coming into play : Derrida and "Plato's Pharmacy" - Tim Murray

My understanding of the "pharmakon" remains
influenced by Jacques Derrida's text, "Plato's
Pharmacy" (in La dissémination), which reflects
on the irony that Platonic therapeutics and the
valence of catharsis occur via the agency of the
"pharmakon," which is both remedy and poison (whether cure,
illness, or cause of illness). Through exorcism,
catharsis is said, by Derrida, to eradicate
excess by chasing the parasite outside. What's
important about his analysis is its insistence on
the irony that the parasitic logic and structure
must be shared by both poison and remedy, which
paradox must be repressed by the state apparatus
intent on maintaining the purity of an essence
clean of the charms and poison understood to
originate from without. Rather than being
governed by the oppositions inherent in the
pharmakon (remedy-poision, good-bad, true-false,
positive-negative, US-THEM), the pharmakon, as
Derrida argues so skillfully, permits the coming
into play of oppositions without being fully
encompassed or stifled (or blinded) by them.

Derrida adds, by the way, the the pharmakon also
signifies the artificial tint of painting, thus
inscribing the pharmakon into the fabric of
artistic representation,which, of course,
remained questionable to Plato as a dependable
apparatus of the state.

Recipe (evacuee cake)

It is a similar flexible play of highly charged
societal tensions that I mean to invoke by
emphasizing the paradox of "digital terror"
within the context of artistic blowback. While
differences certainly remain between the extent
of state terror employed in different regions
(not to mention by the shift of terror employed
by state surveillance systems and alternative
actions of locative media), I would suggest that
Steve Dietz's legal harrassment is directly
inscribed in the logic of state of state terror,
just as CAE's artistic reflections on critical
and technlogical terror employ the logic of the
pharmakon in resistance to the deadening logic of
us and them.


Christina McPhee said...

Irving Goh: Counter-Disappearance, 'Stealth Democracy, ' Picnolepsy
Apologies foremost for a too delayed and (too) lengthy response to Christina McPhee's post on disappearance and others on blindness...

Counter-Disappearance, “Stealth Democracy,” Picnolepsy


Having written a prolegomenon to a “right to disappear” for _Cultural Politics_, and a short piece calling for figure(s) of disappearance in the second installation of _Under Fire_, I am of course sympathetic to Christina McPhee’s post, especially towards the end, when she makes an appeal for the aesthetic “fugue or palimpsest that develops relative differentials into which images remix, as if they are shadowy residue from the site’s ‘bare life’ ontological condition, invisible, into which they insert themselves and into which they disappear.” Till today, I still find that figure(s) of disappearance, or even the “right to disappear,” figure(s) and right that pose as dis-sensus (Rancière) to any State politics of homogeneity and totality or to any State-determined militarization of world, remain elusive. And yet perhaps they should rightly be so. It is only as elusive that they affirm their already enactment or artifactuality (what I had previously written as the ruse of the double enunciation of ‘I exist, I disappear’) of disappearance, ahead of any academic theorization. To engage with Christina McPhee’s post on disappearance is also to engage with the other posts on blindness, for disappearance goes by way of a certain blindness too. To disappear is on the one hand blinding the other from one’s presence, i.e. the other no longer sees you, or he or she is blind to one’s presence. On the other hand, to disappear is also to be blind to what goes on around oneself, i.e. the refusal to take into account, into sight, the things that are happening outside of oneself.

Rather than further extending any inquiry into such figures of disappearance here, I would like to however touch on another side of disappearance, another aspect of disappearance that proves insidious and that tends to be forgotten, if not render awe and fascination rather than thorough critique. And that is the State’s own ‘order of disappearance.’ Before pursuing any art, theory, or practice of disappearance that is able to resists or go beyond the political capture of the State, one must not forget that the State sustains and perpetuates itself through technics of disappearance too. In a way, it is as if the State has put into effect a counter-disappearance to counter critical disappearance (from outside the State). One is so conditioned to think the mechanisms of the State, its manifestations, its mobilization, as belonging to the order of the spectacle. And so the State’s modes of disappearance get doubly veiled behind all the discourse on its spectacular aspects. This ‘order of disappearance’ is the other insidious aspect of disappearance that I would like deal with here. It must constantly be unconcealed, and of which any critical endeavor of disappearance from outside the State must not neglect to negotiate with, in order to challenge or resist it, if not to go beyond it.

