Essay by Lars Bang Larsen
(Published in HEXEN 2.0, Black Dog Publishing, London 2012)


The Secret Life of Control

Suzanne Treister's Radical Enlightenment

You see, to me it seems as though the artists, the scientists, the philosophers were grinding lenses. It's all a grand preparation for something that never comes off. Someday the lens is going to be perfect and then we're all going to see clearly, see what a staggering, wonderful, beautiful world it is...

Henry Miller, quoted from Gilles Deleuze: Spinoza. Practical Philosophy (1970)

These signs are real. They are also symptoms of a process... to apprehend it you will follow the signs. All talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic... If you want the truth-I know I presume-you must look into the technology of these matters. Even into the hearts of certain molecules... you must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control?

Thomas Pynchon: Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

Unsurprisingly, considering that she trafficks in unwritten genealogies, the title of Suzanne Treister's HEXEN 2.0 hides contraband. Diverting the project's signification from references to witchcraft, the Greek word Hexis means coherence or cohesion; not just understood as a structural unity, but the source of all qualities in a body. Thus Hexis is defined by producing tensional motion in a body or across several bodies. On one ancient account, "there is a tensional motion in bodies which moves simultaneously inwards and outwards."[i] It is easy to picture Treister's work and its straddling of disciplines, discourses and cultural hierarchies as a dynamic mover that produces continual and contrary motions in or across bodies: physical bodies, concept-bodies, the body politic.

Through the lens of the Macy Conferences that took place in the US for more than a decade during and after WWII, HEXEN 2.0 is an investigation of the scientific underpinnings of what Michel Foucault called bio-political governance; the government that rules with information, and through life. For Foucault, bio-political governance dates back to the 18th century, when society's control over individuals became internalised and conducted in and with the body through refined medical, cultural educational and administrative technologies. He sees it proliferating with contemporary neo-liberalism that tweaks and fine-tunes institutional and commercial parameters for citizenship through the "mystical calculus of the infinitesimal and infinite [that in bio-politics supervises] the smallest fragment of life."[ii] Offering an anatomy of contemporary control society, the anti-disciplinary hexis of Treister's project is the story of the living human body that is modeled by deeply mutational institutions and practices. The recent history of the apparatuses that allow and reproduce such administrative mutations is one in which forms of knowledge and sovereignty are at stake vis-a-vis technological fantasy, military power and scientific research.

Held in New York between 1946-1953 the Macy Conferences were meetings between Cyberneticians and social scientists whose aim-as fundamental as it was immodest-it was to outline a science of the workings of the human mind. It is rare that one can identify an event when scientists decided to collectively set the controls for the heart of sun. Even if they didn't get there, perhaps, in terms of establishing a functionalistic model for the human mind, they at least made sure to produce much epistemological turbulence. Perhaps these types of meetings can only happen during a war or as its afterquake; "suppose we considered the war itself as a laboratory?", as one character in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow muses.[iii] Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the Macy Conferences taking place without the WWII as the categorical imperative for confronting the human mind as a ticking bomb that may go off again at any minute with another Hitlerism, another conflagration as its result. This will also account for similar research initiatives in the post-war period, such as the Frankfurt School's The Authoritarian Personality study (which is in the middle of Treister's Anarcho-Primitivism Diagram), as well as socio-psychological conceptualizations of conformism such as Herbert Marcuse's 'One-Dimensional Man', William H. Whyte's 'Organization Man' and Wilhelm Reich's 'Little Man'.

At the Macy Conferences, cyberneticists and social scientists such as Norbert Wiener, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Heinrich Klüver, Molly Harrower, and Arturo Rosenblueth, among other distinguished scholars, arrived at a knowledge model that encompassed certain engineering devices as well as aspects of human behaviour. A synthesis was heralded with cybernetics as a new paradigm for interdisciplinary research across the sciences in which one can talk about systems and feedback processes, including biology, psychology and information theory, and many more: "Essentially the idea was to identify in a behaviorist spirit some of those aspects of what organisms do that can be analyzed in terms of what certain analogous machines do."[iv] Needless to say, computers as we know them today, were yet to be built-but its contours may have been divined by the Macy participants, as the apparatus that could catch human and machinic behaviour in its crosshairs.

