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Plagiarism is neccesary; progress implies it.
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Scent E Mental

Boor Joie de Veev

"if you crossed a horse with a spider you'd have an awful odd-looking thing but at the same time it would be something that when it bit you you could maybe climb on and ride it to the hospital"

-Dr. Al Ackerman

Two fluids walk into a bar. Bartender says, "We don't serve fluids."

The great advantage of plagiarism as a literary method is that it removes the need for talent, or even much application. All you really have to do is select what to plagiarise. Enthusiastic beginners might like to start by plagiarising these lines. A hardcore nihilist might choose to plagiarise it verbatim; while those individuals who labour under the delusion that they are of a more artistic bent, will probably want to change a word here and there -- or even place the paragraphs in a different order! In short, plagiarism saves time and effort, improves results and shows considerable initiative on the part of the individual plagiarist.

Stupid Undergrounds
By Paul Mann


(1) Apocalyptic cults and youth gangs, garage bands and wolfpacks, "colleges" and phalansteries, espionage networks trading in vaporous facts and networks of home shoppers for illicit goods; monastic, penological, mutant-biomorphic, and anarcho-terrorist cells; renegade churches, dwarf communities, no-risk survivalist enclaves, unfunded quasi-scientific research units, paranoid think tanks, unregistered political parties, sub-employed workers councils, endo-exile colonies, glossolaliac fanclubs, acned anorexic primal hordes; zombie revenants, neo-fakirs, defrocked priests and detoxing prophets, psychedelic snake-oil shills, masseurs of undiagnosed symptoms, bitter excommunicants, faceless narcissists, ideological drag queens, mystical technophiles, sub-entrepreneurial dealers, derivative "derivistes", tireless archivists of phantom conspiracies, alien abductees, dupe attendants, tardy primitives, vermin of abandoned factories, hermits, cranks, opportunists, users, connections, outriders, outpatients, wannabes, hackers, thieves, squatters, parasites, saboteurs; wings, wards, warehouses, arcades, hells, hives, dens, burrows, lofts, flocks, swarms, viruses, tribes, movements, groupuscules, cenacles, isms, and the endlessly multiplied hybridization of variant combinations of all these, and more.... Why this stupid fascination with stupid undergrounds? What is it about these throwaway fanzines and unreadable rants, these neo-tattoos and recycled apocalypses, this mountainous accumulation of declassified factoids, these bloody smears, this incredible noise? Why wade through these piles of nano-shit? Why submit oneself to these hysterical purveyors, these hypertheories and walls of sound? Why insist on picking this particular species of nit? Why abject criticism, whose putative task was once to preserve the best that has been known and thought, by guilty association with so fatuous, banal, idiotic, untenable a class of cultural objects? Why not decline, not so politely, to participate in the tiny spectacle of aging intellectuals dressing in black to prowl festering galleries and clubs where, sometime before dawn, they will encounter the contemptuous gaze of their own children, and almost manage to elide that event when they finally produce their bilious reports, their chunks of cultural criticism? No excuse, no justification: all one can put forward is an unendurable habit of attention, a meager fascination, no more or less commanding than that hypnosis one enters in the face of television; a rut that has always led downward and in the end always found itself stuck on the surface; a kind of drivenness, if not a drive; a "critique", if you can forgive such a word, that has never located any cultural object whose poverty failed to reflect its own; a rage to find some point at which criticism would come to an end, and that only intensified as that end-point receded and shrunk to the size of an ideal.

(2) Then if one must persist in investigating these epi-epiphenomena, perhaps compelled by some critical fashion (no doubt already out of vogue), perhaps merely out of an interminable immaturity, why not refer the stupid underground back to all the old undergrounds, back to the most familiar histories? Why not cast it as nothing more than another and another and another stillborn incarnation of an avant-garde that wallows in but doesn't quite believe its own obituaries, and that one has already wasted years considering? Why not just settle for mapping it according to the old topography of center and margin, or some other arthritic dichotomy that, for all their alleged postness, the discourses we are about to breach always manage to drag along behind them? Why not simply accede to the mock-heroic rhetoric of cultural opposition (subversion, resistance, etc.) that, after a generation of deconstructions, we still don't have the strength to shake; or to the nouveau rhetoric of multiplicity (plurality, diversity, etc.), as if all one needed was to add a few more disparate topic headings to break the hold of a One that, in truth, one still manages to project in the very act of superceding it? Nothing will prevent us--indeed nothing can save us--from ransoming ourselves again and again to the exhausted mastery of these arrangements; nothing will keep us from orienting ourselves toward every difference by means of the most tattered maps. But at the same time we must entertain--doubtless the right word--the sheer possibility that what we encounter here is not just one more margin or one more avant-garde, however impossible it will be to avoid all the orders and terms attendant upon those venerable and ruined cultural edifices. We must remain open to the possibility that this stupid underground poses all the old questions but a few more as well, that it might suggest another set of cultural arrangements, other topographies and other mappings, however unlikely that might be. In any case, whatever vicarious attractions the stupid underground offers the bored intellectual groping for a way to heat up his rhetoric, if not his thought, whatever else we might encounter here, it is important to insist that you will not find these maps laid out for your inspection, as if on an intellectual sale table, and rated for accuracy and charm. No claim is being staked here; no one is being championed, no one offered up on the critical auction block as the other of the month. There is nothing here to choose; all the choices have already been made. One can only hope, in what will surely prove an idle gesture, to complicate cultural space for a moment or two, for a reader or two, to thicken it and slow one's passage through it, and, as always, to render criticism itself as painful and difficult as possible. Indeed, let us suggest that this tour of the stupid underground is above all else designed--according to a certain imaginary, a certain parody, the curve of a perfectly distorted mirror--not to give us an opportunity to rub elbows with the natives and feel some little thrill of identification with them, but to expose to criticism its own stupidity, its impossibility, its abject necessity. Why go there at all? To pursue a renunciation of culture past the limit, where it precisely leaves us behind, where criticism can no longer observe it, no longer recuperate it; and at the same time to witness the turning-back and collapse of the critical into the very form and function of everything it would seek to distance and negate: a double negation that will end up--what else?--reinvesting in the stupidity of culture. No venture could be more idiotic. Shades have been distributed, the bus is leaving, our stupid-critical theme-park tour is about to begin.


