CORPUS ATOMICUS Ed Keller

Three passages came spontaneously to mind while preparing this text. They just wanted to have their head, and eat it too. And then another phrase, just a fragment: corpus atomicus. And then this Monadology: passage from Leibniz’s

. . . each portion of matter is not only infinitely divisible, as the ancients observed, but is also actually subdivided without end, each part into further parts, of which each has some motion of its own; otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express the whole universe. Whence it appears that in the smallest particle of matter there is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls. Each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes. But each branch of every plant, each member of every animal, each drop of its liquid parts is also some such garden or pond.1

1

Accompanying image (facing page) from Haeckel's 1862 monograph, Die Radiolarien.

To set the tone, in an oblique manner . . . I’d like to consider the opening moments from Natali’s 1997 horror sci-fi film CUBE. This film, minimally staged and directed using themes of basic survival [teamwork, and team failure] operates also as a more general allegorical figure unpacking the intricacies of base matter, which can only be understood as a mathematically precise set of puzzles to be charted en-route to escape. In the first moments

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of the film, a man awakes, clad in prison garb, and begins to explore what seem to be endless glowing, metallic, ornamented cubic rooms with portholes permitting transit through the center of each of the six faces. His exploration is cut short, however, when he unwittingly passes through a trap – a kind of egg-slicer – that dices him into grisly cubes which, after a brief delay due to fluid surface tension, tumble to the floor. Admittedly this opening works as much to illustrate in a gross manner the concept of a multiplicitous body [drawing on Leibniz] as it does to describe the dim outlines of a black iron prison that we all may be traversing. Not exactly a beheading, since the entire body is separated. Yet, still, a beheading.

Perhaps a technical threshold is at stake in this introduction. Leibniz speaks, essentially, of bodies inhabiting bodies, and though it may be a stretch to say this, the hapless prisoners inside the CUBE are indeed organic bodies navigating a larger, metallic and protocolar structure which has offloaded its intelligence, its mind, to the intersection between the protocols of the movement of the cells of the prison and the survival [or death] of the humans inside. We never know if they are prisoners in the system due to a single human intelligence, a collective human will, or a malevolent material predilection. In other words, bodies aren’t ever just obvious bodies, just as simplistic beheadings may not remove the only seat of intelligence.

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We might test this technical threshold by considering less obvious decapitations, then. As a case study, Seven [Fincher, 1995] reaches narrative climax with a head that is never seen by us as viewers of the film, victim of a decapitation that has taken place off screen; which event nonetheless provokes a main character to kill another [coincidentally, by a shot to the head.] As much of interest here as the explicit decapitation[s], is the immense web of events and relationships that the decapitation itself triggers.2

2

Other cinematic decapitations which fit this requirement can be found in Dead Man [Jarmusch, 1995] wherein a dying bounty hunter’s head is crushed in the ashes of his own fire; or Wild At Heart [Lynch, 1990], in which several beheadings take place, though the very first which the film opens with involves a brutally violent smashing encounter with a wall and staircase.

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the nature of horror may be productive, to clarify the role of temporal vs. spatial horror. Life is a tragedy when seen in closeup, but a comedy in long-shot.4 The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other. 5

In Hellraiser [Barker 1987], we’re given a different model: a reverse assembly takes place when a main character, who has been disembodied by what seem to be interdimensional, demonic forces [those forces invoked, coincidentally, by a curiously worked, cube shaped puzzle . . .] slowly, by consuming blood and life, rebuilds his own body- nerve by nerve, bone by bone, muscle by muscle, desire by desire. This is a reverse assembly of the corpus atomicus, at a much higher resolution than the disassembly we saw in CUBE. 3 These are examples against the grain of a simple decapitation, highlighting the distinction between the seen and the not seen, and gradually forcing us to question where the seat of intelligence is. This is all part of a project to define a body that might be capable of re-imagining or transforming the forces of decapitation. On the way to this definition, a diversion considering

3

Indeed, accompanied by singularly malevolent intelligences that are linked to a gateway which breaks the rules of our space-time. There is another argument to be made here, as well, which links certain forms of horror to geometry and the control of space, but yet other forms of horror to time, and the manipulation of time. I develop this below using Hitchock’s Vertigo as an example.

4 5

Attributed to Charlie Chaplin. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful: with an introductory discourse concerning taste, and several other additions [Tourneisen, 1792], part II, section I.