According to Gilles Deleuze disciplinary society began to break down after WWII. This was when "new forces moved slowly into place, then made rapid advances." It is a good guess that some of the forces to which he alluded were set in movement, probably inadvertently, by the Macy Conferences. Control, then-the new governmental instrument-is neither discipline's organisation of sites of confinement, nor is it the abstract machine of modernism's grid, but a modulation, "a self-transmuting molding continually changing from moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh varies from one point to another." Such a meta-stability is a kind of plasma whose organic vitality ominously merges with functions of monitoring.

In a motific overlap with the manipulated photo HEXEN 2.0/Cybernetic Séance in which Macy Conference participants are seen as participants at a spiritualist séance, Thomas Pynchon also organises various holy circles in Gravity's Rainbow. As already indicated by the quote at the beginning of this text, these are characterized by a strange and lucid objectivity invested in an analysis of control by severing rationality from morally and politically instituted judgments of normal knowledge. Thus at the first sitting in the novel is described a circle of etherically inclined sitters who, much like the scientists in Cybernetic Séance- "is not at all distracted or hindered. None of your white hands or luminous trumpets here."[v] Also the medium (or the entity speaking through him) comes through loud and clear, with an incisive proclamation: "It's control. All these things arise from one difficulty: control. For the first time it was inside, do you see. The control is put inside. No more need to suffer passively under 'outside forces'..."[vi] This is Deleuze's control society, as it were: control springs alive and is inserted into the body by means of bio-political technologies, in order to work there as self-monitoring and self-management.

Against such vital and invasive control mechanisms one needs good hexis. In HEXEN 2.0, Treister works through the format of the tarot card, thereby tapping into the dynamic potential of occult knowledge forms to connect seemingly disparate historical dots in a kind of alchemical hypertext. Unlike the sometimes kinky embrace of the dark side of cognition through the esoteric formats employed by contemporary artists, Treister's approach is much less gestural, and does not refuse rationality. Thus what her work may have in common with Niki de Saint-Phalle's Giardino dei Tarocchi in Tuscany (1998)-a kind of post-Mannerist sculpture park whose monumental elements are based on the symbols of the tarot cards-is not the creativist spirit, but a feminist subtext whose rejection of nature yields an overwhelming mosaic of elements. Other contemporary artistic practitioners of the tarots include the cineast and dramaturg Alejandro Jodorowsky, an elderly Chilean gentleman one can meet on Wednesday afternoons at Café le Temeraire in Paris for a private session of psichomagia. While Jodorowsky sticks to the original function of the tarots as a self-technology appropriated ready-made for art, Treister-as we will see-takes a quite different approach to the magic deck.

The ineradicable instinct of the paranoiac is to locate or re-possess power. His aggressive idiosyncracy hides a particular hermeneutic stinginess: once located-power is usually seen to be elsewhere-the interpretation of power is fatal and diagrammatic. The aesthetic potential of paranoia has been seen as its potential for scrambling transparency. Thus Salvador Dali proposed his paranoiac method to create 'systematised confusion' with Surrealist machines of desire. Neither conception of paranoia, however, gels with HEXEN 2.0. Treister's project is fuelled not by power and desire, but by knowledge and pleasure. It is not distortional, but cartographic. It is a syllabus, a flowchart of connections and developments, a unique critical overview of modern intellectual and scientific history. The historical facts that Treister handles are of a nature that she couldn't have kept to herself, and so she dutifully follows the topological displacements and transformations of knowledge across many disciplines; knowledge's 'tripping' through unofficially connected networks is affirmed by way of the tarot deck as an encyclopedic format.

