Formal Fictions : Future Shock Trauma Clinic

22 February 2018
'O austere mathematics, I have not forgotten you since your wise lessons, sweeter than honey, filtered into my heart like a refreshing wave... Thank you for the countless services you have done me. Thank you for the alien qualities with which you enriched my intellect. Without you in my struggle against man, I would perhaps have been defeated.' - Maldoror, Book II

These are dejected times. In our efforts to burrow from the guts of this beast our grasping limbs reach out, as they did before, to techniques that have been crudely caricatured as ‘magic’. We reach out to the old names etched in the atoms, to the innate shapes and eddies of reality. But why now have the tarot, astrology, chance and coincidence resurfaced? Are these tools to realign our own curtailed cultural imaginations? And why do we hope to associate them with the 'psychotic' science of number, bastard formalisms to read another code? In the sludge of austerity and the commodification of lifestyle, against the backdrop of the 'slow cancellation of the future', contemporary philosophy yearns to enters into mathematics like a traveller emerging from the subway in a foreign city. Blinking in the alien sun, the sublimity of observation would lie in the indifference of that which is observed. Something that has not been subsumed, something that doesn't care. Or perhaps it is otherwise. Perhaps formalism offers to thought a principle of construction, an armoury of prostheses for the extension of concepts beyond their native domains, a way to, at least, enjoy the ride. But as with all ‘magic’ in days gone by there is a price to pay. The toll of enlightenment still has weight.

There has been a recent revival of theoretical interest in the deployment of formalism, alternatively allied with a renewed call for philosophical rationalism and with excavating the arcane machinery of capital. Next Thursday we will be returning with a session discussing the contemporary relevance of mathematics and formal systems, in different registers: philosophical, aesthetic, political, occult. To what extent can mathematics, that apparatus for alienating the intellect, be seen to hack into signals from 'outside the system'? Or, does formalism rather function as a self-founding myth for philosophical systems? Why have philosophers aligned around the deployment of formal fictions as weapons against the image of the human? How are we to interpret the arrival of renewed coalitions of interest in these questions, both emancipatory and sinister, in an age of increased formal complexity?