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temporal bodies more than their physical bodies.6 Vertigo itself is a kind of fever dream, and dreaming memory is precisely what Deleuze proposes as the culmination of a weird teleology for both cinema [what cinema might be moving toward, driven by its own predilections], as well as an ontological proposition that functions across all systems. In Cinema 2 he suggests that there are 3 different kinds of memory: automatic [or involuntary] recollection, attentive recollection, and finally by extension, inventive recollection. 7 Dreaming is inventive; it is the place where error creeps into the system, the most radically temporalized form of memory. Elsewhere, Deleuze notes that “the diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.”8 That abstract machine is a dreaming system, spanning time. Yet we began with CUBE, and the image of a body that is decoupled from its life, from its intelligence, by a violent, low resolution, pixelated atomization. This begs the question: what might be a more abstract model of decapitation, a higher-res dreamingdecapitation?

The sublime is certainly an active force in horror, but there are several ways to skin that cat. Just as the above mentioned cinematic case studies provide an alternative way to think about mind and decapitation, so too might we reconsider the basic rules of horror. There are two kinds of horror. One is a spatially bounded set of operations which play with what we know about a body's limits and goes beyond them yet maintains [at least for a while] the coherency of that body. It brings alien territories into play across a familiar body. But there is a second kind, which is the opening up onto the unknown, not just the establishment of a new physical body or a disruption of an existing body. This second kind of horror places a body into a milieu that is much more temporally complex. The presents, pasts and futures that this kind of horror gives a body access to are shifting and indeterminate. Indeed, the physical body may not be disrupted, but we may not know where we are in TIME in this kind of horror. Violations of physical continuity are replaced by violations of temporal continuity. In the first kind, physical bodies suffer displacements, but in the second kind, bodies suffer a kind of temporal disruption. In this sense, the horrific functions as a mediator between the known, the unknown, and what’s possible to know; more precisely, it is the site where we as humans find ourselves put into direct contact with the unknown. As such, the horrific is no longer defined by a simple act of mutilation or destruction, but by a much more complex regime of interactions. We could describe Hitchcock’s Vertigo [1958], then, as a horror film, due to the extraordinarily complex situations that Madeline and Scotty are embedded in and defined by, affecting their

6

Though, of course, Scotty does indeed seem to fall from the roof, and Madeline from the tower. 7 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, The Time-Image, ‘From recollection to dreams’, pp. 44-55. As well, throughout Cinema 1&2, Deleuze invokes Peirce’s categories of relation, to build the argument for what Paul Ryan calls a ‘relational circuit’ capable of producing consciousness. 8 Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia [University of Minnesota Press, 1987], p. 142.

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In a series of comments on the films of the Quay Brothers, Michael Atkinson observes that their scenarios take place in a kind of postempire landscape, a mitteleuropa, which one could easily associate with a real geography. Yet Atkinson suggests these spaces could as easily be in western Pennsylvania, or within the rust-belt across the central United States. 9 I would extend this idea, and suggest that the landscapes in Street of Crocodiles are not just a kind of decayed middle Europe, but are also a post-empire continuum, planetary in scope. And the post-human, or the post-history human-animal that Alexandre Kojeve speaks of – a human that has had its head transformed or removed – is the creature we see in Street of Crocodiles. The Quay Brothers have indexed a network of connections from the gestures of the characters, down into the dust in the corroding, collapsing spaces, all the way back out to the boundaries of nation states.

9

Cf. Dormitorium, An Exhibition of Film Decors by the Quay Brothers [Philadelphia: University of the Arts, , 2009], pp. 12-14: “Quay films are largely unspoken sleepwalks through environments crushed by the torque of industrial progress, and, as such, reference the central material drama of the last century – the abandonment of a society constructed around manual labor, around the power of the simple man, a crucial drama that mirrors, not incidentally, the history of movies. (Though Quay films, if they take place anywhere, take place in a fever-dream vision of Mitteleuropa, their blanket of uncomfortably indefinable dead-factory dust is just as appropriate for Pennsylvania and the Ohio valley).”

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Giorgio Agamben writes, in a text entitled Theriomorphous: In the Ambrosian Library in Milan there is a Hebrew Bible from the thirteenth century that contains precious miniatures . . .The scene that interests us in particular here is the last in every sense, since it concludes the codex as well as the history of humanity. It represents the messianic banquet of the righteous on the last day. Under the shade of paradisiacal trees and cheered by the music of two players, the righteous, with crowned heads, sit at a richly laid table. The idea that in the days of the Messiah the righteous, who for their entire lives have observed the prescriptions of the Torah, will feast on the meat of Leviathan and Behemoth without worrying whether their slaughter has been kosher or not is perfectly familiar to the rabbinic tradition. What is surprising, however, is one detail that we have not yet mentioned: beneath the crowns, the miniaturist has represented the righteous not with human faces, but with unmistakably animal heads.10 Agamben uses the symbolic value of the image of a human merged with an animal – the animal-headed human body – to question where mind might be. I would bring into play here the idea of the gesture, and the way that the Bros. Quay have investigated the gesture and its infinite scalability – not just the human gesture, but the gesture of substance itself. The gesture is charged with a certain indeterminacy, a general capacity to only communicate through incomplete messages. This has deep implications for mind and a theory of mind in systems. In Leibniz’ vision of systems nested inside systems, another image of mind can be glimpsed. One which doesn’t set the human and the animal in opposition, but sites them in a continuity, and registers events in this continuity, discovering dozens of layers of 'life'
10

