Venus In Microsoft: male mas(s)ochism and cybernetics
One evening as the moon is waning radon I spy the telematic form of a
blonde on blonde goddess at the cinema. Maybe I'm s/he. Her filmic body ablaze
to my projective pleasure; her bare legs sex lips ass open to the always only
partially visible "ends of Man." For the price of a ticket I get to participate
in a dreamy bending of industrial taboos escaping HIStory. I feel at once
anxious and numb. This is fascinating. I watch myself watching myself watching
my fantasies while watching my fantasies watching myself. This is true. Just
look at the statistics.
At the film's climax a stoney cold Goddess dressed in nothing but furs
stands transfigured as a blank-faced male double showers her with spurts of
white liquid CAPITAL. Maybe I'm s/he. I am transferred into the microsoft:
aroused and electric. This is my body — a telematic exchange of faith leaping
screen to screen. This is whitemale techno-magic. This is obscene. This is
fascinating. The next thing I know they're strapping me into a cockpit and
blind-folding me with information. "Baghdad's your target," I hear a white man
in black face saying. These are my orders. "Jack off as often as you want.
Nobody will say; nobody will see; nobody will smell a thing."
As I was returning from my devotions, the thought came to mind that no
house without a TV is a home (to me). I entered the always open VIDEO PALACE,
feeling more sovereign than solid state and more (trans)sexual than ever. Mouth
to screen to mouth: I was hungry and wanted what's more than bodies can give.
Suddenly I saw a woman's figure glowing electric. As beautiful as celluloid, she
was separated from me by nothing but a cold screen of data; and I was confident
I'd access her image. Maybe s/he was I. It seemed as if the PRETTY WOMAN from
the screen had taken pity on me, come alive, and followed me home in a plastic
bag. I was seized by a nameless fear, my heart threatened to burst. 1
Theses on the Erotic Geography of HIStory: art in the age of simulation
The story is told of an automaton constructed in such a way that it
could play a winning game of JEOPARDY, answering each of its opponent's memories
with a counter-memory. An orphan in World Beat attire and something unnameable
in its mouth sat before the game bored flashing to the home viewing audience. A
system of screens created the illusion that this game was transparent from all
sides. Actually, a little parasite who was an expert JEOPARDY player sat inside
and guided the orphan's maneuvers by remote control. One can imagine a
geographical counterpart to this device. The orphan called "HIStorical
materialist geography" is to partially win, just as it loses itself in the
timely conjuring of alternative spaces. It can uneasily become a
"power-reflexive" match for anybody if it but enlists the services of radical
atheology, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight. In
mass demonstrations against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq all the anarchists wore
When something becomes a structural possibility it is constituted as
positively necessary, factually objective and morally valued or economic. This
is what distinguishes a structural possibility from the fleshy contingencies of
totemic simulation. Structural possibilities parasite off what (modern) power
renders absent. This is no universal law. This is a way of trying to both
describe and deconstruct the constitutive violence of white patriarchal CAPITAL.
For better and for worse. Like the soul of a commodity, or the cut up
subjectivity of women, slaves and wage laborers, persons tattooed by modern
power are cast as tragic actors, whose every thought is scripted by an agency of
white letters. This is a way of describing discursive language- representational
rites enacted by men whose words one can bank on. Credit-worthy men; men who
have much to give to (and thus take away from) the ritual scenes they govern.
These are scenes of imperial technology or white magic.
Like all forms of technology (or magic) these white magical scenes
operate in the shadows of what appears more originary- the space of sacrifice,
elementary religious forms, scientific displacements, or whatever. By contrast,
technologies of black magic simulate the disabling powers of sacrifice. In so
doing, they return the fantastic surplus that separates them from others. This
is what makes black magic technologies so seductive and so healing.
Practitioners of white magic technologies, on the other hand, labor to cover
over the gaps: securing the losses, extending the boundaries, exacting a
fetishized surplus as profit.
Not far from the space in which I'm (w)riting there is a transnational
bio-tech firm named NARCISSUS. Its business is both ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and
VIRTUAL REALITY. Its business is the rearrangement of entertaining memories for
maximal profit and the forgetting of everything else. Its business is war or the
(sacrificial) production of orphans. This business, an extension of sadism, or
the masterful male dream of purified enlightenment, involves both more and less
than sadism. This business is mas(s)ochistic in the general economic sense of
the word. It offers an image of pain or unhappiness as indissolubly BOUND-UP
with an image of redemption or liberation- the ecstasy of communication. This
business blurs the sexualized difference between tragedy (where things appear in
the form of their doubles) and farce (where even doubled revolution is
premodeled for user friendly markets world wide). The same applies to our view
of boundaries, which is the concern of geography. There today appears to be a
secret agreement between those (of us) on the outside and those parts of
ourselves that are stupidly in the know. This is indistinction, not simply
victimization; but on all sides the business of mas(s)ochism parasites off
whatever differences remain. These claims cannot be settled cheaply.
HIStorically material geographers are aware of that, even if melancholic about
prospects for redemption.
A cartographer who maps spaces without distinguishing between major
and minor, acts in accordance with the following truth: no events should be lost
for erotic geography. To be sure, only a partially redeemed (or power reflexive)
human/animalkind is given to heterogeneous spatiality- which is to say, its
range of self- limiting structural possibilities become (ex)citable as ritual
bindings and boundaries spin vertiginous. This is a ruinous awareness. It is
stupid to wait for some final Judgment Day when here in the space between us we
might be touched by a more poetic form of geography; an erotic geography that
plays back upon itself in orphaned waves and (dis)autobiographical musing. But
wouldn't such a cursed geography be condemned silence and the chaos of dark
laughter? Perhaps that's just the point (at which such a wicked form of
geography begins again and again and again).
Seek for signs of food and clothing first, then the Symbolic Order shall be
added onto you, if at the same time subtracted from your bodies.
- Black Madonna Durkheim, 1991
The class struggle, which is always partially present to an erotic
geographer influenced by Marx, is a fight for the material and imaginary spaces
of memory. "Nevertheless, it is not in the form of the spoils which fall to the
victor that the latter make their presence felt in the class struggle. They
manifest themselves in this struggle as courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude.
They have a retroactive force and will constantly call in question every
victory, past and present, of the rulers."2 An
erotic geographer must be aware of this most inconspicuous of transformations-
the contradictory accessing of spaces in excess of a given order of things in
At eight o'clock on June 23, 1787 in the heat of revolutionary
CAPITAList expansion (of the "Rights of Man" over "Nature"), the Marquis de Sade
began composing a new novel. A preliminary note reads:
Two [orphaned] sisters, one, extremely dissipated (Juliette), has a happy,
rich and successful life; the other (Justine), extremely strait-laced, falls
into a thousand traps, which end by causing her ruin.3
Justine's story was completed first. It appeared in 1791, the year in
which the new French Penal Code announced mathematically precise punishments for
each and every infraction of the law. This was also the year of the
Voodoo-inspired revolt of Africans enslaved by the French in Haiti. It is
tempting to read Sade's pornographic enclosure of Justine's orphaned body as a
monstrous allegory of a New World Order of economic restrictions. The libertines
who assault Justine inscribe their truths upon her skin, penetrating her with
rational logic and the promise of control. Justine resists being incorporated
into this narrative of western (male) desire, but her resistance brings nothing
but tragedy. She is tortured and raped, and although she tries to escape, there
is no escape. Unlike her Haitian counterparts, Justine is on her own. She is
denied what African slaves kept secretly alive- ritual access to spaces less
vulnerable to the narcissistic terrors and death-defying promises of a
CAPITALized selfhood. Her hopes for better futures LIE (nostalgically) in what's
past. She is slain by the electricity of this novel moment in HIStory.
Justine's death is tragic. This is not the case with her sister.
