The greatest American liberty

The greatest American liberty is to be left alone to do and say as one pleases (ending at (just the) tip of the other’s nose).

You can call this religious liberty or freedom of speech or any other sociopolitical semantic construction you desire. What many of the conservatives in the room seem to be forgetting of late is that this live and let die policy demands that you don’t get upset by what you see if you insist on being a voyeur and spying on your neighbors.

Exponentially worse than the linguistic decision to allow literally (because of such rampant misuse) to also be defined as figuratively, is the application of law to enforce ‘religious’ liberty. Liberty is based on what one can be forced to do or kept from doing (or, rather, the absence of that force). It is not (in any way) based on what one can be asked to tolerate, to accept, to understand, to learn about, or to accept as fully human. Religious liberty (or liberty of any legally enforceable kind) is unrelated to what one may or may not agree with (despite deeply held beliefs). Otherwise my religious liberty invalidates your capitalism and willingness to destroy the planet.

Given that so many of those ‘deeply held beliefs’ are based on modern interpretations of ancient, translated writing  (mythologic, figurative, and often marked by extreme poetic license) the claim becomes even more tenuous. Social reality is based on consensual construction and shared meaning. Liberty is not, and cannot, be based on the attempt to force shared meaning, especially such culturally specific (in this case evangelical) meaning. The inability to accept that meaning is constructed or the inability to believe that history did not happen the way one wants to believe it did is not a basis upon which to insist that others blindly follow the path of ignorance. One is entitled, in America, to be ignorant and useless. One is not empowered to insist that the government protect that ignorance or force it upon others.

borrowed words (power of the commons)

reagan's 3rd sotu

reagan's 3rd sotu2

reagan's 3rd sotu3

reagan's 3rd sotu4

reagan's 3rd sotu5

reagan's 3rd sotu6

reagan's 3rd sotu7

reagan's 3rd sotu8

reagan's 3rd sotu9

reagan's 3rd sotu10

reagan's 3rd sotu11





The source text used here is Ronald Reagan’s Third State of the Union Speech (delivered on January 25, 1984). Nothing has been added. This is not an effort to create a strawman Reagan but rather an experiment to show the creative, poetic, and theoretical potential within contextomy. Reagan was used because he remains a polarizing figure but also because State of the Union addresses are in the public domain. The power of the commons.


plague, superbugs, & the sixth extinction

The other day I saw a headline about a septicemic plague fatality and that started this process. Yesterday, this phrase “(To discredit, promote distrust, disuade, deter, delay or disrupt)” jumped out at me from an article on The Intercept and I began reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. This morning I was reminded that a bit of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall can kill MRSA and gator blood is even more potent. I started watching The Last Ship. From these disparate points, I began a thought trail that led to this:

[This will be an exercise in hyperstition, heuretics, and thoryvological associative analysis. The following is not meant to be true but æffective, not inherently factual nor necessarily faithful to the original context/intent. The quotes are kept intact and in, for the most part, complete sentences but they are robbed of their originary order and context and juxtaposed in disparate dissonance and harmony with intent bound by the above impulses and ideas, marked by the passing of this the 23rd day of the month. It is not a question of what it means but what it can do.] 





This is a textual machine designed to produce other machines. What mattered here wasn’t the author(s) or the means of textual production at all, but rather the circulation and the effects of the text in the world. This is, of course, a demand for complicity. I insist on your freedom. Your tormentors will be purified.

There were things in the text I hadn’t been expecting. Uncomfortable, complicating passages. The distortion of a text is not unlike a murder. The difficulty lies not in the execution of the deed but in the doing away with the traces. The thing is easily false. But the meaning, to this day, still escapes us. This is the lesson you forgot.

Of course, words fail.


I love you because there’s nothing else to do. A rage to live, an urge to goodness. Love.

