//Reflections on the Historical Development of the Unnatural

by Pseudo-Heraclitus

For that matter, nature, the nature that preceded human history, is not by any means the nature in which Feuerbach lives, it is nature which today no longer exists anywhere (except perhaps on a few Australian coral-islands of recent origin) and which, therefore, does not exist for Feuerbach.
            ― Karl Marx, The German Ideology

For Marx, pure consciousness only develops into self-consciousness, that is, consciousness proper, by means of two primary factors: the means of production, and the needs which the means of production produces in the human. Production then marks the first historical development, or the beginning of what might be called human history. That which we come to subsist on, needs, are sated at first by means of labour, the human struggle over and against nature. The most immediate of these needs (hunger, sleep, etc.) represent the needs most crucial to survival, but as the means of production advances beyond mere survival, so do our needs. The conditions of these higher, more mediated needs remain tightly correlated to the material conditions and the means by which they are produced. Consciousness may then seem, as it is understood in its opposition to nature, like a reasonable starting point for the development of the unnatural. In fact, it may even seem adequate to draw this line of the unnatural through self-consciousness and leave it at that. They may say: those who are aware of their awareness become separated, and what they have separated from is defined as nature, and as such, those who are aware must make up the class of the unnatural. This notion is incomplete however, for the means of production, the material conditions which exist as a result and correlate to the development of consciousness, remain as separated from consciousness as the nature which resisted them. This crude view of natural production is what we will call materialist dialectics – dialectical materialism suggests the opposite.

Consider dialectical materialism against materialist dialectics. Materialist dialectics suggests a dialectics of complete objects, whole and finished things that operate along a linear and determinable path. Dialectical materialism should be read in opposition to this. Dialectical materialism sees material itself as a subject of dialectical movement, matter itself is literally incomplete, it is shifting, undergoing its own contradictions and breaks. This is why Slavoj Zizek[1] talks of a dialectical materialism on the basis of an ontological incompleteness, a gap inherent to the real. This should not be read as simple correlationism, the gap isn’t contingent, it is a necessary aspect to the movement of substance itself, or as Hegel said:

The disparity which exists in consciousness between the “I” and the substance which is its object is the distinction between them, the negative in general. This can be regarded as the defect of both, though it is their soul, or that which moves them.[2]

Hegel is not as naive here as most, who would look to which side (subject or object) contained the real whole, the absolute. Instead, he posits both as defective, but follows by stating that this defective element, the gap, the negative, is their very soul. We should not see either consciousness or its object as excess, as a positive remainder, but rather a negative one; Deleuze was right when he said reality was the product of a calculating God whose tally never came out juste, his mistake was taking this remainder to be excess, rather than lack, fracture, gap. We should take this proposition as literally as it allows, the material conditions are in no sort of completed state. And there is no return now, the polymers we have conjured from the blood of the earth will never return to it in their natural state, the mines we have bored will never be replenished, so that wherever the process ends, the stamps of the unnatural will forever speak our name, even if there is no one left to hear them, signs which point inexplicably to the echos of an unnatural subject impressed upon unnatural objects. Using this logic, it seems fairer to posit that an object becomes unnatural when conscious reflection is itself stamped negatively onto it. Consciousness is not unnatural in the sense that exists outside of cosmic production, Marx’s original “nature”, a simple aspect of delineation. Again, we must resist the temptation of naive correlationism, where nature itself emerges only in the fracture between the natural and unnatural. Marx comments on the unnatural element of labour in his early work, something he deemed an “unfree, unhuman, unsocial activity, determined by private property and creating private property”[3]. The development of fractures is the product of real material processes, dialectical materialism: this fracture we refer to only refers to original “nature” by way of determinate negation, it is torn asunder by production, and what is left isn’t simply delineation, but desecration. Cosmic production itself is profaned, derailed and defiled. It is these signs which mark the slow-spreading death of cosmic production, the scars of its desecration which linger on the object as stains of the conscious reflection necessary to the means of its production. The unnatural isn’t in us, the moment we become unnatural, the universe does, retroactively. Like mycelium, the unnatural spreads, object by object, cell by cell, until the whole cosmic telos is repurposed towards whatever fruiting body the network was working to platform.

