Although in general you could call us ‘depressed’, I honestly don’t believe we’re pessimistic. Without nostalgia – without even being emotional – we’re looking to the future. We consider ourselves creative practitioners, researchers: the process is more important than the outcome. We modify the existing environment only to find a sensual balance between violence and beauty. We like to think that we bend reality. Our work just helps you digest and move on.– Pussykrew
Mist and vapor predominate over precise, proportionate articulation and substantially disable any prospects of sense.
THR S NT & NVR HS BN NYTHNG T NDRSTND !– Plastique Fantastique
As (semi-) autonomous automated systems, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, drones are responsible for a paradigm shift in terms of both technological agency and generative affordances, towards an inhuman course for thought and action. Controlled remotely or by dynamic automation systems, the human pilot and sensorium is supplanted by a chimeric mode of navigation attuned to a specific task, whether this is commercial, combative or surveillant. If the drone archetype, then, opens up a space for expanding or re-drafting the scope of technological intervention and (re-) construction of reality, then what does this mean for its potency as a narrative agent, and how might this potency already be instantiated?
While Adam Rothstein’s detailed and multi-faceted object-biography introduces the drone as a material repository for the nebulous complex of human fears and hopes for the future of technology, the aim of this essay is to carry further, through considering the transmedial experiments of contemporary art and music, some of the questions he introduces regarding the drone as ‘a specular technology’ (Rothstein, 2015: 125). Specifically, by focusing on the construction of a drone-heuristic, a symbol representative of the combined facts and anachronistic assumptions embedded within the idea of the drone, this essay will sketch the characteristics, potencies and contemporary manifestations of the drone as contingent narrative- and speculative-engine (or to use Ian Bogost’s (2006) term, as material and (semi-) autonomous narrative ‘units’), rather than simply as an object reflected upon by generic speculative fiction. Although the narratives of science fiction and news media couch an essential general understanding of drones, they are limited to simply mediating popular imaginaries, rather than exploiting the drone’s extant mechanisms as a fundamentally weaponized and navigational authorship in-itself.
The focus upon examples within contemporary art and music, as intensive indexes of a wider aural and visual culture and sites for a cultural cognitive orientation within the opaque mechanisms of a technologically complex space-time, is essential as an anthropological gesture that can elucidate actual inductive experiments pertaining to the specific material conditions and topography of what Rothstein (2015: 125) refers to as a ‘drone culture’, and China Miéville (2008: 128) refers to as a ‘Weird’ reality. These diverse para-tactical experiments, or perhaps morbidly ‘cunning automata’ (Williams & Srnicek, 2015), perform as drones: reading and writing the world through a Weird, inhuman navigation, methodologically calibrated for operating within and through the ineluctable complexities and opacities of contemporary life.
By way of introduction, the art and music to be considered can be said to be involved in distinct processes of fictioning, or even what the artist group Plastique Fantastique, via Sun Ra and Mike Kelley, have referred to as Myth-Science. Operating with the communicative network dynamics and economies of the cybernetic present and with the viral potency of fiction, authors and engineers such as Plastique Fantastique, Mykki Blanco, RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ, The Confraternity of Neoflagellants, Reza Negarestani, Pussykrew, English Heretic, Nicki Minaj and the anonymous swarm of internet-underground salvage-bots comprising the stillborn musical genre Vaporwave among others, allow this essay to submit a candidate for inheriting the mantle of drone-as-speculative engineer: the avatar.
What unites these drone-authors, and establishes the transveral figure of the avatar as a drone-analog, is their methodological and materialist familiarity with a contemporary Weird virtuality/topography. A re-instatement of this generic (literary) category as an epistemological necessity in the organization of thought and action towards intervening in the construction of the global narratives, is a continuation of what Karen Gregory (2015) has previously referred to as ‘weird solidarities.’