The dissemination of democratic politics or politics of democracy has not been without a certain order of disappearance on the side of the State. That order is put in place by the State military complex, which is of a no less disseminating nature. Contemporary democracy (especially American democracy) is maintained, secured, defended, and perpetuated alongside the development and deployment of stealth military technologies – machines that are invisible to enemy’s radar, and which fly at the dangerous limits of enemies’ territories if not infiltrate into them under a technological cloak of disappearance so as to destroy any potential threat to the order of democracy. We know the examples already: the use of stealth reconnaissance SR71 and U2 planes since the 1960s, the deployment of the F117 stealth fighter aircrafts in the 1991 Gulf War for the liberation of Kuwait, the production of B2 stealth bombers, etc. Democracy (at least American democracy) proceeds by stealth democracy. The phrase “stealth democracy” is properly John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse’s. In their book _Stealth Democracy_ (2002), they are however not concerned with any discussion about the itinerant advancement of stealth military complex alongside political democracy, though they did make reference to the B-2 stealth bombers, which as they have lucidly observed as “difficult to see with standard radar techniques, yet everyone knows they exist” (2). Here, I will point the phrase “stealth democracy” towards the State’s military complex.

We might be hearing that democracy via stealth military technics is slowly phasing out. The F-117 has been officially retired. And plans are in place to retire the U2. But the retirement or imminent retirement of these machines do not mean that we have arrived at the end of an era of democracy through stealth war machines. We are not finished with stealth democracy yet. In fact, stealth democracy has just only entered into its new high-tech stage, a stage that is enabling it to bring every part of the world behind its shield, under its ‘order of disappearance.’ Stealth democracy is entering into a new phase of disappearance. The U2s, F117s, and B2s are piloted stealth machines. But today, one would encounter drones or unmanned stealth vehicles. Human (and even organizational) agency have disappeared from these machines, remaining only behind control or observation offices/ computers/ laptops linked to C4ISR network complexes that send these drones out. In themselves, these unmanned machines look invisible. High-tech military weapons always tend to be “invisible to the naked eye” after all according to Virilio. Or as Ryan Bishop and John Phillips in their article, “The Slow and the Blind,” say, “the revelation of technical superiority […] carries with it the aura of the invisible.” Unmanned drones even have the disposition of the blind, a disposition given perhaps by their windowless construction as Jordan Crandall has observed in his article “Unmanned.” As if blind in and to the world, they pervade the world’s air (and ground and sea) surfaces, largely blind or invisible to anyone and anything, watching (they are sometimes called “eyes in the sky” or simply “eyes”) the world anytime, anywhere, making sure that democracy is not challenged. Contemporary stealth democracy is the domain of the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). Of course, already existing since the 60s, UAS is nothing new, but the visibility of the advanced level of (invisible) military technology it has reached today to fight and win wars, and to maintain peace, is very marked. UAS, almost always “virtually silent and invisible” as it is commonly said of it, is the new order of disappearance of the State.

Almost invisible, they are everywhere. Almost no one can disappear from this system. No one and nothing is invisible to it, and in a way none can be blind to it (while not necessarily seeing it). UAS is now even sweeping the spaces of the Andaman archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a strategic military base is located, and at the same time “home to five stone-age aboriginal tribes who shun civilization [but no more].” Once again, the UAS is everywhere. They can be everywhere. They can be launched anywhere. Some do not need a runway. Some can be packed into a soldier’s backpack and launched wherever the foot soldier needs a far-sighted vision impossible to the human eye of a domain dangerous for a human to go forth. Some are even hand-launched like a paper aeroplane. In a way then, the order of disappearance generated by the UAS frames (unmanned aircrafts are also known as “air-frames”) the world, keeps it in check under the order of democracy as determined by the State that emanates the most political, economic, and military influence, or rather the State that has the capacity to send out these unmanned drones in the most invisible and technically superior manner around the globe (the most famous UAS of the American State war machine is named Global Hawk), while still under the banner of democratic politics. Stealth democracy through UAS keeps control and manages what kind of democracies are emerging in the world. And framing the world as such sometimes also means keeping people in places, discouraging movement of people, for unmanned aircrafts have also been deployed for border patrol, preventing the movement of illegal immigration. One could then expect that as UAS become more (invisibly) ubiquitous, more (invisible) borders or walls will emerge.