Let us take a material example: the Chauvet cave paintings (c. 32000-26000 BCE) are some of the earliest signs of divergence from the natural, but they do not yet show the reflective elements of consciousness within them, and as such lapse back into the natural. The paintings are remarkable for their vivid scenes, a strikingly realist form of art. Although they are abstractions of the real, they are abstractions which connect to lived reality, or a circuit into life. The art reveals the (commendable) realism of those peoples, but of their self-reflection, there is nothing. As is typical with cave art, there is no depiction of people[4], an oddity that becomes almost trivial when considered as a material product in the development of consciousness. It is when man leaves the cave that he leaves original nature and begins its desecration. Consider the Gobleki Tepe (c. 9700-8200 BCE). It stands as such a historical anomaly not simply because of its size, or the difficulty of construction (what is unnatural about the size or difficultly in construction from a bee to its hive or an ant to its nest?) but instead the very conscious reflection we see concretized in the architecture. The realism of earlier man is annihilated by the unnatural angles of the monoliths, the symmetrical form of the circles. We see that the unnatural isn’t simply a product unconnected to the natural, of a raw consciousness which others, rather the unnatural is the act of desecration by that raw consciousness upon that which it others itself from, that being nature, original nature, the profane other which we continually overcome and repurpose its existence towards libidinal ends. Where the realism of the art on the walls of Chauvet strike us, in Gobleki the forms of animals themselves become abstract, replete with unidentifiable creatures, including even the unthinkable for the Chauvet people, abstractions of the human itself, anthropomorphized pillars which manifest the very architecture as giants or gods, made in our own image. Gobleki Tepe is so monstrously other than the examples of architecture of the time[5] precisely because of its unnatural elements; it is the stamp of conscious reflection upon the earth, something which rightly inspires astonishment, confusion, and awe. But it does not escape the natural as a whole: consider, although its carvings show a complexity in abstraction we did not see in the simple realism of Chauvet, they point to a certain realism reflexively, as if the earliest abstractions could only be abstractions which remained signs pointing to what would be considered a ‘possible’ real. The unnatural element of the Gobleki Tepe is not in its decoration but its very material existence, it stands as a historical spore print, a place which can be seen as the radical manifestation of desecration upon the Earth. And, like mycelium, the tepe ends up buried. Who could blame those anonymous men, those who sought to bury Pandora’s box?