So, what is the topography of the present, the context from which to begin? China Miéville (2008: 105) has diagnosed an epochal shift in contemporary culture, commensurate with the ineluctability of neoliberalism’s There Is No Alternative, as the ‘Tentacular Novum’. This is to understand the distributed, teeming and uncontainable locus of neoliberal influence as comparable to the alien monstrosities of Weird fiction, such as those that populate H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulu mythos.’ (Although Benjamin Bratton (2015) also looks beyond the market-structures of the world towards the obfuscated ‘Weird’ culture of algorithms working beneath the machinations of the post-internet world, referring to these bots and agents as ‘Morlocks,’ a term borrowed from H. G Wells). Such ‘creatures of the unknown’ are distinguishable from traditional or gothic precedents in fiction by their tentacular, centreless formlessness – often confounding the descriptive capacities of their own authors. Consequently, they engender a ‘breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces… the dæmons of unplumbed space’ (Lovecraft, 1927). This is not to characterize the complexities of planetary-scale computerized capitalism as some un-representable sublime, nor as something that operates without, or out-with, the dialectical participation of human habits, emotional experiences and neural activities as productive labour. Rather, the Tentacular Novum is a fecund heuristic that illustrates exactly how deeply entangled these nebulous complexities are with human subjective chemistries. It is the insidious and tentacular reach of neoliberal capitalism, and the subsequent colonization of thought and action that is essential to the conditions of real subsumption and its anthropological impact. It is Benjamin Bratton’s description of the complex, opaque and auto-obfuscatory ‘algo-culture’ informing the geo-political make-up of the world that is responsible for the material emergence of prescriptive ‘non-human temporalities’ (Williams and Nick Srnicek, 2015). Furthermore, one could speculate that the incapacitating weight and grasp of the Tentacular Novum, as it is experienced indirectly day-to-day, also provides an opportunity to consider this impact as an enabling condition for the fostering of a subject, capable of transmuting the dreadful ambience of banal psychopathologies into a praxis commensurate with the accelerationist narrative, which is necessarily, and revolutionarily, a Weird revision of the human and its technology. In order to traverse the grounds represented in the cognitive and affective maps generated by visual and aural culture, it is then essential to expose the subject they call forth in their ‘abductive experimentation’ so as to articulate an effective mode of systems analysis native to the mutant, psychedelic perspective of alienation; to the schizoid-anhedonic subject-without-experience.
The reason for this essay’s turn towards examples of music and art is due to its recognition of these fields as intensive public wanderings and wonderings (the navigational and the sense-making, the cartographic) through the ‘holographic swamp’ (Lorange, 2014: ii) and ‘cognition-maiming fog’ (Negarestani, 2013) of the dense meshworks and materialities of contemporary technology, politics, their possibilities, probabilities and their affective conditions. In so doing, they offer direct purchase upon the constitution and capabilities of the avatar as a narrative drone-agent by implementing a para-tactical constructivism from within the accumulated rubble and ruin of human extelligence. They begin to provide one possible answer to the question that the work of Amanda Beech broaches:
What is a form of consciousness that culture can demand and offer that isn’t this extension of a particular kind of human ego, or isn’t the narcissistic projection of an intact subjectivity, or the narcissistic projection of a subjectivity in crisis? (2015: non-pag.)
In other words, what are the emergent unmanned, anonymous and autonomous agents native to the world-for-us (as produced by-us) that proceed to act within an indifferent horizon of possibility-without-us? And, if it is possible to borrow a tenet of ‘universal accelerationism,’1 as this essay believes is already implicitly present in the speculative re-application of drone technology, it could be asked to what extent ‘culture,’ and the ‘human,’ is moved with and by an immanently tethered, and radically contingent, inhuman constructivism?