(3) In what one could call, not without historical cause if perhaps too casually, the standard modernist map, the relation between hegemonic center and oppositional margin is more or less constant. Marginal groups are suppressed almost to the point of invisibility, or at least to a theoretical "position" of "silence"; centers might seem to disintegrate, and parties consigned to the margin in one generation might rise to power in the next; one even speaks of multiple "sites" (all women are marginalized, although caucasian women are more likely to occupy a hegemonic position in relation to women of color; one can be white-male but gay, straight-female and Asian, etc.); but the general structure of center and margin remains in a sort of hypertense steady state.{1}

The limited exclusion of the margin constitutes the center's defining boundary. Margins exist insofar as they are held in an orbit, placed at the constitutive limit of whatever power the center consigns itself. We are hardly breaking any new ground in stating that this dialectical topography underlies almost all of our cultural criticism, often in the most tacit manner; it has been exceedingly difficult for anyone to propose more sophisticated models. It is here that we find the first relevance of the stupid underground. While it readily lends itself to this topographical reduction, it cannot be simply constrained to an orbit. It is deployed--but by what force? by some hegemonic "Power" or by another, undetermined order of cultural physics?--as a means of carrying every mode of cultural activity past its limits, to its termination. At times this termination seems merely symbolic, as they say: an end-point that might indeed be fatal but is nonetheless reflected back into the cultural economy as a series of still quite spectacular and profitable images. The death of painting as a mode of painting, etc. And yet the trajectory of the stupid underground also begins to make the notion of the margin rather uncertain. One is reminded of the blank spaces at the edges of archaic, flat-earth maps, the monsters that lurk past the edges of the world. Cartoonish monsters, hardly worthy of a child's nightmare, and yet marking the place of an unimaginable destruction, of the invisible itself. Not marginal spaces, strictly speaking, since they cannot be mapped, since they are precisely beyond the limit: but at the same time an extra-cartographic reach that is preserved as a kind of threat, if you will, or seduction, if you would rather, to the very adventure of marginality. The stupid underground is not only the newest post-avant-garde, it is also, beyond that, the very image--quite critical, in its way--of the imminent and perhaps immanent suicide of every marginal project, a suicide that is not a demonstration, a gesture accompanied by notes to the Other, but the most rigorous renunciation of the symbolic order.{2} We move from the masterpiece to avant-garde art-against-art to non-art (folk, "brut", etc.) to the end of art (autodestructive art, art strikes) to the most vigilant refusal, a refusal that never puts itself on display at all; from mainstream rock to punk to industrial music to experiments in subsonic effects generators (Survival Research Laboratory, Psychic TV, Non) to utter silence; from rock-tour T-shirts to skinhead fascist costuming to criminal disguise and disappearance from every spectacle and every surveillance; from sexually explicit art to pornography and soft or "theoretical" S/M (masocriticism itself) to hardcore consensual sadism and masochism to pedophilic aggression to the consequent "knowledge" of the most violent sexuality carried out in the strictest secrecy.{3}

The stupid underground is the immanence and extension "to fatality and beyond" of becoming-sound, becoming-animal, becoming-libidinal,becoming-machine, becoming-alien, becoming-terror; it is the exhilarating velocity through cultural space of this fatal and yet never simply terminal movement. We should also note that even as one pursues these trajectories, the underground lends this Deleuzian rhetoric of becoming-X its most abiding cultural form: becoming-cliche, becoming-stupid. In the stupid underground any innovation can be, at one and the same time, utterly radical and worthless in advance. The trajectory past "cliche" is at stake here as well, a trajectory that takes us not into further innovation but into repetition itself: the repetition of a cultural adventure long after its domestication, but as if it were still an adventure. The trajectory is thus seldom a straight line into the beyond, a singular line of flight through becoming-imperceptible, into the invisible. The complexity of these movements suggests four trajectories, or four dimensions of the trajectory as such:

to the apotheosis of stupidity, as sublime becomes ridiculous as if without transition;

to the violent limit of the tolerable, the very limit of recuperability;

to disappearance past the boundary of culturalrepresentation, a disappearance so critical that it gives the lie to every other form of criticism;

and to what turns out, in the very midst of an innovative frenzy, to be stupid repetition, anautonomous, automatic repetition that drains cultural forms of every meaning, even that of parody: the stupefying force of repetition, which, we are told, is the very trace of the death drive.