Juliette is an orphan who mutates in accordance with the structural
possibilities of an unprecedented space of modern subjectivity. Hers is a story
of the farcical pleasures offered (even, if in contradictory ways, to women) by
giving oneself over to the cynical demands of life within the disciplinary
thickness of one's own skin. Juliette's story appears in 1797. Unlike Justine,
she prostitutes herself, becoming a "grand thief" and property owner. This is
HIStory. Juliette is well paid for her sacrifices. At the end of her novel
existence she dies at peace, well defended from those she parasites.
Between the (w)ritings of one orphan sister and an Other the world has
changed. Justine could not be rationally persuaded, but her sister is seduced
into a new form of sadistic training. She has been converted to the ways of
modern "men" by a corrupt abbess in charge of the orphans' education. She joins
in the educative process, or so it appears in the (w)ritings of sadism. As
Foucault remarks, between Justine's text and Juliette's, a new form of power has
entered the world; a new form of parasitism. It feeds ruinously upon all that
remains outside the narcissistic confines of the normalized ego.
The disciplinary hollowing out of interior psychic space has begun. In
this, "violence, life and death, desire and sexuality will extend, below the
level of representation, an immense expanse of shade that we are now attempting
to regain, as far as we can, in our discourse, in our freedom, in our thought.
But our thought is so brief, our freedom so enslaved, our discourse so
repetitive, that we must face the fact that that expanse of shade below is
really a bottomless sea. The prosperities of Juliette are still more solitary-
The true picture of erotic spaces barred from what is structurally
possible flits by. Such spaces are recognizable only as images which flash in an
instant; fleeting gaps that defy words, left-overs from some unacknowledged
sacrificial meal. These uncanny spaces involve the ghostly reappearance of
what's been made to disappear; seeing what's been rendered as unseeable; hearing
what's been silenced; tasting what's forbidden; touched by the smell of rotting
During the first half of the nineteenth century such useless spaces
were by no means forgotten (or fully repressed) by those most sacrificed for the
sadistic expansion of CAPITAL. Whole classes fought back, only to be defeated by
superior military and industrial force. In 1848, while CAPITAL spread westward
across the U.S., deploying wholesale genocide and slavery, in Europe resistance
disrupted the geography of the market nearly everywhere. But not for long. The
revolutions of 1848 were met with excessive state violence. The brutal
subordination of Czech proletarians in Prague was a case in point. One of the
bloodiest restorations of CAPITAList power, the suppression of the popular
uprising in Prague was also a scene of sacrifice witnessed by a ten year old
boy, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. His father was the Chief of Police.
Two years earlier, the young Masoch had been exposed to similar
stories of violence in Galicia, a district forming the northeast corner of the
Austrian Empire. During a revolt of Polish landlords, that turned into a
three-party war involving nationalistic aristocrats, Polish peasants and the
Austrian army, fantastic scenarios of revolt were met by even greater
counter-revolutionary violence. Tales of indiscriminate massacres — mass
hangings, burnings, torture and burials alive — passed into the ears of the
Police Chief's son. Masoch's memories of such revolutionary defeats did more
than fuel a passion for repeating such ill- fated dramas in the spectacles he
staged with tin soldiers and puppets. They also provided a material context for
the imaginative form of (w)riting with which his name has come to be associated,
and for the paradoxical pleasures and pains such (w)ritings elicits in HIStory.
From the nineteenth century to the present, Mas(s)ochism signifies a
contradictory erotic flight-path from the disciplinary confines of sadistic
In both his immediate family situation, where Leopold found himself
enamored by the seductive charms of his scandalous paternal aunt, the Countess
Zenobia, and in his memories of the HIStorical scenery of defeated revolutions,
the role of powerful Slavic women loomed large. Indeed, within the cultural
geographies of Galacia and Prague there circulated many stories of the public
actions of brave and powerful women. One curious aspect of the 1846 Polish
rebellion in Galacia involved women in "a fantastic plan for the strangling of
their Austrian dancing partners at a great military ball in Lemberg. Wires were
to be fitted to the necks of the officers as an incident in a sort of
allegorical masque, then applied in grim earnest."5
Although, a death in the Hapsburg family led to the cancelation of officers'
plans to attend the ball, thus derailing this cunning act of rebellion, Leopold
himself forever related stories about the bravery of women during the bloody
events in Prague. He "used to tell his friends...that he had been out on the
barricades, as a boy of twelve, with a girl cousin named Miroslava, some years
older than himself. She wore a beautiful fur jacket, he would say, and carried
pistols in her belt. She ordered him about, shouted commands, he hastened to
obey. Amid these scenes of death and destruction he conceived a passionate
adoration of her."6
Mythic in appearance, these images of women's power were translated by
Masoch into allegories of men giving themselves as consenting slaves to cruel
female tyrants. This represents a fantastic (if also fantastically distorted)
mode of keeping alive certain images of resistance to the sadistic male demands
of profit driven CAPITAL. This is to read subversive, if contradictory, male
pleasures in Masoch's tales and the mas(s)ochistic rites for which they are
A century later, Barbara Erhenreich would locate a related space of
contradictory subversion in the pornographic rituals of middle class U.S. men.
In The Hearts of Men, Ehrenreich theorizes that — if only in fantasy — these men
were able to partially escape CAPITAL boredom by giving themselves in
masturbatory pleasure — not to fleshy women — but to glossy Playboy
condoning pornography's distorted representations of women, Erhenreich argues
that the contradictory pleasures of having fantasized sex with glossy magazine
images may have engendered spaces not fully integrated into the disciplined
patriarchal circuitry of post World War II CAPITAL. Within the historical
geography of the moment, these perverse spaces — although susceptible to further
colonization — made visible contradictions that might, otherwise, have remained
disguised. For indeed, "every image ... that is not in some way recognized by
the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear entirely."8
To articulate spaces of contradictory erotic possibility does not mean
to recognize the totality of all geographical relations at a given point of
time. It means, instead, to attend to the form of a particular fantasy as it
flashes up at a moment of danger. Erotic geography wishes to reflex upon that
image of space which unexpectedly appears in a terrain fraught with bodily
and/or psychic danger. For the critical geographer is vigilant in the awareness
that in order to spark hope in the realizability of less hierarchical spaces,
one must be "firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy
if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious."9
As a professor of HIStory, Leopold von Sacher- Masoch believed this as
well. Masoch suffered passions which he read as symptomatic of a diseased
culture — a society haunted by the failure of revolutions to stem the sadistic
spread of CAPITAL. Masoch's published texts are typically read as pornographic
tales of excessive male submission to the cold tyranny of cruel women masters,
among them various figurations of "Mother Nature." These stories are better
understood as elements of Masoch's life-long project of allegorical social
commentary. Indeed, Venus in Furs, the classic text of mas(s)ochistic male
literature, was itself part of a series of six stories which were to figure as
but one of six larger cycles comprising The Heritage of Cain.10 Masoch
selected this title to suggest "the burden of crime and suffering" that had
become the cursed heritage of modern "men," for whom nature was nothing but an
icy cold Mother. As Gilles Deleuze points out, "the coldness of the stern mother
is in reality a transmutation from which the new man [of CAPITAList modernity]
Venus in Furs, along with The Wanderer,
The Man of Surrenders, Moonlight Night, Plato's
Love and Marzella, constituted the first phase of this cycle.
Published under the title Love, these controversial texts
provocatively mirror and excessively articulate the sickening impossibilities of
enacting free and generous forms of erotic exchange in a society governed by
self-serving economic contracts. By "'desexualizing' love and at the same time
sexualizing the entirety HIStory of humanity," Masoch's (w)ritings cross his own
biographical desires with the parasitic economic exigencies of CAPITAL.12
The texts comprising Love were completed in 1870. The following year,
international CAPITAL violently closed-in upon the heterogeneous,
nonauthoritarian, and "vernacular" erotic geographies defended to death by the
Paris Commune. Before being massacred, the Commune conjured into existence a
form of space conceived "not as a static reality but as active, generative
...[and] created by interaction, as something that our bodies reactivate,
and...in turn modifies and transforms us."13 The
spatial erotics engendered by the commune, like the remaining cycles of Masoch's
The Heritage of Cain, would remain forever fragmentary and incomplete. Indeed,
the proposed names for the remaining cycles in The Heritage of Cain are
suggestive of ritual enclosures dominating the western imagination of erotic
life during the late nineteenth century — Property, The State, War, Work and
Masoch's life ended in fragments as well. Blocked by personal,
HIStorical, and geographic circumstances from forming more reciprocal alliances
with others, Masoch — like Sade before him — retreated into the imaginary
pleasures of male fantasy. Until the fantasies imploded and left Masoch
striking-out in mad rage at the woman he called his wife. But by then, Masoch
was old and his prestigious literary reputation slipping. On March 9, 1895,
Masoch, an author compared to the greatest of his European contemporaries, was
committed to an insane asylum in Mannheim.