The rhetoric of UAS programs of course does not acknowledge such framing of stealth democracy. As its rhetoric goes, it instead wants to see itself as the technological, inorganic pharmakon-remedy of democracy, sending itself out always with the primary objective of “saving lives.” No doubt, UAS are being deployed in current wars to defend democracy against terrorism, to preemptively and stealthily destroy targets that imminently threaten any attack on military and civilian personnel who hail from democratic spaces. Beyond the battlefield, UAS are also now being tested for “telesurgery,” where a surgical robot can be instructed by a medical expert to help an injured person in a remote area, via real-time image-feed from a hovering unmanned dronw. The British Scorpio 45 unmanned marine craft in August 2005 helped free the crew of a Russian submarine which got entangled in some fishing nets at the seabed. And again in 2005, UAS has provided real-time images to help relief operations in the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan.

And yet one must not ignore the pharmakon-poison side of the UAS. As Crandall has noted in his above-mentioned article, armed unmanned systems have been known to wrongfully identify and eradicate innocent targets. Crandall has also noted that the disappearance of the human pilot or organization behind such machines also allows non-accountability or non-responsibility for such accidents, since no one or no organizational body can be identified or pin-pointed with precision in such stealth democracy. So as UAS seeks to save lives as its rhetoric goes, it at the same time puts (innocent) lives at risks. An unmanned drone has been reported to have collided with a friendly helicopter, fortunately without any loss of life. And in the grounding of the LA Police Drone SkySeer in June 2006 by the FAA, the risk of accidents and the consequent cost to human lives have been emphasized. According to the FAA, SkySeer has been grounded partly “due to concerns over potential air traffic accidents.” And of course there is the pharmakon-poison of unchecked surveillance, threatening the freedom of citizen privacy. In response to SkySeer, there had been a voice of concern of “Do we really want to live in a society where our background barbeques will be open to police scrutiny?” to which the LA police has disturbingly responded with “You shouldn’t be worried about being spied on by our government […]. These days you can’t go anywhere without a camera watching you whether you’re in a grocery store or walking down the street.”

Contemporary critical disappearance must counter this invisible frame of the global unmanned pharmakon. But perhaps first and foremost, what it has to learn from stealth democracy or the State’s order of disappearance is that any critical disappearance must not repeat or replicate the homogenizing effect that UAS is putting into place in the world today, the effect of rendering one in his or her own place, which in other words discourages movement. Critical disappearance must give place to plural and heterogeneous strategies of disappearing, contrary to an ‘order of disappearance’ that delimits freedom of movement. For critical disappearance, there cannot be a strict community of the disappearing/ disappeared. The question remains: how to counter this ‘order of disappearance’? Virilio has always pointed out that there is always a declension towards accidents in machines, accidents which occur when the machine cannot cope with human commands through the electronic human-machine interface, which is a situation when the machine becomes blind to human commands, and humans blind to the internal malfunctioning of the distant machine. UAS is not exempt from accidents. Sometimes they get lost. Sometimes they crash because of “some sort of communication interference.” If rendering blind of the other is the weapon of stealth democracy – “to make […] ‘you’ slow, blind, and therefore visible, and […] ‘I’ fast, sighted, and invisible” as Bishop and Phillips observe in their “The Slow and the Blind” article – perhaps the question is how to render these all-seeing (blind) unmanned drones blind? How to blind them with a “communication interference”? Perhaps we should appropriate the accident from the machine, through a creation of the accident that makes stealth war machines blind?

