Un/Official Worlds

Un/Official Worlds

Gregory L. Ulmer

In this review of Mark Seltzer’s The Official World, Ulmer reflects on the interdependence of “the official” and “the unofficial” in contemporary constructs of reality. 


The Official World
Mark Seltzer
Duke UP, 2016

The Uncanny

Having hoped for some time to write a book defining the “Unofficial World,” I read Mark Seltzer’s The Official World (OW) with gratitude as well as admiration. Any concept enjoys dynamic complementarity with its contrary, so I will use this review to inventory Seltzer’s design with the intention of creating a template of sorts for my own use. Cicero observed that one could invent a new work by treating an individual text as a poetics. My purpose does not go that far, although part of my interest concerns heuretics (the logic of invention) as a mode of reading, or even of hermeneutics, in the spirit of Roland Barthes’s proposal that the proper response to a text is another text (there is no meta-text).

There is a certain urgency to our theme, however out of the loop the academy may be, but worth reporting nonetheless, in the spirit of Seltzer’s implicit application of Ezra Pound’s wisdom: “Artists are the antennae of the race but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists.” That last bit usually is omitted: the bullet-headed many. That would cover some of those proposing to abolish federal support for the Arts and Humanities? Marshall McLuhan cited Pound, creating an expanded field for this appreciation of consultant artists. Part of Seltzer’s strategy is to take note of how the Official World (now hegemonic) was anticipated, which I will get to in a moment. My definition of the Unofficial World contributes to a larger project of creating a new consultancy, including a genre called “konsult” that is to digital learning what “dialogue” was to alphabetic learning in the original Academy.

Conventional consultants (representing the point of view of the Official World) prepare scenarios based on contemporary conditions, projecting into the future ten or even twenty years. There are instruction books teaching the rhetoric of these projections, involving best case and worst case scenarios, identifying tendencies and trends moving through the narrow frame of the present into the future: a weather report on time. To the extent that these projections neglect the arts antennae, they remain blind. This blindness is augmented by the fact that OW is cybernetically self-generating, an autopoietic construction. Konsult is practiced in a virtual consultancy called the EmerAgency, not in competition with Official competency, but as an alternative, available to those recognizing (as Seltzer does) the Official World’s affiliation with the catastrophe known as the Anthropocene. How this catastrophe is modeled in imagined forms of violence is one theme among others addressed.

The urgency of understanding this interdependence of Un/Official Worlds is occasioned by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The shock of this event registers the fact that President Trump is literally uncanny, in a way that illustrates the relationship between the two Worlds: something that should have remained concealed but nevertheless came to light, became public. Looking for a term to name the predominant feeling of modern life, Freud settled on Unheimlich (unhomelike, uncanny), taken from Schelling’s translation into German of the Greek term Nemesis. That Trump incarnates Nemesis explains everything, in a way. Freud and Heidegger drew upon the same sources for their differing accounts of dread as modern mood, encountering something familiar and established in the mind that has been estranged by the process of repression. The human involuntary response when Nemesis appears is laughter (Bataille’s Sovereignty). It is the only response capable of escaping the strange attractor of Western metaphysics  (literacy) codified in Hegel’s dialectic (as Derrida explained in his reading of Bataille). OW is the (necessarily) failed attempt to overcome the conditions Hegel called Unhappy Consciousness: to accomplish through the light-speed feedback loops of systems recursion what metaphysics proper could not achieve: self-possession. Such is the wisdom of Achilles and the Tortoise, as Lacan applied it to the human condition.

Trump is a Joke, then, in a profound sense that is one of the probes of konsult obscenarios (alternative when STEM scenarios are condemned as hoaxes). Seltzer finds the Official World modeled in various “small worlds,” an application of mise-en-abyme structure (miniaturization, play-within-a-play) that is part of the genius of his heuretics. The three reenactment zones he foregrounds to model OW include the space of games, the scene of crime, the form of art. The theoretical move is to generalize from close analyses of the operations of these practices to characterize what is not graspable directly, OW as worldview. Seltzer identifies the “practical joke” specifically as a reenactment zone of OW (oscillating between staged and real attitudes to events), but the interdependence of U/OW is modeled in the joke form in general. Almost any joke would serve as example: When a man on his death-bed was asked by his wife if he had any last requests she might carry out for him after he is gone, he told her to marry the widower Smith. “But I thought you hated old-man Smith,” the wife observed. “I do,” the husband replied.