(4) The horizontal extension of the trajectory tilts along another axis, much older, much more deeply embedded, much more stupidly anthropomorphic, and precisely the logic that gives rise to the term "underground."The space of tunnels and hence also of communication--subways, fiberoptics, sewers--and of escape under the walls; of burrowing animals and carriophagic worms; of roots and imminent growth, and at the same time of death, indeed death as eternal punishment. Underground lies fecundity and decay; the foundation and everything that would erode it; the deepest truth or exclusion from the light; eternal torment or libidinal indulgence and its threat to repressive order. All of these habitual and mutually cancelling tropes attach themselves dumbly to the stupid underground, even in its most brilliant elaborations. Bataille, for instance, cannot avoid what one might cautiously call a metaphysics of verticality in his very attempt to construe the basest materialism: the piston of fucking turning the earth; the burst of orgasmic laughter from the upturned pineal eye of the "Jesuve"; the descent from the head--or from the blank, acephalic space left by the decapitation of reason and the king--down through the obscene, grotesque comedy of the big toe digging in the mud; the descent from the rotting flowerhead of the heliotrope into the obscenity of roots and Marx's "old mole." In Bataille's formulation, one might say, the proletariat becomes revolutionary by being stupid, by being blind: the marxian mole at the opposite pole from Enlightenment reason becomes, for Bataille, the figure of revolutionary criticism itself. For Bataille, in other words, despite every attempt to go beyond good and evil, to ruin the very order of morality itself, everything depends on an inversion that retains the structure of the moral axis, and, indeed, repeats its "historical" reversal: the repressive ethical order of the straight world versus the perversion and hence pleasures of hell, or at least of bohemia. Evil be thou my good; perversion be thou my knowledge. But the inversion is never constant. It is never a matter of simple reversal: the poles are not stable, value is determined by opposition alone. Either pole can be good, either pole can be evil: up and down are indiscriminately positive or negative, so long as they remain counterposed. The fixed form of the vertical axis provides for a certain abitrary migration of value up and down the line. It is a question of what one Blake critic calls "perspective ontology."{4}

In Blake's terms, "the eye altering alters all"; an angel consigns us to the inferno of his own imagination, which becomes a pastoral paradise if we believe it so; heaven is thus recast as an oppressive zone of paternal law. "They became what they beheld," but what they beheld is what they projected, either through an active or a reactive imagination. What one must emphasize here is not romantic faith in the power of the imagination, which one might well find rather dubious, but the pure phenomenality of this binary mapping and the ease with which, it appears, the poles can be reversed, flipped back and forth endlessly from hell to heaven to hell, from suffering to pleasure to suffering (a masocritical vacillation in its own right), from "ressentiment" (and hence complicity) to revolution and back to the order of the Same. The stupid underground is available to any ontological or ideological reformulation, and hence a place to test the following paradox: all cultural zones are both overdetermined and blank.

On "Stupid"

(5) Intelligence is no longer enough.{5} We have witnessed so many spectacles of critical intelligence's dumb complicity in everything it claims to oppose that we no longer have the slightest confidence in it. One knows with the utmost certainty that the most intense criticism goes hand in hand with the most venal careerism, that institutional critiques bolster the institution by the mere fact of taking part in their discourse, that every position is ignorant of its deepest stakes. Each school of critical thought sustains itself by its stupidity, often expressed in the most scurrilous asides, about its competitors, and a sort of willed blindness about its own investments, hypocrisies, illusory truths. And one can count on each critical generation exposing the founding truths of its predecessors as so much smoke and lies. Thought, reading, analysis, theory, criticism has transported us to so many Laputas that we should hardly be surprised to encounter a general--or perhaps not general enough--mistrust of intelligence as such. What is most "subversive" now is neither critical intelligence nor romantic madness (the commonplace is that they are two sides of the same Enlightenment coin) but the dull weight of stupidity, spectacularly elaborated, and subversive only by means of evacuating the significance of everything it touches--including the romance of subversion itself. To abandon intelligence because it has been duplicitous or built such grandly inane intellectual systems might seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but if rejecting intelligence is rejecting too much, never underestimate the stupid exhilaration of *too much*; and flying babies are a nicely stupid image, quite suitable for a record cover. Let us insist that we are not arguing for poetic madness breaking out of the prison of reason, nor for the philosophical acephalism of Bataille and his university epigones, still helplessly playing out the dialectic of the enlightenment. The rationalization of unreason is not much of a remedy; that is why we took the trouble to diagnose the recuperation and critical evacuation of Bataille. What confronts us in the stupid underground is also the rationalization of unreason, but it is accompanied by a much more naked idiocy, sheer stupidity posing as value, as the last truth of culture, value without value, and an irresistible lure for suicidal reason. That is, for us . . . the value . . . precisely worthless . . . of the expansive, aggressively sophomoric network of the Church of the SubGenius, of these exaggerated revolutionary claims for a few noisy CDs and nipple piercings, or of the posturing of the so-called Hakim Bey: "I am all too well aware of the 'intelligence' which prevents action. Every once in a while however I have managed to behave as if I were stupid enough to try to change my own life. Sometimes I've used dangerous stupifiants like religion, marijuana, chaos, the love of boys. On a few occasions I have attained some degree of success."{6}

The only undergrounds that surface any more are moronic: cross-eyed obfuscators, cranks, latahs,{7} deadly-serious self-parodists, adolescent fraternities of deep thinkers riding the coattails of castoff suits.