During his lifetime, Masoch's literary and personal fantasies were
already (mis)diagnosed by the psychiatrist Kraft-Ebbing as passive counterparts
to Sade's. A more careful reading of Masoch's texts suggests something more
contradictory. Masoch's (w)ritings engendered ambivalent spaces of erotic
fantasy in excess of the dominant discourses of his time. In this, Masoch's
allegorical narratives, with their ambivalent displays of fantastic male
submission, foreshadowed aspects of the erotic geography of the emerging
industrial "masses." Like Masoch's male protagonists, the masses may have
ritually absorbed, rather than identified with, CAPITAL's most virulent economic
restrictions. This is not to suggest that perverse spaces of erotic resistance
are ever free of the violence of CAPITAL. Nor are they timeless. Indeed, less
than a half century after Masoch's death in 1905, the mas(s)ochistic spaces
prefigured in texts such as Venus in Furs would play host to a new and more
flexible form of CAPITAL. But even here the enclosures are not fully sealed.
Unlike the demonstrative negations of law embodied in Sade's criminal irony,
Mas(s)ochistic (w)ritings float suspended in dense and imaginative layers of
More allusive than frontal in their artful plays of resistance, and
more seductive than declarative in their deployment of signs, Masoch's texts —
like the hyper-conformity of the "masses" imagined by Baudrillard — threaten to
disappear into the cool enclosures of an imaginary that is void of interpretive
reference. This poses a challenging dilemma to the culture of CAPITAL. How might
the secrets informing such popular and literary practices be recuperatively
mastered? How, in other words, might such perverse bodies of (w)riting be made
to work for a system that demands their incorporation? Certainly not by force
alone. Virtually nobody is forcing anybody to watch television, and yet masses
of people keep their eyes/"I"s on the screen. Why? Is it because somebodies are
manipulating everybody else? Or, do the mas(s)ochistic pleasures of watching
life fade to screens of premodeled information give magical access to spaces of
erotic uncertainty, repressed by the sadistic demands of modern CAPITAL?
Is this what makes mas(s)ochism today so attractive — its promise of
pleasurable spaces in excess of discipline? This is hinted at in the (w)ritings
of both Masoch and Jean Baudrillard. But so is the danger that, in response to
such ritual perversions of discipline, CAPITAL will arm itself with new
technologies of image management, supplementing the rigidities of
"normalization" with the more flexible seduction of consent. This is a danger of
contemporary geography: the threat that mas(s)ochism, like MTV, may become a
magical tool of the ruling classes.
Consider the cold blankness of the screen glowing. It is within this space
of almost electric transference that one today rediscovers mystery.
- Jack O. Lantern, Threepenny Soap-Opera
To geographers who wish to replot space in time, Reno Heimlich
recommends ignorance of everything that LIES outside the borders of everyday
life. There is no better way of characterizing the method with which critical
erotic geography must break. For without exception, "the cultural treasures" the
geographer works with have a sacrificial origin which cannot be acknowledged
without horror. For, in truth, "there is no document of civilization that is not
at the same time [and space] a document of barbarism. And just as such a
document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it
was transmitted from one owner to another."15 The
erotic geographer, therefore, reflexively doubles back upon one's complicity
with barbarism, re-mirroring the sacrifices that recurrently give birth to
Mirrorings, replicas and copies of mirrored images are also present
throughout Masoch's texts. In the opening sequences of Venus in Furs, the
narrator encounters a strange Goddess with "stony, lifeless eyes" and "marble
body." Complaining of the coldness of men from northern regions — "you children
of reason" — this "sublime" figure, draped in the fur of a sable, informs the
narrator that she is an advocate of more archaic pleasures. Desire, she says, is
weaker than pleasure. "It is man who desires, woman who is desired. This is
woman's only advantage, but it is a decisive one. By making man so vulnerable to
passion, nature has placed him at women's mercy."16
The cold marble woman's voice rings true to the narrator. But before
he can act upon this truth he is awoken from his dream. The narrator, it
appears, has fallen asleep reading Hegel, only to find himself captivated by an
image of "a beautiful woman, naked beneath her dark furs." This image — a "large
oil painting done in the powerful colors of the Flemish School" — hangs in the
study of his friend Severin.17 This,
the narrator now believes, must be the erotic origin of his dream. But after
informing Severin of this fact, the narrator's eyes are redirected to yet
another image. "It was a remarkably good copy of Titan's famous Venus with the
Mirror," itself but another copy of a model. And so the story unfolds — one
seemingly true copy fading as but a screen for others. Mirror image to mirror
image; one fantastically screened memory after another.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte analyzes the failure of the
1848 revolution in France and the "ghostly" restoration of monarchy. Central to
Marx's discussion is the way in which bourgeois social movements may "hide from
themselves the limited ... content of their struggles." This, they accomplish,
by "masking" contemporary social forms in the cultural iconography of past
triumphs, such that "men and things seem set in sparkling diamond and each day's
spirit is ecstatic."18 Thus,
the "gladiators" of French bourgeois struggles replicate "the ideals, art forms
and self- deceptions" in order "to maintain their enthusiasm at the high level
appropriate to great historical tragedy. A century earlier, Cromwell and the
English ... had borrowed for their bourgeois revolution the language, passions
and illusions of the Old Testament."19
Worse, yet, were the "restoration years" 1848 to 1851, when parasitic
images of bygone glories were used to mask the defeat of revolutionary actions
by the resurrection of their ghosts. Depicting the crowning of Napoleon's nephew
as monarch as a parodic flight from the reality of present contradictions, Marx
concludes that, "an entire people ... suddenly found itself plunged back into
[the costumed drama of] an already dead epoch."20 This
led Marx to re(w)rite Hegel's observation that "all the great events and
characters of world history occur, so to speak twice," adding, "the first time
as tragedy, the second as farce."21
But what if such doubled appearances return a third time? And this
time, not as a farcical copy of a tragic original, but as a copy of nothing but
that which is modeled on a copy? Laughter rolls from the mouths of the studio
audience. I am (w)riting about a form of eroticism that is characteristic of
mas(s)ochistic texts and the "masses." I am (w)riting about simulation.
"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of
emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule."22 In
order to embody this teaching, critical geographers must articulate a method
that is in keeping with this insight. This may entail considerable unlearning.
Rather than normalizing our scientific procedures we must seek to remobilize
boundaries that have separated our knowledge from others. This will improve our
position in the ongoing struggle against fascism: to retheorize the geography of
simulation as aboriginally conjured in resistance to the sickening violence of
disciplinary cultural enclosures. Given the terrorism of contemporary forms of
cybernetic simulation, this may seem like a strange conceptual reversal.
Nevertheless, in articulating a genealogy of resistance, it is important to
remember that simulation is first called into existence as a defensive manoeuvre
on the part of the oppressed.
Simulation resists the believability of a given symbolic order. To
simulate is to pretend to possess what one doesn't possess — imaginary control
over a world where things appear as naturally given. But things are never
naturally given without other (possible) things being taken away. This,
simulators recognize, if secretly. The pretense of simulation feeds off the
fetishized reality of representational power. Representational power, on the
other hand, is rooted in dissimulation, or the promise that signs might ever
equal the things they signify. But they never will. Signifiers never equal what
they reference. Words never equal the things they order. Money never equals the
body. Simulators know all this but act as if they don't. This is simulation's
challenge to an existing social order. Simulation threatens to deconstruct the
hegemonic character of all binding representations, of all hierarchy. This is
its magic — a strategic prize for all players in any game of power.