Marx claims the original concretization of consciousness, its practical element, lies in language, but we now have the evidence to see this is materially false. There is no writing in the Gobleki Tepe; consciousness was concretized in architecture. It can be assumed that consciousness developed language as a tool, as a means to organization, which, alongside their crude instruments, allowed for the concretization of consciousness in architecture by early (historical) humans. Quickly, a class division arises at these higher levels. The priestly class was not only concerned with the spiritual well-being of the people, as was the shamans which came before them, but instead occupying a place of protection of the temple rites. In a double movement, the King is produced as the material protector of the priestly class, who is in turn allowed the lions share of material production for his protection of the temple itself. The King develops alongside a court, the transcendent hall of the father, which itself requires the production of its own class, the nobility. As the stratification of classes widens, so does the scope and production of architecture; priests lose their supremacy to the king not in the act of the consecration of absolute power over the material conditions, but instead in the very raising of the walls of the castle over those of the temple. The towns which form around the temple, the cities around the King: the unnatural creeps from underneath and spreads absolutely. Where the unnatural subject of consciousness retains its static profanity, the unnatural object grows and destroys, combusts and constructs itself alongside consciousness as the object of its pleasure[6]. Borrowing from Burrough’s definition of language[7], we may ask the question, why is it that language develops into writing? Language, no longer seen as practical consciousness but as its tool, can now be seen to have material reality, in its most vulgar forms, across the animal kingdom; this raises the question, what was it about our particular strain of language which allowed for its mutation into the unnatural object of the written word? Here I may speculate that architecture was the material condition which created the proper environment for this mutation to develop, not as decoration, at least not at first, but as an objectification of the bonds of the tax structures by which architecture (e.g. temples, cities) were raised, that is, as a tool. As writing emerges as the unnatural mutation of practical consciousness from subject into object, it does not manifest as expression, but with the strict realism that we see adheres to the tool. Like the hammer permitted the quarry, the objective reflection of economic bonds, bonds which had beforehand existed in memory and air, now permitted the actuality of civilization[8]. Writing as a mutation was not a linear movement, but the connecting of a circuit. Spoken word retains its artistic power, but even by the time of Sumerthis artistic power was being challenged by the written word. Temples, although home to the most powerful of the spoken word, were infiltrated by the written word absolutely. We hear stories of Greek temples seemly littered with scrolls, with the most brilliant men of the time contributing to these unnatural melting-pots, these open pits of fuel awaiting the material conditions for meltdown. Perhaps we should come to understand the burning of Alexandria like we should the burying of Gobleki; once again, who could blame them? The unnatural is, in its unconditioned state, horrific. It is through conditioning that we come to see the unnatural object as banal, uninteresting. In its unconditioned state, it brings revulsion, disgust. What horrors did the steppe people see in the cities? It is said that the Mongols which came to occupy cities became tame, ineffectual[9], perhaps they were even aware that the horrors they committed were fueled upon the horror they saw reflected in the very city they razed, and that the city breeds ineffectiveness in the Mongol because horror does not last long among horrors.

            The unnatural object which conditions us today is what we can now understand as capitalism, and capitalism is the production of intelligence. Markets themselves operate on an imminent and spontaneous form of intelligence, blind, formed libidinally by commodity fetishism along the lines of various economic tendencies. The history of architecture, the tool of the hammer, the written word, today it can all be retroactively established as the stages in the production of intelligence. Furthermore, it should be recognized that intelligence, as it exists in the unnatural object, tends to be obfuscated by the fact that it most often serves to bolster our own subjective intelligence. What we call artificial intelligence is often assumed to be “weak” if it is not conscious, a product of the aspiration of human completeness (i.e. the assumption of a unification of faculties) which, if anything, artificial intelligence has totally dashed. Intelligence in the object doesn’t need sentience just because we, as intelligent beings, do. But rest assured, for all our doubt we cast on the object, we will still bring it to bear. The unnatural object had been an inert object for most of its existence, but this is no longer. It can be assumed, once again, retroactively, that automation was always a libidinal eventuality. Automation is “personalization dreamt in terms of the object” which “opens the door to a whole world of functional delusion”[10], that is, automation brings about an ideological space of integration. In other words, the personalization of automation is not proof that consciousness has been successfully implanted or impressed into the object. Instead, personalization shows that the ‘user’ can be reduced to a totally singular element, it is something which supports the illusion of personality, of a unique, and as such shows that every unique is a user to be integrated. In so far as our consciousness is concerned, it might be noted that all attempts on the front of implementation or impression have been total failures. The production of intelligence, on the other hand, has developed alongside automation in an exceedingly intimate fashion. Perhaps the conclusion of the development of consciousness does not lie at the end of history, but rather in the designation of a pre- and posthistory, and as such the beginning of posthistory is marked by the end of civilization, or the genesis of the universal subject, a communist bastardization by which the classless society of mankind at last emerges, the manifestation of a totally singular user base: that of the obsolete.