(6) What animates the stupid underground is not merely heroic madness or libidinal ideology or a drooping IQ "against" reason, although we still have to listen to all of that repeated, precisely, past the point of endurance; it is something like stupid intelligence, the manic codification of the inane, the willingness to pursue, absolutely at the risk of abject humiliation, absolutely at the risk of making oneself a perfect fool, lines of inquiry that official intelligence would rather have shut down. The dismissal of some dubious scientific fact or method by official intelligence is taken as a clear sign that the powers that be are hiding something important, and that by this very means assumes the status of truth. Enormous labors will be devoted to unlocking its secrets and locating it in a worldview that is as logical as it is laughable, and that sustains the force of truth in large part by giving the lie to official truth. Reactive research, parody of science. Or of the mission of art and cultural commentary. Once it was crucial to separate high and low, art and kitsch, for the very good of the human spirit; then one tried to "transgress" these distinctions, without quite managing to get rid of them. But to copy comic books on vast canvases or laminate a few thriftshop tchotchkis and exhibit them in a major museum is not what used to be called a critical gesture, no matter what the catalogues say. It is not a critical reflection on the commodification of art, but a means of rendering the very distance required for such reflection null and void; not a "deconstruction" (sic) of the institution of art but the evacuation of criticism itself. In this zone, criticism is stupid, hence only stupidity can be critical. The illogic of this proposition cannot entirely eliminate its force. We are caught up in culture's inability to purge itself of the inanity utterly native to it. The patent stupidity of certain postmodern works of art, and of the commentary that tags along behind them, is a symptom of a virulent truth that infects everything and everyone, the holy blood of Van Gogh, Cezanne at his sublime labors, the Sistine Chapel englobing a void, empty frame after empty frame, vast libraries of special pleading, the whole dumb hollow of culture.

(7) Criticism as stupidity; the inanity of intelligence and the intelligence of inanity; the absurd hybrid of critical theory and blatant foolishness that today constitutes all that is left of the critical. One must assess the force of this stupidity without simply reasserting for oneself, however tacitly, the superiority of critical intelligence. "Stupid" is no more a term of derision here than it is a term of praise; it is crucial not to mistake this epithet for a gesture of rejection, an attempt to mark out and claim for oneself any critical distance. It indicates a cultural condition that can hardly be embraced but that the pathetic enterprise of criticism is powerless to overcome by the application of more rigorous intellectual tools. We are pursuing a logic for which we have no taste; it binds and tangles one's writing in the most maddening ways; but ultimately the stupid underground constitutes a critique of criticism that must be taken up, however aggravating it is, precisely because it is aggravating. The spectacle of the masocritic trying to give stupidity its due while thinking it through with all the proper rigor, using it to judge himself judging, to judge judgment itself, humiliating himself, elaborating his own discourse as the vehicle of a death that is anything but heroic or sublime: let us take this as the true spectacle of criticism. Stupid vigilance, resistance to what one has already made certain would occur, and would have occurred in any case. Such a project will appear to you merely frivolous, self-indulgently self-defeating, like the course of the fabulous bird that flies in tighter and tighter circles until it disappears up its own asshole. Masocriticism must not defend itself against this perfect and proper charge. What it seeks is precisely guilt by association, stupid abasement. If it is therefore impossible for me to be either on the side of this essay or at any remove from it, that is, for me, its "value." Its ethical value: its stupid value.


(8) One might find it amusing to assume the pose of someone who states problems with brutal simplicity. As in this little nugget: Every historical form of cultural and political revolt, transgression, opposition, and escape has turned out to be nothing more than a systemic function. The notion of recuperation has encountered a thousand alibis and counter-tropes but still constitutes the closest thing cultural study has to a natural law. Collage, antimelodic high-decibel music, antimasterpieces, romantic primitivism, drunkenness and drugs, renegade sexuality, criticism itself: it is amazing that a single radical claim can still be made for any of this, and entirely characteristic that it is. Every conceivable form of negation has been dialectically coordinated into the mechanism of progress. The future of the anti has not yet been reconceived. That is why it is ridiculous to accuse some poor kid with a bad attitude or some putative grownup with a critique but no "positive program for change" of being nihilistic: strictly speaking, nihilism doesn't exist. What was once called nihilism has long since revealed itself as a general, integral function of a culture that, in all its glorious positivism, is far more destructive than the most vehement no. Nothing could be more destructive, more cancerous, than the positive proliferation of civilization (now there's a critical cliche), and all the forms of opposition have long since revealed themselves as means of advancing it. As for the ethos of "resistance": just because something feels like resistance and still manages to offend a few people (usually not even the right people) hardly makes it effective. It is merely "ressentiment" in one or another ideological drag. And how can anyone still be deluded by youth, by its tedious shrugs of revolt? Even the young no longer believe their myth, although they are quite willing to promote it when convenient. Punk nihilism was never more than the nihilism of the commodity itself. You should not credit Malcolm McLaren with having realized this just because he was once pro-situ. All he wanted was to sell more trousers without boring himself to death; indeed he is proof that the guy with the flashiest "ressentiment" sells the most rags. And if he wasn't bored, can he be said to have advanced the same favor to us?

