Interview with Unsorcery by Francis Russell

Given that unsorcery sits at the nexus of performance, theory, art, and mysticism, to what extent can we know what unsorcery is? Or, to put it differently, how do you feel about the conventional practice of attributing essences to projects such as the one the two of you have been developing for the past few years?

We like this difficulty of being placed. All of these domains are dragging along their social pressures and their implicit orientations and frames for action. We cannot really be independent or outside of them, but by playing with these contexts and intentionally not quite fitting into one or another (staying para-) and by shifting between perspectives at will (or unwillingly) a necessary un-homing, a productive confusion is being generated.

One of the intentions behind the three Unsorcery concepts is to follow them around, to let them absorb us into their vortex-potential, into the what they can be. Basically, these concepts are purposefully posited in a way that allows for their inaccessibility or for the incompleteness of their accessibility - naming them is first and foremost an act, it produces further events rather than pure interpretative gestures. They set in motion certain vectors of intention, orientate our practices and act as attractors to further thoughts. These ideas that we have been working with usually start from vague intuitions, and, in time, thinking and practices coagulate around them, making them more substantial. We don't use these to merely conceptualize some sort of past experience, but to create conditions for new possibility of thought and practice. Moreover, there is no applicability presently envisioned for none of these concepts. In a way, they (retro)act on us from the future. And the workless work consists in being prepared to go wherever this Unsorcery-process is taking us, without being too concerned about the discipline we might belong to if we follow its drift.

At times you have discussed your projects in terms of a certain refusal of application (i.e., in your discussion of what you have referred to as “dead thinking”), which seems to suggest that the present state-of-affairs could not support the application of unsorcery — or, put another way, that unsorcery appears to look towards the fundamental disruptive as opposed to being applicable in any immediately intelligible way. Assuming that you would accept such a reductive summation of your projects, do you believe that it is possible to produce a purely negative work? By which I mean, regardless of whether this work is a piece of writing, art, or some kind of mystical practice, do you think that it is possible to produce a work that will fully resist all and any attempted recuperation into the present and competing calculi of application?

With Dead Thinking we are not so much against applicability. We are more concerned with the implicit current base of all applicability which we call 'healthy thinking' or 'alive thinking'. Healthy Thinking is impregnated with a optimist conception and appreciation of life, with an implicit impulse towards improvement, development of (our) life. But in this thinking of life the fact that the concept of life already contains the prototype for the current politics should also be included. Identity, separation, territorialization, a certain violence, attack on the environment, are implicit ingredients of life. Nowadays, this conception of life is accelerated towards its final consequences - the expression and affirmation of life accelerates in a paradoxical way the end of life - the love of life equals the extinction of life. Any applicability seems pointless from this perspective, that is, if we take into account the current inconceivability of the world approaching ecological collapse. It rather resembles blind, naive desperation, a symptom of denial. So, if one really wants to be radical, in the sense of going to the roots of the present problems, one has to confront the healthy, alive thinking and its behavioral irradiation. Something more basic needs to be changed and then maybe the question of applicability comes into play.

Humanity seems to undergo the final (final exclusively from a human perspective) stage of an autophagic nature, a nature impregnated with this 'evil' life that is eating itself. If one really embraces the reality of extinction, a massive hopelessness floods thinking. This diluvian negative ground seems to ensure an active negativity of thinking itself, a paradoxical acting both with and against negation. So precisely in the intense understanding and feeling of doom, of 'there is no way out' resides a potential. As the scout from the story 'Zed' - one of the comix from the famous Italian horror pulp series Dylan Dog - says, while facing the wall that separates a hopelessly capitalist, unjust London from the Zed, the Zone, the urban Shangri-la or the Paradise: "The only dead end is refusing to see a way out". This could be rephrased as "The only way out is 'through' the dead end".

It may look bad and the thought of it may feel depressing, but there is also a refreshing novelty emerging in the midst of this negativity. There is a way in which hopelessness is the last hope. In precisely this paradoxical superposition between total hopelessness and ultimate potential is Unsorcery interested.

