We, Finn Arschavir and Maria Sledmere of A+E Collective, began reading The Wild Book of Invention (Sternberg Press 2020) in the midst of the pandemic: the wildest and yet most emptied out of times. A time of distraction, disorientation, closure and despair amongst strange glimmers of hope, resistance and opening. Snagged on the briars of our everyday lives, we entered the even wilder space of this new anthology from Sternberg Press, with all its multi-disciplinary thickets, its pathways of speculative thought and sketches towards invention. Reading The Wild Book, especially within the myriad disruptions of lockdown, required a different mode of reflection, perception and review. The publishers describe the work as ‘more complex than the necessary and continuous exercise of critique’, introducing ‘new ways to experience culture’. As such, we write through its many chapters in a way that shows up the work of intimacy, fugitivity and exchange which the book allows for as a mode of response and experience.
Unravelling threads of thought and tracing questions of invention, potential and environmental encounter, we write to each other along and against the grain of its thinking. In doing so, we take a cue from Jack Halberstam’s recent work on the wild. As an introduction by Halberstam and Tavia Nyong’o claims: ‘[t]he rewilding of theory proceeds from an understanding that first encounters with wildness are intimate and bewilder all sovereign expectations of autonomous selfhood. To be wild in this sense is to be beside oneself […] to hear in voices, and to speak in tongues’. Our letters stage the bewilderment of being immersed in the book, while attending to its lines of flight in the course of our daily lives; we cite beyond its pages because to run with the excess of the wild is to find context imperative, to speak in bodies and tongues. We turn each other’s sentences into lines, our prose into poems; we process the book by way of a snaking trail of mutual thought. The result is by nature incomplete, shedding skins, barely a glimpse of the total beast that is The Wild Book of Inventions. Writing this humble review, wanting always to rewrite the written, we speak with the heroine seeress in Christa Wolf’s 1983 novel, Cassandra, enacting a kind of empowered surrender, return, response-ability: ‘Let the wilderness engulf us again’ (176).
Maria to Finn
There’s a crack in the oracle that signals interruption. Artists are good at holding this ‘almost’, passing it on, being as gentle or aggressive as the subject demands. It is a glassy thing we carry in language, something almost happens, stretching out into the possible. This book oscillates between film, art, photography, poetics, theory, philosophy, theology…I can hardly keep up unless I catch the refractions for what they are: glimmers of potential connection, held in space.
Before we can reinvent anything, we have to reinvent invention. Nothing has been invented in ages. What we call invention—the stroke of genius, the serendipitous encounter—might never have existed. Invention has always already been a technique of generative simulation.
- Paul Feigelfeld, ‘Inventing Intelligence: Prognosis, Permutation, Prediction, Production’
What are the conditions for letting invention happen? Throughout history (wow, to even say that makes my arm sweep towards the moon) invention happens in metaphor. Stars, machines, language, clockwork, the flight of birds. This is something Feigelfeld gets at, starting with the oracle as a tool of prognosis for telling fortunes, forecasting the weather, a contemporary re-obsession with horoscopes—all register this need for invention. Give me the astral framework for which I might align my chance. But there are many readings of the stars, and Feigelfeld’s cross-cultural, comparative approach to philosophy and religion feels important here. The stroke he makes of a kind of symbolic ecology:
‘Symbolic systems morph and mutate, become excessive, implode into inconsistency, and are actively opposed by rivaling systems, much like ecosystems’ (47).
These are not closed circuits; to riff on Timothy Morton’s idea of subscendence, the whole is always less than the sum of its parts. This is something like what Feigelfeld means by the ‘almost’ (48) of invention, of mathematics, this idea that ‘artificial realities and artful futures’ could almost be brought ‘into being’.
This book is wild because it looks towards only the ‘almost’ of a world we want or don’t want. And to question that ‘we’.
If Euclidean geometry allowed us to revisit ‘nature’, ‘as if one could freeze time and zoom in, infinitesimally close, however never fully there’, ‘close enough […] to simulate a continuum’ (49), I think of the past few months and all that time on video call, the glitching moments, as if one had frozen, and the other had lagged, and how close we got to connection—no matter how close, what counted for intimacy was the fact of the glitch, the break that signalled potential connection. We knew the impression of presence was only a fact of the almost of this technology, catching up to it.
At one time or another, invention was ‘archaeology’. Language was always haunted with the dead but in its continual reinvention we were accessing, attuning to, figuring out and with the ghosts. Maybe this isn’t about discovery anymore. I mean, they (the ghosts) were reading us back! Things stay wild because language slips. The paradox of ‘wild invention’ is this question of how can you invent in a wild way, without falling prey (here goes metaphor again) to the anthropocentric impulse to cultivate? Perhaps we must stay in this friction of living towards inhospitable times, adapting to the climate cascade of what’s coming soon and more. Language at the hinge of the door to say, ‘It’s like the world went wild / Wild with me / And I couldn’t stop it anymore’ (Dorothea Lasky, ‘Wild’). I like that all the sections of this book are so dense and various, rich with citation; but they tussle with each other, acting out these numerous modalities of making. If ‘true invention’, as Feigelfeld puts it, ‘is only what we cannot understand’, then there’s a hint of utopia there.
