Semiotics of the End


Hyperreal Image Control

 Alessandro Sbordoni

, #music, #capitalism, #depression
#capitalistrealism, #crisis, #non

In collaboration with our friends at Blue Labyrinths and NON we are extremely happy to present a series of excerpts from Alessandro Sbordoni's forthcoming text: Semiotics of the End.

These are critical reflections on a time of atemporality, nihilism and violence: these are end times, and we did not expect the collapse to be so boring. — A!kira

           1—BOREDOM AT THE END
           OF THE WORLD
Dreams about the end of the world are not, perhaps, anymore the fruits of despair and fear alone. They are also the frolics of boredom. It is not only when the world is evil or ugly, but when it does not matter anymore whether the world exists or not that feverish dreams of destruction surge from the depths; it is amidst yawns, more often than whimpers and cries, that the world ends. A friend once told me: ‘When I am bored, I would like to watch the world burn.’ The world thus ends, and it is just fantasy. That is because boredom does not really destroy anything, it does not create at all.

            1.1—THE PARADOX OF

As Byung-Chul Han writes in The Burnout Society, “deep boredom is the peak of mental relaxation. A purely hectic rush produces nothing new. It reproduces and accelerates what is already available” (p. 13). Boredom is pure repetition, reproduction without finality. If boredom does in fact produce dreams of the end, it is because the end turns out to have become impossible.
           Everything is a copy. All days resemble each other. Week after week, it all repeats again. Then, a thought of creation or destruction. Boredom is thus eliminated; nothingness neutralizes mere repetition. A principle of nothingness is indeed necessary to both creation and destruction; it is when the temptation of nothingness overcomes the dullness of the here-and-now that creating and destroying become possible. Boredom then, since nothing new has been generated, repeats itself.

           1.2—DREAMS OF THE END
A new sort of nihilism is arising from the boredom that describes late capitalism. It is the nihilism according to which the end has lost its finality.
           In a post from January 13, 2007, Mark Fisher argues that “we have ceased to imagine the end of the world just as surely as we have lost our ability to imagine the end of capitalism. Oddly, apocalyptic dread – so omnipresent during the Cold War – seems to have been extirpated from the popular unconscious. […] If it is increasingly difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism, that is because the world has already ended.”
           Disaster movies do not anymore appeal to feelings of fear or anxiety about the future. Instead, they aim at the elimination of boredom, successfully achieved through hyperstimulation. Films such as Sharknado (2013) or Godzilla vs Kong (2021) are for children what pornography is for adults.
           Dreams of the end are over. And it is not because of cynicism, but because of deep boredom: nothing is possible, because nothing is impossible anymore.
           The dreams of the end told by disaster “porn” movies represent the ultimate simulacrum. Representations of their own nothingness. Nihilism of the end.
           “The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference” (p. 160) wrote Jean Baudrillard in 1981’s Simulacra and Simulation. Forty years after the end, it is the apocalypse of the boring: the triumph of hyperstimulation, digital recombination, pure repetition without difference. And as the thought of the end has been neutralized, with it, the seduction of images perishes. It is the land of boredom. The yawn and the abyss.

The solution to the paradox of boredom is hypernothingness: nothingness that is more than creation and destruction, reality and simulation. If dreams of the end today still depend on reality and representation, in the realm of hypernothingness the end is both possible and impossible.