My fluttering heart prepares me for flight, I would like to turn back. But
if I remain within this panicky metastasis, I am destined for far worse than
- Rada Rada, "Dark Angels."
A recent video produced by Jack O. Lantern displays a trope of orphan
angels, each with a video-camera turned back upon oneself. Images of these
angels feedback into the screen they rescan. This creates the illusion of a
composite image of highly differentiated social spaces spirally in relation.
Images of the angels spin at uncertain speeds around one another until the space
that originarily appeared to separate each from the others suddenly implodes
into a kaleidoscope of swampy forms and uncoded shades of color. This is
simulation. This is how one, who is not one, might picture the orphan angels of
geography. These angels appear turned inside out. Where one's normal eye/"I"
might perceive a cumulative chain of discrete HIStorical events, these angels
appear to envision the hegemonic spaces from which they take flight as a
continuous catastrophe which piles ruin upon ruin.
The angels would like to stay in the places which occupy them most.
But a storm is blowing in from the desert. Some call this desert Paradise and
wave flags and yellow ribbons. But the angels — if only because they are orphans
— sense something more ominous. They sense that previous spaces of defensive
simulation are today being redoubled by technologies of immense power. Nobody
seems safe anywhere. Catastrophic debris piles skyward. This storm is what
modernity has called progress. The angels spin more wildly than ever as the
screen betraying their imaginary positionings fades fast forward to black. Then
the reverse. Cut to slow motion.
"At a moment when the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had
placed their hopes are prostrate and confirm their defeat these observations are
intended to disentangle [the "masses" amidst which I drift] from the snares in
which the traitors have entrapped" us.23 What
more must I (w)rite? Must I recount the recent history U.S. Supreme Court
decisions bent on erasing all but the most powerful of corporate criminal rights
before the law?
But there's something even more dangerous about fascism than the
sadistic spread of state power per se. There is also the fascinating cultural
drama of sacrificing "masses" of other people and other structural possibilities
without recognizing this violence in anything but ecstatic forms. No guilt. No
contradictions. No second thoughts. This is what is distinctive about the male
fantasies governing fascist rituals — dense and high speed transferential
processes which make others disappear in the blink of an eye/"I." Literally. And
with virtually no real memory of the loss.
To accomplish such a fiercely militarized manoeuvre, fascists have
time after time parasited previously resistive spaces of simulation. This allows
fascists to access cultural spaces that once belonged only to rebels, mad people
and ghosts. In this, fascism, like a corporate state managed by vampires — which
is one way of describing the current geography of CAPITAL — travels free of the
technological encumbrances of its own murderous shadows. No matter that such
vampirism demands that those in power exchange their own bodies for fantastic
models of being beyond the body. The aestheticized transcendence of bodily
relations is exactly what conjures fascism into existence.
A related white magical transformation is taking place within the most
technologically advanced sectors of CAPITAL. This interface between fascist and
techno-CAPITAL redoubles modern male mas(s)ochism, rechanneling the masses it
charms. Here fascism, CAPITALism and mas(s)ochism come on line together as
constitutive features of ultramodern social power. At the core of each LIE
ritual technologies of mass perceptual fascination, a perversely erotic
simulation of seemingly open social spaces for profit. This is social
cybernetics. It appears to clean up all the messy gaps between things that are
modern, turning everything into bit and pieces of information. Digital ecstasy:
now one (who is not One) can be both here and not here at the same time!
Moreover, within the fascistic cultural mas(s)ochism of contemporary CAPITAL
there appears nowhere else to be.
Ultramodern power reverses social forms that earlier modes of
simulation had traditionally defended. Cut fast to the endzone! Freeze frame!
Instant replay! "The only good defense is a good offense!" says one
techno-fascist to anOther. This is simulation, but no longer of the resistive
kind. Traditional forms of simulation reflexively reverse the self-evidency of
meaningful cultural hierarchies, opening erotic spaces of play at the borders of
culture. Cybernetic simulations jam the channels, overloading the meaning of
otherwise arbitrary references and, thus, reversing even the playful reversals
of previous simulations. This unlocks, without undercutting, sadistic forms of
modern power, as bodies pile up without notice. Here, like the imaging of women
in Masoch's pornography, everything appears to float free, suspended of
reference. What was once feared as lurking on the outside of the modern social
order (nature, vengeful women, and a host of dark monstrous Others) is brought
into the center. At the same time, the center is technologically dispersed,
without threatening the expanse of its power. Here, things remain on the
outside, but appear closer than ever. Repulsive yet attractive: this is a New
World Order of technological erotics and the price for contesting this order is
high. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to imagine a form of geography that is
not at least partially complicit with such ultramodern simulations. But what
about simulation raised (or lowered) to yet another level? Isn't it still
geographically possible to double back upon the fascinating remodelings of
ultramodernity and vomit their poison? Waves of canned laughter break across the
One of the weaknesses of Marxist critical thought has been to
(mis)identify useful labor as the source of all wealth. "The savior of modern
times is called work... This vulgar-Marxist conception of the nature of labor
... recognizes only the progressive mastery of nature, ... a conception of
nature which differs ominously from the one in the Socialist utopias before the
1848 revolution. The new conception of labor amounts to the exploitation of
"vulgar Marxism" shares with other modern conceptions of power, including those
it criticizes — a fetishization of "use value" and the celebration of
productivity without end. Complicit with anthropocentric assumptions concerning
"Man's" mission to culturally subdue nature, such Marxism (like modern CAPITAL)
dissimulates human/animal interdependency in "natural" cycles of useless play,
festive expenditure and periodic decay. This aspect of human nature is
unfortunately less neglected by fascism, if only in simulated form.
If Marxism's vulgar espousal of human mastery over nature makes it
erotically complicit with sadism, fascism's simulation of being-in-natural-
cycles is anticipated in the pornography of Masoch. It is difficult to read the
violent suppression of the revolutions of 1848 as anything but sadistic.
Nevertheless, western (men's) HIStory continues to (w)rite of CAPITAL as
something progressive, even natural. How is this possible? One way is to
experience actual events in the form of their fantastic reversal. In
geographical terms, this would be to experience spaces of sadistic mastery as
equivalent to the fascinating pains of submitting to a "natural" (or
naturalized) law. The aestheticized reversals of mas(s)ochism enact such a
transubstantiation. The fascinating pleasures afforded men of Masoch's social
(dis)position permit a vast geographical expansion of CAPITAL by appearing to
free those most complicit with sadistic mastery of the guilt ridden confines of
the fortified ego. In this, the mas(s)ochist, like the newly industrialized
masses, is offered an aestheticized reprieve from the disciplinary demands of
But what of women? Despite the stereotypical feminization of both
mas(s)ochism and the so-called masses — in both psychoanalysis and much critical
theory — Masoch's (w)ritings presage little that is empowering for women.
Masoch's texts disavow, rather than challenge, the discursive violence of modern
law. Modern law is founded upon a sadistic repression of reciprocal human/animal
participation in natural cycles, that it codes as feminine. Constructed with an
eye/"I" to the "rights of Man," modern law is often heralded as "the Death of
God." In actuality, this represents only the death of one of God's doubled
aspects and the CAPITAL preservation of the Other. Banished is the (pagan)
immanence of the transgressive sacred, that aspect of God which is festively put
to death in an eternal return to the playful structuring of difference.
Preserved in the form of its perverse disavowal is the violence of God's more
orderly or sadistic aspects.
