. . . In that Empire, the art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
Suárez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658. (Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”)
Tiqqun’s The Cybernetic Hypothesis, from 2001 but just published in English translation, starts with an epigraph from Jean-François Lyotard in reference to Borges’ text on maps and territories. Perhaps the key to it is its first sentence: “The great concentrator wants stable circuits, even cycles, predictable repetitions, untroubled accountability. It wants to eliminate every partial drive, it wants to immobilize the body” (Lyotard quoted by Tiqqun 10). To map a territory to the most exact extent is to replace it, in perhaps the same sense Antonio Gramsci dreamed of when he said the communist movement would not conquer the State but would perfect it by replacing it. The substitution, however, breeds a particular immobility: the map is after all the territory brought to a standstill, to a fixity that only time can ruin. Time, or the plague: the Cartographers Guild could not have foreseen the invisible irruption of the virus that reintroduces a now irretrievable gap between map and territory. Any dream of reproduction and control, of reproduction by means of and in view of control, is shattered. The gap, the virus, destroys the speculative project through a multiplicity of zones of opacity. And then what?
“Cybernetic [capitalism] asserts itself by a negation of everything that escapes regulation, of all the lines of escape that save existence in the interstices of the norm and its apparatuses, of all the behavioral fluctuations that ultimately would not follow from natural laws” (27). The “total modeling” (43) of the cybernetic hypothesis flounders. “Total transparency” (55) ends in a chaos of solitude. Surveillance and capture, after all, the twin apparatuses of cybernetic capitalism, are premised on the absolute equivalence of map and territory. The uncertainty the gap introduces throws a wrench into the workings of their will-to-power whose reconstruction is now, perhaps transitorily, in doubt.
Another epigraph, this time from Giorgio Cesarano: “The fictitious constantly pays a higher price for its strength when beyond its screen the possible real becomes visible. It’s only today, no doubt, that the domination of the fictitious has become totalitarian. But this is precisely its dialectical and ‘natural’ limit . . . in the bloody sinking of all the ‘suns of the future,’ there begins to dawn a possible future at last. Henceforth, in order to be, humans only need to separate themselves once and for all from every ‘concrete utopia’” (Cesarano quoted by Tiqqun 119). The separation is not simply willed: it occurs, dystopically and ineluctably. Its name is “panic” (122), a “disintegration of the crowd within the crowd” (123). “It’s the end of hope and of every concrete utopia that takes form as a bridge extended towards the fact of no longer expecting anything, of having nothing left to lose. And through a particular sensitivity to the possibilities of lived situations, to their possibilities of collapse, to the extreme fragility of their sequencing, it’s a way of reintroducing a serene relationship with the headlong rush of cybernetic capitalism. At the twilight of nihilism, it’s a matter of making fear just as extravagant as hope” (125).
The “invisible revolt” (160), as invisible as the viral irruption, proliferates secretly, inconspicuously, through the constitution of zones of opacity “in which to circulate and experiment freely without conducting the Empire’s information flows” (161). There are anonymous singularities that have broken and are breaking loose. They must now experiment. The thought experiment must go through what Jacques Derrida, in his Theory and Practice Seminar, called l’incontournable. Thought returns to its calling as an attempt to open to what is both inevitable and obscure, ineluctable and necessary but remote and forbidden. It cuts through Cesarano’s fictitious because it has forcefully been exiled from it. The radical denarrativization the virus wreaks into the very fabric of the illusion of the speculative dream, cybernetic capitalism, leaves us open to a silence we have perhaps never heard before, never experienced. That opaque silence is also the promise of a future.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On Exactitude in Science.” In Collected Fictions. Andrew Hurley transl. New York: Penguin, 1998. 325.
Derrida, Jacques. Théorie et pratique. Cours de L’ENS-Ulm 1975-76. Paris: Galilée, 2017.
Tiqqun. The Cybernetic Hypothesis. Robert Hurley trans. Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2020.