Foreign Objekt presents a book reading and panel discussion for David Roden's newly published book, Snuff Memories (Schism Press: 2021), which took place on March 7th, 2021.

 

Panelists: David Roden, Amanda Beech, Martin Rosenberg,               

Romina Wainberg, Corey McCall, and Simon Sellars

In David Roden’s Snuff Memories, an ancient time-war ripples through a demon-haunted cosmos as its characters systematically expunge their humanity. Their ‘posthuman becoming’ pre-empts any possible ethics or sane politics. Instead, desire is weaponized from a bleak, inhuman future. Bodies replicate and unzip across the novella’s pornographic vignettes, remade in erotic rituals of mutation, death, and pain.

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Martin E. Rosenberg

Martin E. Rosenberg wrote his dissertation on the cultural work across the arts of the scientific concept of “emergence,” beginning with Henri Poincaré, Henri Bergson, and Marcel Duchamp, and ending with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Ilya Prigogine and more. He recently published on emergent behaviors, visible in music notation, in jazz improvisation and composition, and currently researches the cognitive neuro-science of improvisers, recently publishing essays on embodied cognition and improvisation, as
well as jazz as neuro-resistance with reference to research on “cognitive capitalism.” Martin has programmed instructional software, theorized about hypermedia and interaction-design, and contributed articles on the role of metaphor in trans-disciplinary inquiry.

Review: How to Think About David Roden’s Snuff Memories

Martin E. Rosenberg
New Centre for Research and Practice
martinerosenberg53@gmail.com
https://thenewcentre.academia.edu/MartinERosenberg

Introduction

I would like to thank David Roden and Sepideh Majidih for inviting me to contribute to this panel celebrating the publication of David’s new novel. While my Ph.D. is in English Language and Literature, my work has existed firmly outside that discipline, and I’ve not thought about literary criticism for many years, and frankly, hate it. So, David: only for you!

I am struck by Amy Ireland’s endorsement of Snuff Memories: “The posthuman cannot be known before it is produced—so to know it, we must produce it.” This statement points to the paradox of David’s novel, which seems strongly motivated by his analytic examination of the philosophical implications of the various “schools” of post-humanism that have emerged. And yet, that research makes clear that humans have no control over how post-humans may happen. So, we have a problem to begin with: how can you create through fiction something that represents the intention of a subjectivity which does not yet exist, and for which we have no prior model?

Before we read this novel to evaluate the philosophical coherence of what is happening in Snuff Memories we should wonder whether this novel might be about the impossibility of conceiving the post-human. First of all, SM is not an easy read, because it lies on the edge of our cognition. We do not recognize this world of strange creatures engaging in strange forms of eroticism in a strange landscape with events that do not easily fit into the sequentiality of a narrative flirting with our sense of a beginning, middle and end. SM is an experimental fiction, but not in the vein of John Barth, Thomas Pynchon or Italo Calvino (although we find hints of these experimenters and others), and it’s not clear whether the novel is a failure as a work of fiction, or a work of fiction that is about the failure of the project of envisioning a post-humanity. I proceed firmly committed to interpreting it as the second kind of failure, and assert that Snuff Memories is a triumph.

Admittedly, upon my first reading, SM appears to be a horror-show, a scrolling diorama of contingently “failed” inventions of the post-human. Can “coming” death, become, “becoming” Life? If NO, might this enact what Daniel Dennett calls the philosopher’s syndrome as “mistaking a failure of imagination for an insight into necessity” (quoted in Posthuman Life, 2). There are passages in Roden’s novel that remind me of the cauldron in Terminator II, where the doomed, melting Terminator tries, over and over, to reemerge, his superfluidity transforming into less and less complex life forms, only to dissolve back into the cauldron, until no further emergence becomes possible. There is a necessity for new life in SM, but a failure to find a work-in-progress, never-mind a success. IS SM about failure of the imagination? Is the failure due to a flaw in cognition? Does cognition precede creation? The possibility for failure reminds me of this quotation:

Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation.”
― Alasdair Gray, Lanark

In its eroticisms, which seem to include forms of cannibalism, I wonder if SM confronts the necessity to overcome isolation: do these failures imply an ethical imperative for distributed cognition to emerge? Post-humanity as trans-humanity. We are reminded of Emmanuel Levinas pointing out that the great unthought of Western Philosophy is how can one look through the eyes of an Other? Can you get there by eating or enslaving the Other, or does that bring us back to the sovereign/sub-altern subjects of Kant and Hegel? We should pause and think about the nature of failure for the contingently appearing Beings: the Hermaphrodite narrator, the Cabbal, the Karakali, the Prometheans, the Rose. Is the pervasiveness of Pain in this novel a sign for failure, the failure of isolation?