The aggressive humor of the joke (however limited) derives from the classic formula of jokes: set-up expectation, based on OW etiquette that married couples love and honor one another; punch shift to unexpected UOW recognition of dysfunctional couples. The laugh is involuntary, and exemplifies the autotropic effect of reenactment zones that work directly on the body—body to body visceral mimesis as a mode of cognition foregrounded in modernity. Agatha Christie’s novels dramatize the inferential reasoning of Poirot as an appreciation of how in/admissible cultural understanding governs behavior. The level of generalization at which Seltzer works (crafting a concrete universal), means that a number of major insights, each open to further development, are woven into the argument. For example, he cites Daniel Smail on “the emergence and spreading of autotropic commodities from the long eighteenth century on: self-stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, chili pepper, opiates, tobacco, chocolate, sugar, gossip, sports, music, new media, religiosity, recreational drugs, sex for fun, and pornography. Last and not least is novel-reading and related forms of literary leisure.”

Derrida attempted to deconstruct Western metaphysics of self-identity based on the basic auto-affection of hearing oneself speak. He was right to mark auto-affection as a pivot from one apparatus to another, for electracy in the register of behavior favors the autotropic. The autotropic modality in practical jokes is “embarrassment,” for example, when the victim becomes aware of the switch from actual to staged event. The blush is involuntary, visceral. Claude Lévi-Strauss used the semiotic square (Greimas) to chart the full cycle of kinship relations, tracing the moebian path (also deployed by Seltzer) crossing chiasmatically through U/OW. The conventional arrangement is: Marriage (approved); Incest (forbidden); Women’s Infidelity (not approved); Men’s infidelity (allowed). The power of the joke as autotropic probe is that the surprise triggering the laugh is not a revelation of some unknown, but precisely Nemesis, the uncanniness of a “secret” made public. The bar demarcating U/OW concerns what the body does/not admit.

We can appreciate in this context the uncanniness of Trump; why every time Trump spoke from the repressed or Unofficial dimension, pundits assumed it would end his acceptability as a candidate, since politicians are expected to govern from the Official side of approved conduct, rather than from positions recognized as actual but not approved or allowed. When Trump voters said they admired his authenticity or honesty, they were referring to this expression of UOW that assumes all politicians lie as a rule. Trump’s discourse was measured to be 91% lies, yet he was considered by many to be more honest than Clinton, whose discourse was measured 89% true. Paradoxically, this ratio works in Trump’s favor. If Trump were aware of his incarnation of Nemesis, he would applaud the SNL parodies of his performance, perhaps appointing Alec Baldwin as Press Secretary, or even to impersonate the President at press conferences. Ripley’s “talent,” in Patricia Highsmith’s novels (OW models), is precisely “impersonation.”  People today think the worst of politicians, and Trump personifies this un/admitted attitude. Trump’s election potentially marks a fundamental turning point in Western civilization, when the border distinguishing U/OW shifted (the border itself is necessary and irreducible, but its location is elastic). Note to pundits: your job title is a pun.


Although casting this review in terms of Un/Official Worlds displaces Seltzer’s own interests, the projects overlap in their concern with a digital apparatus, the era of electracy. Electracy began with the Industrial Revolution, late-eighteenth century, the first machine age marking the inception of the Anthropocene. Seltzer picks up the theme in the twentieth century, the second machine age of information technologies. The difference technologically is that the first complements human faculties and the second substitutes for them, specifically for faculties of cognition. This turn is what concerns cultural commentators from the Frankfurt School to Bernard Stiegler: the industrialization of the imagination. Apparatus theory was introduced by Tel Quel theorists to counter technological determinist interpretations of technics, with arguments that correlate well with Toronto School scholarship by the likes of McLuhan, Havelock, Innis, Ong. My work on grammatology has its point of departure in these schools, beginning with a reading of Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967). As noted, a primary lesson in Seltzer’s design is his identifications of anticipations announcing the coming OW. My purpose is to inventory some of these “antennae.”