The utterance threw them into confusion or rather angered them further, which often comes to the same thing. Who were these people who could live so placidly while the world fell into an acute global environmental crisis? In our era of natural disasters, climate change, global pandemics, and the ongoing specter of bioterror, we are continually invited to think about humanity in relation to its real, hypothetical, or speculative extinction. Yet to go back is to go forward into uncertainty and invention.

I think there’s still a small block of original quiet that exists in the world. Theory in itself did not free people to reach into a deeper area of sound. Noise also functions in the cybernetic sense, as a result of its viral functioning in the world.

On the universal face of the world, the grand old Pan, the son of all the dead, is dead. The previous habitation of space is a trace that may then go on to constitute it in the future, in its absence. No longer is there a here or appropriation; we live as transients or tenants, deprived of a fixed abode. There is no more space, no more history, no more time. In the end the black river would burst its banks to become a black sea whose centre was everywhere and circumference nowhere.


There is no stillness, only change. A movement unlocked my attention. It was a derelict. A relic of something nine-tenths collapsed. Nothing decays either, moreover; nothing truly perishes. In this case, chance as nonsense is visible in the very insignificance of its result. In neither case would one be left with anything except a radically dysfunctional wreck, terminally shut-down hardware.


There is nothing, and it cannot be known. Either I do not know the world, or I do not know myself. Nothing alive is ever quite in balance.

I know there is no boatman. It was incomprehensible to her: they didn’t want to know. By necessity there are other characteristics that are not accounted for, that are not measured, and that remain hidden and occulted. The shipwreck will preclude the apocalypse.


Without noise, all we do is repeat. The repetition of noise intoxicates as much as violence. Deep thick silence thundered from behind the closed door. And what he finds there is a terrifying abyss, where there is neither certitude nor knowledge, nor even a single thought – just a tenebrous, impassive silence. There was complete silence, intermittently broken by the faintest electronic sounds – something between a distant computer game and muffled speech software. It was like there was this hole in the quiet. Every living creature, animal and human both, was terrified by this cacophony.


Following the shaman into the cave. We’ve never lost any of that. We are swept on by a whirlwind which dates back to the dawn of time; and if this whirlwind has assumed the aspect of an order, it is only the better to do away with us. The world was spun out of a blade of grass: the world was spun out of a mind. Except never to see or feel that black river that cannot be crossed, but flows like a nothingness through the hole of you. Chaos? Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, chaos is being yourself. The seduction of the arbitrary alarms us. Thought that stumbles over itself, at the edge of an abyss. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet. After having sought to be a sage such as never was, I am only a madman among the mad.


While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light. Our luminescent, naked bodies dissolve into a swarm of obscure creeping things, and we are a mass of glutinous coiling worms, endless. How we would conduct ourselves if dragged to its depths, where eternal darkness is punctured only by its bioluminescence, remains to be seen. We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. Something strange slowly washed over and enveloped me like the black ink of an octopus, as I stood there in the stand, and I felt above all like screaming out the story of my experience, such as they were. The man who has never imagined his own annihilation, who has not anticipated recourse to the rope, the bullet, poison, or the sea, is a degraded galley slave or a worm crawling upon cosmic carrion. For now, at least, it is only with its help that we can hope to orient ourselves in the darkness of the abyss.



Once again he felt that he had crossed over into a space where the real world had taken on all the qualities of a dream, becoming as glossy and surreal, as unlikely and beautiful, as stuffed to a dark sheen with ungraspable meaning. What spell had been cast around me to make my hold on reality feel so tenuous? I didn’t know if the noise had been part of some dream I’d been having or a real, external thing. A world whose margins would become capricious, but this caprice would not refer to any hidden intention. Rather, it involves the generation of memory outside of and apart from any possible experiential event. Dark traces of the past lay in his soul, ready to break through into the regions of consciousness. That interference covers the sense with non-sense by scrambling it and making his words into waste, or by covering it up with other words. It was as if I was in a madness and a frenzy and a depression that older and wiser peoples may once have denominated the descent of a god, which seized me and for which, though I had no control, I am nevertheless to blame.This truth law has no more reality than the world. Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind. Now that we know this, throw the raft away.