           1.4—0, OR THE SOUND OF
           THE END

The music industry is another apt example of the paradox of boredom and the nihilism of the end.
           Once more, it is not hard to discover a pornographic approach to the imaginary of the end. “Sicker than the remix / Baby, let me blow your mind tonight,” then the chorus: “I can’t take it, take it, take no more / Never felt like, felt like this before / Come on get me get me on the floor.” This extract from Britney Spears’ lyrics of Till the World Ends (2011) follows a narrative of the end as consumerism without purpose, without finality. It is the catastrophe of meaning, where the end itself has become impossible since hyperstimulation and repetition have divested the end of its reality.
           The future is no longer possible. The future does not exist if not as the simulacra of consumption, hence the pornographies of desire.
           Today the future does not exist anymore if not as the reconfiguration of the past; ghosts of the past haunt the present via remixes, sequels, and remakes. The new almost does not mean anything anymore. Hyperstimulation and repetition already remove the possibility of the end. The paradox of boredom repostulates itself as long as nothing is created nor destructed. It is pure repetition without difference; the nothingness of the simulacra.
           Again, the palliative against the nihilism of this culture of the end is hypernothingness.
           A one-minute-long silence predates the end of The Caretaker’s album series Everywhere at the End of Time (2016–2019), partly dedicated to the memory of Mark Fisher, who disappeared in 2017. “The inability to distinguish the present from the past” (Mark Fisher’s words about The Caretaker’s sound-theory), produced by the remix and disfiguration of recordings from a long-forgotten past, now leaves space to hypernothingness.
           But hypernothingness does not simply signify the end: it creates the end. In it, plenitude is abolished. The melancholia and nostalgia describing the recording fade away at last. Throughout this minute of hypernothingness, indifference is slowly converted into the atmosphere of the end itself.
           There are no more sounds but wafts of nothingness.

The simulation of silence, rather than drawing the music to a close, further opens up a space for sleep and the ataraxy of the end. Boredom at the end of time. The hypernothingness of silence abolishes the difference between the representation of nothingness and nothingness itself, between deep listening and deep boredom.

           1.5—Is it the sound of the
The image cannot present itself without a certain force, without a certain amount of violence. The image must always remove, put aside, place another image behind itself, to come to light.
           The image of the Sun is, in this regard, the cruellest one since it always presents itself only by obliterating all other images, even itself. It is only after a certain time, according to the Platonic allegory of the Republic, that the image of the Sun and its daylight may be in plain view.
           Today, there is no more time left for the image to come into sight. In the words of Jean Baudrillard, an image is not even allowed the short time to become an image. There are no signs, but only the buoyancy of the economy; there is no exchange, but rather immediate sharing. Auto-play and infinite scroll are the technologies of this virulence: the violence of the image that disappears in the flux of images, in the turbo-reproduction of more and more signs.

           2—TURBO VIOLENCE
The futurist violence of speed, the hyper-futurism of competition, the virulency of the cyber-economy.
           Today violence is not, strictly speaking, in the image but in the buffer between one image and another. This hyper-capitalistic form of violence is not only the violence of information but the virality of advertisings, of fast fashion, of digital influence, the virulence of pop culture and its hyper-competitive and quick-changing hits… In each instance, in each example, there is no image: only the speed of capitalism and its reproduction.
           It is not possible to speak about an image, as if in the singular form. Minute after minute, it is more and more difficult to slow down, to pause, to go back to the ideality of the still image — perhaps to what Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida refers to as Photograph with a capital P. The capital of the image is already moving, as if in an infinite semiosis. Then, images cannot signify the end because images do not finish and never stop finishing.
           The glitch of the medium, too, is only another image, a twitch of the eye. The noise of the glitch is already decoded and re-encoded fast and smoothly: the violence between images is restored. To paraphrase Byung-Chul Han, it is almost impossible to shut the eyes anymore; it is almost not even possible to blink.
           The image makes violence to itself. As Jean Baudrillard remarks in The Violence of Images, Violence against Images, the image is the medium of violence whose message is and can only be more violence.

If the image cracks, like in Kanye West’s Welcome to Heartbreak (2008) (2:13), there is another picture already available (2:15). There is almost no more time for the image and its imaginary: everything changes but there is no becoming. This is why there is perhaps no image in Welcome to Heartbreak, only the violence to images, the never-ending destruction and reproduction of more images (“I’ve seen it / I’ve seen it before / I’ve seen it / I’ve seen it before / I’ve seen it / I’ve seen it before…”).

The image ends and images do not finish the reproduction of their end (that is, capital): only this time faster, more violently. The hot glitches of A$AP Mob’s Yamborghini High (2016), for example, where the images morph into one another, the pixels bleed in an endless flow of signs and semiocapital. Violence reproduces itself at the turbo-speed of the machine: “catch a nigga flyin’ by in a Lambo.”
           Variation after variation, the reproduction of the images is smoother and cleaner. There is no roughness in the virality of semiocapitalism. Just like in 100 Gecs’ Money Machine (2019), this new violence is like “Big boys coming with the picture / Feel so clean like a money machine.”