One of the anticipations is provided by the role of secularization as a manifestation of the historical transition of hegemony from orality to literacy, from religion to science as predominant orientation to everyday life. Life’s project shifts from spiritual (vertical) transcendence concerning a relationship with God, to upward mobility in one’s career. Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is cited to exemplify this version of OW characterized as form without content: it does not matter what a job is; only that it is well done. Asceticism of spirit, denial of material embodiment so detested by Nietzsche, becomes pure work (the work ethic) in secular experience. Work becomes “pure” in the sense that non-objective art is “pure art” (art for art’s sake). The insight is supported by Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1983), which shows that a new paradigm (apparatus) retains most of the questions of the one it replaces, while throwing out the old answers. Every apparatus has its own metaphysics, meaning its own account of what is real and how to negotiate that reality. Trumpism in this context reanimates the old theology of the priest’s or king’s two bodies.

A primary switch point dis/con/joining U/OW is the importance of the arts as predictors for coming communities, for the ob/scenarios of konsult. Dante’s fourfold typological allegory structuring the Divine Comedy (1472) and explained in his poetics demonstrates how literature functions as antenna and also as reenactment zone (mise-en-abyme). Dante’s Comedy is a summa of a religious theological metaphysics, showing the “stack” (Benjamin Bratton) organizing a premodern Christian worldview. The isotopy articulates homologies correlating History (Old Testament story of Israel coming out of Egypt); Allegory proper (New Testament life of Christ); Morality (the life of the believer); Anagogy (the progress of the world toward Redemption). Fredrick Jameson designed a version of this typology, combining Dantean allegory with Kevin Lynch’s cognitive mapping (way-finding of citizens in their cities), as a personalized fourfold to fill the void of orientation left by secularization. 

The articulation of U/OW explains how cognitive mapping does for electracy what the anagogical fourfold did for literacy in providing an Existential Positioning System (EPS) orienting people in their metaphysical whereabouts. Career in OW is anagogical, determining the meaning of life. In traditional allegory one needed to recognize the correlation (or not) with the pattern of the Biblical typology (and this usage is an alternative for “correlation” to the one condemned in speculative realism correlating mind with material reality). The typology supported not only an ethics based on WWJD (what would Jesus do), but also an apocalypse (revelation) projecting the pattern into historical time as progress—first theological, and then secular (economic and technological). 

This predictive or anticipatory functioning of inference in the arts calls attention to the importance of including the first machine age in understanding the formation of electracy. Electracy begins with the age of revolutions—not only the Industrial Revolution, but also the political revolutions bringing to hegemony the bourgeoisie. The fact is that U/OW emerged together. The middle class created a new political reality within the modern city leading to OW. Meanwhile, a new space opened in Paris (making it capitol of the nineteenth century), called Bohemia, located first in the Montmartre district on the outskirts of the city. Montmartre was home to the lumpenproletariat, as Marx called them—all the marginal figures of OW, the poor, working class, criminals, idlers, in low-rent settings attractive to artists. Such places have always hosted theater and the arts in general (Shakespeare’s Globe theater was similarly situated in London). 

City dwellers came to Montmartre cabarets for entertainment—wine, women, and song as they say. Storyville in New Orleans—scene of the invention of jazz—is an American equivalent. These cabarets—Le Chat Noir, Le Lapin Agile, among numerous others—site of the emergence of the avant-garde, hosted the invention of electracy as metaphysics. To understand how electracy differs from literacy and orality, it is necessary to appreciate that the Montmartre cabaret constitutes the “academy” of electracy. Plato founded the original Academy in Ancient Athens, opening a new space within an oral civilization committed to inventing a new metaphysics of materialism, exploring the powers of reason learned through mathematics, as an alternative to the mythologies of religion hegemonic in that world. One of the cabarets frequented by artists was called the New Athens. The revolution in representation associated with the vanguard arts began as a parody of everything valued by the bourgeoisie.