An answer can begin to be formulated by firstly asking how the avatar answers the call for such a ‘form of consciousness.’ What are the situated formal characteristics of this ‘machinic visual subject’ (Bratton, 2015)?2
In Hindu mythology, the avatar is the earthly embodiment of a god, a divine technology generally proposing an opportunity for the descent into terrestrial reality by which it may intervene in the order of the human world through these guises. Deities such as Vishnu variously manifest as multiple avatars such as the ten Dashavatara comprised of chimeric anomalies such as Narashimha the half-man/half-lion figure and Varaha the cosmically-scaled boar. Although the term has since been brought to wider prominence in fields ostensibly unconcerned with religious narratives such as those of multi-user gameplay, virtual reality, and science-fiction, it still retains some of its essential meanings. Most obviously, the construction of avatars as rudimentary characters so as to augment the agency of a ‘user’ within a virtual environment – carrying out tasks and even interacting with other users’ avatars. It is with the construction of these virtual units that their users begin to invoke a scope for action beyond that of their own anthropic limitations, by cobbling chimeric projections through which alien fantasies may be superficially played-out, or the suppressed kernel of a marginal subjectivity may be expanded for experimenting in a virtual social environment without fear or threat of exposing one’s earthly identity. However, as early as Neal Stephenson’s novel Snowcrash it has been recognized that these virtual, online environments are no ideal worlds untethered from our own – his Multiverse is still rife with the sophisticated projection of social status and capital, while a more contemporary reference for the mingling of virtual and physical labour and leisure would be the phenomenon known as gold farming. This describes the employment of individuals, working in poor conditions such as austere Korean cyber-café-hives, carrying out menial and repetitive tasks within the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) environment of World of Warcraft at the behest of financially-privileged gamers in pursuit of easy ‘levelling-up.’ This quick example is simply to illustrate the point that the virtual worlds of MMORPGs and online socializing, perhaps the foremost setting for the proliferation of contemporary avatars, is by no means ‘immaterial,’ and that fictional quantities possess a substantial viral potency in the shaping of reality.
So, the drone-authors sought in this essay continue to adapt the formal trends of katabasis, or ritual descent, across worlds in order to materially and contingently affect and infect their current order. Before beginning to compose any kind of introduction to some bestiary of contemporary avatars as actants, the drone will be called upon as a type of ‘specular technology,’ as a ‘machinic visual subject’ attuned to the Weird (and Weirdly attuned), and as a current of inhuman orientation for action. But first, a further related note on the formal and affective properties of avatars and their dynamics with reference to a proposed speculation-as-noise complex:
A speculative method lays out the morphological schemata of thought objects, exposing computing to what is not yet computable or even revealing the incomputable in computation as such. A speculative object is an objectile, bending and twisting the infinite levels of its reality beyond and ultimate point of observation. As a result, a speculative method enters a step-by-step process of permanence and modification to abstract the real potentialities of the object in a new field of relations, a multi-layered architecture of conjunctions and disjunctions. (Parisi, 2012: 242)
In its transversal and katabatic reaching out, the avatar presents itself as such an ‘objectile,’ an epistemic device that introduces noise to a given system (of thought) by opening ‘a new field of relations’ within by infection. Avatars deployed as objectiles breach the threshold of given systems, opening the opportunity for contagious maladaptation of that system by its ‘Outside’ – this is noise operating as ‘the greatest single disease-vector of civilization’ (Ballard, 2014: 154). Speculation, in this sense, can be likened to Deleuze and Guatarri’s (1988) notion of the ‘probe-head,’ which, like noise, is relative to a given situation or system, and ‘might in fact be any form of practice – any regime – that ruptures the dominant.’ (O’Sullivan, 2004: 313). As with the drone-agents to be discussed, ‘[p]robe-heads are produced from within the capitalist mode of production, from the same materials as it were, but they are that which deterritorializes its flows further, operating against the axiomatic functioning of capital, but plugging into its logics of invention and innovation’ (320). So there is an apparent traversal logic that emphasizes re-appropriation and the significance of given materials and contexts – speculation should be considered as the negative creative index of a conservative situation, a line of escape from control as an imaginative act of ‘fugitive planning,’ (Harney and Moten, 2013) a kind of contingent ‘xenopoetics’ (Negarestani, 2011) found also in the popular form, science-fiction, as a modality of cognitive estrangement, or as a fecund potency of the nested plot-holes within a narrative.3
One instance of such an attempt at the explicit infection of normative practices and assumptions, is the burgeoning practice of theory-fiction. Texts of this ‘genre’ aim to expose theory and systemic thought to the alien and Weird contingencies of fiction. Authors such as Reza Negarestani and The Confraternity of Neoflagellants deploy avatars, fictional quantities, not as hoax but to run with ideas exhumed from the world into impossible territories, opening up speculative applications and the subsequent ‘Weirding’ of thought by the horrific rigour of mad scientists or the visionary asceticism of sit-com anchorites. The imbrication of fictional drives and logic in this way ‘mixes things up, scrambles the known codes, upsets the accepted formulae’ (O’Sullivan, 2008: 47). The reason for this kind of cross-fertilization is predicated upon the notion that ‘[t]he world is already a fiction… [and fiction is] not opposed to reality but productive of it’ (49). This is not to propose a postmodern identification of fiction as a universal tenet for reality, but rather a realization of fictional drives as a temporally-specific real condition of postmodernity and of a diffuse Capitalist Realism of which it is itself symptomatic.