Flux is.


Do you think the emptiness of the sky will ever crumble away?



Sources (in the order by which I claimed them):

Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain

Justin Clemens & Helen Johnson, The Black River

Michel Serres, Malfeasance

Critical Art Ensemble, Marching Plague

Vilém Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization

E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Jack Kerouac, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity

Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism

Eugene Thacker, An Ideal for Living

Quentin Meillassoux, Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction

Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, Eugene Thacker (eds.), Leper Creativity

Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren

Joe Morris, Perpetual Frontier

Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts

Eugene Thacker, In The Dust of This Planet

Eugene Thacker, Starry Speculative Corpse

Eugene Thacker, Tentacles Longer Than Night

a glitch of psychic crumbling.

For many people, if anything is representative of the art of noise, it is ambivalence.

Joseph Nechvatal’s Immersion Into Noise is a somewhat ambivalent book. It is the contrary to the noise abatement treatments of noise – it is just noise as art. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unfortunately for me, many of Nechvatal’s claims of noise as art run contrary to my own (I do not believe that Rococo or Baroque as busy and complex as they are are in any way ‘noise.’ Intentional complexity is not noise it is complexity. The two should remain separate.). It is then, mostly the theorization of his introductory pages that resonates.

Noise may break some connections, but connections will always continue to grow in other directions, creating new thoughts and new affects.

Nechvatal is not alone in recognizing the creative power of noise. But it is theorizations of noise like Nechvatal’s that set themselves against the blasé readings of noise as just an annoyance to be toned down, a decibel level to be reduced to an acceptable non-hearing damage inducing appropriate levels. On one side of the coin noise is simply an annoyance, offering nothing and demanding everything. On the other side, the possibility of creation, new thoughts, new avenues, the very possibility of the new. Indeed:

This creative art of noise draws us closer to our inner world, to the life of our imagination with its intense drives, suspicious, fears, and loves – that which guides our intentions and actions in the political and economic world.

This is an approach to noise that is wholly other than the noise abatement campaigners. They rail against airplane noise, traffic noise, piped music, and the neighbor’s dogs and stereo. Nechvatal glories in exactly what the campaigners revile:

But for noise to be first noise, it must destabilize us. It must initially jar. It must challenge. It must initiate a glitch of psychic crumbling.

It would seem that bridging these gaps might be impossible. Noise is, after all, a complex concept with overlaying theories that cannot and will not harmonize.

the genesis of the parasitic pollution (noise in Serres)

Serres begins his work on the parasite with a parable. Perhaps we shall too. A stolen parable, the work and words of another. But a false and fictional other, a man outside of and beyond time. The ever unique Philip J. Fry:

It’s just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long, the grasshopper kept burying acorns for the winter, while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. But then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns. And also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through to you?

Futurama 1×07, “My Three Suns”

What can be said of such a parasite as he speeds off in his racecar?

And with such noise…


In the beginning was the noise.

And so we begin. Noise is an important issue for Serres. He crosses boundaries, disciplines, raising questions, questioning methods. And noise runs through it. Like a river. Let’s fly fish.

Noise destroys and noise can produce.


Silence, a discrete tenant by contrast, is only a momentary lull.

Serres draws the closest to the theorization of noise that I seek. As he transgresses boundaries, writes in parables, and waxes poetic he approaches the essence of the complex composite that is noise.

Noise is a question of wealth and power:

The more wealth a man or a collectivity amasses, the more noise they make, soft but also hard; the louder the noise and the racket, the further their visual and acoustic productions or excrements will spread, the more hard power they have.

or waste”

Now everywhere and all the time we hear sound waste, the rubbish and refuse of engines, ventilators, air conditioning, waste disposal units, reactors, grinders, tuners that saturate the old pugnacious cesspit world of the owners. 


The noise temporarily stops the system, makes it oscillate indefinitely.