Encyclopedic formats, understood as a comprehensive and simultaneous organization of available knowledge, are recurring elements in Treister's work, where facts proliferate rhizomatically. NATO (2004-8), for instance, consists of over 200 works illustrating the NATO codification system which numerically classifies and groups everything that exists in the world for potential military procurement; and [MTB] Military Training Base (2009) a wall sized drawing for a military base of the future which incorporates into its design ancient archaeological sites, Vatican City, an art school, global corporate complexes and sections of the Israeli West-Bank Barrier. Correspondence: From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (2007-8), are 324 pencil reproductions of letterheads from Government and Presidential Offices, Ministries of Defence, NGOs and arms manufacturers across the world, both past and current, and as they hang on the wall they look like so many ominous card blanches for authorising military action through the world-or conversely, like the artist's riffing on Rauschenberg's Erased De Kooning (1953), a way of undoing through invocation.

Employing the tarot deck is thus not a quick-fix attempt at re-enchanting the world, but-apart from a homeopathic indication of occult aspects in the history leading up to control society-a structuring device that mirrors and performs procedures of mass intelligence gathering in the service of a new epistemology. One can perhaps compare it to a Turing Machine: a virtual system capable of simulating the behavior of any other machine or apparatus of knowledge, including itself.

In tarot lore The Ace of Pentacles, for instance, represents new beginnings, wealth and inspiration in material or financial matters, such as the energy to undertake a new business venture. In Treister's deck, it conflates The Four Technologies: nano-, bio- and info-technology as well as cognitive science. The drawing pulls quotes from a 2002 report commissioned by the US National Science Foundation whose title could have rolled off the tongue of Norbert Wiener: 'Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance'. Browsing in the report itself, one will find detailed discussions on the beneficial effects of converging technologies in such different areas as "expanding human cognition", "improving human health", and (of course) "national security". One of its conclusions is, "Beyond the 20-year time span, or outside the current boundaries of high technology, convergence can have significant impacts in such areas as: work efficiency, the human body and mind throughout the life cycle, communication and education, mental health, aeronautics and space flight, food and farming, sustainable and intelligent environments, self-presentation and fashion, and transformation of civilization."[vii] Strangely, the overcoming of death isn't on the program yet, but just wait till the next report. Everything that rises must converge.

In Treister's deck, the original symbolic import of the tarots is used as ciphers that vie for their meaning with the new content that Treister has invested them with. This is in accordance with how tarot card readers read the person in front of them as carefully as the card that is called up: in this way the tarot deck allows you to reach for an object of knowledge through a system that is explicitly and opaquely coded, and therefore allows the operator of the deck to negotiate and undo the codes in the process. Thus if we take the Three of Swords (a card that urges to take a strong look at that which is at the centre of our world), it refers in Treister's version to CIA's infamous MKULTRA program, in which volunteers as well as unwitting civilians were guinea pigs for government mind control experiments with psychedelica. The program was run by one Dr. Sidney Gottlieb who, in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution, undertook to investigate "whether and how it was it was possible to modify an individual's behaviour by covert means."[viii] While the CIA eventually closed MKULTRA for want of usable results, the most manifest outcome of the program was in fact to unwittingly having helped to make LSD a hippie drug by turning on countercultural luminaries such as Ken Kesey (the subject of another tarot, the Knave of Chalices, and the drawing HEXEN 2.0/Diagrams/From MKULTRA via the Counterculture to Technogaianism). Other of Treister's tarot cards trace an underdog history of modern technology through grassroots movements (anarcho-syndicalists), and unruly individuals such as Timothy Leary and Stafford Beer who, in spite of their anti-authoritarian and 'spiritual' engagement with cybernetics rather translate into the 21st century as ambiguous avantgarde entrepreneurs. This is indeed a field that cannot be navigated in terms of truth and morality: it is a knotty, queasy, contemporary ontology.