The Unofficial World is counter-culture, inventing a metaphysics (operating logic of reality) whose model is Dadaism, codified in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich during World War I. If religion institutionalized orality, and science institutionalized literacy, then entertainment is the institution formation of electracy, and satire is its primary modality. To name Dadaism with its bachelor machine logic as modeling UOW metaphysics locates the hinge or bar articulating the apparati. Detective reason, even in a noir or hard-boiled mode, remains within the inference paths of literacy (abduction, deduction, induction). The vanguard introduced a fourth inference—conduction—modeled in such forms as dream work or jokes, adding a capacity for the absurd, nonsense, fantasy, in second-order conditions.

Marx famously noted the genre conventions structuring class transformation, passing from tragedy to farce, due to the repetitions of glitch politics. The vanguard replayed the great hits of Western civilization as farce, beginning with the mustache painted on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (but Duchamp was not the first to make this joke). The avant-garde jazzed the Western tradition. It has already been suggested that Donald Trump is an incarnation of Ubu Roi (King Ubu), the character invented by Pataphysician Alfred Jarry in an 1896 experimental play that provoked riots among the literati. Dadaism is the reenactment zone modeling UOW. Its formal mode is not the detective novel (as Ong noted, the detective is to literacy what the epic warrior such as Achilles is to orality), but the joke (the gag as a sequence of jokes, bits within a routine). The puncept is telling: routine as the switch dimension of U/OW. To borrow a device from the Japanese poet Basho, who wrote that one knows pining by the pine tree, our formula is to say one knows the (information) bit by the (stand-up) bit. The metaphysics of information technology has the structure of joking (dream work), at least when understood through the jointure of U/OW.

What is at stake in this theme concerns the literary mode most supportive of a progressive public sphere, in which collective well-being is most likely to be accomplished. A relevant text defining this issue is The Moro Morality Play: Terrorism as Social Drama (1986), by Robin Wagner-Pacifici, analyzing the dialogical struggle among the Italian media institutions to control and construct the narrative surrounding the kidnapping and ultimately murder by the Red Brigades of Aldo Moro, a leading figure in Italian politics (1978). The context for making this case is tropological semiotics, drawing on the work of Northrop Frye and Hayden White, not to mention the entire structuralist descriptions correlating a pattern of fourfolds at various scales, gathered around the four cardinal tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony (Comedy, Romance, Tragedy, Satire). In the Moro social drama, Melodrama won the day and drove out, suppressed or appropriated, other modes of meaning construction. Wagner-Pacifici argues that Melodrama is the mode least supportive of well-being because it reduces all questions to a simplistic absolute opposition between Good and Evil. This assessment is worrisome, given that Melodrama is the modality of much of the superhero genre that seems to dominate contemporary popular culture. The public sphere in America today is comic-book melodrama. The pundit who called Trump a “cartoon politician” didn’t realize it was a compliment. Wagner-Pacifici suggests that Tragedy is more productive in modeling the possibility of learning from disaster. 

Any such conclusions are problematized by readings such as that of Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), showing how Tragedy was co-opted by the culture industry for purposes of a control society. On the other side, Fassbinder’s parodic appropriation of Melodrama (derived from Douglas Sirk) in his German television narratives demonstrates a counter-culture strategy of subverting archetypes and mythologies. The immediate point is to appreciate the larger context in which Seltzer uses the arts in general, and literature in particular, as reenactment zones modeling OW. Seltzer finds the experience of OW modeled in the genre of the suspense thriller, with part of the interest of his choice of Highsmith as prototype is her early work authoring comic books.