Success and Failure: Reading SM between Dr. Moreau and Marcel Duchamp

In The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells presents us with failed experiments by which Dr. Moreau creates creatures in an attempt to bridge the gap between the so-called animal and so-called human, which seems suggestive of novelist Roden’s attempts to bridge the gap between human and post-human addressed by the philosopher Roden. The succession of sections in SM presents us with emerging isolatoes (to use Herman Melville’s term) and queer aggregations that seem to know, in the words of Neil Young, that “Everyone knows, this is nowhere,” will go nowhere. We are reminded by contrast of Melville’s imagining of an idealized homo-erotic Democracy when these sailors on board the Pequod find a brotherhood of hands slipping erotically into and out of each other as they squeeze the spermaceti lumps to create a consistent texture, aboard this eco-cidal factory. Come to think of it, the wasteland of SM might be the result of that factory, after all.

But these failures might also point to a Duchampian meta-irony, in the non-dialectical play between what he calls “Delay” and “Exposure.” For Duchamp, art is a form of delay, and exposure is the moment which reveals the rules underlying the game of art in a moment of smirking Zen. Duchamp’s career presents us with serial deviations from an aesthetic norm, only to collapse the emerging line of conceptual flight as if to celebrate the implicate deviation, the bifurcation as individuation, rather than the explicit school (of Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus etc.). He does so to make visible the blankness beneath, to say “You are not as blank as you think you are.” Within blankness lies bifurcation. For David Roden, that blankness is The Mesh, which recalls both a latrine or cesspool, and David Bohm’s Implicate Order: the material wholeness which impinges on the event, the pre-individual continuum as Immanence. In SM, it is not clear whether the creatures, or the readers, are capable of choosing an interpretation.

There are three quotes that might frame The Mesh.

Quotation # 1:
“Here is what Ligotti might describe as the churning latrine of the Absolute, of an insubordinate nature or undialectical future….We and it are lost to words, as I know you are, or will be some day.
If we disavow this effect, it only resurfaces with better injuries. I breathe it in and exhale. ‘Not the body of the ego, but corpus ego.”

Here we find Professor Roden playing with the “ontologies” beneath. A “churning latrine” confounds the implied vitalist immanence, of a Spinozan Substance working through Modes, beneath language. Being “lost to words” might as well mean “lost to worlds,” which describes the fate of someone dwelling in the churning latrine: the dissolved Terminator incapable of emergence. A “corpus ego” seems to put the lie to Substance, but remember, Spinoza was considered an atheist as well as a pantheist.

Here is Quotation #2:
“There is nothing to be said, then, not because there is nothing but because Mesh as the individuator precedes individuals.”

Individuation emerges from the substrate between the churning latrine and the vital continuum. With individuation lies the possibilities for the posthuman, the manifestations of which emerge as if out of the logic of algorhythmic possibilities which are impossible to discern beforehand:

Here is Quotation #3:
“We’re such idiots to think in symbols or believe the mind alone thinks. That we are rarefied nothings appended to landscapes, floating above forest and temple. Perhaps that is why we’re glad our image of life is a frozen steppe, free and unconditioned and violent with new energy.”

Here the hint lies with disconnection, which, after all, is one of the prominent narratives of post-humanism: the moment when the mind leaves the human body and perhaps becomes “embodied” in circuitry. But notice now Roden undercuts the thesis at the same time, pointing out that only “idiots” “believe the mind alone thinks.” With disconnection, life “is a frozen step, free and unconditioned,” but “violent with new energy.” In a frozen world, entropy is at a mimimum; so, where does that “violent” “new energy” comes from? I begin to suspect that Roden is playing with us here. Perhaps he is envisioning what post-humanity would be, by necessity, without a vital impetus capable of generating bifurcation between the immanence between non-living and living: “Everyone knows this is nowhere.”