Since the genealogies that Treister deals with have so far remained largely untold, it is only appropriate that she should employ an epistemologically virgin format. If historians haven't got these connections and events on their radar so far, then one shouldn't hesitate to use a new radar, a new device, a new unit that may capture and recognise historical reality. To use a format for heuristic knowledge organisation that is ostensibly obscurantist is, from a commonsensical point of view, counterintuitive. In science, however, the counterintuitive may represent a logical next step in a systematic investigation that has so far proven fruitless. Norbert Wiener, for one, was not averse to taking such an approach to cybernetics. Confronting the ethical implications of cybernetics on concepts of life, free will and evolution in his book, God & Golem, Inc. A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964), he strays from the common positivistic vocabulary in order to describe, or invoke, the full range of ethical considerations of modern science: "There is a sin, which consists of using the magic of modern automatization to further personal profit or let loose the apocalyptic terrors of nuclear warfare. If this sin is to have a name, let that name be Simony or Sorcery."[ix] Many other 20th century scientists had occult leanings. One was the poet and scientist Konstantin Ciolkovskij, whose research in rocket fuel kicked off the Soviet space program, a feat he considered secondary to his 'cosmic philosophy' in which he pondered correspondences between the will and creativity of the human brain and the eternal youth of the universe.[x] Playing out science on the terrain of the occult is not simply a binary inversion.

Divorced from its personal application, Treister employs the tarot card for readings of a collective destiny that matches up possible futures of reactivated knowledge and trace their effects back to our present. In other words, she separates technology from existing society, and creates reasonable doubt about existing technology as the receptor and effector organs we are given to navigate the technological city. The technologies, and the understanding of them, that were outlined at the Macy Conferences, are the materiality of affect of contemporary life. In order to comprehend the relations of production that have created the nervous system of contemporary man and woman-sensibilities, perceived dependency needs, habitual ways of seeing, accustomed velocities of life and so on-these technologies, and their institutional/commercial/governmental application that have valorised them symbolically and dedicated them to praxis, must be taken apart, synchronically and diachronically. Certain technologies didn't have to go in the direction they went, but can be backtracked. The way freedom can be reestablished as a critical concern doesn't go through dropping out or other kinds of system abandonment, then, but through positive feedback: reason and the human subject must re-enter the system in order to be 'reprogrammed'.

I would argue that through her artistic research, Treister rejoins intellectual history and a critique of contemporary control society with the tenets of a radical enlightenment. As a crucial event for the making of modern concepts of subjectivity, citizenship and governance, central to which is discussions about reason and its place in society and thinking, the enlightenment was hardly unambiguous. With a phrase that resonates critically in cybernetic behaviourism, Adorno and Horkheimer write how the Enlightenment reifies human beings, treating them as Zentren von Verhaltensweisen ("centres of behaviour patterns").[xi] Also HEXEN 2.0 enters into a dialectic of the enlightenment and deliberates its incessant self-destruction, as Adorno and Horkheimer put it; a destruction that is undertaken in order to show how reason in the post-war era had failed historically, yet how it must nonetheless be pursued in order to guarantee social freedoms.

At the same time as philosophy was considered the only agent potent enough to precipitate a rapid, all-encompassing revolution, the optimism of Enlightenment philosophers was often legitimised by Utilitarian views.[xii] The practical task of helping humanity to become humanity, through the eradication of illness, poverty, ignorance, etc., and social history could be transformed through political, industrial and agricultural revolutions. Moreover, utilitarianism rejects the ranking of (moral) value according to a priori criteria in favour of the equal validity of each subject's search for happiness and pleasure. What makes Treister a faithful pupil of the enlightenment is the simple usefulness of the tarots in relation to her reading of material history. She turns enlightenment principles of utilitarianism and equal validity into epistemological principles by assuming that 1) if it is applicable, it is legitimate, and 2) don't moralise, don't pathologise. In order to make technology-whether computer, diagram, concept, drug or weapon-work in the interest of freedom, we must approach it without prejudice, and without a rationalist concept of rationality.