           2.1—CYBERTIME AND
Cybertime is the amount of time necessary for an image to become an image: the time necessary to think, to feel, to remember, to imagine. But as soon as the reproduction of the images exceeds cybertime, as soon as images overflow memory and imagination, there is no more possibility for storage or re-routing, only for more reproduction.
           Cybertime crashes. There is no more time in the images, only reproduction without production, because the new is often too slow, too large to upload. (Error: new.exe cannot be opened.) The newness of the glitch, too, is reproduced so fast that it is only another, oft-emulated, form of violence with neither time nor memory (for example, Reddit’s Super Bowl commercial, where the company’s orange and white logo pops up for an instant in the midst of a 6-seconds advertisement).
           Cybertime is rebooted by cyberspace. The only reaction is one of virtual immediacy. ‘Accept’, ‘deny’, Like, swipe up, click… The bleep of the machine. “Semiocapital puts neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity. As a result,” Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi reads in an article from 2010, “the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit. Cyberspace overloads cybertime, because cyberspace is an unbounded sphere whose speed can accelerate without limits, while cybertime (the organic time of attention, memory, imagination) cannot be sped up beyond a certain point—or it cracks.” As communication is reduced to information, feelings return as affects, only because the latter reproduce faster and more smoothly in cyberspace.
           It is not then only the image that withdraws into the spectacle of capitalism; the spectator, too, disappears amid the overflow of the images. There is not enough space available to upload a new imaginary.

           2.2—PUNCTUM AND
Today, everything is to become visible, to be felt. Fewer and fewer images are seen, less and less is being felt. Trillions of images are stored and reproduced every day. But as the number of images is multiplied, imagination itself is removed. As Susan Sontag comments in her book about images and the representation of violence, “after [six] decades of big-budget Hollywood disaster films, ‘It felt like a movie’ seems to have displaced the way survivors of a catastrophe used to express the short-term unassimilability of what they had gone through: ‘It felt like a dream’” (p. 19). Violence is uploaded into cyberspace, although there is not enough space for fear or shock. Dreams are reset.
           There is not even danger in the images, no poignancy. Images lack what Roland Barthes called the punctum, the singularity of the figure, the punch of emotion. There is no risk of damage in the images, except that of simulation. Images are too smooth. There is no aesthetic difference anymore, no punctuation, between image and viewer. Images are no different from the eye.
           The medium of the images produces affectum. Affection is faster than feelings. Its reproduction is immediate (by contagion, or virality). There is no time left, then, to imagine, to feel, to think — almost not even the time to stare. “The affectum,” writes Byung-Chul Han, “shouts and excites. All it produces are non-verbal excitement and stimuli, which cause an immediate liking” (p. 39).