‘To invent, thus, is to hallucinate. To hallucinate, however, is to amplify recognised patterns in correlation with existing data, to fold the present into the possible’ (59). True invention is the excess of all that, the peripheral vision made impossible in dreams, the residue of accident, encounter. A ghost in my throat to speak this.
THE TROLLING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Finn to Maria
What’s weirder than having an out of body experience in the middle of a department store? I’m trying to escape the city and ascertain that holy elixir: the touch of the wild, that uplifting experience that switches up your perspective on life or even momentarily dissolves the ego. But in the middle of Decathlon, the giant discount outdoor gear shop, surrounded by empty shelves and subjected to the muffled soundtrack of dystopian techno and brawling masked kids, I’m clearly very far from any sort of feral remedy. The uncanny reminders of post-Covid Brexit Britain abound and I don’t know what’s more disturbing: the dull cognisance of my place in the matrix as a potential contaminator and trackable symbiont, or the grinding realisation I can never escape, never sink my consciousness into the dark bath of primordial wilderness.
These thoughts run parallel to the tentacular threads that The Wild Book entwines, because wildness is a state of place or being that demands unknowability; you speak of almost and I hear you. In his essay for the Finnish National Gallery ‘Abstractions: How to be Here and There at the Same Time’, Jussi Parikka writes that models and simulations are ‘technologies of knowing’ that help us to articulate the reality of abstractions. The Wild Book offers a collage of models of knowing other than the statistical or computational: models of thought, speculation, story and observation. One chapter provides a model of a contemporary character trait that can be seen everywhere from politicians and artists, to brands and nation states.
Some chapters are dense and heavy both conceptually and thematically while others are humorous and low-key. Emily Segal’s ‘Reinventing Trolling’ is of the latter and comes as a welcome reprieve, the sardonic anecdotal titbits illuminating a term that is thrown about a lot: to troll.
Deviating mischievously from the book’s thematic framework (she herself admits she has been called a troll), Segal’s essay is less a discussion of invention than an ‘articulation… of a new meaning of trolling in the more expanded way we use it colloquially’. The troll sits at the fringes of convention and below the bridge of orthodoxy, ready to pounce and ridicule without any moral recompense and seems to be a modern example of what the psychoanalyst, founder of analytical psychology and creator of concepts such as the collective unconscious, Carl Jung, called the archetype of the jester - a joker at war with binaries and at peace with paradoxes.
However, the troll seeks more than to tease. Segal explains the economics:
‘you make fun of something anonymously (on the internet) and then eventually convert the rage (or embarrassing sincerity or whatever) you provoke into lulz that you can use as a currency in your subculture. It becomes a thing you can laugh at together, something you shot and killed and dragged back to the commune, and you can be celebrated for it.’ (280)
While this form of trolling seeps through the internet into our everyday interactions as Segal relates through first-hand accounts, elsewhere we hear of Russian troll farms and their corrupting influence in foreign politics — geo-political transgressions where the lulz that is mined is the scandal of the targeted government. But the recent UK parliament Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report on potential interference in Britain’s democratic processes shows that trolling is not just an idiosyncratic form of cyber funny business or even an anarchic attempt to derail the policing of boundaries but increasingly an industrialised form of ideological warfare employed by global powers to manipulate public opinion and interfere with elections in foreign countries.
The trolling formula is devised to evoke a response, namely one of outrage and indignation to the delight of the provoker and their audience, but this particular episode of trans-national tampering aroused no such reaction. It could be said in fact, this was a failed attempt at transgression on the troller’s own terms as the Conservative party and Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, failed to react, recently dismissing criticism over the lack of action to safeguard the electoral system as an ‘Islingtonian Remainer plot to undermine Brexit’. If, as Segal puts it, “lulz are certificates of your effect on the world” then the Prime Minister’s complicity invalidates Putin’s trolling and we’re left with the anti-climactic resignation that democracy in this country continues to erode in the face of capitalised corruption and purposeful neglect without a lulz in sight. The jester seeks to expunge integrity in their victim but when competence is far from Johnson’s list of priorities, he may have the last laugh yet.
Trolling as institutionalised production of ideology lies in contrast to the recalcitrant wit of Segal and her peers. But still it proliferates in all levels and spheres of society and has become a common or even default reflex of social and political relations in an age of endemic post-irony, deep fakes and erosion of trust in mainstream media and government institutions; the ramifications might run just as deep. In the new normal of the coronavirus era, perhaps the jester’s mask will be every bit as common as the medical mask.
The Book of Wild Invention asks ‘Can contemporary art’s practitioners change the way we perceive nature? Employing a variety of forms that include speculative essays, poems, pencil sketches, and photo essays, twenty authors challenge the exclusive human claim to intelligence by pointing to, or inventing, new forms of coexistence for all life-forms.’ and is available now via https://www.sternberg-press.co…
A+E is a multidisciplinary collective born out of a shared sense of discomfort in the face of climate disaster, with an urgent desire to use our creative voices to think through existing discourses on ecological precarity, coexistence and sustainable practice in both local and planetary contexts. Find out more here.