Barker Speaks

Nick Land

  The CCRU interview with Professor D.C. Barker

Daniel Charles Barker has been Professor of Anorganic Semiotics at Kingsport
  College (MVU, Mass.) since 1992. His extraordinary intellectual achievements
  resist easy summarization, involving profound and polymathic engagement across
  the entire range of life and earth sciences, in addition to archaeocultural
  research, mathematical semiotics, anatomical linguistics, and informatic
  engineering. Trained as a cryptographer in the early 1970s, he has spent his
  life decoding ancient scripts, quasibiotic residues, and anomalous mineral
  patterns (amongst other things). In late Autumn 1998 Ccru met with Professor
  Barker in his office at MVU. The following is an edited transcript of that

  Tic-Systems. Cryptography has been my guiding thread, right through. What is
  geotraumatics about, even now? — A rigorous practice of decoding. So I haven't
  really shifted at all in this respect. There is a voyage, but a strangely
  immobile one.

  I started out at MIT working in the information sciences — my thesis proposal
  was quite conservative, involving mostly technical issues to do with noise
  reduction and signal modulation — but MVU was just getting started, and my
  research was transferred across to them. That led to various contacts, and from
  there to employment with a NASA-related organization that has particular
  interests connected to SETI activity. My task was to help toughen-up the
  theoretical basis of their signals analysis. They wanted to know how to
  discriminate — in principle — between intelligent communication and complex
  pattern derived from nonintelligent sources. To cut a long story short, it
  became increasingly obvious to me that although they said they were hunting for
  intelligence, what they were really seeking was organization. The whole program
  was fundamentally misguided. Various people had big problems with the direction
  of my research, which had basically veered-off the organizational model. The
  social friction became intolerable and I had to leave, which was messy because
  of my high-level security clearance ...

  Suborganizational pattern is where things really happen. When you strip-out all
  the sedimented redundancy from the side of the investigation itself — the
  assumption of intentionality, subjectivity, interpretability, structure, etc—
  what remains are assemblies of functionally interconnected microstimulus, or
  tic-systems: coincidental information deposits, seismocryptions, suborganic
  quasireplicators (bacterial circuitries, polypoid diagonalizations, interphase
  R-Virus, Echo-DNA, ionizing nanopopulations), plus the macromachineries of
  their suppression, or depotentiation. Prevailing signaletics and
  information-science are both insufficiently abstract and over-theoretical in
  this regard. They cannot see the machine for the apparatus, or the singularity
  for the model. So tic-systems require an approach that is cosmic-abstract —
  hypermaterialist — and also participative, methods that do not interpret
  assemblies as concretizations of prior theories, and immanent models that
  transmute themselves at the level of the signals they process. Tic-systems are
  entirely intractable to subject/object segregation, or to rigid disciplinary
  typologies. There is no order of nature, no epistemology or scientific
  metaposition, and no unique level of intelligence. To advance in this area,
  which is the cosmos, requires new cultures or — what amounts to the same — new

  The problem was: how to quantify disorganized multiplicities? Diagonal,
  irregular, molecular, and nonmetric quantities require a scale that is itself
  nonmetric, that escapes overcoding. Standard procedures of measurement and
  classification prove entirely inadequate, since they presuppose rigid
  conceptual segmentation by quantity and quality (Deleuze-Guattari's
  twin-pincers of molarity, type and degree). Once things are being worked out at
  the level of tic-assemblies — or flat ticking arrays — there are only intensive
  populations, and measurement has to give way to engineering fusional
  multiplicities: systems that count themselves only in the way they propagate,
  immanently numbering multitudes, like nanoplastic quantum swirls. Eventually a
  machinic solution was provided by the Tick-Distributor, but that came later ...
  At first there was just the equation, precipitated in what I still thought to
  be my own body, virtual tic-density = geotraumatic tension.

  Geotraumatics. I came to Freud relatively late, associating it with oedipal
  reductionism, and more generally with a psychologistic stance that was simply
  irrelevant to cryptographic work. It's important to remark here — no doubt
  we'll get back to this — that everything productive in signals analysis stems
  from stripping out superfluous prejudices about the source and meaning of
  complex functional patterns. I took — and still take — the vigorous repudiation
  of hermeneutics to be the key to theoretical advance in processing
  sign-systems. It was Echidna Stillwell who helped me to see Freud from the
  other side. It was a difficult period for me. There had been a lot of painful
  fall- out from the Nasa work. Psychotherapists were involved, in part
  attempting to pathologize and discredit my research, and in part responding to
  real stress-related symptoms. Between the two was a grey zone of traumatic
  dysfunction and paranoia involving difficult feedback effects. Stillwell
  persuaded me that the only way to get through this was to try and make sense of
  it, and that this was not the same as submitting to the interpretative mode. On
  the contrary. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud takes a number of crucial
  initial steps towards mapping the Geocosmic Unconscious as a traumatic
  megasystem, with life and thought dynamically quantized in terms of anorganic
  tension, elasticity, or machinic plexion. This requires the
  anorganizational-materialist retuning of an entire vocabulary: trauma,
  unconscious, drive, association, (screen-) memory, condensation, regression,
  displacement, complex, repression, disavowal (e.g. the un- prefix), identity,
  and person.

