Decay

From what I can gather, concepts of decay — as developed, in blogland, by Reza Negarestani, Planomenology, and Splintering Bone Ashes, among others — belong to what could be called the subtractive branch of ontological-political strategies: becoming-imperceptible, exodus, refusal of work. Like those other strategies, decay disengages from the situation and tries to elude its operations and laws instead of protesting against the situation as illegitimate and demanding recognition and rights. Rather than calling for an expansion of axioms, decay refuses to be bound by, and even seeks to short-circuit the very existence of, the axiomatic. As Reid at Planomenology seductively puts it: “Decay […] is a matter of an uncontrollable and unpredictable swerving and squirming that would be too unstable to capitalize.” At the same time, concepts of decay do not suffer from fantasies of autonomy, as decay continually works to disrupt capital and not find permanent shelter in places it is inoperative.

But there’s also a sense in which the concept doesn’t get far enough away. The popular connotation sees in decay a distance from a thing’s perfect, usable state — as in a piece of wood — and I’m not sure political versions escape the demands of such calculation. That is, decay, as far as I can tell, maintains the measuring-against function, even if what is being compared to is dynamic and shifting — that is, capital rather than wood. There must be more decay because we haven’t gone far enough; we must go all the way down to reach the other side, and in the process we must preserve what is usable (decay “ruins the existing machinery without completely obliterating it, salvaging the remains for new, uncertain purposes”). Negarestani, it seems to me, addresses these questions of how much decay is appropriate and what can be retained with his discussion of what he calls “insider time,” which is a third term surrounding what he calls cosmic time and vital time — or what Deleuze and Guattari called Aeon time and Chronos time — that “redefines the intermediary conception of the vital time as a ‘temporal agent’ which smuggles the contingencies and non-belonging of the cosmic time to life’s horizons of interiority.” As I read this insider time, it is a deliverer and encloser, a synthesis of time that doesn’t resolve but certainly tames the opposition between cosmic time and vital time.

And it’s in the turn to a “temporal agent” that the weaknesses of decay as currently theorized become evident. It is specifically questions of time that are vital to the process of decay: when is there sufficient rot to move on to other tactics, to begin again, to put to use what has been salvaged? These questions would seem to be answered by the agent of insider time. As far as I can tell, the bringing in of an agent reenacts the subject, however diffuse, of the Leninist intellectual vanguard, though instead of discerning when conditions are sufficiently ripe it determines when they are sufficiently rotten. But this reversal does not overturn or escape the situation. Decay and its measuring agent would seem to still operate within the structure of opposition.

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