The space of the game, the scene of the crime, and the form of the work of art are today the ideal-typical models of these reenactment zones. These spaces incorporate technologies that shift, moment to moment, from the backdrop to the stage and back again. They indicate the way in which the official world is not exactly the designation of a space but a way of designating spaces: positions, lines, sites, zones, communication routes, routines, impasses, and bypasses. It is a self-designating way of functioning as a function. So it has its epitomic places—the office, for example. But the office, we know, is not one place among others: stage and backstage at once, it’s a switchboard of the social.

A feature of the design we are studying is a gathering and unifying diverse practices of contemporary culture into this category of OW. The three primary models (game space, crime scene, art form) are in turn associated with office as function. Seltzer sources his choice of epitomic scene in Henry James and Siegfried Kracauer on the hotel and its lobby as “scene of the crime” in novels and films. Seltzer could have found confirmation of his organization in Fredric Jameson’s essay on Raymond Chandler’s novels (collected in Shades of Noir [1993], edited by Joan Copjec), showing how the office syncretizes the world of the city into a metaphysical experience. Seltzer’s prototype is Patricia Highsmith, especially her Ripley novels, and one work in particular, also in the noir mode—Strangers on a Train (1951)—in part because of Hitchcock’s film adaptation. Seltzer develops the conceptual implications of Hitchcock’s cinematography, including the opening shot of train tracks (evoking the rules-as-rails directing OW vectors), to propose as icon of OW the image (from this film) of a stationary carousel, a mnemonic model of the inertial circularity of systems feed-back-loop metaphysics. The insight extends the genre term of “suspense” (characterizing the oeuvres of Highsmith as well as Hitchcock), to identify the native OW experience as suspension (to be suspended). 

This way of creating a kind of concrete-universal, grounding a worldview in a social milieu as represented in particular works of literature, provokes thoughtful understanding, as readers extend the principle to their own range of knowledge and experience for further confirmation. Considering all the sources Seltzer brings to bear on this definition, it is perplexing that he neglects the most obvious one: Mikhail Bakhtin’s chronotope. Given the range of learning guiding the argument, it is not possible that Seltzer is not familiar with Bakhtin, who is not listed in a fourteen-page bibliography. The Official World nonetheless is the best study of a chronotope (Office) that I have read and I recommend it on that basis alone, in addition to its many other virtues. Bahktin identified chronotopes of six genres, beginning with the Ancient adventure novel (the Road). The five milieux he also analyzed have been systematized into cardinal situations according to measures of information quantity and speed of communication: Provincial Town versus Road constitute one axis; Gothic Castle versus Threshold constitute the other, with Salon (Parlor) more or less at the intersection of axes. My personal reason for insisting on this context is that Bakhtin proposed Rabelais’s collection of novels, Gargantua and Pantagruel (c. 1532–c. 1564), as reenactment zone of the carnivalesque, chronotope of the Unofficial World. Seltzer notes that there is an unspecified “outside” indicated as the other of OW inside closure. 

The grotesque organic body celebrated in Carnival satire is one version of this outside, characterized by openness, incompletion, chaos, with its own cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Norbert Wiener, in one of the primary texts of OW theory, identified a certain shared interest in the irrationality of chance connecting the statistical probability of new physics with Freud’s unconscious. Wiener extends the set to include St. Augustine. “For this random element, this organic incompleteness, is one which without too violent a figure of speech we may consider evil; the negative evil which St. Augustine characterizes as incompleteness, rather than the positive malicious evil of the Manichaeans.” OW attempts a secular overcoming of this “evil,” while UOW accepts and celebrates it. 

