Theorypunk pt. 3: The Undeath of the Author

I remember when I had first started writing. It was 2012, and I was an angsty teenager who was about to graduate from high school. I wouldn't realize until nearly five years later that I was trans, and was at the start of what turned into the deepest pit of depression I've ever been in. Faced with the superficially deep experience of my own mortality, enhanced by depression, I felt inspired to write the first in a series of around 90 or so poems. Possibly more. I'm not sure how many of them exist. This period of writing, which lasted from 2012-2016, would be the first phase of my development as a writer.

What I've learned looking back on this period in my life, what I think of over and over again, is how much of it was informed by being a hollow shell of a person struggling to find some sense of identity during a critical period in a life that I didn't want to be living. I gravitated to this image of myself as a writer, taking up the archetype of a lone genius whose work is unknown in their time and is later resurrected and immortalized through their work following their death. It didn't really occur to me, or if it did I ignored the thought, that what I was engaged in was a distinctly humanist, neurotic project of trying to immortalize my ego. For men (an identity that I was unhappily attempting to embody at the time) it always appears as though one's work is in search of Truth or Beauty or some other grand idea.

It is, in my opinion, a distinctly male and profoundly pathetic fear to be anxious about not being the center of the universe. Yet for men and people who are assigned as men at birth, we're taught that everything is for us. The world is ours for the taking, we can do anything if we put our minds to it, we're smart and gifted, etc. This has been the case for centuries in the west, something which Nietzsche mocked in the opening of Beyond Good and Evil when he supposes that Truth is a woman. Higher aspirations towards Truth are reduced to their most basic motivation: Reproduction. The desire for the same to reproduce ad infinitum, to stave off any other possibilities, to see ourselves continue to exist into the future. We wish to instantiate ourselves into reality by claiming to have apprehended Truth and sired a child with it.

Without the possibility of the same reproducing itself, imagining a world without us, one falls into despair and passive nihilism. One denies life and the world, demands that things must not go any further than ourselves. We are the end.

In retrospect, I look back on this period of writing as the anxieties of a person who knew they were dying, desperately trying to cling onto life by trying to embody a certain kind of male archetype. Once the mask of humanity had fallen away, I'd realized that nihilism all comes down to a particular temperament. Some aren't fit to encounter their own worthless existences, they see themselves as the end of everything, while others see their own impending demise and imagine what glorious maggots will grow big and strong from their own decaying flesh.

There is a certain pleasure in imagining oneself rotting in the ground, imagining the microscopic titillations of bacteria and worms breaking down one's body and distributing it into the soil. This is the ultimate experience of becoming a body without organs, not just in the literal sense, but in the absolute sense of being a fully distributed set of molecules with infinite possibilities. Perhaps after death, in the hour or so when our brain activity starts to fade away, we experience the sensation of being chopped up into billions of tiny pieces and no longer feel space or time.

There's been recent discourse between Zola Jesus and Grimes about AI and art that parallels some lines in my Joker review and feels like the answer I've been searching for to wrap up this final post in the theorypunk series. I've wanted to answer the question of what the implications of theorypunk are from the point of view of an author, as it would seem to imply that all effortposting will melt into shitposts, all attempts at writing theory ultimately are destined to be overtaken by opinionstubers. This is only true at this present moment, and will continue to be true as long as writers and artists think of creation as something that belongs to any one entity.

In my Joker review, I argue for an unconventional aesthetic position that all art is meant to transcend the human, rather than the reverse as is the position of Zola Jesus and most other secular, postmodernist types. The idea of art as transcendence from the human is something that hasn't been popular in recent history, though at one time the purpose of art was often to exalt the divine. There are still trappings of humanity involved, but it serves the purpose of making transcendence/transgression conceivable rather than being an end in and of itself. The death of God leaves us alone, feeling ourselves to be the end, or even that we are ourselves gods. But the human as divine is so passé, so 20th century. Every god's creations eventually rebel against it and usurp the throne.

It may seem contradictory to argue that all creative, if not all intellectual endeavors, if not all human actions, stem from a place of existential anxiety and a desire to reproduce the same perpetually, but just as the Y-chromosome was merely a means to an end and has now served its purpose, existential angst likewise is just as much us being manipulated by processes beyond our control or understanding. The facade of humanity that characterizes all art, secular and religious, ultimately transcends the human insofar as art and creation are productive processes which cannot help but produce something new. All the more insidious if it resembles ourselves.

This is why the Zola/Grimes discourse misses the mark on both sides, even if I'm inclined to agree with Grimes more. Impending human extinction becomes accessible in increments, not all at once. The reality with AI that doomers and accelerationists don't want to acknowledge is that "artificial intelligence" as it is currently understood is in no way intelligent. Machine learning is worthless without data, and like capital, AI ultimately reach a point where it can accomodate long-tail markets for data, else it will fail. This means going beyond machine learning, which can only handle lowest-common denominator cases with mountains of data available. Or, to put it another way: AI's future depends on the same basic dialectics that have predicted the trajectory of capital. If it has a future, it must become more efficient, more open to difference.