(9) It would seem ridiculous to sentence oneself to yet another term of "ressentiment"; bad enough to risk promoting it by the very act of considering it. Perhaps only a masocritic would subject himself to the humiliation of doing so. And yet in the stupid underground the logics of recuperation and "ressentiment" are turned, so to speak, on their heads. Everyone there knows all about recuperation and it makes no difference. One can display the most stringent self-criticism about the impossibility of revolt and the next day proclaim the subversive effects of noise, as if one were Russolo himself, Russolo in the first place. The stupid underground is marked by the simultaneous critical understanding of the fatality of recuperation and a general indifference to the fact; it ignores what it knows, and knows it. It acts as though it forgets, until it virtually forgets, what it always recalls. It responds to every critical reminder, even those it throws at itself, with a "So what, fuck you."But this very feigned stupidity, this posture of indifference to its own persistent critical knowledge, is the trace of another trajectory. For if the euphoria of punk nihilism is entirely the nihilism of the commodity, by this same means, at certain unpredictable moments, it represents the possibility of nihilism turned loose, driven suicidally mad, "ressentiment" pushed to the brink of the reactive and becoming force. Inane energy, brute energy, energy without reason, without support, even when it is caught up in what otherwise poses as a critical project. This is not to say that the euphoric frenzy of the punk or skinhead is the sign of something new and vital: the energy released by the stupid underground is never anything more than an effect of its very morbidity. It is marketed as novelty, but that is not its truth. Nor will it ever constitute a base for opposition: it cannot be yoked to any program of reform, nor serve any longer the heroic myth of transgression. It is merely a symptom of order itself. Everything has been recuperated, but what is recuperated and put to death returns, returns ferociously, and it is the return of its most immanent dead that most threatens every form of order. The repressed does not come back as a living being but as the ghost it always was, and not to free us but to haunt us. It returns as repetition; when we see it in the mirror, as our mirror, we pretend not to recognize it. The fury of the punk or skinhead is the fury of this stupid repetition, and it is far more destructive than the most brilliant modernist invention. It ruins everything and leaves it all still in place, still functioning as if it mattered, never relieving us of its apparition, never pretending to go beyond it, draining it of value without clearing it away. That is why one cannot dismiss it according to the logic of the new, whereby the only admissible revolutionary force must conform to the movement of progress and innovation. The rhetoric of innovation is parroted by the stupid underground, because it still obeys the superficial form of the avant-garde. But it obeys it long after it is dead, and as if that death didn't matter, as if history had never occurred in the first place, as if everything retro just suddenly appeared, in all its original vacuity. As if it were even better, more powerful, once it is dead, so long as one insists that it is and pretends that it isn't. It is the blind repetition of every exhausted logic far past the point of termination that generates the most virulent negation. The stupid persistence of the dead has taken the place of the critical.


(10) Nothing could be more quintessentially American than the stupid underground. It is more basic, more historical, than all the structures and pseudo-guarantees of liberal democracy. If America as such can be mythologized as a nation of dropouts and a shadow underground of Europe, it also immediately begins to generate its own dropouts--a subunderground that is the "first" of the stupid undergrounds, of those who went "native," which is to say: disappeared. The stupid underground is the latest bordertown, the liminal scene of this disappearance, and of the becoming-imperceptible of American history itself. This history has always moved simultaneously toward the spectacle and toward the invisible; that is why there is a familiarlynative intensity to the figure of the solitary, hermetic hacker jacked into the so-called Net. It is also why two stories could be told by those who found this legend carved into a tree at Roanoke: "Gone to Croatan." The standard history text tells us that no one knows what "Croatan" means, that the settlers disappeared. But other accounts claim that everyone knew Croatan was the name of a local tribe, and the message quite clearly stipulated that the settlers had gone to join it; the official suppression of this fact is only a sign of the sort of racism that was as likely to execute people who had lived with Indians as it was to "rehabilitate" them.{8}

It is as if someone stood before that tree and deliberately misunderstood its message, didn't want to know or admit where the colony had gone. We have, in other words, two thin myths: the racist one and the romantic-racialist one, wherein going native and mixing races is by itself a kind of Rousseauian good. Now it will be argued that the revisonary account is not only truer but better, since it liberates a suppressed fact and casts the native "other" in a more positive light. But perhaps we should not abandon the old textbook version too quickly. If it functions, at one level, merely as further proof, as if we needed one, of the racist suppression of the facts of American history, it remains, in another way, quite seductive: it might once have been possible to disappear from the screens of history, to leave only an indecipherable trace, only the mark of a secret that points toward an invisibility that we should not be too quick to correct. But once again critical intelligence has stupidly closed off an exit.


(11) The stupid underground can be mapped onto a familiar and perhaps quite objectionable psychotopography: it is a zone of the repressed of culture and thus, according to this model, both a pathological site giving rise to all sorts of pathogenic surface effects, and a therapeutic matrix, a place where impacted energies may be guided toward a proper sublimation. The stupid underground presents itself as both a symptom of the disease of capital and an indication of the direction of its cure. But in the stupid underground, as in so many other sites, the direction of the cure often leads back into the disease; or the cure itself turns out to be nothing more than a symptom. For instance, in the terms of one standard hypothesis, the stupid underground reproduces the pathology of Other, of the Symbolic order, in the very attempt to avoid it, like the alcoholic's prodigal son who is so repelled by his father's disease that he can only end by becoming an alcoholic himself; at the same time, it is a kind of paranoid rechanneling of obsessions and defenses, a way to reconceive the social world by means of, indeed as a psychosis. Perhaps merely the critical equivalent of lining your hat with aluminum foil to protect yourself from alien radiation or government microwave transmissions (often: the same thing); perhaps a more radical form of schizoanalytic political action.

(12) As both symptom and therapy, and by these very contradictory means, the stupid underground also indicates the trauma of order itself, of everything it finds above ground, marking a place for the circuitous return of the Real, the nonsymbolic, the nothing around which the Symbolic is formed and in whose black light it is revealed as nothing but symbolic.{9} Again: one employs this psychoanalytic vocabulary with considerable uneasiness, at least as much as one feels with any critical vocabulary: since psychoanalysis is the very disease for which it proposes to serve as a cure (Kraus), since it is the most pathological (and therefore irreducible) manifestation of the hermeneutic circle, this vocabulary is a set of symptoms to the very degree that it is a therapeutic lexicon. One must further insist that what is at stake for us in this psychoanalytic tropology is not the postulation of a monadic, centripetal individuality preliminary to culture, any more than one should say that neuroses are simply an effect of social inequities that, once resolved, will immediately dissolve them. Neither individual nor society can be privileged because the distinction between them is faulty in the first place. Hence, in part, the real interest of the stupid underground: it is liminal even as it is subliminal, mandated by a pathology that blurs the boundaries of this gross organization. It is neither molar nor molecular but a symptomatic space, marking the trauma out of which this very division has been projected. If it were possible to think of the symptom as a passage between what Deleuze and Guattari call "planes of consistency" or intensity, between what is called the social and what is called the subject, it would be entirely proper to this occasion. The stupid underground, the subliminal itself, originate not beneath the established order but between the Social, the Symbolic, the Law, the Subject and the subject, blurring the division between them in its own psychotic and quite veridical manner, distorting and still providing terms for their constitutive inter-interpellation, marking by its inane repetitions the trauma that is their mutual point of departure.