In Masoch's pornography a partially orphaned male protagonist
repeatedly secures the contractual agreement of archetypal females to play the
part of cruel Mother Nature. Here, the repressed returns but only in the form of
the law-in-reverse. The binary structure of law is preserved by a aestheticized
suspension of its most violent effects. In Masoch's texts, idealized forms float
slow motioned, like radiant dream-states, as each successive image cancels all
others. "The settings in Masoch, with their heavy tapestries, their cluttered
intimacy, their boudoirs and closets, create a chiaroscuro where the only things
that emerge are suspended gestures and suspended suffering."25 This
deters the recognition, without undermining the reality, of CAPITAL intensive
violence. Nature makes "her" theatrical reappearance in the monstrous form of a
cruel and seductive Goddess. In this masked form, "she" oversees man's voluntary
assent (or ascent?) to the purified sublimity of self-discipline. God, it seems,
is not dead but only turned into a (male fantasized) woman. In the shadows of
failed social revolution transsexualism abounds. This preserves, if in a
fetishized or disavowed form, the (monotheistic) aspect of a God-given social
To humanly occupy the position of God, the phallus, or the modern male
ego, is hauntingly (im)possible. It requires inordinate repression of oneself
and the oppression of all others. It requires, in other words, a carefully
managed game of dissimulation. One must pretend not to possess the world that
one is ritually given — a cracked and paranoiac world, besieged on all sides by
the sacrificial objects (or objective possibilities) it excludes. But there are
great costs to such pretense. The geography of the phallus is, at once, a
psychic fortress and a hollow swamp within the idealized (male) subject. Those
who pretend to occupy the position of phallic mastery must be on constant guard
against both external and internal enemies.
Throughout modernity this double contradiction has slowed the full
expanse of CAPITAL. But here at the end of the twentieth-century, CAPITAL
appears to be absorbing everything that once escaped it. Rapid fire and faster
than ever. In this, the sadistic reality of modern power is not negated but
seductively disavowed, as the "social void is scattered with interstitial
objects and crystalline clusters which spin around and coalesce in a cerebral
chiaroscuro... an opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all the
surrounding energy... A black hole which engulfs the social."26
We need geography, but not the way a parasitic tourist needs it to plot a
course of travels from North to South without ever leaving the safety of one's
- Madonna Durkheim, Of the Use and Abuse of
It is with not the makers of maps or models but in the struggles of
oppressed peoples that we best discover the shifting contours of geographical
knowledge. "In Marx it appears as the last enslaved class, as the avenger that
completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the
downtrodden."27 But in
our century, mas(s)ochistic technologies of enormous fascination have so
rechanneled the resistance of those of us most enslaved by CAPITAL, that it
becomes increasing difficult to recall spaces other than those in which we float
coldly, adrift of memory. Ritualized simulations which (in other social times
and spaces) have aided us in giving dramatic notice to the most sickening forces
of hierarchy, today come prepackaged and emptied of transgressive potential. I
am here (w)riting of what is most perversely erotic. Like models of war
generated the C.I.A., I.T.T. and Disney, contemporary simulations are
breathlessly put into oscillation with dissimulations.
New and improved models appear everywhere. These promise white magical
futures that unfold "as if" out of nowhere. It matters little that such promises
will never be realized because, amidst the pains of squalor, violence and
poverty, it's no longer actuality that counts, but only the seductive virtuality
of futures forever deterred. Like the rush of crack-cocaine or the thrills of
meaningless information, in the space of premodeled simulation time appears to
stand still. This is the exact opposite of the experience of time conjured by
reflexive forms of simulation. In the rituals governing such transgressive
forms, time is made to erotically disappear, only to be playfully reborn in each
passing instant. What a laugh!
This is the tragic drama of traditional (or reciprocally bound) forms
of simulation — an ecstatic dispelling of the farcical violence of cultural
authority. All the doubles implode. In this LIES the healing potential of black
magic. But with cybernetic simulations even this critical distinction is
blurred. In cybernetic culture there appears to be no outside. Interior
experience appears sent into orbit around itself, ecstatic not in the generosity
of self-loss, but in the oversaturated communicative pleasures of a self without
end. This makes orphans of the oppressed, cutting-off those subordinated by
power from effective ritual access to counter-memories and the
counter-structural possibilities such memories may beget. This is how
techno-simulations feed off traditional strategies of simulation. This fascistic
situation encourages the oppressed to "forget both ... hatred and [the] spirit
of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather
than that of liberated [mutant] grandchildren."28
We're here more than just the price of a gallon of gas. What we've done is
going to chart the future of the world for the next hundred years.
- Former U.S. President George Bush
"The concept of ... HIStorical progress ... cannot be sundered from
the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time."29 This
concept of HIStory is countered by the power-reflexive dance of erotic
Allying itself with the simulations of the oppressed, HIStorically material
geography attempts a deconstruction that partially escapes words. It displaces,
without either (dialectically) negating or (mas(s)ochistically) suspending the
operation of power. What does this mean?
The simulation of origins is the means.
- Jack O. Lantern, Jetzzeit Nunc Stans, Vol. I.
Erotic geography is the name for a structuring practice whose site is
not homogeneous, empty or transparent space, but heterogeneous spaces charged by
the simulation of contradictory ritual forces. The relationship between erotic
geography and simulation is typically understood as a strategy of power. This is
an unfortunate (mis)reading of simulation. It is wiser to think of simulation as
a contradictory strategy of counter-memory. Rather than simply reproducing
power, simulation allows people to disappear from the sickening webs of
hierarchy that most contain them. To simulate is to pretend to possess what one
can never possess (and remain oneself) — one's own shadows or what is left-
over, excreted, or repulsed to the margins of identity. In simulation one is
given access to "secrets" that can never be fully described or put into words.
This is simulation's charm — its grace and poetic seduction. Like the "call and
response" rituals "figured forth" in Zora Neal Hurston's accounts of the
force-fields of Voodoo, simulation conjures a scene, not of memory per se, but
of memory's surrounds — the often violent spin of attractions and repulsions by
which somebody becomes possessed of a given identity to the exclusion of
others.31 To be
within the transgressive field of simulation is to be ecstatically open to the
possibilities of new and previously unimagined communal spaces. At the same
time, the simulator may experience a bluesy melancholia for what one (who now
knows that he or she is not One at all) has always already been missing.
In simulation one encounters what Houston Baker depicts as "a pivotal
and reflexive surface that defies a rigorous opposition of subject and object.
It absorbs energies of its creator as subject, but is effectively sonorous only
through the matching subjectivity of its recipient. Its force is felt in its
disruptive effects, in its liberation of creator and recipient alike from
boundaries of conceptual overdeterminations."32 Baker
is here describing "poetic spaces" conjured into being within African- American
communities enslaved by the possessive white magic of modern CAPITAL. The
conjurer, a person of "double wisdom" — whom Baker variously associates with the
African griot, "witch-doctor," Voodoo Mambo, and African-American women
(w)riters — poetically "doubles" this oppressive ritual scenery. This effects a
surface to surface "transfer" of both the poisons of hierarchy and the healing
potential of images previously cast to the shadows. Yet, to be effective, such
poetic simulations must be performed within a community of those who believe in
the symbolic effectiveness of such spatial reversals. In this way, "The poetry
of conjure as an image resides in the secrecy and mysteriousness of its sources
of power, in its connection to ancient African sources syncretized by a
community of diasporic believers with Christian scriptures, and in the masterful
improvisational skills of its most dramatic practitioners."33
Baker's depiction of healing engendered by African-American conjurers
resembles Levi Strauss' depiction of simulations performed by Nambicuara shaman
in Central Brazil. For Levi Strauss, the indescribable "secret" of such ritual
simulations LIES in the "magical articulation" of two complementary but
typically separated symbolic realms of experience — the acknowledged and the
excluded; the normal and the pathological. "[N]ormal thought continually seeks
the meaning of things which refuse to reveal their significance" while
"so-called pathological thought ... overflows with emotional interpretations and
overtones, in order to supplement an otherwise deficient reality."34 In
shamanistic simulations, the spatial boundaries separating these two worlds are
ritually undone, allowing each to provisionally mingle with the other. In
contrast to the one-way abstractions of western "scientific explanation, the
problem here is not to attribute confused and disorganized states, emotions, or
representations to an objective cause, but rather to articulate them into a
whole or system. The system is valid precisely to the extent that it allows the
coalescence or precipitation of these diffuse states, whose discontinuity...
makes them so painful."35
This is crucial distinction. Unlike strategies of healing based upon
simulation, those rooted in dissimulation (which include most so-called modern
forms of medicine) appear bent on reducing the gap between what exists in the
world and its scientific representation. Ritual simulation playfully reverses
this gap, fascinating each side with images "normally" excluded by the other.