A further exploitation of the speculation-noise-fiction matrix, relevant to the subjects of this essay, is that of Sonic Fiction. Coined by artist and theorist Kodwo Eshun in his book, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, the term represents a gamut of afro-diasporic artists whose work Eshun sees as contributing to the fictional engineering of an alternative history of modernity denied to the Black subject through enslavement and oppression. Such oppression is seen to be continued in the act of reading history of Jazz, Hip Hop, Detroit Techno, Funk, etc. with a ‘compulsory [biographical] logic explaining all Black Music, conveniently mishearing antisocial surrealism as social realism’ (Eshun, 1998: 4). Ignoring such ‘surrealism’ is to render the speculative constructivism of these artists as simply operating within and never beyond the limitations erected by institutionalized racial hostility. Sonic Fiction then, enacts through popular form William Burroughs’ ‘Operation Re-Write’ (1962). And it is this exploitation and détournement of popular form that is essential to the current discussion: that the world-making tendencies of these practices aim to infect like a virus, through the given economies and affective circuitries of pop culture, positing music as an organon of noise.
Effective description of material can only proceed through the intelligibility of its various explanatory levels. And any pertinence of a prescription or intervention, in turn, is predicated upon such functional organisation of description… Interventions target and manipulate inferential and organisational links between explanatory and functional levels. That’s how, as James Woodward puts it, interventions study the causal fabric and make things happen. (Negarestani, 2013)
Vaporwave is a genre of music, taking root in the early 2010s with founding experiments such as Chuck Person’s Ecco Jams, James Ferrarro’s landmark album Far Side Virtual, and the enigmatic Floral Shoppe album by Macintosh Plus, and continues to germinate online with artists such as Hong Kong Express and those associated with the Dream Catalogue label, drip-133, as well as Blank Banshee among others who continue to explore the generic aesthetic and conceptual opportunities.
