Book: Snuff Memories, David Roden, 106 pp, Schism Press: 2021. $ 8.00/£5.99 (just released)
The antecedent to this claim arises from the methodology of Unbound Posthumanism explored in Posthuman Life and in later essays. As we can recognise, a speculative posthumanist epistemology questions the epistemic privilege Western philosophies have traditionally attached to human subjectivity and thought. For the posthumanist, as for the methodological naturalist, there can be no secure privilege attached to first person claims about the structure of Consciousness, Time, Embodiment, and Intentionality or to Idealist assumptions concerning the correlation between Thought and Being.
From which follows that there can be no secure a priori insight into the scope of posthuman agency or life either. The author-subject of Posthumanism necessarily eludes its text. This applies whether we view the posthuman as description of our cultural or ontological condition, or whether we consider it ‘speculatively’ as a metaphysical hypothesis about powerful technically produced non-human agents, as was the case in Posthuman Life.
The ‘experience’ of the posthuman is that of generalized opacity or phenomenological darkness – not merely regarding our token desires, experiences, or thoughts but a propos the fields of desire, thought and agency. As I put it to Bogna Konior in a recent interview for the journal Oraxiom: ‘It’s not merely that we act without having unmediated access to action, but that the very space of that mediation (interpretation) isn’t given either, and quite possibly alien.’
It follows that this ‘dark’ posthumanist theory can only imply its xenophilic, alienating commitment to our deracination – it cannot affirm or state it as such. Nonetheless, this non-affirmative desire traverses a ghostly, biomorphic body, a doll-body complicit – like those of Ballard’s crash fetishists – in its own dismemberment. The body persists but as a memory or diagram rather than a vital fullness.
Unbound posthumanism thus has no model of experience familiar from traditional aesthetics. The aesthetic is not discernible within unbound discourse because traditional accounts of subjectivity or embodiment are suspended. Posthumanism explores the possibility space of subjectivity through performance—mutating and experimenting with biomorphs, rather than by inference or dialectics.
Snuff Memories, which might be termed a novel of speculative eroticism, effectuates this subtractive desire, a desire nonetheless distended by the pervasive magnetism of things-to-come and their iterated catastrophes: not only personal death, but ecological death, the death of the Sun and (extending this Platonic motif) of all Solar Transcendence.
This book is a montage of texts, genres and perspectives – alternating between the subtractive eroticism of death-driven biomorphic bodies and the disindividuating mesh of all the alienating ‘moral powers’ haunting its ancient, demon-haunted Cosmos (technological, alien, theological). Konior summarises this better than I can in her cover blurb:
"Unveiling like a tableau of ancient gods and deathly orgies, where “the universe is composed out of windowless monads each locked away and screaming,” this evocative novel is better called a theoretical installation. Each fragment documenting an erotic way to lose one’s humanity, this is a collection of nightmarish yet utopian miniature visions of sex, death, transformation, and pain, where human bodies are stretched beyond their capacity into mythical realms".
It is just a given that death and pain are what its characters ultimately crave, just as xenophilia is the libidinal presupposition of any posthumanism. Neither they nor I give explanation or apology for this. Its narrator, a hermaphroditic Wellsian Time Pilot, addresses its prime political operator, the Cabalist saying “Like you, I would die but cannot. Not in a way that might satisfy you.”
Later he reminisces about her dystopian project: “You told us the sun will strangle itself with or without our help – But, no matter, let’s help.”
So, does Snuff Memories resolve the ethical impasse of Speculative Posthumanism with which I began? Clearly not! To expand on Ireland’s earlier formulation: “The posthuman cannot be known before it is produced—so to know it, we must produce it. And until we really are swept up in these disorienting forces—merciless, murderous, erotic perhaps—we have literature.”
Literature does not comfort or resolve the real; it exacerbates and translates it. To be sure, one might view SM as a hyperstitional romance, operating as a kind of ward or apotropaic against the forces it invokes, but here one cannot avoid complicity, or, I hope, a certain febrile pleasure.