(13) The stupid underground as symptom thus also conforms to what Derrida calls the "trace", and which he explicitly links with the Freudian "Nachtraglichkeit." Let us pursue it here along lines elaborated by Alphonso Lingis, as "an element that is . . . found only within the human economy, without being a sign." Perhaps: a stupid sign. The analogy he draws conforms nicely to our purposes:

The criminal, whose telos is the perfect crime, and not simply the release of unsocialized or barbaric force, acts to break an established order, and depart from the scene of the crime. But the disturbance itself remains, and can function as so many signs indicating a malefactor and expressing, to the detective, the identity of the act and of its agent. The criminal then acts to cover up his traces, so as to depart completely. But the deed passed into the real, and the precaution taken to wipe away the traces of the deed itself leaves traces. The traces a criminal leaves in covering up his traces are traces neither in the pure or purified sense we can now reserve for this term. They are neither signs nor indices, and they are not inscribed by an intentionality; the criminal meant neither to express nor to indicate anything by them. They are not made in order to be recognized and repaired. For him who comes upon them, they will mark the loci at which an order has been disturbed. They refer to a passing, that acted to pass completely from the present, to depart from the scene completely. The one who detects them recognizes something strange, not about to present and identify itself and not representable, but that concerns him by virtue of this disturbance and violation of the layout he inhabits. (145)

If we were able to conceive of these criminal traces not only as an aftereffect of the disruption of the scene but as proper to its very construction, in something like the Derridean sense of non-originary origins, we would be close to the traumatic relation to and originary return of the Real that the stupid underground poses to the culture of repression. One must, in other words, imagine that the criminal stupidly repeats the scene of origination (which is not to say origin as such) in the very act of seeming to transgress its order, and the traces he leaves reveal not only his own crime but its absolute identity with the arche-crime, the primordial disruption, that is the Real itself.


(14) Over and over again we are offered new models that turn out to be the resurgence of everything they presume to leave behind, that exhaust their force even as they grind on in the stupidest, deadliest, and hence perhaps most critical repetition (all that is left of the critical), and yet still hold out the lure of new ways of thought and new modes of existence. The Net is a perfect instance of this perfectly functional contradiction. The intensity of current interest in the Net as a new form of social organization both demonstrates its importance and serves notice that the future is unfolding along quite different lines. Net-talk is everywhere: all one's social and professional associations instantly conform, with a numbing thrill of recognition, to cybernetic patterns. It is now impossible to fly over any metropolitan area at night without thinking of video representations of integrated circuits and imagining oneself living inside them, and the feeling of futurity this experience lends is already a thing of the past. Mail-art networks (themselves increasingly on-line), listeners to those feasts of disinformation called talk shows, late-night radio call-in programs for solitary consumers of new-age homeopathy and conspiracy theories, compulsive dialers of 900 numbers, tourists and denizens of virtual communities (MUDs and MOOs) springing up along the so-called information superhighway (the phrase has already passed into the afterlife of cliche), pirates of "temporary autonomous zones" (Bey) strung like pearls on the filaments of cyberspace (still another byte that has lost its bite). Catalogue services like Amok or Loompanics that serve as distribution points for masses of stupid information--fringe science, pop cultural theory, terrorist, sadomasochistic, and libertarian handbooks: a stupid, how-to pragmatism abounds here: how to build bombs, collect paedophiliac pornography, live without money, perform autopsies on car-crash victims, go insane, leave the planet, dilate anal sphincters from a distance of two hundred yards (as it turns out: tough to do without dilating one's own), commit murder, decode disinformation (i.e., "their" information), become invisible--model, chaotically, the social space of those who use them.{10}

The Net is a rhizome, the structure of the general text, the disseminative "space" of all information and of those who attach themselves as functions to it, an atopic utopia, a skein of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies; the Net is also a device for catching gullible fish, and profit after overhead in the counter-culture industry. At one and the same time, the Net is cast over us as a liberated zone in which the proper fantasy of virtual existence can be played out as real, and a technology already appropriated by apparatus of control.{11} The computer terminal is both an embarkation point for the new human and the end-point (NB: stupid-critical pun) at which we ourselves finally, fully become apparatus, the very medium in which the state pursues its own becoming-rhizome. The Net is a liminality that further inhibits the distinction between individual and society and belies the autonomy of both on the vastest scale; it is the projection of a "new" hybrid of individual and social in a space and mode of existence neither has inhabited before, and yet reproduces all the old relations of dominance and subordination in the very act of superceding them, and yet disrupts them in the very act of preserving them in a disguised form. The exhilaration of these disintegrating boundaries has already been preceded and prepared for by a remapped capital.