Musicians such as Luxury Elite, INTERNET CLUB and New Dreams Ltd formulated some of the defining formal operations of Vaporwave for which it is primarily known and most interpretation has stemmed – that of its repetitive and minimally chopped+screwed samples from popular songs that define a period of leisurely consumption, advertising muzak, new-age ‘self-help,’ and corporate motivational banalities; the aural culture of late capitalism’s accumulated rubble and detritus. Some of this early content displays a common commitment to luxuriating amongst the uncanny and hyperreal cosmology as proposed (advertised) by the enchanting lure of this source material (hence the approximation of the genre’s name to ‘vaporware,’ a contemporary ‘technology of enchantment’ which describes the identification of a product which is either stalled in development or is even unintended for release – this unsubstantiated announcement, a fictional quantity, however, still materially affects the activities of market competitors and pricing by occupying anticipation). This commitment is reminiscent of the 1990s and early 2000s rogue para-academic syndicate, Warwick’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, and their claim to ‘alienated and loving it’ (CCRU, 2014: 331). It is through this kind of intimacy that one performs Negarestani’s dictum of making a good meal of yourself for the Outside, or conspiring with anonymous materials, not to enact a Liberal choreography of toleration (being open-to), but rather allow the subjective architecture proposed by the capital-mythos to be ‘opened-by’ the occult forces of alienation through the bonds of philia, through a demonic revelry in the axiomatic effusion of capital’s own contradictions. A joyous negativity. An Outside to capital is immanent with the occulted entrails of its structural hostility, not marshaled or organized, but alternatively germinated within the mesh of human subjects, and their relations, who compose it. The germinal instantiation of the Outside fermenting within subjective architecture is that of an ambient dread that furnishes the concepts of individuals with an imaginative, negative and speculative hostility which can be activated with a new form of collective action native to this subjective pollination. Vaporwave’s formal repetition and psychedelic slowing down of samples reveals an occulted grain within the source material, generating a somber, depressive and alienated condition lurking within the structure of these optimistic enchantments. J. G. Ballard (2012: 229) proposes that ‘psychopathology should be kept alive as the last reservoir’ for this reason, to understand that a potent dysphoria is the last form of commons available to the subjects that compose the world as reflected by Vaporwave. What is encouraged is ‘alienation as maximal estrangement… the splitting of the subject from the self, …[wherein] this split can be embraced as an enabling condition for thought and practice’ (Brassier, n.d.). It is this selective acceleration that Vaporwave activates, in a sabotage or adulteration of subjectivity though an intense intimacy with the ‘dehumanizing hyperreal.’ This is the modality of its constructivism, for a machinic vision, and for the construction of speculative subjectivities, or avatars, epistemologically armed for effective situated intervention within the Weird, nebulous topography of the world as oriented by Miéville’s Tentacular Novum. Thus, the two key components of Vaporwave for the present text, in the articulation of drone-authors are an alienated and depressive epistemology, or navigation, and the traversal, re-use, and re-appropriation of discarded materials. The Weird reading, and Weird writing of drone fiction.
It is important here to note Vaporwave’s methodological purchase as a distributed cognitive and affective mapping mechanism is that it does not strictly produce discrete avatars per se, but rather initiates the navigational capacities of an anonymous drone-swarm. The chopped+screwed tracks that pitch diverse vocals down into an un-individuated stew, a single voice, as well as the adoption of Japanese characters in the titling of works in order to withdraw from the familiarity and readability associated with the source material and immediate community of listeners. Artists working in Vaporwave, too tend to maintain multiple or opaque identities. There is a ‘form of consciousness’ presently distributed across the genre attuned to the disorientation and ‘fogging effect’ of contemporary obstacles to novel thought (Negarestani, 2013). Artist duo, Pussykrew (comprised of Tikul and Mi$ Gogo), similarly provide a sequence of images and ecstatic visions depicting virtual landscapes of digital acid-sludge, human mutations and the deformation of vision towards a queer, post-human hallucination. Their visions depict approximations of life in an online future-swamp, throbbing with the junk of the past-human in a fertile virtual paste. Although utterly Weird, disorienting and slime-like in its oozing inarticulacy, Pussykrew’s work shares with Vaporwave an affective charge operating as a depressive-psychedelic modality of orientation – namely, that the only way to orient oneself is to be completely disorientated, and thus gain some kind of traction in the fabric, and machinations of things. This kind of ‘sorrow’ can be borrowed from Nicola Masciandaro’s reading of the Bible episode depicting the ‘crucifixion darkness’ enveloping the world:
It becomes a strange place where the only way to discern where you are with certainy is to see that you are hopelessly lost. (Masciandaro, 2014: 192)
And so, there is the shared transversal logic of the avatar here, of descending into darkness, of katabasis.