Herein LIES simulation's seductive black magic. Modern science is more singular.
It obsessively imposes one side of the gap upon its others, endlessly extending
this space of ritualized discontinuity. This is white magic — the power of
Maybe Dora, that most famous of hysterics, was also a simulator. Hers,
it seems, was a baroquely tragic drama, fated to be played without a believing
audience. In telling her dreams aloud within the Viennese theater of
psychoanalysis, Dora conjured a poetic space of terrifying patriarchal pasts and
an (im)possibly disruptive future. The images figured forth by Dora were
uncontainable by Freud's dissimulative theories. Hiding from the seductive space
of transference that Dora's simulations opened (between them), Freud took refuge
in a project for a scientific psychology. But if Freud feared the seductive
implosion of objectivized truths conjured by Dora's hysterics, he was certainly
not alone in his defenses. By 1865, early modern medical diagnosticians (or
"alienists" as they were known at the time) had set out to produce expert
representations of "real symptoms," that even simulators themselves would be
unaware of. "This ... in order to save at all cost the truth principle, and to
escape the spectre — raised by simulation — namely that truth, reference and
objective causes have ceased to exist."36
Of the challenge of simulation to psychoanalysis, Baudrillard asks,
"What can medicine do with something which floats on either side of illness, on
either side of health, or with the reduplication of illness in a discourse that
is no longer true or false? What can psychoanalysis do with the reduplication of
the discourse of the unconscious in a discourse of simulation that can never be
unmasked, since it isn't false either?" In the form announced and defended by
Freud, the answer, it seems, is nothing. But what of a more enchanted form of
psychoanalysis? What about transferences situated, not on an analyst's couch,
but within the onieric geography of cinema? What about the dreamy flow of images
conjured by the electricity of moving pictures?
In cinema, simulations no longer parasite upon the ghost haunted power
of dissimulated (modern) meanings, but appear almost to give birth to
themselves. Mechanical simulations engender a dreamy geography of fantasies. In
this, cinematic transference parallels the ambivalent neutralization of "real"
objects (of desire) prefigured in the (w)ritings of Masoch. Like the destruction
of "aura" attributed to the arts of mechanical reproduction by Walter Benjamin,
both Masoch's texts and the perceptual play of cinema conjure spaces that blur
the distinction between simulation and the "real world." In this way, both
mas(s)ochism and the movies access surface spaces which appear to escape the
disciplinary constraints of modern power.
Commentators often point to "real" women in Masoch's biography who
correspond to the cruel Goddesses who appear in his (w)ritings. But in Masoch's
texts, such characters appear indistinguishable from models of fantasy. In this
they resemble the screened Goddesses of Hollywood. Which comes first — the model
or the referent? In both mas(s)ochism and filmic simulation, the difference
floats undecidable. The "aura" surrounding artful originals appears undone. In
this way, Mas(s)ochistic (w)ritings anticipate a form of mechanical simulation
that double back upon the drama of more archaic forms of simulation. Like
television — which is perhaps the true heir of mas(s)ochistic (w)riting —
mas(s)ochism appears to disappear from geographies dominated by modern power.
But this it does without disturbing the reproduction of sadistic spaces in the
such, the mas(s)ochist may pretend to play a "hotly" contested game of artifice,
all the while lowering the temperature of his (w)riting to the coolness of
degree zero. This is the ecstatic space (of male fantasy) that mas(s)ochism
communicates to those it fascinates: the impression of being simultaneously
powerless and totally in control. A tiger's leap, not into the past, but
sidereal into a space of nostalgia for what never existed in any but the most
abstractly modeled of forms.
"The awareness that they are about to make the continuum of HIStory
explode is characteristic of the revolutionary classes at the moment of their
action."38 On the
other hand, a fascination with making the gendered contradictions of CAPITAL
implode into "cool memories" floating across what is screened — this is
characteristic of the whitemale mas(s)ochistic practices that dominate our
The erotic geographer, who is also a HIStorically material geographer,
"cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in
which time stands still and has come to a stop."39 This
is a space of simulation. It folds implosively back upon the rituals movements
by which the geographer her or himself had "once upon a time" appeared "as if"
separate from everything and everybody else. But, unlike mas(s)ochism, critical
erotic geography does not remain suspended in this fascinating space. The
transgressive implosion of one's separation (from the world) is but a recurrent
first (or second) movement in the critical geographer's dance between doublings.
Implosion followed by explosion; deconstruction followed by reconstruction;
seduction followed by production; transgression followed by provisional
orderings, partial truths, laughable dissimulations and the reverse.
The ambivalent suspense of both mas(s)ochism and "the work art in the
age of mechanical reproduction" offers relief from the sadistic violence of
CAPITAL. Each offers the contradictory pleasures of partially escaping
disciplinary demands for ceaseless objectification. At least in the imaginary
realm. By incorporating artifice, rather than repressing its shadowy play,
mas(s)ochism and the movies may appear as perversely more real than real.
Nevertheless, the communicative ecstasy offered by these seductive
social forms are not to be equated with the burning sensations that characterize
archaic simulation. This differentiates the magic of mas(s)ochism from that of
conjurers, witches, shamans and hysterics. Archaic simulation vocations a
recurrent return to chaotic spaces of difference. Mas(s)ochism and mechanical
image reproduction do not. They simply put modern power on hold. Rather than
expending spaces of sameness, they but project such spaces at a cool,
fascinating and suspended distance. In this the eye/"I" appears to float free of
the constraints by which it is constructed. Caught between melancholia and
mourning, these implosive strategies of mass resistance help defend the (male)
ego against the sadism of CAPITAL's superego, but without setting the ego itself
on fire. This is their theological and political ambivalence. God fades and is
resurrected with but the briefest of digital delays.
The ambivalence of such intermediate forms of simulation are nowhere
more evident than in Walter Benjamin's classic essay concerning the role of
mechanically reproduced images in effacing the "aura" of "original" art objects.
Of course, no object is ever truly original. Objects appear autonomous only to
the extent that they mask the traces of their own sacrificial construction. This
is why Benjamin views the mechanical depreciation of an object's "auratic
presence" as politically progressive. By detaching the object from the
fetishized domain of tradition, mechanical reproduction draws attention to the
constructed character of all objects. This liquidation of an object's "parasitic
dependence" on traditional authority is said to provide a critical space wherein
artistic consumers become producers, and the reverse. This may also be a
constitutive feature of all contemporary "mass movements."
Despite such progressive possibilities, Benjamin recognizes that the
elimination of auratic authenticity might simultaneously engender something more
ominous — "the desire of contemporary masses to bring things 'closer' spatially
and humanly."40 In
this, the advantages of achieving a critical distance from authority appear
countered, as "everyday the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very
close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction."41 In
amplifying this urge, mechanical reproduction transforms human perception
itself. As the means of filmic reproduction become more precise, things which
were previously invisible suddenly enter the world of sight. In this way,
perception itself mutates. With close-ups small details may be magnified beyond
belief. With slow- motion previously imperceptible gestures are dramatized. With
speed-ups new visions of form become commonplace; while with telescopic and
microscopic leness the literal meanings of "too far", "too small" or "too big"
are forever changed. These new ritual technologies do "not simply render more
precise what in any other case was visible, though unclear: [they reveal] ...
entirely new structural formations of the subject.... The camera introduces us
to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses."42
This points to a radical expanse in the spaces through which CAPITAL
enacts its magic. In this, the boundaries of perception radically shift as "the
adjustment of reality to the masses and the masses to reality" enters "a process
of unlimited scope." Things which had "once upon a time" been tattooed upon the
flesh now float free "as if" nothing but statistical probabilities.
