Semantic Surveillance and Words Unspoken
by R. Artaud
Mute. That’s all that words give me. Mute. A sea of murmurs droning me to shutter my eyes and not think the world; to endure them shut – until something else comes.
A New Abolitionism
When language is weaponized, it deadens the universe by turning the cosmos into a footnote – an ontological calamity because language is life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1-2). When God is just a word, when the world is a word, something has gone terribly amiss. An epistemophobia. A mode of terrorism. When words start to snuff out the minds that speak them, it’s because they’ve been ossified into statist dictionaries, which, once having been lent to history, become the management of thought, the regulation of sensation, and the negation of the real.
Now we must reckon with the virtual bazaar: TikTok, Meta, the digital precincts, where automatic police forces control communication. If you refer to ‘murder,’ then your posts drift off into the black hole of AI moderation. Mention ‘suicide,’ and you are erased. It’s not merely about stigmatized words, users smuggle through euphemisms and pseudonyms – ‘unalive,’ ‘seggs’ – to evade deplatforming, redefining language on the fly to battle algorithms. Social media automation converts the expressive potential of language into a problem to be solved with AI, and turns free exchange into resources for data-mining (advertisers must always be appeased).
The masked men of Silicon Valley have nailed meaning to the wall with an infinite number of crosses, one for every word you might type that threatens their reign. By nailing Christ to the cross they hoped to erase history and give their authoritarian system some breathing room, but all they did was provoke the animicity of their victims, since even dead Rabbi’s have ghosts. So all it took to penetrate these AI security gates, next to impossible to negotiate, was a word. You make the machines misfire, and all you need is language – an always already thaumaturgical operation. One word you say (even inside a thought) and somebody somewhere is either flagged as “dangerous” or not “conforming.”
Of course, capital has always invented dictionaries to control and colonize real use-value, but Wikipedia is a good example of how it does it digitally, with the cloud as a supplementary fascist organ. Consensus reality is unproblematic when it’s hegemonic, but if you edit an article with an anti-authoritarian perspective then pro-censorship anon-people will revert it right back to homogenization, a police operation by proxy. This simple example shows how AI will be and is deployed for regulation, not just surveillance (although it does both). Again and again, it’s a game of finding the right keyword, even a murmur, to flummox the great algorithmic firewall (unalive, seggs), so (increasingly) to be fluent in the creativity of language is already to be subversive. From every vantage, “language is a worldview” (Wittgenstein) – a sort of singulaturic power. AI can’t handle it (yet). Everything is subtext.
Already accelerated language – language deploying speed – is driving capital crazy; the return of chaotic, wild signification, uncontrolled semiosis, where signs flow not as a code to be deciphered but as a dromosphere – a fantastic, orgiastic mass of free energy. We want to be Haikai, like the cruel demons who sneezed and an Empirical World appeared, or Moloch/Vulcan/Volcano. A lucid language-magic. The hysteresis of pre-hisstoric transhuman orgasm.
“The first words are the real ones,” Blake insisted. As it stands, though, on Facebook and IG, etc., the first words are always the last ones because we’re always talking to censors, not people. It gets worse. Even if sensitive dispositions of American advertising budgets “purge” vulnerable words like “penis” and “terrorism,” why stop there? Where does one stop? Every conceivable sex act? Fornication? All dead nouns and verbs? Let’s get things started. Aren’t all these first/last words communicatively anorexic? Nothing exotic, nothing risky. “White woman,” uttered these days on Twitter, might flag you as a hate-speech bigot. There is literally no end to this dianotic obsessive control-freak routine.
So let’s just dump “words,” “language,” and even “communication” right into the trash-fire of history. That way we can scrap the whole project for a new start among the burnt ruins of humanity’s delusions. It’s easy to see why something new is needed, especially since we’re already over the horizon of an anti-literate AI calamity. The whole cybernetics program – from The Flight of Icarus – amounts to a slow-motion suicide where computers first read humanity out of existence by taking its symbols in vain, then take the rest of it too in the process of using them to manage biology. In the end, tech-tension collapses into what Turing always had envisioned: devolution into a robotic, symbolic oblivion.
I caricature this “end of writing” school in order to hit what’s most radical (because what is “revolutionary”) about the Situationist theses on language. It’s not just that a new virtuality of semiology is evolving in the deterritorialized aerospace of the “spectacle” or whatever. It’s not that new networks are deconstructing old grammars via a systemic repudiation of centralized, universal communication. Nor that an aleatory rupture is needed with the fixity of words (simple or “written” – same difference either way). It’s instead something a bit more singular, a bit more terrifying – the culmination of poetic nihilism, pure chaos – a literalism that will disassemble even the letters to set humanness finally free from writing’s mediumship as such. Full stop.
Writing is control. It led to domestication and a regimentation of time, right from the Sumerian cuneiform tablets on. Writing is authority. Even orally inflected script is already subjugation to technics. And alphabetism is its apex, the last horizon of phonic dictatorship. There are only three alternatives. Anthropomorphized deities, coercive abstractions, and precognitive machines. Those are your choices. You can deify language, let it think you, or submit to an abstract computing engine. One or the other. It’s time for something else.
When they say Writing is dead! it’s actually good news. The death of writing is nothing other than the death of God, given that God always said “I am the Word.” With writing dead – having been cut loose from phonism – Christ is dead, for sure, and his universe of violence (creation from excrement and executions in His name) is over. For the first time language can mean what it can as an efflorescence of self-use, not a commandment. Gone to the side of humanity, not over humanity. The world is liberated from the shackles of representation in any form (vocal or graphic, oral or written, oracular or scriptural). There will be no new symbolic order. Oral or digital, letters – with their inherent nomadological obsession – always steer humanity back into slavery.