temporary autonomous zone technology



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“We’re tired of no magic.”

– Wild Children

Comic books are not what they seem. They are indeed comic books–bound paper, printed with inks, printed with recognizable words and pictures, given that dull sheen of matte varnish if they are intended to be glistening commodities, set on the shelf in neat rows, smelling of chemicals.

But they are also literature–the ephemeral, the humanistic, the idealistic, the liminal, the place where human intention and expression coincide with physical space. Call it magic, if you are into that–the occult, the obscure, the esoteric, the fantastical, the supernatural, the metaphysical. But you don’t have to believe in it. Literature will still work, as long as it’s literature. There is a null space to good prose, where quantitative assessment curves fade and double into staccatoed graphemes around the edge of the loss of pronounceable linguistics. A pause. A little death. Dreamtime by which to approach the event horizon of the unconscious. If you ever read a book for something other than entertainment, then you know this is true.

Such descriptions are, when articulated, absolutely meaningless. It becomes trite. After so many artistic movements have attempted to fly you to Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, we inevitably fall into tropes of the socially recognizable image space of hallucination and a new age of speculative-fiction prestidigitation.

I began thinking about this lack, when reading a preview of Wild Children, by Ales Kot, Riley Rossmo, Gregory Wright, and Clayton Cowles. They managed to avoid the trope and establish a Temporary Autonomous Zone in literature, for sixty pages.

There is a moment when it happens (when you read it, you’ll know). Suddenly, I was not reading a comic book anymore–I was silently gliding down a VALIS beam, shot from a drone, illuminating a target I had not noticed before, despite the hours I spend pouring over satellite imagery of our contemporary cultural terrain. I did not expect it, and in a world where the trumpeting klaxons of secrecy and obscurity sample indistinguishably among the sounds of the traffic and the chanting of the crowd, this tactical maneuver of imagination, for me, made all the difference. I couldn’t describe it much clearer than that, spoilers or not; and I know that I wouldn’t want to do so. If I captured that magic, it would kill it. I don’t want to capture it. But I want it to be manufactured, at a war-economy pace.

We expect Anonymous. We expect computers. We expect fantastic deviant sex. We expect flashing lights in the sky. We expect the ultra-violent. We expect so much from our works of fiction that they inevitably fall short of where they ought to be. We are so busy trying to evoke the weird with imagery, that we have forgotten how the weird truly works. The world is what is weird. But our books are printed on paper or easily packaged within a few megabytes of data, wrapped in file formats.

And so we forget about the null space. Our book reviews, our reading lists, our four-and-a-half-stars, our Twitter blurbs, and our bookshelves forget what it is like. There is so much to think about, that we forget to not think.

I’m a firm believer in the power of psychedelic drugs. They aren’t for everyone, sure. And they’ve been oversold for generations, showcased on billboards of mandala art as if they are the next advancement in diet cola. There are people who have made their careers on the promise of hallucinogens, the way others have with homeopathy, yoga, and gyroscopically-balanced electric scooters. But the one thing about psychedelics is that they do what they are supposed to do. There’s no pageantry to it. You don’t have to believe in shit. What you do with it–well, that’s up to you.

We need more of that sort of thing. Far be it from me to advise anyone to put anything into their body. In fact, let me say it specifically, with the unflinching alacrity of an anti-drug ad that has it all figured out for you: do not do it. Do not inhale the combusted vapors of 20x extract of salvia divinorum, and watch the fleeting fragments of time dissolve around you. Do not eat poisonous mushrooms that cause you to fever-burn your way out of your anxieties and mental boundaries, such that you deliriously think you suddenly “see”. I would no more advise anyone to do these things than I would advise someone to experiment with the sexual desire implicit in automobile accidents.

But we need these VALIS moments, that do not require belief in order for it to function. Somehow, I don’t think that a daily dose of “The Spirit Molecule” is going to be an effective means in the long term. We must find alternate ways of achieving a similar effect. I call for a new Manhattan Project of the sustainably weird.

We must have music that does this–not that binaural beats crap, but stuff that actually works. An unmanned aerial vehicle, that by flying overhead, dispels preconceptions. Public space that enables us to better understand our dreams. A pocket-sized device, that when operated, renders us incapable of describing how great we feel in mere words. We need magic that works. Give me an app for that. Is this too much to ask? We can make nuclear fission, but consumer technology for at-home psyche enlightenment is purportedly some sort of hippie fantasy. If a comic book has figured it out, then app developers no longer have an excuse.






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Adam Rothstein

Adam is an insurgent archivist and researcher, who writes about media, technology, and politics wherever he can get a signal. He is on Twitter as @interdome





2 Responses to “temporary autonomous zone technology”

  1. […] Adam Rothstein goes very deep in his essay for The State: […]

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