"Simultaneities intervene, extending our point of view outward in an infinite
number of lines connecting the subject to a whole world of comparable
creating the sensation of "an open system, in which no one can find any
perceptible, objective limits..., a relative uncertainty due to the interpretive
delirium of the observer, be it spectator or tele- spectator."44
These artful developments presage new forms of human geography. Here
the constraints of "auratic" objectivity appear suspended between the
possibilities of critical distance and almost too much closeness. In 1936, at
the time of Benjamin's essay, the direction such forms might take seemed open to
radical contestation. Today, with the advent of televisionary feedback
mechanisms and pixel screened video-computer interface modelings, one direction
for simulation now appears more real than all others — the deployment of social
technologies which suspend rather than explode the floatation of image-generated
memories without fixed referent.
This signals the advent of miniaturization: an almost surgical
closeness to things shorn of their fleshy contradictions. "The artisanal
invention of dissolves, feedback, slow motion and time-lapse, zoom, live and
delayed broadcast ... now appear to have been premonitory signs, symptoms of a
de- realization of sensory appearances."45 This
is white magic. Its mas(s)ochistic structures today outdistance the black magic
of simulations that lead to social healing. But even this was uncannily
prophesied by Benjamin a few years before fascism demanded his blood. "At the
height of artifice," (w)rites Benjamin, "the sight of an immediate reality has
become an orchid in the land of technology."46
Erotic geography is based on constructivist principles. It involves
not only the flow of thoughts but their provisional arrest as well. Where
thinking congeals in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it engenders shock
waves that undermine the suspended geography of cybernetic power, while
announcing the emergence of new structural possibilities. This is not to lessen
the importance of HIStory "but to open up and recompose the territory of the
HIStorical imagination through a critical respatialization" of the dance of
humans in time.47 What
it opposes is that tendency in both HIStoricism and cybernetics which, by
subordinating space to time, "obscures geographical interpretation of the
changeability of the social world."48 Given
contemporary CAPITAL's mas(s)ochistic absorption of bodily difference into the
cool telematics of self- sustaining codes, this oppositional move may be more
important than ever.
Erotic geography recognizes that "the space in which we live, which
draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our
HIStory occurs... is also, itself, a heterogeneous space."49 To
reclaim this heterogeneity is to contest the current crystallization of power
that works upon and within our bodies, fascinating us with the seemingly
transparent possibilities of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Whereas cybernetic culture bombards us with the cold and circular seductions of
experiencing space as nothing but the suspended exchange of value-added
information for energy, and the reverse; the play of erotic geography reminds us
of what and who is being sacrificed to program such special effects. The globe
today is littered with orphans.
Not long before his death, Walter Benjamin (w)rote that: "The present,
which, as a model of Messianic time ..., coincides exactly with the stature
which the HIStory of mankind has in the universe — ... something like two
seconds at the close of a twenty-four hour day ."50 This
is, at once, a modest and challenging view of human destiny; a recognition that
the space of every moment is capable of redeeming the ruins of HIStory. This is
not to proclaim "Mankind's" triumph over nature, but to embrace the fleshy
finiteness of our own positioning within nature folding back upon itself, like
the twilight of one day passing into an other. In this we fall ruinously — if
with intense pleasure — out of the narcissism of wide-awake (or "ego-oriented")
consciousness into the heterogeneous space of death that only sleep simulates.
Maybe one will never awake. Maybe one will awake renewed by dreams of
But those who today most control the close- circuitry of cybernetic
culture want to take no chances. Cybernetics, with its omnipresent loops of
feed-back and telematic self-preservation, is staked — like the consciousness of
modern "Man" himself — on the perpetual deterrence of "Man's" death, even if
this requires the abandonment of one's own body and the simultaneous mass
destruction of others. This is a chilling day-dream of THE LAST SEX: a coldly
seductive male fantasy of ideally suspending — without materially expending —
the time of "Man" in HIStory.
This violent fantasy is nowhere more graphic than in Hans Moravec's
Mind Children: the Future of Robot and Human Intelligence.51 The
work of a renown authority in the field of Artificial Intelligence and published
by Harvard University Press, Mind Children traces the history of cybernetics
from its World War II origins — in efforts to connect the militarized minds of
men to the bodies of machines, and the reverse — to a surgeon's table in the
near future, where mas(s)ochistic day-dreams of exchanging the mortal body for a
more ideal model are at long last brought "on line."
The Second World War spurred the development of "analog computers" —
machines that simulated physical systems by representing their dynamic
quantities as analogous moves of shafts or voltages. Designed to more
efficiently control the human operation anti-aircraft guns and precision bombing
equipment, these new forms of simulation soon inspired efforts to construct an
effective "interface" between command, control and communication in both animals
and machines. Hastened by mathematical innovations, by men such as Norbert
Weiner and John von Neumann, the term cybernetics represented the combined
application of "new theory on feedback regulation with advances in postwar
electronic and early knowledge of living nervous systems to build machines that
were able to respond like simple animals and learn."52
During the 1950s and early 1960s, efforts to produce machines that
think resulted in such "creations" as the "electronic turtles" pioneered by
British psychologist W. Grey Walter and the so- called Johns Hopkins Beast. The
turtles were equipped with subminiature radio-tube brain circuits, microphonic
ears, contact switch feelers and rotating photoelectric eyes were capable of
locating specially designed battery recharge "hutches." This guaranteed that
these thinking robots might never run short of power. The Beast, built by a team
of brain researchers, made its way through space guided by sonar feedback
devices and photocelluar eye systems. Later replaced with televideo cameras,
these technologies of artificial eyesight enabled this machine to identify the
black plate covered wall outlets by which it recharged its energy cells. In this
way, the Beast, like the turtles, could stay on line indefinitely. Early
predecessors of today's highly publicized "smart bombs" and other feedback
guided weapon systems, these cybernetic devices fueled dreams of human- machine
interface and the perpetual suspension of death. Behind such dreams LIE the
fantasy of geographically unlimited command, control and communication
operations without out end.
This dream of TOTAL CONTROL was put on hold for several decades as the
analog computing systems which served as its model were displaced by faster
digital models. At the same time, the socio-logic of cybernetics spread
everywhere. Transferred into everyday life by televisionary feedback mechanisms
at the forefront of contemporary CAPITAL, cybernetics is today a
taken-for-granted feature of the culture in which we live and die. "Just look at
the account books, the projections, the numbers and the returns... Stocks and
commodities, the securities markets, banking, currency, options, futures... All
these markets must now be rethought and restructured" as each is increasingly
experienced as organized by a kind of "telematic" exchange between information
and energy.53 From a
doctors' imagination of her patient to IBM's imagination of its competitors and
clients and, perhaps, even your imagination of me, vast "flows" of the world as
we have come to know it over the last forty years have been coded recoded as
nothing but matters of information. "Even the simplest of conversations are
separated, reconfigured, sent and priced. And those who live in this new world
are losing their grip on...older [and other possible constructions of] reality.
As for for those who have no access to, no participation in, this newly imposed
world, they are [forced] out of the world's new information economy, doomed to
obsolescence and death."54
Today, mathematical "advances" in fractal geometry and technological
innovations permitting faster and more economical feedback mechanisms, have
allowed a cross-over between digital and analogical modeling techniques,
resulting in such innovations as neural networks and parallel processing. These
developments have revived prospects for the cybernetic simulation of human
"mind" processes and the "down-loading" of exact models of thought, memory and
even emotion from the flesh to machine carriers purified of the threat of death.
Forever and ever. This recalls Klaus Theweleit's depiction of the fantasies of
fascist men: abstract desires to live free of the impurities of the mortal body.