Artist and theorist Simon O’ Sullivan has elsewhere argued for narrative practices that move away from the stilted ‘image banks and reservoirs of Facebook and Google,’ (O’Sullivan, n.d.) but it is with those tarrying in the trash-heaps of extelligence, re-claiming and repurposing the kernel of alienation within the limited horizon of images made immediately available as an index of the techno-capital mythos, discovering the plotholes within these narratives, that alienation is discovered as an ‘enabling condition’ (Brassier, 2014: 76). Glasgow-based artist Matthew Bainbridge isolates this very attempt at articulation in a language composed of nothing but the stock gestures and tropes afforded by contemporary technology, such as emojis, slogans, synthetic products and even the pastel-palette associated with ‘youth’ as a market-friendly demographic supposedly spending time and money in generic fast-food eateries, malls, and arcades: if this is the language you give us, this is the language we will use ad absurdum, exploiting the contemporary dreamworld (this reservoir of occulted psychopathology) through ‘methods of intoxication by images and language’(Preciado, 2013: 361).
Lewis Den Hertog’s film Protein Shake (Episode 1) introduces a rich lexicon of negativity and hostility that similarly undergirds that of the world which Vaporwave reflects and its instrumentalizing network-positivity. Made up of several vignettes, each is composed of appropriated footage from softcore adult webcam parties, audio from a selection of paranoid video-blogs, têtes à claques animation and a haunting soundtrack reminiscent of the BBC radio programme, Blue Jam. Protein Shake (Episode 1) begins with a webcam shot focused on a teddy bear, sitting on a bed behind a girl performing for the camera. The vignettes continue with this focus, with each shot allowing little or no room for the camgirl’s performance – only stray limbs and body parts appear without any hint of identity, and only as a circumstance of attention upon the bears. With crudely animated lips, the bear announces that ‘we live in a hopelessly depressing world…’ setting the tone for the coming onslaught of skewed and obsessive views that range from conspiracy theories expounding the planetary control of satanic institutions, to a seemingly improvised yet certain knowledge of an imminent extinction event, from the speculation of the birth of a species of higher intelligence that can corral and exploit the cattle-like behavioral patterns of humans, to an amateur rapper’s volatile cry for help that combines desperate threat with deep insecurity. Protein Shake (Episode 1) offers an opportunity to temper the intellectually orthorexic impulse of epistemic accelerationism with the methodological reality-distortion and psychic re-ordering of Den Hertog’s fuzzy avatards.
Den Hertog himself talks of the teddies as being the inhabitants of Hell (one teddy envisions such a place to be an eternity of ‘moderate discomfort’ as a result of a plaque-removal procedure). But the source material of Protein Shake (Episode 1) belies the notion of Hell as some distant and other reality. It is not even the depths of the ‘deep web’ that are plumbed for hellish perspectives, but rather the banal and accessible networks that comprise daily life such as YouTube and the ubiquitous forums for exploiting and defining sexual activity. Here, again, hell is the psychic occulted grain of the commonplace, and it is a pervasive atmosphere of dread, anxiety and paranoia that equips the ‘characters’ in the film with a specific modality of orientation, akin to the Surrealist technique known as the paranoiac-critical method. Rather than a separate place, Hell is portrayed as the collective delirium induced in the Tentacular Novum, which furnishes its subjects with ‘a shock of recognition that never ends’ (Koolhaas, 1998: 238).
Animated yet stuck in their hell, the teddies expound a litany of soliloquys that suggest their delirious views are the result of some access to a kernel of ‘truth’ in the ‘pure horror’ of reality (to quote a teddy bear). There is a striking presence of the motivations and patterns of conspiracy theory here, which exists as a form of negative praxis where there is no singular entity to protest but rather the nebulous and complex organization of power that insidiously affects reality, particularly in the tangled circuitries of globalized networked conditions. Conspiracy theory is here similar to the paranoiac-critical experiments of Surrealism as a ‘spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectifications of delirious associations and interpretations.’ It may not be an immediately helpful conceit to visualize the complexities of the world as a conspiratorial pattern, but there is a speculative hostility engendered in such a pessimistic way of thinking that can be useful to a rational accelerationist practice that wants to harness the alienated potency in ways of navigating and conceptualizing an ‘experience’ of the contemporary moment. An ‘experience’ of being trapped in hell with the mind in turmoil, and the weight of the Tentacular Novum breaching the molecular structure of subjectivity (Aldous Huxley (2004: 88) also reminds one that accounts of Hell include punishments of ‘pressure and constriction’) fosters a world-breaking delirium. Architectural theorist, Rem Koolhaas (1998: 241) writes that
Paranoid-Critical activity is the fabrication of evidence for unprovable speculations and the subsequent grafting of this evidence on the world, so that a ‘false’ fact takes its unlawful place among the ‘real’ facts. These false facts relate to the real world as spies to a given society: the more conventional and unnoted their existence, the better they can devote themselves to that society’s destruction.
