Friday, 27 April 2018

Techne of wax: 1. on abstract equivalence

An inadvertent bite into a decorative wax fruit was a regular comic motif in the old films. Nonchalantly taking a wax fruit showed a winning vulnerability in bravado whilst firmly situating the guest’s uneasiness within the host’s domestic setting. 
By extension of that unease, this is the first in series of short studies that take wax concepts as their object. The wax concept seems almost life-like in its adequacy to the task of theory, but upon first bite is exposed as a dummy, an imposture or defrauding of practicability. Didn’t Calvino  discover the wax method of Borges? Set the frame within a frame, and that frame in yet another. Make it so that what frames the thing goes on all the way to its heart - that’s what we mean when we talk about the socialisation of production. Then perhaps, the wax concept is already inscribed as the form that must be taken by theory, the form of terminal inapplicability, in circumstances of its inevitable error.

From this I should conclude that I knew the wax by means of vision and not simply by the intuition of the mind; unless by chance I remember that, when looking from a window and saying I see men who pass in the street, I really do not see them, but infer that what I see is men, just as I say that I see wax. And yet what do I see from the window but hats and coats which may cover automatic machines? Yet I judge these to be men.

  1. Strophe. Abstraction is the escape of unrelated things into a state of relatablity. It is the singing, the veritable heaven, of things. And of their melancholy. Abstraction preserves thing-outlines as it decants their contents, from each to each, and from all to each. And everything evolving within the same lifeworld is an equal expression of that world. And every native species is written into, and therefore gives form and process to, its lifeworld. And, by implication, the totality of the lifeworld is thereby written into its every lifeform. Everything that co-evolves has a faculty of response to, a turning towards, the speech of everything else. The forms of trees are written, in part, according to the reach of the tallest browsers. A butterfly opens its wings to display an eyespot pattern that supposedly distracts the hypothetical predator - and even though neither butterflies nor predators have tactical knowledge of the sets of behaviours that they may trigger in each other, they have still memorised the general protocol for activating the life-world’s startle/counter-startle reflex.

  1. Strophe. Alongside the conformity to a species’ ‘behavioural’ systems displayed by individual members, all things are also hard-programmed with the capacity to communicate at an extra-species level. Every communication across species boundaries emerges from the substitution of rudimentary signs for the immanent connections that are routinely generated within interactions of the same species. Co-evolved species belonging to a particular life-world will draw instinctively from a set of symbols (alarm calls, flexing, arching, teeth baring, rearing, submissiveness, colour codes) that is indexed to the totality of that particular life-world’s possible forms. Cross-species sign systems operate within a field of ‘abstracted’ commonality that individuals of all species may draw from. The abstracted plane of communication, the poetry or song between things, ensures a return to steady state (balancing relations between food and feeders) within the environment as a closed totality. The capacity of different species to anticipate, and steal a march on, the ‘moves’ that will be taken against them (moves of attack, and of evasion), the notorious arms race of bats and moths, of cabbages and caterpillars, and which is the substance of the poetry in things, is a casino’s randomising intervention within inter-subject relations. Generalised precognition of the move of the other, is the house rule that, at the last moment, distributes luck evenly amongst all players. Nature cannot afford the maxim, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’, a situation in which the gazelle always escapes, as this would imply a state of neg-tension, and thus imminent system-death. It follows then, that the danger posed by introduced and invasive forms derives from their escape from the regulatory cross-species behavioural codes that are employed by the host environment so keep open the return path to its start point. 

  1. Strophe. There is an inescapable tendency in systems that produce surpluses to transform quantities into qualities. Wherever social processes pass the point of reproducing the conditions required for their continuation, their product inevitably accumulates as a surplus. Surplus is the overproduction of a particular quality, or use-value, which by the effect of its presence, and beyond the homeostatic functionality of the system, permanently alters everything around it. Every surplus positions itself as alien, as an invasive or introduced quality, to its conditions. Every surplus is a back flowing effluent, an inefficiency, an insult, a disfiguring affliction - and thus, surplus bestows the form of social wealth that relations must adjust to. The first form of wealth is the quantitative representation of natural profusion minus exuberance; the second form of wealth is the return of abstract value to things as the measure of property ownership. Surplus diverges from simple abundance at the level of its potential for utility. Natural abundance has no use, it is merely another mode, an exceptional mode, of its lifeworld... profusion is the system-wide convulsion that results from the accidental alignment in, the perfect storm of, natural forces; and as it ‘rots on the vine’, it is forgotten the moment systemic steady state is re-established. Abundance in one year will be followed by scarcity the next. Natural systems are flexible enough to process the caprice of cosmic forces, but not sufficiently resilient to withstand human destabilisation.

  1. Strophe. If natural systems are defined by the capacity to forget perturbing events, social systems (that is surplus producing systems) are all memory. Surplus production is nothing but memory writing itself onto living process - and changing it. That is to say, surplus, as a historical quality, is inseparable from the deliberate destabilisation of a system by its own product. Every surplus is directed towards some other end than simple reproduction of its conditions. The pull exerted by a surplus draws the system, of which it is a product, towards a crisis located outside of itself, a crisis which must take the form of a crash revaluation of its operational terms. From the ecstatic destination arrived at by its surplus, the total process of the recalibration parent system immediately pivots. Every surplus introduces a regulatory predicament to the social system in which it appears: in order for the system to return to itself, either the surplus itself must be destroyed (as in premodern agricultural festivals) or, the barriers confronting and restricting surplus production must be torn down. The blind tearing down of environmental constraints is a feature of all productive systems where the surplus feeds back into the process, expanding and transforming it.