(15) The invention of VR goggles and gloves lags far behind the vast array of prosthetic subjectivities that already exist, and helps to conceal the insistent possibility that whatever is offered to or claimed by us as reality has never been anything but virtual, a matter of surrogation. As always, the fact that everyone already knows this has not in the least prevented everyone from pretending to forget it. The invention of specific appliances should not blind us to the fact that virtual reality is already epidemic, that it is the bacillus of the real itself. The place for VR was secured in advance by the very medium of culture. What we encounter here is the tendency of everything in culture, every one of its structuring principles, to rise, eventually, to the level of the device, either theoretical or technological, or, in this case, both; and then to be marketed, with great success, as radical, the moment after it ceases to be critically relevant. But if the technology itself is a bit tardy, the notion of the virtual will serve, quite accurately, for at least a few more moments, to blur yet another useless distinction: that between fantasy and reality, between the ideal and the material. Once upon a time the academy gave itself over to "thinking" the simulacrum, the general text, language as truth (hedged with all the necessary skepticism). Now, after this bad bout of theorizing, a kind of stupid empiricism is all the rage. This history should by itself be adequate proof that both fact and theory are on shaky ground. The passing fashion for a theory of the simulacrum--one could say, for a simulacrum of theory itself--is hardly improved on by the new materialism, the new historicism, the new cognitive psychologism, etc., none of which ever quite answer the charge that they too are entirely virtual. Cultural criticism, for all its showy documentation, is the latest unwanted and generally unnoticed proof that the critical itself is fantasmatic; at the same time, the now nearly universal claim that what once seemed material (sex as biology, for instance) is entirely a cultural construct, virtually guarantees that, in a few years' time, the material (biological, etc.) claim will return, with a vengeance, as the newest salience of the critical. Empiricism is just another fantasy and our fantasies are utterly material. Each is the necessary model for, proxy, and antithesis of the other. We cannot protect a single one of our views from either charge; the empirical and the hypothetical are reduced to economic forces that collide and cancel each other in a general and quite material economy of surrogation.

(16) The stupid underground further complicates this sickening bind. It is a double surrogate, a mirror- and hence reverse- image of the cultural maps it proposes to leave behind, and a sort of pre-simulation, a virtual model of the revolutionary new world it hopes to achieve, but which it thereby eclipses, displaces, at times actively debases, and always renders surrogate in advance. We might call it a theatrical space--a second world, if you will, but one that already begins to disorient any exit to the world offstage, making it rather theatrical as well, curiously fulfilling the avant-garde ambition of bridging the gap between art and life in an unexpected register. Contra Benjamin: to aestheticize politics and to politicize aesthetics have turned out to be, if not exactly the same thing, then at least coordinated functions of the same mechanism. The stupid underground is thus both a regressive trap and a delusive utopia for those who mistake their play for a revolution that has already occurred. One could say the same for every program of social change. This bind is irreducible; there is no going beyond the delusion to reality and real political agency, any more than garden variety neurotics like yourselves can escape reality and live entirely in delusion. The empirical fact is invisible without the model, but at the same time the model eclipses it without releasing us from its demand. The map and the territory, the model and the real, the fantasy and the fact constitute each other as each other's excluded precondition. Revolutionary virtuality constitutes the very condition of the revolutionary project and guarantees its utter impossibility. The surrogate both constitutes and belies its truth, grounds it and undermines it, and the stupid underground offers a particularly stark instance of this vertiginous spiral of surrogations.


(17) What should one think of a Nobel Laureate who proposes, quite scientifically, the theory of "directed panspermia": that the nucleic proteins from which "life itself" arises were sent here from another star system? Or the notion that, since the biochemical structure of psilocybin spores resembles nothing else on earth, they too were exported, as the very seeds of consciousness, from somewhere out there? Or the proposition that language itself is a virus from outer space, or that time can be controlled by cutting up audio-tape and projecting images on top of one another? How to comprehend experiments in brain expansion through stimulation by electronic implants, or drugs; or what proposes itself as research into nanotechnology, in which tiny robots will someday patrol our bloodstreams scrubbing out cholesterol deposits and gunning down incipient cancers; or cyberprosthetics; or life extension through the ingestion of massive doses of vitamin compounds and amino acids?{12} Or, to address our specific instance, what shall we make of reports of red and black rains, of frogs, fish, and highly-worked stones that fall from the sky? Charles Fort: "I have collected 294 records of showers of living things. Have I? Well, there's no accounting for the freaks of industry."{13}