Theorem: noise gives rise to a new system, an order that is more complex than the simple chain.

the relation to chaos:

In the beginning is the noise; the noise never stops. It is our apperception of chaos, our apprehension of disorder, or only link to the scattered distribution of things. 

the background of information:

The noise, the background noise, that incessant hubbub, our signals, our messages, our speech and our words are but a fleeting high surf, over its perpetual swell.


Noise is a turbulence, it is order and disorder at the same time, order revolving on itself through repetition and redundancy, disorder through chance occurrences, through the drawing of lots at the crossroads, and through the global meandering, unpredictable and crazy. An arborescent and turbulent rumor.

the trace:

Noise, you see, is also the trace of the observer. There is noise in the subject, there is noise in the object. Meddling in the phenomenon, the receiver introduces or produces a certain noise there, his own, for no one can live without noise.

and without contradictory:

Noise has no contradictory. The contradiction of a noise is a noise. The noise has no contrary. The space of a noise has no complementary, no outside. Logic is drowned in the noise. Of the prelogical or the antepredicative I know only the noise. And the fury.

Noise for Serres is an infinitely useful, infinitely mutable concept/construct. It flows, it ripples, it disrupts. It is the parasite, the pollution, the genesis. It is the background of all things, the necessary of relations, the corruption of power and the power of corruption. If not for Serres poetic language (and perhaps some translation barriers) it might be that he suggests some of the answers to the question of noise as such/in itself.  He certainly is able to put the term, the concept, the metaphor to use. So what then of the octopus, his girlfriend, and that racecar?

We must introduce into philosophy the concept of chaos, a mythical concept until this morning, and despised by rationality to the point of being used nowadays only for discourses on madness.


quotes from:

Serres, Michel. Genesis. Trans. Geneviève James and James Nielson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.

___. Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution?. Trans. Anne-Marie Feenberg-DibonStanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2011. Print.

___. The Parasite. Trans. Lawrence R. Schehr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

without listening.

There is no sound, no noise, no silence, even, without listening.

Paul Hegarty closes his excellent work Noise/Music (a direct heir of Attali) with a chapter headed with the above quote. This is, unfortunately, a stance on sound studies that I cannot agree with. The tree falling in the forest does not need me or any other listening subject to fall. To make the claim that the sound pressure levels or the vibrations created by said fall must be somehow null and void because no actor was on scene to ‘listen’ is beyond what I am willing to claim. There has been (and continues to be) debate in philosophy about correlationalsim (cf. Meillassoux) and about what might exist or fail to exist or fail to be recognized as existing outside of the human subject to think it existence. Noise theory seems to have skirted the edges of much of this theorizing, ignored because noise is, at root, the ignored, the suppressed, the excluded.

But despite Hegarty’s correlationalist stance, much can be made of his work:

What exactly noise is, or what it should do, alters through history, and this means that any account of noise is a history of disruptions and disturbances.

Disruption and disturbance are inherently political terms. They can be used to multiple ends and can, indeed, be ends in themselves.

As well as this disruptive element, noise must also be thought of as constantly failing – failing to stay noise, as it becomes familiar, or acceptable practice.

The failure to stay noise, as well, remains a constant issue in noise theory. Stemming from Attali’s judgments of noise as a moving target as the avant garde that forces the political, noise always fails to be itself. It disrupts until that disruption is normalized, it offends until the offense becomes commonplace, one man’s noise becomes his kid’s music. Certainly the question of annoyance echoes regularly in the failure of noise to stay noise (how long is it annoying, is it still noise so long as one remains annoyed?). But that seems a secondary issue to the role of noise in motion (constant vibration, unable to be pinned down).

But what Hegarty keeps circling back to is the listener. Noise demands a listener. Noise is nothing, noise does not and cannot exist without listening.

First, even in this model, noise needs a listener – probably some sort of animal or a non-organic machine with hearing capacities (both can be classified as ‘hearing machines’), in the vicinity of the noise so that the soundwaves can be heard. The sound then has to be perceived as dangerous to the functioning of the hearing machine. Without these two moments, we might have a sound, but we do not have noise.