  Deleuze and Guattari ask: Who does the Earth think it is? It's a matter of
  consistency. Start with the scientific story, which goes like this: between
  four point five and four billion years ago — during the Hadean epoch — the
  earth was kept in a state of superheated molten slag, through the conversion of
  planetesimal and meteoritic impacts into temperature increase (kinetic to
  thermic energy). As the solar-system condensed the rate and magnitude of
  collisions steadily declined, and the terrestrial surface cooled, due to the
  radiation of heat into space, reinforced by the beginnings of the hydrocycle.
  During the ensuing — Archaen — epoch the molten core was buried within a
  crustal shell, producing an insulated reservoir of primal exogeneous trauma,
  the geocosmic motor of terrestrial transmutation. And that's it. That's
  plutonics, or neoplutonism. It's all there: anorganic memory, plutonic looping
  of external collisions into interior content, impersonal trauma as drive-
  mechanism. The descent into the body of the earth corresponds to a regression
  through geocosmic time.

  Trauma is a body. Ultimately — at its pole of maximum disequilibrium — it's an
  iron thing. At MVU they call it Cthelll: the interior third of terrestrial
  mass, semifluid metallic ocean, megamolecule, and pressure-cooker beyond
  imagination. It's hotter than the surface off the sun down there, three
  thousand clicks below the crust, and all that thermic energy is sheer
  impersonal nonsubjective memory of the outside, running the plate-tectonic
  machinery of the planet via the conductive and convective dynamics of silicate
  magma flux, bathing the whole system in electomagnetic fields as it tidally
  pulses to the orbit of the moon. Cthelll is the terrestrial inner nightmare,
  nocturnal ocean, Xanadu: the anorganic metal-body trauma-howl of the earth,
  cross- hatched by intensities, traversed by thermic waves and currents,
  deranged particles, ionic strippings and gluttings, gravitational
  deep-sensitivities transduced into nonlocal electromesh, and feeding vulcanism
  ... that's why plutonic science slides continuously into schizophrenic delirium.

  Fast forward seismology and you hear the earth scream. Geotrauma is an ongoing
  process, whose tension is continually expressed — partially frozen — in
  biological organization. For instance, the peculiarly locked-up lifeforms we
  tend to see as typical — those more-or-less obedient to darwinian selection
  mechanics — are less than six hundred million years old. They began with the

  oxygenization crisis, triggered by the saturation of crustal iron, followed by
  mass oxygen-poisoning of the prokaryotic biosystem and the emergence of a
  eukaryotic regime. Eukaryotic cells are highly suppressive. They implement a
  nuclear command-control model based on genomic ROM, affined to meiosis-mitosis
  diplocapture, hierarchical organization, and multicellular specialization. Even
  the distinction between ontogeny and phylogeny — distinct time-orders of the
  individual and the species— makes little sense without eukaryotic nuclear
  read-only programming and immunological identity. Evolutionism presupposes
  specific geotraumatic outcomes.

  To take a more recent example, the efflorescence of mammalian life occurs in
  the wake of the K/T- Missile, which combined with massive magma-plume activity
  in the Indian Ocean to shut-down the Mesozoic Era, sixty-five million years
  ago. Irruptive vulcanism plus extraterrestrial impact, linked by coincidence,
  or plutonic looping. So there is a catastrophic transition to a post-saurian
  megafauna regime, part of a much larger overall reorganization of terrestrial
  symptomaticity, providing an index of neohadean resurgence. And what is
  mammalian life relative to the great saurians? Above all, an innovation in
  mothering! Suckling as biosurvivalism. Tell me about your mother and you're
  travelling back to K/T, not into the personal unconscious.

  Spinal-Catastrophism For humans there is the particular crisis of bipedal
  erect posture to be processed. I was increasingly aware that all my real
  problems were modalities of back-pain, or phylogenetic spinal injury, which
  took me back to the calamitous consequences of the precambrian explosion,
  roughly five hundred million years ago. The ensuing period is incrementally
  body- mapped by metazoan organization. Obviously there are discrete
  quasi-coherent neuromotor tic-flux patterns, whose incrementally rigidified
  stages are swimming, crawling, and (bipedal) walking. Elaine Morgan
  persuasively traces the origin of protohuman bipedalism to certain deleterious
  plate- tectonic shifts. The model is bioseismic. Crustal convulsions and animal
  body-plan are rigorously interconnected, and the entire Aquatic Ape Theory
  constitutes an exemplary geotraumatic analysis. Erect posture and
  perpendicularization of the skull is a frozen calamity, associated with a long
  list of pathological consequences, amongst which should be included most of the
  human psychoneuroses. Numerous trends in contemporary culture attest to an
  attempted recovery of the icthyophidian- or flexomotile-spine: horizontal and
  impulsive rather than vertical and stress- bearing.