The historian Jonathan Israel distinguishes what he calls a radical enlightenment, thereby establishing a dialectic between moderate and revolutionary Enlightenment movements. To Israel, the revolutionary tendency represents a process of improving human existence by making society secular, tolerant, equal and democratic, and by extending reason to transform basic principles of education, legislation, international relations and colonial affairs. On crucial points regarding human rights, democracy and the role of the church, the radical tendency opposes moderate enlighteners such as Rousseau and Kant-the reformers who famously set their mark on modern civil society.

Israel talks about the instability of Enlightenment:

The Enlightenment's idea of progress, then, was invariably conceived as being "philosophical," a revolution of the mind. But it was undoubtedly economic, technological, political, medical, and administrative as well, in addition to being legal, moral, educational and aesthetic. Enlightenment "progress" was thus very wide-ranging and multi-faceted. Moreover, it was also inherently unstable (...) For it is apparent that Enlightenment progress could take specifically Christian, Deist, or atheistic forms; it could be conceived as endorsing or opposing the existing order of society, as being reversible or irreversible, God-ordained or purely natural.[xiii]

To Israel, enlightenment progress is all in the mind, as it were, as he argues that it was primarily an intellectual revolution before it manifested itself as an actual one in 1789.

Israel places particular emphasis on Spinoza as a founding figure of the radical enlightenment because the latter creates a sharper opposition between philosophy and theology, than do other philosophers, seeing organised religion as political deception.[xiv] In Spinoza's one-substance doctrine, body and soul, matter and mind are "one single substance viewed under different aspects" that essentially have to do with processes of corporeal organisation-again, the hexis that animates bodies, and our understanding of them, by allowing for a unifying perspective on their articulations.[xv] Thus Spinoza's materialist metaphysics concludes that everything that exists is matter and that God and the universe are the same. With this, Israel writes, Spinoza extends a Radical Enlightenment "metaphysically, politically, and as regards man's highest good."[xvi] One-substance enlightenment excludes all miracles and invokes "reason as the sole guide in human life, jettisoning tradition."[xvii]

A fundamental radical enlightenment impulse in Treister can be detected in the attempt to bring life back into reason through the encyclopedic consideration of everything existing; a reason that has not been formalised and instrumentalised and whose goals therefore hasn't become illusory. Maybe this reason appears to us as strangely bent, as it is conditioned by the experimental moment's momentary unity of pleasure, idea and representation. This may be because it is a meeting with another enlightenment than the one we got, of capital and control. Instead, from the point of view of a radical enlightenment, we are offered a total glimpse of a world in which tensional motions allow for different bodies to enter freely into composition with one another.

Lars Bang Larsen
2011

Notes:

[i] C.N. Cantor and M.J.S. Hodge: "Introduction: Major themes in the development of ether theories from the ancients to 1900," in: Cantor and Hodge: Conceptions of Ether. Studies in the History of Ether Theories 1740-1900. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, 6.

[ii] Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish. Vintage Books, New York 1979 (1975), 140.

[iii] Thomas Pynchon: Gravity's Rainbow. Vintage Books, London 2000 (1973), 49.

[iv] Steve J. Heims: The Cybernetics Group. MIT Press, Massachusetts 1991, 15.

[v] Op.cit., 29.

[vi] Op.cit., 30.

[vii] http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report.pdf, xii

[viii] Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain: Acid Dreams. The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties and Beyond. Grove Press, New York, 1985, xxiii.

[ix] 52

[x] Cf. Groys, Hagemeister and von der Heiden (eds.): Die Neue Menschheit: Biopolitische Utopien in Russland zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2005.

[xi] Adorno and Horkheimer, 93.

[xii] Israel: A Revolution of the Mind. Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (2010), 53.

[xiii] Op.cit., 8.

[xiv] Op.cit., 2.

[xv] Op.cit.

[xvi] Op.cit., 2. Deleuze discusses univocity in Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition in relation to his canon of univocal philosophers Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Nietzsche. Alliez puts it this way, "Opening up thought to constituent power, Spinoza is our contemporary by virtue of his refusal of any dialectical dimension that would aim at the (utopian or historical) reconciliation of the real." (Alliez, op.cit., 23)

[xvii] Op.cit., 19.