To read The Official World in conjunction with Bakhtin generates insight into the dynamics of U/OW as electracy. The first connection is the historical note that the artist cabarets of Montmartre originated in meetings of citizens regrouping after the loss of the Franco-Prussian war and yet another failed political revolution. They proclaimed a renewal of Gallic spirit explicitly invoking Rabelais as its best incarnation against German officiousness. It so happens that the best or at least best-known account of this carnivalesque spirit (chronotope) is Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World (1965) (or unofficial world to be exact). Historically, “carnival” was a Medieval celebration, a temporary “suspension” of all the rules, decorum, and authority of the official world governed by Church and State, when everything went topsy-turvy, and all manner of licentious promiscuity was permitted and indulged (the tradition survives in events such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans). Gargantua is categorized as Menippean satire, which helps clarify the modality of the entire historical avant-garde originating in Paris in the 1880s. The context of Arthur Koestler’s insight into the structure of creativity as bisociation, guiding invention across humor, the arts, and science, suggests that the appropriate form with which to organize a progressive public sphere in electracy is the gag (a sequence of bits in a routine). The reenactment zone of pure gag is the early animations of Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse). I explored this line of thinking in an essay referring to the Unheimlich maneuver, working the pun on “gag.”

The Parisian avant-garde invented the metaphysics of the digital apparatus (that is, the operating logics of electracy), by satirical and parodic overturning of all assumptions and practices of the arts of Western civilization. This overturning is best understood through the U/OW tension. Richard Kearney (The Wake of Imagination [1998]) helped emphasize this formal dimension of the paradigm shift when he defined the Post/Modern imagination in general as parodic. The first and most important lesson of this overturning is the introduction of modalization into metaphysics as such. The metaphysics of literacy invented in the Platonic Academies of Classical Greece, culminating especially in the works of Aristotle, focused exclusively on that part of written language that could be demonstrated to be true or false: the propositional statement. The proposition grammatically is not modalized, but is neutral with respect to attitude or utterance (enunciation). The extraordinary power of that focus, codified in the syllogistic truth tables, is witnessed in its contribution to the genesis of computation.

Part of the insight of apparatus theory is just this multi-source complexity of any invention. “Computation” is a kind of bachelor machine, consisting of the meeting of binary numbers (Leibniz) and a logic gate (Tesla) in a truth table (Aristotle), in the context of a new form of energy (electricity). To those STEM educators considering creating an introductory course on algorithmic thinking (as they are at MIT, for example), they could do worse than designing it around The Official World, with its insights into the chronotope of systems civilization. The virtue of combining U/OW is to realize that computers are to truth what photography is to pictures: modes of mechanical reproduction performing metaphysical metamorphosis. Heidegger’s observation is relevant here, that the essence of technology is not anything technological. The essence of algorithmic thinking is not anything algorithmic.

The role of Einstein in this history is hinge for U/OW. Bakhtin writing in the 1930s referenced Einstein’s relativity theory as represented in its popularized form as a motivation for uniting time (chronos) and space (topos) in one category for literary analysis. The light-speed cybernetic technologies of the second machine age realized the full anthropotechnical potential of relativity, in which the observer is necessarily and irreducibly part of every observation. Novels field-tested the conditions of second-order observation: “That makes for the generic preference for characters—as modal terms (self-observing observers). It also makes for the novelistic preference for affects that include their self-reflection as part of their operation: sympathy (or envy) for example, which posits the social reflection of pleasure (or pain) in the pain (or pleasure) of others, via a reciprocity of observation and self-observation.” Greimas elaborated a thymic register in discourse, concerning the role of passions in semiotic formations. A prototype of thymic modalization is Pygmalion, whose passion animated (modalized) the statue of Galatea. Human passion animates second nature (second phusis) in a digital apparatus. Seltzer’s insight into OW modalization as one of the paradigmatic cultural consequences of Einstein’s physics is perhaps his most important insight.


A lesson of apparatus theory is that electracy leaves true-false to literacy (science), as well as right-wrong to orality (religion), in order to develop a metaphysics of attraction-repulsion, institutionalized in entertainment corporations, which is why electracy predicted a Trump-like future (if not Trump himself). Cinematography instantiates in electrate equipment, especially in the digital iteration of instant recursion, the feedback loops of social media as second-order self-observation. Patricia Highsmith is credited with inventing a third-person singular literary voice, a variation on free indirect discourse that internalizes a cinematic mechanism of camera-position focalizing implicit in any scene. In one of his important asides, Seltzer notes that speculative realism, chaffing under the self-curved closure of OW, resists and rejects this modalization of human observation, however technically distanced through an optical unconscious (Walter Benjamin). 