[1]Zizek’s work makes several key rearticulations of the Hegelian project which lend themselves here greatly. Consider the development of German idealism. In Kant, we find perhaps the most impressive formulation of the ontological gap, this being between noumena and phenomena. The rest of German idealism reads as an impressive attempt to use the Kantian system to overcome this gap in various ways. That is, the project of German idealism is one of unity, of a covering over of an uncovered or incomplete element in the system – to overcome the Kantian gap. The brilliance of Hegel, insofar as a Zizekian reading is concerned, is that Hegel wins this unity not by overcoming or bypassing the gap, not by filling it in, but instead by imposing this very gap as part of the imminent constitution of the absolute itself. Through this, one can not help but see Hegel’s system as incomplete, insofar as this incompleteness is the very thing that brings about ontological unity. The subject is not an outside element to actual reality, something on the other side of nature, but rather something whose ontological necessity rests upon this gap to begin with. This is also why Zizek can make his (seemingly) bizarre claim that Marx must be rematerialized reflexively by means of Hegel. To force it into terminology which may not do it justice, the gap between phenomena and noumena isn’t nothing, it is already noumenal reality itself. Overcoming the gap is not a matter of reaching for some hidden thing behind the veil, the veil and the thing are already the same object, and that object is less than nothing. It is this lens through which Zizek reads Marx. It isn’t the great materialist, but his idealist patron who claimed that the future remained outside of philosophy’s ashen hands, that the owl of Minerva only takes wing against the setting sun. Zizek takes what remains of this broken specter of Marx and puts it to the Lacanian wolves. The ontological gap isn’t simply nothing, it can be formulated, or much more accurately, problematized, in such a way as to bring its sublime contours into distinction. This ontological formulation was guised in the psychological trappings of psychoanalysis. Lacan’s infamous statement, there is no big Other, isn’t to be read as psychological nicety, it is a remark about the structure of the universe itself, both as the subject is related to and as it is composed of that universe. Reality itself is unfinished. It’s incomplete. There are fractures, gaps. It is not a gap between subject and object, but a gap inscribed into the object such that the subject was able to exist in the first place. The gap is both differential and productive. (A particular Deleuzian sympathy here: both Zizek and Deleuze insist that the phenomenal world is a product of a certain difference, a particular remainder within the universe which sets it into imbalance, but an imbalance which provides room for the subject as such. The ontological question between the two simply boils down to this, is the universal remainder positive or negative? Is it excess or is it lack? Are God’s books in the black or in the red?). Zizek has spoken of ecological emissions as a material example of this lack, an unusable surplus of waste which stands as an inescapable unnatural remainder of capital, “growing ad infinitum and thereby destabilizing the “finitude” of nature and its resources.”* This idea of surplus waste is important to the formulation, as we will see later, but for the moment we should note that movement which capital’s remainder undergoes, from nature to commodity to waste, is best characterized as a process of obsolescence, or the abolition of use value.                                                                                                
            * Slavoj Zizek, “Greening Hegel”

[2]Georg W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, s. 31

[3]Karl Marx,Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie

[4]There exists a single so-called “Venus” figure in Chauvet cave, oft speculated to be a disembodied yonic symbol, which if interpreted in this way very well may suggest the first abstraction which does in fact escape the natural, although these speculations are the same vague outlines that characterize the figure itself.

[5]That is,if it cannot be said Gobleki Tepe stands as the earliest work of architecture we have found. Other anomalies exist, all centering around this period of 10000-8000 BCE, such as the Natufian sites likeTell Qaramel andthe Tower of Jericho, or the pre-Vedic cities submerged off the Gulf of Khambhat. The coinciding flourishing in consciousness concretized along these historical lines, rather than lines of culture or religion, seem to further suggest they were products of strictly material conditions.

[6]This relation upheld between the two sides of the unnatural, the subject and the object, is the very reason why there can be no other form of capitalism than the libidinal one. It might be said, a market is only as free as the flows of desire it propagates.

[7]That being: language is a virus from outer space; see the second book in his Nova trilogy, The Ticket That Exploded.

[8]This is why we coloquially designate historywhich occurs before the mutation of writing as prehistoric.

[9]The Mongols were known to send those of them who had been in cities too long back to the steppe, where they lived off the land and their bow and were expected to return as proper Mongols.

[10]Jean Baudrillard, System of Objects; p. 121

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s