this conceiving is not at all a programme to be put into practice immediately, but only yet another representation, another trap, another safe space. But then, that is the point of it. Consciousness, as we have discovered, sets itself against its own representations... consciousness is the movement against itself. Isn't it then a matter of pushing this tendency one recursion further? Therefore, if a conscious community is to develop resilient structures which are to withstand the fundamental perversity inherent to consciousness, it must seek to lay down pathways which disperse its most violent materials of its representations. 

In short, vigilance must be set against vigilance; traps and ambushes must be set for the traps and ambushes; the upward and backward looking gaze must (and owl-like) twist its neck once more! The safe space must enclose that which it would otherwise seek to expel, and it must relinquish that which it would otherwise seek to hoard. 

As an exercise in truth and reconciliation, the community must confront itself as a representation and carrier of that which it considers to be its external enemy (the enemies affirm with their hostile response, the excellence of our landing upon their shores). The siren must let go of its part, and listen instead, puzzled as the oyster, to the sailor’s song of reversal: Were you hare when I was fox?

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