Much of your work appears to be influenced by contemporary philosophical figures such as Gilles Deleuze, Nick Land, and Reza Negarestani; however, there appears to be a clear link between your projects and the pessimism of E.M. Cioran. Are there other Romanian figures that are perhaps lesser known to English speakers whom you would site as major influences?

Cioran for sure had and still has a great influence on us, but there are also many others that share his infernal lucidity and ecstatic negativity, and even if we cannot pinpoint another specific figure as prominent as Cioran, it is clear that the entire Romanian cultural environment in which we grew up has had implicit effects on our thinking. Darker moods combined with a weird humour is a mixture quite present in Romania. We are inspired also by our friends there, many of whose texts can be read in the last issue of Bezna, number 5 on Fear, Darkness, Unknown.

Another influence is the local Surrealist movement out of which interesting figures emerged, such as Gellu Naum (writer, poet and occultist), and the more known (via Deleuze) Gherasim Luca. Both of them together with Paul Păun, Virgil Teodorescu and Dolfi Trost wrote in 1946 the Infra-Noir Manifesto (Preliminaries to a Supra-Thaumaturgic Intervention to Conquer the Desirable), whose discovery was quite important for the activities of Bezna. We intend to translate it into English in a next Bezna issue. And just as an incentive, here is a quote: "Orizontul împrăştie o lepră generală, aruncând halterele fricii la înălţimi de neatins." [The horizon sprinkles a generalised plague, lifting the barbell of fear to heights unknown].

Another quite interesting, mostly unknown figure is a philosopher pertaining to the tradition of analytic philosophy, Stephane Lupasco, whose work focuses on logical contradiction and its dynamics, on quantum physics and affect. Lupasco postulated a triangulation of truth values, which, besides true and false includes the excluded third, a state of neither true, nor false, but a potential state of validity that enters into a feedback and forward loop dynamics with the actualized values of true and false. His conception of the 'three matters' is also thought-provoking, his work focusing on the dialectics potential/actual, continuity/discontinuity, homogenising force/heterogenizing force, identity/nonidentity not to resolve them into a resolution, but to understand the real as a complex dynamic system that allows for ambivalence and equivocation, noncoincidence and antagonism. Lupasco wrote in French originally as he was a PhD candidate and a researcher in Sorbonne, Paris.

There are also other interesting local figures from the 60's and 70's like conceptual performing artist Andrei Cădere or the less known proto-contemporary dancer Stere Popescu, the author of now often quoted "The Hammer without a Master".

Some elements of your projects, such as your “Eternal Feeding Technique,” suggest that aesthetics should be useful and pragmatic, as opposed to privileging detached reflection. Despite this injunction to find uses for aesthetics, and given the perverse nature of many of your projects, do you feel that radical social and cultural reformations must be implemented for the myriad of unsorceries proposed to fully manifest? Or do you think the inherently destructive and increasingly intensifying forces that appear to be immanent to our current ways of life will allow for the appropriate changes to take place independently of direct human intervention?

We often say, also as a provocation, that it is too late for politics. But of course humans cannot refrain to think how to organize society, power relations, etc. We are like in the movie 'Melancholia' where a lack of perception about the gravity of situation sets in. Unsorcery is an attempt to operate in a post-political, post-hope configuration, to test if and how this would be possible. A first step would be to register the immensity of what is going on, and get scared. On a more personal level, the sensitivity towards (one's own) death or dissolution is a transformative perception and an important insight for many mystical and sorcery practices. Similarly, at a bigger scale, a sensitivity towards extinction can bring something new on the table. As we have written elsewhere, anthropocenic thinking requires a mode of thought inseparable from the death of thought. In thinking thinking-without-thought there is a violence, a self-referential trauma of thought feeling more than it can think, hence we could speak about the negative sublime of extinction. Sublime as the catastrophe of thought hitting the event of extinction as that of its own inexistence. As in Melancholia, we are left with one option: to follow the affective cues of a world approaching its doom. If affect is the measure of a world held together by the gravity of extinction, then pursuing its liminality pushes both reasons to its blurry borders and straightforward action to new, complex, and cunning detours.