In this context it is possible to see that speculative realism may be appreciated as a second-order ontology, in that, while its descriptions of humans as having no more importance than any other entity in the world (animal, vegetable, mineral, artifact, idea) do not address first-order nature, they do align well with media studies descriptions of the status of humans in film representation (in Kracauer, for example). Nor is this second-order status any less important in the invention of electrate metaphysics. “Being” and the entire conceptual discourse around it is an emergent capability of alphabetic writing as technology, as Heidegger noted in his Introduction to Metaphysics (1953). In Blumenberg’s “reoccupation,” we can say that electracy throws out the literate answer to the Question of Being, but retains the question itself, now undertaken within the capabilities emerging through the digital apparatus. The electrate answer concerns the visceral dimension of embodiment, precisely as documented in Rabelais’s carnivalesque, operating as a filmic logic. The relevant point in apparatus framing is that a second-order ontology (second nature in which humanity produces itself via technics) does not replace or substitute for the literate or oral ones, but supplements them both, in Luhmann’s sense of stacked differentiations, each producing its own blindness and insight. 

In any case, Einstein commented in 1920 that while working on revisions of his original publications on relativity he experienced an insight that he counted as “the happiest thought of my life”: The gravitational field has only a relative existence…. Because for an observer freely falling from the roof of a house—at least in his immediate surroundings—there exists no gravitational field. This anecdote has the virtue of recalling a joke about what the optimist said as he fell from the Empire State building: “so far so good.” Einstein’s context no doubt involved the weightless conditions of cosmic space-time. Suspension in OW invokes conditions without ground or foundation (Abgrund), or rather, conditions of autopoietic self-grounding (Derrida’s supplement). Life (being) is indeed artificial in second-order nature.

Arts confirmation of OW chronotope articulated in suspension, if any were needed, may be found in the emblematic “falling man” figure embodied most famously in the photograph of the individual leaping from the north tower on 9/11. Seltzer only alludes to a falling figure with respect to a body falling to the ground at a place later gridded as forensic, chalk outline marking a threshold condition, one of the reenactment zones modeling OW self-observation. The famous credit-sequence of AMC’s Mad Men TV series (2007-2015) evokes this image (whether deliberately or inadvertently), and the event is the point of departure for Don DeLillo’s novel, Falling Man (2007). Anticipations in the arts include Yves Klein’s “Leap into the Void” (1960) (a performance documented in photography). Robert Longo created images of falling people in various poses for his “Men in the City” installations (1971), an image quoted in Bernard Tshumi’s The Manhattan Transcripts (1976-1981), as a way to include event or action (time) along with space and form in architecture—a chronotopic vision more fully realized in the collective Parc de la Villette. 

This inventory of Seltzer’s heuretics could be sustained for several more pages. One favorite discussion concerns the position of theme parks as “small worlds” modeling U/OW:  “One might then attribute to Sade or to Disney ‘the hedonistic science of designing collective facilities that fully accommodate individual desires.’” Another is the relevance of the ambiguity, uncertainty, and paradox of modernist literature for the improvisatory state of mind needed in military strategy for cybernetic warfare. Considering that carnival in folk tradition was associated with the market place, outside the official control of a city, it may be that electracy is evolving towards an inversion of hegemony, with control shifting to a grotesque sensibility, albeit with no guarantees of the utopian emancipation promised in Rabelais’s chronotope. In electracy city and marketplace converge, such that carnival is distributed through office, with ob/scene implications (Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies [1990]). Perhaps these motifs offer a switch or short-circuit into my Unofficial World project, if not a book then at least a graphic novel. It could be that a documentary of Trump’s years in office will have generated the raw material, demonstrating a sublime politics, defined after Kant as an experience of attraction and repulsion simultaneously: a revolting prospect.