nested like matrioshka dolls. Agamben’s essay on the theriomorphic redefines an eschatological framework. Extending this, we may compare the anthropocentric image of the theriomorph, by contrast, to the idea of the matrioshka brain, a concept proposed by singularity theorists and sci-fi writers: a vast onion skinned set of spheres, surrounding the sun, each sphere dumping its waste energy and entropy from calculations performed outwards to the next layer of computers, creating a solar system scale computational system. 11 It is speculation, perhaps, to debate whether this larger-than-planet computer might emerge during or after a technological singularity. I’d argue that the matrioshka brain is a contemporary technical equivalent of the end times. Such an eschatology articulates not just the image of the animal in the human, but the specific techno-political instruments which might facilitate that hybridization, whereby the human becomes something radically nonhuman. There is an extraordinary political implication to this which resonates through in Agamben's meditation on Kojeve, in The Open, where he observes

Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal [Stanford Univ. Press, 2003], pp. 1-2.

11

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrioshka_brain>

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Indeed, one of the central issues of Kojeve's lectures on Hegel which Bataille attended at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, was the problem of the end of history and the figure that man and nature would assume in the post-historical world, when the patient process of work and negation, by means of which the animal of the species Homo sapiens had become human, reached completion. In one of his characteristic gestures, Kojeve dedicates to this problem only a footnote to the 1938-39 course. “The disappearance of Man at the end of History is not a cosmic catastrophe: the natural World remains what it has been from all eternity. And it is not a biological catastrophe either: Man remains alive as animal in harmony with Nature or given Being. What disappears is Man properly so called . . .” 12

media, and infrastructural mechanisms of postwar America render this clear for him, while at the same time providing evidence of a colorless grey decency- the end of history, yes, but not so bad. Yet, we could recall Walter Benjamin’s odd faith that cinema could provide the shock which would stimulate a collective awareness across a population . . . In a short and extraordinary text from 1967 titled 'Observations on the long take', Pasolini writes: It is . . . absolutely necessary to die, because while living we lack meaning, and the language of our lives (with which we express ourselves and to which we attribute the greatest importance) is untranslatable: a chaos of possibilities, a search for relations among discontinuous meanings. Death performs a lightning- quick montage on our lives; that is, it chooses our truly significant moments (no longer changeable by other possible contrary or incoherent moments) and places them in sequence, converting our present, which is infinite, unstable, and uncertain, and thus linguistically indescribable, into a clear, stable, certain, and thus linguistically describable past (precisely in the sphere of a general semiology). It is thanks to death that our lives become expressive. Montage thus accomplishes for the material of film (constituted of fragments, the longest or the shortest, of as many long takes as there are subjectivities) what death accomplishes for life.13

Let’s site this meditation on humanity’s [in]ability to sense its own trans-history against a more specific moment in history. What technical means could allow us to perceive ourselves transforming in relation to history? For Kojeve, it is perhaps impossible for that mass clarity to ever emerge, and the economic,
13 12

Giorgio Agamben, The Open, pp. 5-6.

Pasolini, “Observations on the Long Take,” translated by Norman MacAfee and Craig Owens, October 13 (1980).

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that the killing took place for economic or political reasons.]15 And of course, there is the technical observation that Pasolini makes about the long take as a laconic method to index some form of truth. An unconscious camera move, really: very similar to the camera/microphone moves that we see in a fantastic parallel triple feature: Blowup [Antonioni, 1966], The Conversation [Coppola, 1974], and Blow Out [DePalma, 1981]. Each of those films ruminates deeply on the ways that an involuntary recording of an event can produce access to truth. Of those films, only Blow Out is directly interrogative of the ways that the construction of film could connect [or fail to] to a broader mass-consciousness. All of which leads me to a final example: PHOTOJOURNALIST [Hopper] “The heads. You're looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he’s the first one to admit it!” WILLARD [Sheen] “I just want to talk to him.” PHOTOJOURNALIST [Hopper] “Well man, he's gone away. He's gone away. He disappeared into the jungle with his people . . . he feels comfortable with his people. He forgets himself with his people. He forgets himself . . .” Apocalypse Now highlights the discrepancy between a model of intelligence [command and control] centered in a single recognizable agent versus a self-regulating system of sovereignty deployed across a mongrel population of humans, animals, weather, rivers, jungle, stone, weapons, and flows of loyalty and betrayal. This passage from Apocalype Now helps to diagram the registers of time that are hostile to human life, the timescales of war, the machinicphyla that populate a substrate morphology of conflict. This shot prefigures the relationship between the individual and the multiple, in the single figure of Willard [Sheen], moving into the crowd, on the water – a crowd which is already animal – and of
15