  The issue here — as always — is real and effective regression. It is not a
  matter of representational psychology. Consider Haeckel's widely discredited
  Recapitulation Thesis, the claim that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It is a
  theory compromised by its organicism, but its wholesale rejection was an
  overreaction. Ballard's response is more productive and balanced, treating DNA
  as a transorganic memory-bank and the spine as a fossil record, without rigid
  onto-phylogenic correspondence. The mapping of spinal-levels onto neuronic time
  is supple, episodic, and diagonalizing. It concerns plexion between blocks of
  machinic transition, not strict isomorphic — or stratic redundancy — between
  scales of chronological order. Mammal DNA contains latent fish- code (amongst
  many other things).

  Palate-Tectonics. Due to erect posture the head has been twisted around,
  shattering vertebro- perceptual linearity and setting-up the phylogenetic
  preconditions for the face. This right-angled pneumatic-oral arrangement
  produces the vocal-apparatus as a crash-site, in which thoracic impulses
  collide with the roof of the mouth. The bipedal head becomes a virtual speech-
  impediment, a sub-cranial pneumatic pile-up, discharged as linguo-gestural
  development and cephalization take-off. Burroughs suggests that the protohuman
  ape was dragged through its body to expire upon its tongue. Its a twin-axial
  system, howls and clicks, reciprocally articulated as a vowel-consonant
  phonetic palette, rigidly intersegmented to repress staccato-hiss continuous
  variation and its attendant becomings-animal. That's why stammerings,
  stutterings, vocal tics, extralingual phonetics, and electrodigital voice
  synthesis are so laden with biopolitical intensity — they threaten to bypass
  the anthropostructural head-smash that establishes our identity with logos,
  escaping in the direction of numbers.

  Barker Numbering. Once numbers are no longer overcoded, and thus released from
  their metric function, they are freed for other things, and tend to become
  diagrammatic. From the beginning of my tic-systems work the most consistent
  problems have concerned intensive sequences. Sequence is not order. Order
  already supposes a doubling, a level of redundancy: the sequenced sequence. A
  decoded sequence is something else, a sheer numeracy prior to any insertion
  into chronologic structure. That's why decoding number implies an escape from
  assumptions of progressive time. Tick multitudes arrive in convergent waves,
  without subordination to chronology, history, or linear causation. They proceed
  by infolding, involution, or implex. It's a matter of convergence, and numbers
  do that, once they're free to. So the first stage required plexive
  introgression of the tic- density scale, which was numerically rigorized as
  digital twinning. Treat the decimal numerals as a set of 9-sum twins —
  zygonovize — and they map an abstract intensive wave, indifferent to magnitude.
  Everything efficient about digital reduction is concerned with this, since it
  discovers the key to decimal syzygetic complementarity: 9 = 0. A flattening
  down to disordered sequentiality, or abstract numerical implex. Nine is the
  ultimate decimal numeral, operating as positive (or full- body) zero. It is the
  abstract numeric product of the decimal-magnitude minus one (infinitesimalized
  as 1 = 0.999... reiterating), which relates to a particular mode of
  proliferation within capitalist semiotics (of the type $99.99).

  Barker-Spiral. The pattern really came together with the Diplozygotic Spiral,
  which arrived suddenly, by chance. I was playing a game of Decadence, which I
  had first encountered many years before. This game already interested me
  because of its numerical elegance, its complex associations, and its dependence
  upon a principle of decimal twinning. It had always seemed to hint at a lost
  syzygetic arithmetism, related to the bilateral symmetry of the human body.
  Digits are fingers, and they come in decimal packages of two times five. In
  Decadence five makes ten by doubling, or pairing with itself, scoring zero.
  This tantalized me, but I couldn't fit it together theoretically. The quandary
  was unlocked on this occasion, when one of the participants casually mentioned
  the existence of an occulted variation of the game, called Subdecadence, based
  on a system of nine-sum twinning. Subdecadence introduces zeroes, and nine-zero
  twins. It works by zygonovic numerism. That was stunning enough in itself, but
  seeing the two together — or seeing between them — was an incredible moment of
  diagrammatic assemblage. It all spontaneously condensed, and the Spiral clicked
  into coherence, like a secret door into the long-hidden crypt of the decimal


  Quasi Chemical Tic Culture Catalysis of Anorganic Pain Wave Matrices —
  (Plutonics: Volume X, Number 6, Fall 1990).

  Anorganic Semiotics — (Plutonics: Volume X, Number 9, Fall 1991).

  Spinal Catastrophism — (Plutonics: Volume X, Number 10, Spring 1992).
  Palate Tectonics — (Plutonics: Volume 10, Number 12, Fall 1992).

Vowels: A Biopolitical Strategy — (Plutonics: Volume X, Number 18, Fall 1994).
  What Counts as Human (Kingsport: Kingsport College Press, 1997).