           2.3—TO GLITCH VIOLENCE
If the picture is violent in part because “it fills the sight by force,” (p. 91) as Roland Barthes affirms in Camera Lucida, it also overwrites the imaginary with a similar force.
           To revolt, to expose, to denounce the violence against the imaginary, it is therefore needed to imagine an alternative violence that does not just accelerate the image but its fierce medium, with the hope that it cracks, reboots, and glitches into a new imaginary.
           The glitch represents a violence against the flow of information. For Rose Menkman, glitches “bring any medium into a critical state of hypertrophy, to (subsequently) criticize its inherent politics” (p. 11). Noise against more noise, turbo-violence against glitched violence.
           Glitches will, nonetheless, always be reproduced and neutralised by the flow of more images. They are going to become fashionable, glamorous. The crackdown is temporary, after all. This is not just a limitation, though, but the cause of theglitch moment(um): “the potential any glitch has to modulate or productively damage the norms of techno-culture, in the moment at which this potential is first grasped” (p. 8). “The concept of moment(um) is twofold: first of all there is the moment, which is experienced as the uncanny, threatening loss of control, throwing the spectator into the void (of meaning). This moment then itself becomes a catalyst, with a certain momentum. Noise turns to glitch when it passes a momentary tipping point, at which it could tip away into a failure, or instead force new knowledge about the glitch’s techné, and actual and presumed media flows, onto the viewer” (p. 31). The glitch moment(um) has the power to crack cyberspace. And perhaps, the longer its moment, the greater its momentum, its impetus.
           On 11 September 2001, the CNN’s website went down for several hours: the catastrophe of cyberspace. The capitalist flow of images ends. At the same time, the imaginary of the end reproduces itself. The spectators dreamabout the end in a dream without images, similar to sleep.
           The image returns to nothingness, nothingness to the image, so that it is not possible to differentiate between them anymore. Like a black sun, the glitch abolishes the difference between image and non-image, function and error. Neither the indifference of the affectum nor the disturbance of the punctum.
           The eyes are almost shut and nevertheless, there is an image — the hypernothingness of the black screen. The idleness of meaning.
           Whatever is left there after the image has disappeared, whatever remains after the end, is only imaginary.

“What can we learn from a computer virus? A computer virus corrupts data. A computer virus costs capitalism. It degrades productivity within the machine. A computer virus is a threat to the function of the machine and its economy. […] Machines are expected to work well and work quickly. A computer virus triggers the machinic response of slowness in ways that are unpredictable to the user: endless buffering, crashing, damaging, deleting, reformatting. This slowness shifts time and space, altering a person’s relationship to the machine” (from Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism, p. 111).

This slowness, this violence to the economy of the machine, further reboots the relationship with the imaginary. The virus, like us, dreams a dream without images that is almost sleeplike. It imagines a new template of the end, a series of zeros and ones converted into imaginary numbers. From the short circuit of reproduction to the imagination of open circuits.

           3—WELCOME TO THE
           VIRTUAL PLAZA
Like factories, shopping centres today exist only to efface their omnipresence. After “society as a whole takes the appearance of a factory,” (p. 18) as Jean Baudrillard writes in Symbolic Exchange and Death, society itself now takes the form of a shopping arcade.
           At the same time, we are more and more like Tiqqun’s Young-Girl who “is only good for consuming, pleasure or work, it doesn’t matter” (p. 24).
           This is what happens when capitalism is the only form of imaginary able to reproduce itself; there are almost no more differences between the imagery of the machine and imagination. In fact, everything is reproduced already faster than it is imagined.
           There is no more distinction between work and leisure: indeed, leisure is equal to work. “You go to the office and sit at a desk, but maybe it is a fake job. Your real job is shopping” (from Adam Curtis’s short film, Living in an Unreal World
). Welcome to semiocapitalism. What does not wither in an age of electronic reproduction is the urge to consume.

           3.2—INTERNET’S ARCADES
In The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin attempted to account for the economic and political life of XIX century society through a study of the famous Paris shopping arcades: the glass-covered passages where the Parisian middle-class used to stroll and buy luxury goods.
           The Internet is today’s shopping arcade, and the virtual plaza, one of its deluxe sites.
           The virtual plaza is the emporium of semiocapitalism, where the latter is reproduced through an aesthetics of palm trees, Japanese culture, and Neoclassical architecture. Not so long ago, the owners of the shopping arcades used to sell goods and services in exchange for money; now the artists and designers of the virtual plaza smuggle one semiotic good for another.

At the end of the world there will only be a liquid advertisement and gaseous desire. Sublimated from our bodies, our untethered senses will endlessly ride escalators through pristine artificial environments, […] consuming and consumed by a relentlessly rich economy of sensory information, valued by the pixel. The Virtual Plaza welcomes you, and you will welcome it too.(From Adam Harper’s infamous article, “Vaporwave and the Pop-Art of the Virtual Plaza”)

In the virtual plaza, everything is now valued by the pixel. The arcade is just a sign like any other: in this regard, the fetish of the empty shopping centre is nothing except the fascination with the end of production as such. For if the empty factory is the end of production, what is the copy of its reproduction as an image? After the end of production, reproduction does not end. This is the irony of the empty shopping centre. And irony, after all, just makes people consume more.
           In the 1980s, the environmental music of Haruomi Hosono was designed for MUJI retail stores in Japan. Today, the virtual plaza is nothing but the endless reproduction of its own aesthetics. Reproduction itself is at once the medium and the message of the virtual plaza.