  1. Strophe. Surplus plays like a strange light over every surface, casting outlandish shadows as if scrutinising, or scanning, world process from the outside. In the history of abstraction, first there were things, then systems, then relations, then distance, then melancholy, then machines, and finally light. The redemptive illumination of productive activity by unemployed surplus is the true origin of the epoch of full abstraction - it is also where surplus unveils itself as the overriding goal of social organisation. But abstraction also lived outside of, and prior to, surplus production, functioning as a component of all interrelating systems. As a factor in preserving the outline of every discrete organisation, abstraction is called into play, wherever transitional or translating services are called upon in the encounter and engagement with external forces. Where the proportion of abstraction is considered as a factor in the reproduction of systems, it is found to be relatively small in natural forms (serving as a regulatory subroutine of inter-species relations mediated by the lifeworld as a whole) and relatively large, although still as a subsidiary function, in human forms (where it serves a historical, reflexive and deutero-learning purpose), but then goes off the scale in capitalism, where abstraction is revealed as both the journey and the destination of world production. 

  1. Strophe. In order for abstraction to progress from the regulatory function of interrelated things to the ecstatic principle of universalised world production, it must first enter a phase of further ratcheting up in the distance between itself and concrete activity. The further stage of abstraction is only accessed via a corresponding further ratcheting up in the productive system’s faculties of responsiveness to the stimulus of its own surplus - capital is another entity impelled to devour what it vomits. In natural systems, the phenomenon of super-stimuli describes the mechanism whereby discrete systems capture extra energy from the world by deploying super-intensive attractive behaviours. In social systems, capitalism emerges through the super-attraction, and incorporation, of surplus energy to the productive apparatus. Capital eschews the Sabbath of things, hitherto maintained in pre-modern societies, where surplus implied a corrective suspension of labours and the momentary repose of festival and ‘world turned upside down’ - pre-modern societies contain their own tendency to abstraction by deploying a fallow moment, or Sabbath, in their ‘pseudo-cyclical’ temporality. By escaping feudal relations, surplus, in the form of capital, seeks expansion of itself via compulsive reinvestment in the conditions of its possibility. Capital’s escape from negative feedback and return, wherein it instigates the neg-equilibrium spiral, takes it towards the ecstasy of punctuated punctuation, of interrupted interruption - ultimately, ‘capital’s’ expansion is directed beyond all constraints of physical time, and towards a fully abstract universality. At some point that is not communism, abstraction, in its full amplitude, will shed capital as an obsolete form.

  1. Strophe. The re-investment of surplus product into production, thereby both expanding surplus producing capacity and thus transforming the nature of the metabolism, is an exemplar of a dog wagged by its tail - then, isn’t capitalism a dog-system that is becoming all tail? The ‘further stage’ accessed by surplus production in order to realise surplus-surplus production and thus the stage of surplus-surplus-surplus, and on and on, and further still, is derived from the recontextualisation, and promotion to the status of overriding principle, of the minor subroutines in abstract interrelatability that exist naturally between context dependent things. The passage of abstraction from particular servitude to universal preeminence is comparable to shrew-like creatures escaping their cretaceous niche only to re-emerge as an empire of mammals. Under fully automated luxury abstraction, the interrelatibility of co-evolving things erupts as the universal exchangeability of all things. 

  1. Strophe. The term, ‘commodity form’ refers to the capacity of a thing to speak to another thing where all such communication is mediated by the framework of a universal abstract value system. Or rather, in the expanded form, it is the speech of the representation of a thing to the representations of all other things where this is mediated by the language of abstract equivalence. The triumph of the sadness of abstraction over materiality is effected where the set of signals generated by the potential interrelatibility of some is realised as the universal language of the exchangeability of all. 

  1. Strophe. The commodity system supposes the universal exchangeability of all things. And exchangeability, at the level of use (at the level of qualities), supposes the interchangeability of all things at the level of abstract value (of linen in coats, of coats in linen). The state of abstract equivalence is the appearance of the value of one thing in the form of another. In the perfection of itself, every system must incorporate and every system must expel. What it incorporates is the content of the thing as a void. What it expels is the the outline of the thing as an activity. In its external relations, every system must attract and every system must repulse. What it attracts is the representation of things as the measure of itself. What it repulses is the measure of things as representation of itself. In its decline, every system must conserve and every system must let go. What it conserves is what it lets go. What it lets go, is what it conserves.

  1. Strophe. What does abstraction desire? In its current phase, as the commodity system, which is the perpetual impregnation by the value process of the expanded productive process as it perpetually gives birth to the expanded value process, it desires further escape from wherever it is still dependent for its realisation upon the energy that it extracts from the material world. Where abstraction returns to matter, where it returns and touches earth, then whirlwinds. The continuation of the abstract realm’s addiction to the material world, from out of which it generates its outline, by necessity takes the form of, in self-defence against a blowback of matter, domination (first by repression, then by exploitation, and finally by domestication). For the moment, the system of abstract exchangeability in the representation of all things (from which wealth takes its qualitative form: wringing acorns from lilies) is indexed to quantities of abstract labour hours, which in turn, inextricably, is a representation of bound, free, concrete, labour activity. And if it is through the domination (in its three valences) of concrete activity by the totality of abstract labour hours that (but no more ifs)... then, abstraction yearns for its transition away from the labour process. In the transports of its delirium, equivalence pursues the madness of its detoxification from, its dependency on, the constraints of matter - it dreams of not measuring things. The desire of abstraction is to to get clean, and get clean away, from the drug that is the life-world (it is the genie, chained by the ankle, taking wing from bourgeois property) -  it dreams of abstracting from itself.
  1. Anti-strophe. Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may, and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever...

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