We are interested in fear, in a fear that comes from a feeling of the present rather than from phantasies about the future (sometimes images of the future can be prescriptive and limiting in a bad sense), a fear associated with the darkness and unknown. Fear acts as a sort of bridge for the unknown. We like to give the example of a walk in the forest, alone and at night. When reality is melting down and one's body feels the cold shiver of fear, that void that gapes open when one lets oneself prey to the unknown. But this unknown can be as well quite banal, just that we don't recognize it as such. If reason is overwhelmed there comes a moment when the vicious circle of perceiving only what you know can break. That is when the unknown leaks into the known to change both.

So yes, things might turn strange and dark but at the same time there is more to do than just passively watch the spectacle of disintegration. If futility reigns, one might as well just act, against the logic of negativity itself - which could be even more attuned to its 'demands'. What could be more negative than to act both with and against the conviction of absolute futility of everything?

Given that certain irrationalized practices seem to be integral for much of unsorcery’s output — i.e., you performances and flirtations with occultism — how do you feel about the increasingly popularity of “movements” like the “new atheists” and their emphasis on the supposed benefits of rationality and critical thinking?

There is too much critical thinking. Critical thinking is always in the past, working with what is already there, not with the present. We are much more interested in what is coming or is already here from the future. From a political point of view, there is an impotence in critical thinking with its mentality of disclosure and demystification - in short, critique can easily act as surface revisionism. There is no revisionism of one's own 'tools of revision' in moving around, or navigating, to use a term that is now often in circulation. The problem is not just capitalism or neoliberalism - it is inscribed in our basic life habits, in our healthy thinking and existence. Of course, the micropolitical vitalist solutions have abounded and it becomes quite tiring to think only in these terms. Taking the viewpoint of ecology over life (if we follow Whitehead's critique of the concept of evolutionary 'adaptation'), the attack upon the environment is already embedded in the concept of life. This should not paralyze or induce an attitude of "there is nothing we can do". On the contrary, it can enact the opposite. A new attitude, let's say a negative constructivism, a move away from critique and detached analysis. For this a whole armamentarium is needed: of both rationality and the occult, of clarity and confusion, of the paradoxical and the logical, of pragmatic action and absolute stillness. We are very interested in speaking multiply-concatenated tongues, in treating contradictory perspectives as simultaneously real to produce something in turn, itself to be treated as real. Hence Unsorcery as a virulent apparatus rather than a prefabricated frame of theory or performance. Though Unsorcery itself is an intense 'prefabrication'.

We are also in a strange dialogue with the new rationalism, intrigued by a few of its components. And we find many of their approaches or intentions almost mystical, despite their powerful allergy to this term. We could rightfully say that the new emancipatory rationalism borders reason mysticism - which is a compliment, with the addition that the mystical component should be in its turn made explicit and then implicitly accelerated. As it is probably clear, Unsorcery does by no means stand against rationality or reason. Even mysticism itself has a very strong rational component. But this is rather occluded by the unfortunate tendency to caricature a discipline in order to enforce what in an illusory manner is thought to be its opposite. Taking a rather oblique view of things can in turn produce a constructive disorientation. For example, one can work with reason by following its autophagous vectors, diverting it from its line of attack upon the environment into a loop-movement against itself, into autophagy-bliss. Unsorcery is currently concerned with pragmatic outcomes of an autophagic or ouroboric reason.

New Rationalism and Accelerationism are interesting and refreshing because they at least abandon the attitude of "resistance to capitalism" annoying the conventional left, but, beyond the speculative pleasures, there remains the question if they are expanding the problem - or rather if they are expanding it enough. Facing the darkness displayed by the planetary state of affairs, an acceleration of hope and light, and enlightenment remains questionable. This heroic optimism is admirable though. However, paraphrasing Jünger, we cannot believe anymore in the study of darkness with the flashlight. There is a bet to be placed on darkness as well, a(n) (un)reasonable approach of darkness with darkness.