Moravec's Mind Children chillingly articulates this mas(s)ochistic
fantasy. Conjuring the technological possibilities of a "post-biological" world,
Moravec chides those stick-in-the-mud adherents of the body-identity position
who confuse animality with true human existence. How stupid (of us) to mistake
the reality of the flesh for real life! Theorizing what he calls
pattern-identity, Moravec, it seems, has something more real than real in (his)
mind. "Body-identity assumes that a person is defined by the stuff of which a
human body is made. Only by maintaining continuity of body stuff can we preserve
an individual person. Pattern- identity, conversely, defines the essence of a
person, say myself, as the pattern and the process going on in my head and body,
not the machinery supporting that process. If the process is preserved, I am
preserved. The rest is jelly."55
This is male-minded mas(s)ochism amplified by cybernetics — a
fantastic preservation of the narcissistic ego WITHOUT END. Here, informational
feedback mechanisms interact with electronic brain energy until an ideal
simulation of the mind is freed from the brain's materiality. This, it is said,
will permit the timeless remodeling of human experience, independent of the
entropic space of the flesh. More real than real and more cost efficient. A
CAPITAL idea no doubt — the eternal recycling of death-defying male fantasies.
The following passage from Moravec's text depicts surgical procedures aimed at
producing THE LAST SEX. Whose sex is this and whose male mas(s)ochistic future?
"You've just been wheeled into the operating room. A robot brain
surgeon is in attendance. By your side is a computer waiting to become a human
equivalent, lacking only a program to run. Your skull, but not your brain, is
anesthetized. You are fully conscious. The robot surgeon opens your brain case
and places a hand on the brain's surface. This unusual hand bristles with
microscopic machinery, and a cable connects it to the mobile computer at your
side. Instruments in the hand scan the first few millimeters of brain surface.
High resolution magnetic resonance measurements build a three-dimensional
surface chemical map, while arrays of magnetic and electric antennas collect
signals that are rapidly unraveled to reveal, moment to moment, the pulses
flashing among the neurons. These measurements, added to a comprehensive
understanding of human neural architecture, allow the surgeon to write a program
that models the behavior of the... scanned brain tissues... They flash by very
fast, but any discrepancies are highlighted on a display screen. The surgeon
fine-tunes the simulation until the correspondence is nearly perfect.
To further assure of the simulation's correctness, you are given a
pushbutton that allows you to momentarily 'test drive' the simulation, to
compare it with the functioning of the original tissue... As long as you press
the button, a small part of your nervous system is being replaced by a computer
simulation of itself.... As soon as you are satisfied, the simulation connection
is established permanently. The brain tissue is now impotent — it receives
inputs and acts as before but its output is ignored. Microscopic manipulators on
the hand's surface excise the cells in this superfluous tissue and pass them to
an aspirator, where they are drawn away... Layer after layer the brain is
simulated, then excavated. Eventually your skull is empty, and the surgeon's
hand rests deep in your brainstem. Though you have not lost consciousness, or
even your train of thought, your mind has been transferred to a machine. In a
final disconcerting step the surgeon lifts out his hand. Your suddenly abandoned
body goes into a spasm and dies. For a moment you experience only quiet and
dark. Then, once again, you can open your eyes. Your perspective has shifted.
The computer simulation has been disconnected from the cable leading to the
surgeon's hand and reconnected to a shiny new body of the style, color, and
material of your choice. Your metamorphosis is complete."56
I know this sounds too easy to be true, and you're probably thinking,
'Well, look at her. She was born with that body.' Hardly. ... [I]t involves
hard work and having a dream.57
We shall one day have dreams in walkman or video form, dreams to which we
can add sound effects, which can slow down or speed up, like television
pictures, or play over a second time if we like them. Perhaps we'll even be
able to tune to other people's dreams on FM and converse by cable in our
dreams? Dreams would at last have become a means of communication.
Conversely, the music of the walkman penetrates your body like a dream.
Neither inside nor outside, it passes behind your eyes like a cenesthetic
tape. But we can manipulate it. We no longer accept any images or sensations
unless we can manipulate them. We don't have any great expectations of the
substance of images any more, but we expect everything of their tactile and
1. Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, trans. Uwe
Moeller and Laura Lindgren, (New York: Blast Books, 1989), p. 66.
2. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in
Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, (New York Schocken Books, 1969),
3. Marquis de Sade, as quoted in James Cleugh, The Marquis and
the Chevalier: A Study in the Psychology of Sex as Illustrated by the Lives and
Personalities of The Maquis de Sade (1740-1814) and the Chevalier von
Sacher-Masoch (1836-1905), (New York: Duell, Sloan andPearce, 1951), p.
4. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, trans. Alan
Sheridan, (New York: VintageBooks, 1970), pp.210-11.
5. James Cleugh, The Marquis and the Chevalier, p.
6. Ibid, p. 155.
7. Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and
the Flight from Commitment, (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1983).
8. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," p.
10. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, trans.
Jean McNeil, in Masochism (New York: Zone Books, 1989)
11. Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, trans. Jean Mc
Neil, in Masochism, (New York Zone Books, 1989), p. 12.
13. Kristen Ross, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and
the Paris Commune, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p.
14. For a more detailed discussion of these themes in Masoch see
Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty.
15. Ibid., p. 256
16. Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, p. 146.
17. Ibid., p. 148.
18. Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, trans.
Ben Fowkes in Surveys from Exile, David Fernbach (ed.), New York:
Vintage Books, 1973), p. 150.
19. Ibid., p. 148.
21. Ibid., p. 146.
22. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," p.
23. Ibid., p. 258.
24. Ibid., p. 257.
25. Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, p. 34.
26. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent
Majorities, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton and John Johnston, (New York:
Semiotex(e), 1983), pp. 3-4.
27. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," p.
29. Ibid., p. 261.
30. For an elaboration of power-reflexive research methods, see
Stephen Pfohl, Death at the Parasite Cafe: Social Science (Fictions) and
the Postmoderm, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992).
31. Zora Neal Hurston, Mules and Men, (Bloomington,
Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1978); and Tell My Horse,
(New York: Harper and Row, 1990).
32. Houston A. Baker, Jr., Workings of the Spirit: the Poetics
of Afro-American Women's Writings, (Chicago: University of Chicago,
1991), p. 71.
33. Ibid., p. 89.
34. Claude Levi-Strauss, "The Sorcerer and His Magic" in
Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson, (New York: Basic
Books, 1963), p.181.
35. Ibid., p. 182.
36. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, trans. Paul Foss,
Paul Patton and Philip Beitchman, (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), p. 6.
37. In a related analysis, Patricia Mellencamp observes that the
"expectant" TV audience "partakes of masochism" and is thereby "soothed by
mundane ritual, and contained by...contradiction." See, Patricia Mellencamp,
TV Time and Catastrophe, or Beyond the Pleasure Principle of
Television, in Patricia Mellencamp, ed. Logics of
Television, (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1990), p. 248.
38. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," p.
39. Ibid., p. 262.
40. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction," in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, (New York:
Schocken Books, 1969), p. 223.
42. Ibid., pp. 236-27.
43. Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: the Reassertion of
Space in Critical Social Theory, (New York: Verso, 19890, 23.
44. Paul Virilio, The Lost Dimension, trans. Daniel
Moshenberg, (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), pp. 72-73.
45. Ibid., p. 111.
46. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical
Reproduction," p. 233.
47. Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies, p. 14.
48. Ibid., p. 15.
49. Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," trans. Jay Miskowiec,
Diacritics, 16(1986), p. 23.
50. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," p.
51. Hans Moravec, Mind Children: the Future of Robot and Human
Intelligence, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).
52. Ibid., p. 7.
53. Sol Yurik, Behold Metatron, the Recording Angel,
(New York: Semiotext(e), 1985), pp. 40,74, 12.
54. Ibid., p. 3
55. Ibid., p. 117.
56. Ibid., pp. 109-110.
57. Vanna White, Vanna Speaks, with Patricia Romanowski,
(New York: Warner Books, 1987), pp. 3,4,15,16,19.
58. Op. cit.
Stephen Pfohl is author of the CultureTexts book, Death at
the Parasite Cafe. A video-maker and performing artist, he is Professor
of Sociology at Boston College.
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