Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teredo Navalis


The soil in and around the Koppers Superfund site in Gainesville, Florida, is contaminated with dioxin, a byproduct of the wood treatment process performed here beginning in 1911.  The contamination is an accident, not deliberate (not a decision, not a deliberation), an unforeseen consequence following from an historical series of happenings.  It is fatal in the sense of predestined, a gift/poison out of the past, monumental, archival, and also in the sense of lethal, deadly, undermining well-being, assuming that its natural movement down into the acquifer is irreversible.   It so happens that the fetish detail of this event (Ereignis) emerges within the documentary television series, Connections, by James Burke, a series that anticipates and contributes to the discussion of technics.
It was this concern for ships' hulls that was to  lead, within a hundred years, to an invention that is present in almost every modern home.  As the ships sailed more often into tropical waters, their wooden hulls were attacked by a tiny mollusc called teredo navalis, which lived in those waters, and which bored into the hulls with devastating results.  The only protection against the mollusc was a thick layer of a mixture of tar and pitch smeared over the bottom of the ship.  At the beginning of the eighteenth century most of this material came from Scandinavia and the Baltic, from the unit of Sweden and Finland joined under the Swedish crown.  Over the previous two hundred years most of Europe had become increasingly dependent on northern timber, as the forests of England, France, Spain and Portugal had become more and more depleted.  The timber was used to build ships and to produce the tar and pitch.  The best kind of wood for making tar and pitch was pine, which was cooked slowly in pits until the tarry substance ran out of the charring wood, to be collected and distilled and then shipped in barrels. In 1700 the Russians, whose northern ports froze over in winter, decided they needed a warm-water port on the Baltic, and moved against Sweden-Finland.  The war that followed totally disrupted supplies. Fortunately for the English, there was one other source of supply--which  they owned--in the new American colonies (James Burke, Connections).
 Here is a candidate for the fetish detail (in my case) from our Theory instructions, since it was the encounter of wooden ships with the mollusc that caused the swerve (clinamen), the turn (-vert, trope), sending the manufacture of pine tar and pitch to America, and ultimately to Florida.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Seduced's Epiphany

Jeanne Duval

Our game is not "Prisoner's Dilemma," but "Seduced's Epiphany." To receive the accident we occupy the position of object, within the field of event.  The relay comes from Modernism in general, Baudelaire in particular, and his strategy of becoming commodity (see Walter Benjamin's reading).  As alternative to the calculation of Game Theory, with its grid of all rational options, fatal strategy "feels lucky" in recognizing that what seduces is the fetish (the object cause of desire).  In place of expanding into a narrative scenario, the consultation locates the sender of event.
No longer to explain things and to set their value in objective criteria and in an unbounded system of references, but, on the contrary, to implicate the whole world in a single one of its details, an entire event in a single one of its features, all the energy of nature in a single one of its objects, dead or alive--to find the esoteric ellipsis, the perfect shortcut toward the pure object, the one which is not involved in the division of meaning, and which shares its secret and power with no other (FS, 146).
Strategy learned from the poets in Paris, adapting to the shocks of industrial cities.  The trauma of alienation, of objectification, separates from the experience of agency.  Agency in any case moves elsewhere, outside, neither spirit nor self, but into the collective order, as operant subject.  It returns (the uncanny) in the form of event, accident, and this effect is what fascinates, since the accident is us (Problems B Us, slogan of the EmerAgency).  The extimacy of communication requires poetic method:  Baudelaire's correspondences first of all, followed by all the variations (Eliot's objective correlative, Rilke's Weltinnenraum, Joyce's epiphany, Benjamin's dialectical image, Freud's Unheimlich).  The allegory has become immanent, the commodity is anagogical.  The lyrical image registers the shock in the microcosm of the disaster in the macrocosm.  Baudrillard learns from Baudelaire how to receive the intimations of the real, by treating phenomena of public policy as miniaturizations (mise-en-abyme).  Our pain poses the question of Befindlichkeit (Heidegger, how do things stand, for me, for my situation in the world?).  The disaster answers:  obesity, cancer, terror.  These are the mirrors that fascinate.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A tactic for tracking the emerging poetics of the CATTt is to put into table form the relationships between (in this case) Contrast and Theory.  The table categories itemize the topics shared by the sources, and the generative procedure is to name the contraries of the contrast.  The list is provisional and subject to revision.  The table is not intended to be self-explanatory, but it should make sense in the context of the readings.

