Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No knowledge zones

"'No-knowledge' is a condition whereby everything one assumes to be true, or that one thinks one knows, participates in an essence that is incomprehensible. Knowledge repels itself. True knowledge is a voluntary freedom divested of all fear."
Simon of Taibutheh

Ideas are pulled out of white noise. White noise is the unrepresentable totality of phenomenological and mental perception, as constructed by the human animal. Like sentience, white noise is an invisible screen, a collusion so vast it cannot be seen (looking at the sun burns holes in the retina). In order to navigate through this impossible terrain, people try and shape solid pockets of meaning and isolate them as reference points. This process can be described as subtractive selection. Similar to the way that Michelangeo carved his marble sculptures out of a single piece of stone, idea pockets develop by scooping away the totality in order to find the singular. These singularities are the landmarks that puncture the void.

Sometimes it's difficult to determine who or what makes the landmarks visible: do you sculpt your own pockets of meaning or are you stumbling across ones already created? Outside my window is a street lined with houses. If I look at the houses, I see them either as self contained units, or, if I'm trying to go somewhere, as impediments along a route. Walking to the shops, I follow the road. I don't even think about it. The road is already made, it flows around the houses, and in order to get where I want to go I stick to path. I don't jump the fences and stroll through other people's gardens. I am a model citizen. I observe the codes. I am afraid.

A world without landmarks is a world without knowledge. To live in a no-knowledge zone can be likened to total immersion in white noise. This prospect is a dream, utopian, and yet it is critical to maintain because the acquisition of knowledge – as it regulated today, at 3:11 on Wednesday, July 25, in Melbourne, Australia – currently appears geared solely toward the maintenance of the economy. What is referred to as knowledge is then not knowledge at all. It is illusory, a fiction, a necessary lie. Perhaps we should ditch it for the sake of something else; a construction site, a no-knowledge zone, the potential for collective control.

In neo-liberal societies, the individual is presented with the dubious honour of self-regulation. Self-management, self-control, self-policing are critical strategies for a market in which competiton and prosperity are predicated upon the individual's capacity for self-maintenance. The focus on the self, the privatisation of labour, is echoed by widespread privatisation of public services and the removal of collective infrastructure. Any problems that the individual may encounter cannot then be referred. Kafka knew this condition well. Call up the courts and the telephone gabbles nonsense. There is no external law. The other end of the line has been leased out to a stand in, tenured by a corporate mouthpiece.

The singularity demanded by the system in order for the individual to prosper is a blindfold. With this blindfold firmly in place (helpfully fastened by its wearers) the threat of external perspective is neutralised. The erasure of the outside nears completion when the borders between life and work begin to crumble. Neo-liberalism relies upon the immaterialisation of labour: work is no longer definable as the task that one performs or the object produced, but is rather properly situated in the mind of the worker. The model citizen is a living, breathing, curriculum vitae, whose success is measured solely by an ability to overcome impediments to prosperity. Flexi-time workers in an immaterial labour force arguably bear most of the brunt of this affect. They are, literally, their work. Any free time "earned" is on the flip side of labour, a dualism that always requires the gift of the self. That it is a gift and not a requirement is the ingenious keystone in the maintenance of false agency.

Such maintenance is strengthened by the belief that all landmarks encountered in the void of white noise are created by the spectator. They come into being seemingly only at the moment they are sighted. They have no history, no past, and no future. They stand alone, each individual believing that they are the author of the fiction of knowledge, but in effect, agency lies elsewhere. The most dangerous symptom of this process is the generation of a time code: the neverending present, the eternal now. Ideas, when recognised, have no context. Their value is graded by the econony, meaning the perpetuation of the state of the eternal present.

I am reminded here of a mouse in a labyrinth. The mouse, trained to go through the labyrinth, does not consider the possibility that there may be secret doorways. The mouse can not bear the thought of the unseen. It does not entertain the potential of secrets. The maze is then produced only by the mouse, who tracks through its long corridors unaware that it is responsible for the path. The labyrinth is real, but outside the labyrinth are the no-knowledge zones. What is needed is to be able to move through these zones, and with the help of others, recognise the landmarks in the void by the context of their production.

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