Koolhaas illustrates here the necessity of the Weird subject’s articulations, their negative lexicon as the instantiation of the Tentacular Novum’s structural and occulted hostility, weaponized as the form and content of ‘hyperstitional’ sabotage (CCRU, 2014). Den Hertog’s film supplies a sophisticated apparatus for the assemblage of a negative constructivism. It acts as a lightning rod for the negative and libidinal excesses of the everyday and banal post-internet culture. And it is with these very excesses, the accursed share and noise of the network, that a practice of fictioning intervenes with and re-populates the future, through a mining of and deployment of cultural negativity as a speculative resource. Much like Vaporwave, Protein Shake (Episode 1) ‘promises that, through conceptual recycling, the worn, consumed contents of the world can be recharged,’ (Koolhaas, 1998: 237-8) with their immanent delirious and ecstatic hostility.
One can now see how such drone-units are constructed for deployment, and what kind of subjectivity or disposition they embody. Perhaps though, ‘subjectivity’ is the wrong term, given the not-quite-human register and make-up of these avatars. Eva Papamargariti’s 2014 film No Boredom, No Pain, No Routine epitomizes the existential angst of discarded virtual beings without a purpose, fabulated by accident from rendered tentacles, guns, chassis, life-models… Similarly, Benjamin Nuel’s film Hotel (2013) also shares a narrative comprised of an anonymous cast of computer game henchmen inhabiting a virtual limbo falling apart, wondering what their role in the world is and could be. To account for the human-like intonations of a ‘machinic vision’ or ‘form of consciousness’ belonging to the emergent and disoriented drone, these subjects might well be considered in terms of a medievally-inclined ontology that posits not only a porosity, but perhaps even an indistinction, between person and object. This can be noted in the activity of artists who treat their self as an object of experimentation and fabulation for the deployment of artificial narratives, such as rappers Mykki Blanco and Nikki Minaj:
Knowing yourself by yourself means poisoning yourself by yourself, risking self-mutiliation. (Preciado, 2013: 361)
At first gender had been the vehicle for soul study but I had learned those lessons and sacrificed normalcy for the wonders of the world. I had begun to confuse my personality with my being and I wasn’t going to wear Mykki Blanco like a costume, no there is still so much to uncover and articulate about this nebulous world we live in and I’d find the words eventually, this was a new game, and the rules weren’t how to appear ‘interesting’ but how to achieve authenticity. (Blanco, non-pag.)
Mykki Blanco’s music has been of an increasingly Weird bent, culminating in the recent oddity-mixtape: Gay Dog Food. This short release is a masterful appropriation of inconsistency and the porosity of stable generic form, articulating the kind of ecstatic and exaggerated alienhood that only an avatar like Mykki Blanco would know, as an explorer of the alienated and nested plot-holes that bind the world. Mykki Blanco’s diaristic Facebook post quoted above, as well as his recent posing of the idea that Mykki Blanco quit music and become and investigative journalist, suggests an idea related to that of the intervening author-drone: that of the autonomous avatar or drone as anthropologist, or perhaps as misanthropologist. Gay Dog Food then, in its slippery insterstitiality and ‘queerness’ (for lack of a term that does not aim to pigeon-hole Mykki Blanco as ‘queer hip hop’ as if this were a genre) acts in a similar way as Vaporwave, as a specular technology that reflects and warps the image of the world, mirroring its opacity and distributing its own Weirdness. While Mykki Blanco asserts and re-articulates the Weird, an artist like Nikki Minaj adopts the role of a drone-object, embodying a contemporary relic-hood as an object of enchantment. Constantly reducible to ‘big titties, big butt, too’ and explicitly playing with modalities of, and embodiments of attention, desire, enchantment, authenticity, and commodification, she slips constantly in and out of roles, characters, disguises and voices. The cumulative role of this polyvocal swarm and ‘deeply Weird multiplicities,’ this contemporary demonic Legion, is that of a relic-like person-object, to be gazed upon and enact a towing of collective intelligence towards the aforementioned nested zones of alienation within popular culture (MacKendrick, 2010: 110).