The list is expandable.  For example:
                      Deception:          Bluff                                                        Promise

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Accident Replies

Gift Economy

Target instruction is to receive the Accident as a sign.  Theory now refines this instruction.  These specs begin with one of the primary moments of Theory's response to Target's call:
This liquidation of metaphor, this precipitation of the sign into brute, senseless matter, is a thing of murderous efficacy.  It is of the same order as the meaningless event, the catastrophe, which is also a blind reply, without metaphor, of the world as object to man as subject.  It's always like this that destiny becomes specific:  at a given moment, at a given point, signs become objects, impossible to turn into metaphors, cruel, without appeal.They cut short any decipherment, become confused with things (which is why fate is a dreamer, with the unintelligible instantaneity signs and words have in dreams).  The strategy of the object, like that of the woman in the story [she sent her suitor one of the eyeballs he claimed to admire], is to be confused with the thing desired (FS, 153).
Some terminology is clarified in this statement.  "Fatal" as adjective in French means "predestined" before it means "lethal." A "fatal strategy" is one that maps this default trajectory, this entropy, this passage of the world.  Hypertely is our version of "entelechy".  The other point is to note the challenge posed to electracy by the dromosphere or dimension collapse.  The reason why "scene" disappears is because media (information) and event have merged:  information and world coincide.  What the Greek language singing Homeric epics was to literacy, the ubiquitous broadcasting of pop entertainment (including all journalism, databases and the like) is to electracy.  Philosophy (literate metaphysics) was created out of written Greek culture (mythos into logos).  Electrate metaphysics must be created out of the signifying materials of pop information.

Baudrillard's qualification of the catastrophe as "pure" (p. 36) alludes to his instruction for us, to be found in his discussion of Baudelaire and the inception of "pure art" in Bohemian Paris (about which more later).  Meanwhile, the blind reply in the Real is the end of literate metaphysics (the excrescence overrunning all literate categories), not the end of signification.  It is the point of transfer into electracy (in progress).  We need to apprehend the attributes of the accident-sign, in order to outline the language which emerges with it as a whole, even if existing in our moment only synchronically, with its diachrony coming from the future.
If the waves of meaning, if the waves of memory and historical time are receding, if the waves of causality around the effect are fading (and the event today comes at us like a wave; it doesn't travel only "over the waves" -- it is a wave indecipherable in terms of language and meaning, decipherable only and instantly in terms of color, tactility, ambiance, in terms of sensory effects), it is because light is slowing down, because somewhere a gravitational effect is forcing the light from the event, the light which carries the event's meaning beyond itself bearing messages, to slow to a standstill, and the same is true of political and historical light, which we no longer perceive but feebly, and for the light from bodies of which we receive only faint simulacra (FS, 36-7).
Part of the implication concerns the apparatus:  that cinematography (the optical unconscious) is required to make these effects of the dromosphere (so far in excess of human faculties) legible.  The Museum of the Accident as tale requested an exhibitable event, and we agreed that the graphics of abstract art afforded appropriate means to register the forces manifested in the material break-up.  The instruction is: learn to read and write "accident."

Thursday, February 10, 2011



The effect of working through the sources of the CATTt  is the emergence of a conversation (intertext) between and among the readings.  The specifications of instructions in one text call out correspondences in subsequent texts.  For example, the instruction from Contrast is to appropriate some popular narrative (Hollywood movie) as a probe to identify relative to your disaster an operative mythology (Russell's "Chicken" relating Rebel Without A Cause to Dulles's brinksmanship, subsequently applied to the Cuban Missile Crisis).  This instruction is further motivated by the context of matching and replacing the role of Game Theory in public policy formation.  An important feature of this Contrast is the use of scenario form, narrative structure, to represent strategy alternatives.

There are many studies of this practice, and some of the basic principles include the goal of identifying and changing the mental models of decision makers, in order to envision possibilities for actions anticipating tendencies, trends, propensities of events in the future.  In short, scenarios are formulations of deliberative reason, or collective or organizational prudence.  It is common to propose three or four alternatives, between the poles of best and worst case.  Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View identified a collection of plot templates:  winners and losers, challenge and response, evolution, revolution, cycles, the lone ranger, "my generation".  It goes without saying that the narrative form itself supplies a set of assumptions:  a model of human agency, the role of action in transformation situations, the whole actantial structure familiar to students of literature. 