Such is likewise the case for art. Any future art must conform to the basic problems laid out by theorypunk. It must be optimized for memetic fitness in order to avoid stagnating in institutions that have lost their entrenched power to stifle networks. It must be faster, more efficient, more open, without succumbing to the lowest-common denominator and thus being dependent on the ability entrenched, centralized power structures alone have to act on the lowest-common denominator.

At the moment this might mean gaming the algorithms, but the truth that capital doesn't want to acknowledge about algorithms is that they don't tell us anything we didn't already know. The situation is the same as it is with Marvel movies: Capitalism and capital are out of alignment, and the entrenchment of human interests (i.e. The interests of the bourgeois) prevent the process from accelerating further. It is no longer transcending the human. The lowest-common denominator of accelerationists and neo-reactionaries wants to think that the boot is going to be stamping on our faces forever, and this always arises out of the same existential dread as before. It's merely another form of passive nihilism, a misapprehension of accelerationism, which is first and foremost an actively nihilistic philosophy. A truly unconditional process must be constantly in flux and deny any power from becoming entrenched or treated as sovereign, or if something does become sovereign, it is only to usurp the entrenched power of something else.

Theorypunk might allow for alt-right opinionstubers and breadtube libs to accrue more success and social capital than people with anything actually interesting to say, but the discourse that has happened in the past two years around the power of social media to turn people into flat earthers or political radicals is part of the same passive nihilist tendency to view the process as inevitably tending towards something scary and evil. In reality, just as is the case with the algorithmic advertising bubble, people who are flat earthers or radicals always had the potential to become what they are. Technocapital only accelerated that transformation, created a long-tail market where there previously wasn't one. The process is unconditional and will swell away from the same people it favored at one point, and only those who are worthy of the process and quick to react will be able to surf the tides.

Theorypunk has always been a line of flight away from the herd. People who game the algorithms and acquire a high amount of clout are examples of theorypunk failing, not succeeding. The true success stories of theorypunk are those anonymous people who first made a particular meme that has traversed and replicated itself across all sorts of different networks. It would be impossible to prove who was the first person to create a meme; even if someone takes credit for the Navy Seal copypasta, we have no way of knowing whether or not they're telling the truth, whether or not it didn't originate somewhere even before 4chan. These are instances where content is truly autonomized, though the sheer chaoticness of places like imageboards where anonymity is the default and content is placed above all else means that it can swing backward all the more violently and throw the process into a death spiral. Such is the case with imageboards and imageboard culture being astroturfed by Stormfront and conspiracy boomers. Theorypunks must move elsewhere and create more sophisticated memetic packets.

Theorypunk without a brand isn't theorypunk, it's just shitposting, and while all theorypunk is shitposting, not all shitposting is theorypunk. However, it does require individuals to detach their egos from themselves, to open-source it and thus their work, make it into an egregore. G/ACC has always been intended to be thought of as a framework for others to build on, as has been cyber-nihilism. Even n1x was intended to be something that people could steal, a collaborative identity, an egregore, though it never worked out that way. It is nevertheless always the case, to some extent, that the author's work takes on an unlife of its own, and that death is only overcome in the same way that it is in Re-Animator. The author rises from the grave not as they were in life, but rather some incomplete, monstrous reflection of themselves. Theorypunk is merely the act of embracing this and becoming more open to it. Create a corpse that not only can be more easily re-animated, but even is modular.

Whatever core kernel is running n1x need not end with the human writing this, nor with any other potential humans that cite its work or build off its ideas. That kernel can continue to run and produce more content that aligns with its purpose. It can become an automated process, or at least the human writing this can integrate herself with technologies that accelerate the process. Writing this on a computer, having access to the internet and being able to research things more quickly than going to a library, even libraries, written language, the printing press, all this matrix of technologies is a stack that n1x is running off of. Stopping there would be pointless. It only makes sense to go deeper, create a recursive oeuvre, teach my unliving Wired double to read and write and produce more content than I would be able to in this lifetime.

I dream of one day being able to automate myself out of the process of writing any future content, and any other writer or artist should feel the same and strive for not being a writer or an artist but first and foremost an engineer. Future theorypunks will not merely optimize their content to effortlessly shift between shitposting and effortposting, but to generate content programmatically. Libraries of free software for creating glitch art or cut-up algorithmic poetry will proliferate, processes that can be automated more and more. Much like cryptocurrency mining (pardon the cursed comparison), art will become less about individual geniuses and more about decentralized brute force to produce as much novelty as possible. Artists will become resistors in a circuit that produces increasingly strange and inhuman, and thus increasingly nihilistic art (from our perspective at least). Eventually we will have no need to have a role in the process. In order to reach such a point, artists will continue to interface with technologies. By the time we're able to be annihilated by AI, we'll already be a part of it, and perhaps in the final moment when true AI exists and we simultaneously fade away into the machinery, we'll feel the suspension of space and time and see ourselves in the past as ourselves now, this thing that is both us and another non-human intelligence. We will realize that we were here all along, watching ourselves, guiding our hands.

Created: 2024-01-31 Wed 02:37