If noise is to be defined relationally this quote remains valid. If the human subject is the whole of knowledge, if there is no knowledge or thought beyond the thinking and knowing subject, then clearly this is the whole of knowable noise. But I would venture further. The philosophers of OOO and speculative realism have tread this ground before me (with much better reasoning and citation) so I’ll not go too deep into the theory. But the fact remains that the world exists beyond the capacity of the human subject. Sound withdraws, noise withdraws, those objects that emit or cause to emit sound and noise withdraw. And the human subject itself withdraws. We cannot fully know the object. Nor it us or other objects. But I do not want to make the claim that sound is only noise in relation to an offended subject. That sound itself might not exist as such without a listening subject. Sound pressure waves are things. Noise is a thing. Noise is an object. And it withdraws.

Noise is negative: it is unwanted, other, not something ordered. It is negatively defined – i.e. by what it is not (not acceptable sound, not music, not valid, not a message or a meaning), but it is also a negativity.

Noise is not just volume, but the spread, dissemination and dispersal of its non-message.

All quotes from:

Hegarty, Paul. Noise/Music: A History. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.

If It’s Too Loud…

Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile

– C.S. Lewis

The John Stewart, et al authored Why Noise Matters: A Worldwide Perspective on the Problems, Policies and Solutions is a well-researched, well-documented, properly reasoned but ultimately narrow and stale treatise on noise. This is, unsurprisingly, because noise for Stewart and his colleagues is a relatively simple (if not quite straight forward) combination of high decibel (and often low frequency) sounds and the drive towards a quiet, retiring, private life. Annoyance is a word that surfaces far too often.


I do not want to belittle here the value in noise abatement and its related campaigns or the desire to classify noise as a pollutant (this dovetails well with Serres’ Malfeasance, the question of noise as excess and waste, and the Lacanian tidbit about civilization and the disposal of shit). The book dives into World Health Organization guidelines for noise, raises the question of industry and industrialization being primarily responsible for significant portions of contemporary noise, and even gets into the positioning of noise as an ignored environmental issue. But its proposals are too simple, too clean, and because of that often off target.


The enemy in the book is noise and the resultant annoyance and potential health risk. But mostly its annoyance. The enemy is not capitalism. The enemy is not (though it is mentioned) the drive for higher profits that only brings quieter machines to market when it is cost effective and only introduces quieter manufacturing processes when absolutely necessary. Questions of social justice are mentioned (for indeed it is the global poor in the industrializing world that are most often subject to unsafe sound pressure levels) but the enemy remains the noise itself and not the globalized capital markets that unfairly balance the scales.


The question of what is nature and what is natural is never explored much like the question of what is a noise aside from this rather vague definition: “Noises are those sounds that are judged to be intrusive, bothersome, uncontrollable and unpredictable. … Sound becomes noise when a person of reasonable sensitivities is bothered by the sound and this noise can adversely affect that person’s mental and physical health. That sound need not be loud to be annoying, for example, a dripping tap or a partner’s snoring.” Not that the authors are all that militant about plumbing and sleep apnea. Indeed, the book is rather light on its definitions. The arguments exist in a commonsense sphere of Potter Stewart know it when I see its giving rise to a number of worthwhile arguments that cannot be extended outside their original context.


Noise is more than sound. Noise is more than excessive sound pressure levels, ultra low and high frequencies, and annoyance. Stewart and company make an impassioned cry (that they seem to know will fall on mostly deaf ears – too many years with the headphones turned up to drown out the world) but by limiting themselves to such a narrow definition of noise and the possibilities of noise they miss the forest for the tree that falls over. Traffic noise needs to be reduced and can be. Industrial noise as well. And the questions of the right to privacy (and silent or acoustically uninvaded privacy at that) are valuable questions going forward but when the arguments are couched in terms of annoyance more than health and anti-capitalism, the gains that they may lead to will be incremental at best.