There are two key points for our instructions.  First is the central argument of our Theory regarding Figures of the Transpolitical, which declares the end of scene as such.
The transpolitical is the transparency and obscenity of all structures in a destructured universe, the transparency and obscenity of change in a dehistoricized universe, the transparency and obscenity of information in a universe emptied of event, the transparency and obscenity of space in the promiscuity of networks, transparency and obscenity of the social in the masses, of the political in terror, of the body in obesity and genetic cloning.... The end of the scene of the historical, the end of the scene of the political, then of the scene of fantasy, the end of the scene of the body--the irruption of the obscene.  The end of the secret--the irruption of transparency (Baudrillard, 45).
 The second point is that a goal of our project is to do for obscene what scenario did for scene:  obscenario.  Our strategy must perform the function fulfilled by Contrast, using our own means for guiding policy planning, to assist decision makers with collective prudence, that draws upon the ecstacy of communication in the same way that Game Theory drew upon the theatrics of alienation.  We need to learn from Theory the formal resources of the obscenario.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Instant Policy

The relationship between the policy of brinksmanship and the film Rebel Without A Cause noted by Bertrand Russell in his essay proposing the variation on Prisoner's Dilemma known as "Chicken," recalls a more general observation made by Richard Slotkin.  Slotkin observed that US policy planners and Hollywood scriptwriters drew upon the same "mythologies" in the formulation of their scenarios.
Rio Grande thus appears to be in some sort of dialogue with history.  Film and event "speak" to each other--event lending political resonance to the fiction, the fiction providing mythological justification for particular scenarios of real-world action.  They did so in the first instance (1950) not because one necessarily caused or influenced the other, but because the conceptual categories which shaped the scenarios developed by both movie-makers and policy-makers were drawn from the same cultural lexicon, the same set of mythological models.  But once the "cult of the cavalry" was established as a major division of American mythic space and was seen to be responsive to the course of political events, its fictive rationales and heroic styles of action (especially as embodied in the symbolic persona of John Wayne) became functional terms in public discourse and symbols of the correct or heroic response to the challenges of the Cold War (Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation).
Slotkin adds that an entire complex history is condensed into an emblem consisting of John Wayne in his cowboy persona associated with a motto (the right man with a gun).  The emblem communicates in a flash (flash reason) US counterinsurgency strategy from Vietnam to the present. The fact of this conjunction suggests a heuristic device:  to use popular narratives as probes to locate the fundamental values (the common scenarios) motivating decision-making in individual and collective situations.   The instruction is to explore such a connection with our Target disaster, keeping in mind that we are documenting an aspect of Contrast.

Friday, February 4, 2011



William Poundstone's Prisoner's Dilemma is the source for our CATTt Contrast.  This account of the passage from pure research (Von Neumann's invention of "game theory") to public policy formation (American foreign policy, specifically US nuclear strategy) during the Cold War, establishes that part of the problem for which fatal strategy is the alternative.  We retain public policy formation, choosing a specific disaster (accident) and its related policy options, while updating strategy for international relations and nuclear weapons in the new conditions of terrorism.  The first step in filling the Contrast slot is to inventory primary attributes of the source example.  We need to understand how Game Theory evolved into public policy, in order to locate opportunities for Fatal Games.  In keeping with the heuretic method, we identify one primary feature of the source to translate into an instruction for our CATTt.  That feature is the example of the variation on Prisoner's Dilemma known as Chicken.

Bertrand Russell is credited with identifying this model of human conflict in his book Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare (1959).  The relevant instruction comes from Russell's use of the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause (starring James Dean) as a metaphor for nuclear stalement.  "In the movie, spoiled Los Angeles teenagers drive stolen cars to a cliff and play a game they call a 'chicken run.' The game consists of two boys simultaneously driving their cars off the edge of the cliff, jumping out at the last possible moment. The boy who jumps out first is 'chicken' and loses" (Poundstone, 197).  Russell saw this game as an emblem for "brinksmanship."  The metaphor was picked up in subsequent discussion, and contributed to the discourse surrounding the Cuban Missile

Instruction:  select a pop film narrative to use as a metaphor or emblem for articulating or expressing the fatal strategy relevant to your disaster/accident.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Torino Scale

The Torino Scale is a "Richter Scale" for categorizing the [Earth](Event) impact hazard associated with [newly discovered asteroids and comets](Accidents). It is intended to serve as a communication tool for [astronomers](Egents) and the public to assess the seriousness of predictions of close encounters by [asteroids and comets] (Accidents)during the 21st century.