The Mesh: We Are Never Without Criteria: Free Jazz

One of the myths of Free Jazz is that its sonic landscape is free from laws, and this is simply untrue. Free Jazz is profoundly organized; it embraces the contingent flow of duration only upon the conceptual and proprioceptive mastery of all the laws that are about to be broken; and the reverse is also true. For example: the song “Memories of Tomorrow” emerges in the middle of Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert as if from the head of Zeus, fully clothed. I doubt that Jarrett intended to bring “Memories of Tomorrow” into his head; but the fact that it pre-existed cuts against the facile claims of proponents of Free Jazz that pure improvisation never draws from preexisting rules, or content. And, if one examines the content of Snuff Memories, we have found many allusions to philosophical, novelistic and poetic as well as scientific texts and their creators. Let me just examine one more.

A Wasteland: What are the Hermetic Vocabulary and Scholarly Apparatus Doing that Doesn’t Mimic TS Eliot?

The Scholarly apparatus of David Roden’s SM parodies hilariously that of another Wasteland, but the references of SM comes not so much from Mythos and Poesis. But, it ranges wildly, runs amok, much of it from Post-Structuralist and Post-Human philosophy and fiction through conceptual allusions. Are we back to Dennett’s “failure of imagination”? Perhaps this points to David’s artistic gift, as he puts it, “more comfortable as collator than ideologist.” Here, we might think of the referential range of this novel as how full the emptiness of implicate order is, and how self-referential. The questions Roden seems to be asking is: can there be Being Without Becoming; and, can there be Becoming without Awareness?
As David Roden put it in a recent email: “To be clear, I think the universe of SM isn't a nihilistic one entirely devoid of meaning or normativity. If anything, it is rotten with it; a radically plural 'war universe'. If the Cabalist's 'war' can be assigned any content, it is a kind of rebellion against meaning and thus against life.”

In its war against meaning, then, SM puts signification into play, and turns the eros of civilization into a pornography of the process of signification itself, in order, in turn, to implicate immanence into the explicate, and then allow it to fold back onto itself self-referentially into something like scummy Substance. In this last quotation, Roden might be alluding to Chance Gardener of Being There as a prophetic warning: we cannot simply watch, or read the post-human unfolding; we have to embody it ourselves, in real time:

‘To touch a pair of lips/And at the same time know/That it was a pair of lips/To watch everything is so deceptive.”
--Puce Mary, ‘The Red Desert,’ The Drought (Berlin: PAN, 2018)
Thank you for this excellent essay, Martin. As in the other presentations, I’m grateful for the way it helps me be surprised by my text, which is incidentally something essential in improvisation. It also brings to mind an passage from Lyotard’s ‘Time Today’ that someone shared this morning on Twitter: “To think is to question everything, including thought, and question, and the process. In thinking one accepts the occurrence for what it is: ‘not yet’ determined”

If this portrayal is correct, then I was thinking, after a fashion, when I wrote SM for I accepted, and still accept it, as not yet determined, certainly not by any authorial intention interposed here. Even if there was an intention to write a text with such and such aesthetic features and content – montage, combinatorial and repetitive erotica, evocations of silent spaces and inhuman futures, transcendent horror and the horror of the transcendent etc. – there was also something that frustrated the same intent, a requirement that their order be liable to disintegrate if in a way that was regulated enough for reading to still be possible. I wonder if I was trying to show that – again – that the social space of reasons is distorted by the inertia inherent in the aesthetic or asemic features of texts and utterances, not only their affects but their capacity for slippage and their antithetic lines of interpretation. That is, is aesthetics an existence proof of the undialectical patterning of the Mesh, its swilling, aching, excessive durations? Is the plurivalence of pain in the book a kind of token of this excess, an ‘obertura’ to the condition of the sunless passions after bodies (62)?

I’ll try to pen a few more responses, but here, as in the case of Romina and Corey’s papers, I’m hesitant to say too much lest I be misconstrued as wanting the last word.