As should be apparent from my use of the passage from Leibniz above, I would disagree with Pasolini's observation about death when applied at the human scale, perhaps because there are so many ‘little deaths’ that take place across our organismic continuity. I’d argue for a kind of weird, post-humanist redefinition of death, and hence, a repositioning of the concept of montage. In fact, the way that Vertov thought of montage would be more appropriate as a technical threshold to understand the limits of life.14 Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that in his text on the function of the long take in cinema, Pasolini writes about one very famous home movie, Zapruder’s film of JFK's assassination.

Consider the short sixteen-millimeter film of Kennedy's death. Shot by a spectator in the crowd, it is a long take, the most typical long take imaginable. The spectator-cameraman did not, in fact, choose his camera angle; he simply filmed from where he happened to be, framing what he, not the lens, saw. Thus the typical long take is subjective. That event was a decapitation – of a man and of a nation simultaneously – and Pasolini’s text is a strange prefiguration of his own tragic, controversial death. [There is the possibly apocryphal explanation that Pasolini hired his own assassins, or much later the suggestion
14

“What montage does, according to Vertov, is to carry perception into things, to put perception into matter, so that any point whatsoever in space itself perceives all the points on which it acts, or which act on it, however far these actions and reactions extend. This is the definition of objectivity, ‘to see without boundaries or distances’” (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1, The Movement-Image [Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1986], p 83).

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Paolo_Pasolini#D eath>

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course the line spoken by the photojournalist [Hopper]: “The heads. You're looking at the heads . . .”

When Kurtz is in “the jungle with his people . . . he forgets himself.” He immerses himself in the multiple, amongst all his children, to lose his mind, to transform his mind. I haven't shown the passage from the film which intercuts Willard's completion of his mission to kill Kurtz with the sacrificial beheading of an ox. Or other decapitation scenes in the film. It is more relevant to focus on the techniques of amnesia outlined by the photojournalist, and less on the obvious decapitations. I am interested in the loss of something that might usually reside in the head – the loss of the sense of self and of individuality – and less about the head itself. The journey taken in Apocalypse Now is an upriver journey. It is an anabasis, to invoke both St. Jean Perse's extraordinary poem, as well as Xenophon's text. The term anabasis offers a way to rethink the site and process of mind, exactly what is at stake in the acephalous. I began by quoting from Leibniz, with a passage that suggested there might be many layers to both life and mind. I end by echoing that observation through the lens of anabasis, a process that moves against the flow. Michel Serres has compared the general figure of anabasis to the concept of reverse entropy, negative entropy.16 If we accept that ‘mind’
16

“Now, and here is the crux of the matter, all times converge in this temporary knot: the drift of entropy or the irreversible thermal flow, wear and aging, the exhaustion of initial redundancy, time which turns back on feedback rings or the quasi-stability of eddies, the conservative invariance of genetic nuclei, the permanence of a form, the erratic blinking of aleatory mutations, the implacable filtering out of all non-viable elements, the local flow upsteam toward negentropic islands-refuse, recycling, memory, increase in complexities. The living organism, ontogenesis and phylogenesis combined, is of all times. This does not at all mean that it is eternal, but rather that it is an original complex, woven out of all the different times that our intellect subjects to analysis or that our habits distinguish or that our spatial environment tolerates. Homeorrhetic means at least that: the rhesis flows, but similarity pushes upstream and resists. All the temporal vectors possessing a directional arrow are here, in this place, arranged in the shape of a star. What is an organism? A sheaf of times. What is a living system? A bouquet of times” (Michel Serres, The Origin of Language: Biology, Information Theory, & Thermodynamics, in

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might be somewhere else than just the head [at least sometimes] then we might search for it in all the scales in the world where anabatic and katabatic processes meet and exchange their complex signals, messages, and noise. In this model, the acephalous body is a prima materia, all heads and no heads.

Hermes; Literature, Science, Philosophy, eds. Josue V. Harari and David F. Bell [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982].

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ALEXANDER GALLOWAY ED KELLER ALEXI KUKULJEVIC NICOLA MASCIANDARO DOMINIC PETTMAN EUGENE THACKER EVAN CALDER WILLIAMS

AND THEY WERE TWO IN ONE AND ONE IN TWO

Alexander Galloway Ed Keller Alexi Kukuljevic Nicola Masciandaro Dominic Pettman Eugene Thacker Evan Calder Williams

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