           3.3—THE AGE OF
In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin famously argues that reproduction represents the elimination of the aura of the work of art, its unique presence in space and time.
           More and more today, the image is already a copy: it reproduces itself faster than it presents itself as an object in its singularity. “The reproduced work of art is to an ever-increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility” (p. 12). As a result, the medium reproduces more and more of itself and its own image. There is almost nothing else besides the reiteration of such spectacle.
           In the age of electronic reproduction, it is furthermore the imaginary of the consumer that is reproduced. More and more we are just like Tiqqun’s Young-Girl, the avatar of the spectacle society that reproduces herself through the images of the spectacle. Both commodity and consumer, there is no aura around our own self-promotion and retail as an image. No identity except that of statistics; no tradition except that of mass consumption.

           3.4—WELCOME TO THE
“Through the eyes of the Young-Girl, the Spectacle is looking at you” (p. 66). “The Young-Girl does not speak,” the collective Tiqqun writes. “On the contrary, she is spoken by the Spectacle” (p. 36).
           The Virtual Dream Plaza is one of the products of the virtual plaza. It is a series of thirty-two hypnotic vaporwave jams by t e l e p a t h. Each jam includes an album cover art with a young girl (referred to as “dream girl” on the Internet), sometimes presented as part of an advertisement, at times as part of the background and the foreground.

“I Need You”

“You and I Forever”

“Dream Girl”

On the cover of three albums (“I Need You”, “You and I Forever”, and “Dream Girl”), for example, the young girl is both in the background and foreground of a makeup advertisement. In the last release from the Virtual Dream Plaza series (“Beyond the Dream”, a bonus track), she is part of the compact cassette’s design itself. In all instances, she is both consuming and consumed at the same time.

”Beyond the Dream”

Everything that is reproduced into an image is created and destructed altogether; the alienation of reproduction. “The Young-Girl inhabits the Spectacle just like a woman in the primitive world, as an object of Advertising. But the Young-Girl is also the subject of Advertising, exchanging itself” (p. 76). The young girl is, moreover, the image against all that which is radically different from the reproduction of the spectacle — now more than ever, reproduction is the warfare of imagination — to the extent that she is set against the reproduction of the subject as such: the paroxysm of seduction. “Because the Young-Girl,” as Tiqqun writes, “is the living presence of everything that, humanely, wants our death. She is not only the purest product of the Spectacle, she is the plastic proof of our love for it” (p. 105).
           The exacerbation of the system of reproduction is possible only at the cost of the production of more destruction and nothingness: positive feedback. Vaporwave aesthetics is the production of the same, over and over again. This is a negative, rather than positive, feedback circuit. But an alternative, semio-accelerationist design of the virtual plaza is one where, instead, the representation of the same is already equal to the principle of death itself. It is not just another product of capitalism but the critique of capitalism for what it always is: its own destruction and the reproduction of its inexorable end.

Shut up, relax, and stream the dream. Enjoy the Young-Girl’s mixtape from the virtual plaza, where everything is valued by the pixel, and where even your soft enjoyment and ironic remarks are welcomed and priced.

  1. t e l e p a t h — Virtual Dream Plaza
  2. 「サンセット N e t w o r k ❾❶」 — H I G H – F A S H I ON「犯罪現場」
  3. Trademarks & Copyrights – Marble Girls
  4. 猫 シ Corp. — LUXURY GIRLS
  5. SAYOHIMEBOU — 卡拉OK♫スターダスト東風
  6. Origami Girl — Tranquillity
  7. luxury elite — blue eyeshadow
  8. death’s dynamic shroud.wmv — Faith in Persona
  9. Nova Dive – スロールック
  10. 甘い夢のスケジュール — ロマンチックな至福

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