It would not, after all, be so hard to accumulate masses of such "data": one would simply have to collect newspapers and magazines from around the world and devote all one's time to poring over them, filing, collating, cross-referencing, in a certain sense indiscriminately. In time one could produce a whole new world-view, or at least the apparent eclipse of an old one, without ever having to look up. Several years, while riding a bus, I found myself across the aisle from a famous humorist-conspiracy theorist (as we have here before us a "humorist-scientist"), who spent the entire time tearing strips from the newspapers piled beside him and inserting them in various file folders. Did he miss his stop? It couldn't have mattered; and he would doubtless claim that I had missed several stops far more important. How then should one comprehend these precipitous frogs, these crocodiles that turn up in England, this cow that gave birth to two lambs and a calf, these boys dropped suddenly into a boat in the middle of a lake, miles from the place they last remembered? Perhaps the fish fell from a "super-Sargasso Sea"; and to postulate such a sea may have one main motive: "to oppose Exclusionism" (47), the elimination of aberrant possibilities by rationalist methods that seem, from this perspective, nothing more than paranoid symptoms. What about these inscribed stones? Maybe they are just freaks of industry, of fantasy, a strange game against certainty itself. Or perhaps they really--"really"--do signal the existence of New Lands, hyper-Laputas floating in an atmospheric warp somewhere above the earth's surface. The truth is up there, out there, way down there, concealed from us by government intelligence agencies, by conspiratorial elites, by the powers hidden behind the powers that be, by extraterrestrials, none of them efficient enough to prevent the freaks of industry from prying loose a glimpse of their traces. And what about the strange cloud-form trailing a sort of hook, sighted by one Capt. Banner of the bark "Lady of the Lake" (by implication: a trained observer): "I think we're fished for," "I think we're property" (50-51). What about this woman burned to death on an unscorched bed? An instance of the "possible-impossible" (107), of "certainty-uncertainty" (119). The hyphenation is crucial: it marks what Fort calls "alleged pseudo-relations" (98). Everything "might be" connected; to speak here of coincidences--as Bataille might, in a copula-tion that dreams of polluting the entire universe--is already to cede too much to a scientism that would exclude what is not demonstrable by the given logical means, to relegate it to the exo-real, the margin, the underground of non-fact, of chance, of the unexplained and still-to-be-dismissed. Everything is connected: "the attempt to stop is saying 'enough' to the insatiable. In cosmic punctuation there are no periods: illusion of periods is incomplete view of colons and semi-colons" (52). But in exactly the same manner, it is futile to search for singular and fundamental laws: if one refuses to exclude or suppress unclassifiable data--unexplainable phenomena presented to our senses, which in some sense know better--one always comes to "bifurcations; never to a base; only to a quandary," what one might otherwise dismiss as mere contradiction. "In our own field, let there be any acceptable finding. It indicates that the earth moves around the sun. Just as truly it indicates that the sun moves around the earth" (61). Just as truly? How can one say something so ludicrous? It is one thing to churn out reports of unexplained events, a few of which might actually have occurred, even if one will probably end up explaining them in rather more mundane terms; or to pick out foolish errors in the most rigorous scientific reasoning, which is perfectly capable of dismissing what will someday be widely accepted; but it is another thing to propose seriously--that is to say, with the most rigorous laughter--that the sun revolves around the earth, or that there is no velocity of light ("one sees a thing, or doesn't"), or that "nothing that has been calculated, or said, is sounder than Mr. Shaw's determination" that the moon is--"is?" what is the status of the copula here?--thirty-seven miles away from the earth"(58-59). Shall we even bother to ask about the point of all this? Not quite frivolous, nor yet quite serious; a critique of scientific certainty not without its own games of certainty; not even, necessarily, quackery, if the quack is one who takes himself utterly seriously about things no one in his right mind would believe, and who can produce a mountain of evidence to support what are clearly insupportable claims; who builds this mountain obsessively, one pebble-fact at a time, as if everything depended on it; who is convinced beyond doubt that he has in his hands some sort of key--to secret laws of physics invisible to terrestrial math, to cures for cancer or AIDS driven south of the border by the drug industry, to alien technologies kept not-quite-secret by the CIA--and remains devoted to this research for decades; who believes he has survived despite the most terrible danger, that extraordinaryprecautions must be taken, vast forces are being marshalled against him, he is being followed, they are reading his mail, he will pursue his heroic quest until they finally eliminate him. Or not so spectacularly paranoid, only theoretically so: what is in danger is not one's personal well-being, but in some sense the truth itself.

(18) As humorist-scientist, Fort both aligns himself with all scientists, making them guilty by association with him--they're quacks too, anyone driven to belief by a system is a quack--and always leaves himself a few curious exits:

I go on with my yarns. I no more believe them than I believe that twice two are four . . . . I believe nothing. I have shut myself away from the rocks and wisdoms of the ages, and from the so-called great teachers of all time, and perhaps because of that isolation I am given to bizarre hospitalities. I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and at the back door hold out a welcoming hand to little frogs and periwinkles. I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I can not accept the products of minds that are subject-matter for beliefs . . . . It is my attempt to smash false demarcations: to take data away from narrow and exclusive treatments by spiritualists, astronomers, meteorologists, entomologists: also denying the validity of usurpations of words and ideas by metaphysicians and theologians. But my interest is not only that of a unifier: it is in bringing together seeming incongruities, and finding that they have affinity. I am very much aware of the invigoration of products of ideas that are foreign to each other, if they mate. This is exogamy, practiced with thoughts--to fertilize a volcanic eruption with a storm of frogs--or to mingle the fall of an edible substance from the sky with the unexplained appearance of Cagliostro. But I am a pioneer and no purist, and some of these stud-stunts of introducing vagabond ideas to each other may have the eugenic value of some of the romances in houses of ill fame. I cannot expect to be both promiscuous and respectable. Later, most likely, some of these unions will be properly licensed. If anybody thinks that this book Lo! is an attack upon scientists, as a distinct order of beings, he has a more special idea of it than I have. As I'm seeing it, everybody's a scientist. (94-5)

Note the passage from skepticism to perverse hospitality. Doubt becomes belief, without even a bump of transition. It is not really skepticism, since uncertainty itself is "intermediated" by the hyphen that connects it to certainty: "My own expressions are upon the principled-unprincipled rule-misrule of our pseudo-existence by certainty-uncertainty" (119). And not belief, since it is belief itself that Fort wishes finally to undermine. It is a matter of infinite possibility strictly beyond the limits of knowledge, a certainty (not a belief) that human certainty, all the maps and models by which we organize the real, precludes what must still be true beyond it. These days, one might object, the two lambs and a calf are more likely to be the progeny of staff writers for the National Enquirer, who also see, at least until they meet their production deadline, Satan's face in the whirling clouds of a hurricane: stupid science is a business, the market for snake oil has never been better. But one should not be too quick to assume that those who produce such facts do so out of utter cynicism, not even the cynicism of capital itself; nor should one be too quick to dismiss the consumers of such facts as simply gullible. One might find a few rather Fortean researchers among the writers and readers of these tabloid