But I do not mean electronic hacking to achieve this creation of the accident. As to the possibility of virtual space as a contemporary space of the political as opposed or in disagreement with politics, or as a possible space of critical disappearance or even creation of a counter-accident, as some might posit (which I tend to think a little too easy a thought), the reality of it being so is proving to be not so optimistic. Cyberspace is becoming part of the State’s ‘order of disappearance.’ As Bishop and Phillips have suggested some years ago already in their “Unmanning the Homeland” article, hyperspace or becoming-virtual (in the electronic sense) is not an escape option, a point that picks up from Virilio’s thesis that modern technology is only the _expression of the militarization of the world. Today, the US military complex has officially made that virtual space a battlefield, the creation of the 8th Air Force as a combat-prepared squadron in cyberspace being a testimony to that. The military complex therefore can equally disappear into cyberspace and emerge there as a potent combative force. The 8th Air Force is a supplement, “a vector,” to the entire USAF so that it could “fly and fight in air, space and cyberspace.” Cyberspace is not exempt from the becoming-battlefield of almost every space in our real world. Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, who leads the 8th Air Force has said of cyberspace, “we’re going to treat it as a warfighting domain.” Or as Lani Kass, director of Air Force Cyberspace Task Force, has said, about a month before the inauguration of the 8th Air Force, cyberspace is “a domain just like air, space, land and sea. It’s a domain in and through which we deliver effects – fly and fight, attack and defend – and conduct operations to obtain our national interests.” And as if to promise the fulfillment of Virilio’s prophecy at the end of his _Aesthetics of Disappearance_, where he has said that “in [a] new kind of conflict, it is already no longer a matter of local times; the history of battles revealed de-localization as precipitation toward an ultimate metaphysical record, a final oblivion of matter and of our own presence in the world, beyond the barrier of sound and soon of light” (111), Kass has also added that “What I see in the future is cross-domain [from real to virtual space] integration, to deliver effects, like we deliver in air and space, where the commander has at his disposal, truly sovereign options, as stated in our mission, which is the ability to do whatever we want, wherever we want, and however we want – kinetically or nonkinetically and at the speed of sound and at the speed of light” (my emphases). In short, cyberspace is certainly a no-disappearance zone.

But yet again, the question remains: how does one disappear? What are the contemporary figures of critical disappearance? Can we recover what Virilio in _Aesthetics of Disappearance_ again identifies as the picnoleptic condition, a biological-psychological lapse into being-with-oneself without consciousness of the outside world, as if disappeared from or even blind to the rational world of accelerated transparencies of every self or body, the picnoleptic condition that always creates an accident – a cup drops every time it happens as Virilio says? Can a picnoleptic condition allow us to expropriate the accident from the machine and create that accident against the machine, against the UAS, rendering it blind and lost? Or shall we reappropriate stealth from the state military complex? I say “reappropriate” for as Deleuze and Guattari have already said, the state military complex develops by appropriating the modes of non-State (nomadic) war machines, war machines which tend to stray at the edges of the pack (a little like the flight paths of the stealth unmanned aircrafts), and which tend to follow their own trajectories of movement and action, sometimes stepping over to the other side of the pack and therefore betraying the pack, war machines that the pack have no idea to manage and keep in line, war machines that in Deleuze and Guattari’s rhetoric will even enact a becoming-animal and subsequently a becoming-imperceptible and therefore a disappearance. If we do put in place a renewed stealth war machine of our own, we would have to retrace this path that Deleuze and Guattari have drawn of the nomadic war machine, a strategy of stealth or disappearance that do not seek to homogenize space or to homogenize everything within a particular space (like the State stealth military machine), but to open paths of alterity and heterogeneity. And least we forget, the deleuzoguattarian nomadic war machine is nothing of the order of war, conflict, aggression, or violence. It becomes a war machine only because the state wages war against it first by delimiting its freedom of movement and freedom of thought. What are the contemporary nomadic war machines then?