This conglomeration of multi-vocalities as a distributive quasi-object is key to positing some kind of drone-authorship, as it would necessarily be a kind of swarm-authorhship, condoning an appropriately miasmatic intervention suited to exploiting the nebulous architectonics of Miéville’s Tentacular Novum, and an un-disciplinary openness ‘to incoherence’ and disorientation as orientation (Joy, 2013: 30). Vitalistically depressive units jerry-rigged from trash-heaps of extelligence, the group of drone-authors and their diverse practices which have only been hinted at here represent a burgeoning undercommons, the drone-denizens of the Tentacular Novum and feral ‘chimeric delusions’ (Negarestani, 2013) that this essay has collectively termed Vaporents. The term is borrowed from the suffix of the URL for the Reddit sub-forum dedicated to discussing cannabis vapor and vaporizers. While ‘ents’ is derived from the books of J. R. R. Tolkein as a name for a race of fictional creatures, ‘vapor,’ as discussed, attests to the vaporous, dank, psychotropic haze as a contemporary mytheme, or point of orientation. Opening the opportunities nascent within the category of ‘drone fiction’ depends upon interrogating the avatars of the contemporary post-internet age – those anonymous carriers and non-human agents capable of traversing the virtual plains. Although the ignition of these avatars pertains to the human world, there is a discrete and inhuman potency that drives their efficacy, breeding both new practices, responses and commentaries capable of navigating the world and the dreadful fog of the Tentacular Novum: autonomously and contingently emplotting future narratives.
Their viral and miasmatic infection of the world with their noise-fiction-speculation depends, lastly, to begin again to answer Amanda Beech’s concerns voiced at the beginning of this text, upon what Ben Woodard has termed ‘slime dynamics,’ or a ‘dark vitalism,’ towards the symbiogenetic appropriation of a slime cognition through the inhuman life of the avatar. Slime mold, or physarum polycephalum, perfectly embodies this living instantiation of the mindless functioning of life, an inhuman intelligence comparable to both the extra-cognitive decision making capabilities of the autonomous avatar-drone and the polycephalus swarm-authorship materialized variously in the anonymous collectivity of Vaporwave and in Minaj’s weird multiplicities. Avatars, in their drone-capacities, autonomously work in and on the world, reading it and writing it through a practice of world-production. But this is not a purely haphazard contingency, nor a sober engineering, but instead a darker Prometheanism attuned to the Weird contingencies, inconsistencies, and nested cracks or plot-holes in contemporary global-narratives as fecund heuristics motivating a practical transversal xenopoetics.
Ballard J.G. (2014) ‘Sound Sweep’ in The Complete Short Stories, vol.1. London: Fourth Estate, 142-183.
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- Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek (2015) juxtapose the ‘brainless speed’ of dromological accelerationism, with the navigational mastery of universal accelerationism.↩
- ‘[W]hat I mean by the machinic visual subject is not something that possesses humanlike or human-level perceptual and aesthetic capacities, but rather something that is uncanny and interesting because it does not possess those things and yet can see us, recognize us and know us regardless. That’s weird and interesting enough.’ (Bratton, 2015).↩
- The phrase ‘fugitive planning’ has been borrowed from Black Studies professor, Fred Moten, who uses it to describe the speculative essence of a Black subjectivity. The possibility of a collective fugitive-planning is made possible by the traversal of and improvisation with an immediate set of resources afforded amongst the oppressed, the ‘undercommons.’↩