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Nanofest Destinies

Amy Sara Carroll

The nano-sublime's focal range

Recently, Inuit activist Shelia Watt-Cloutier was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the United Nations. Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, has brought to public attention blips in the quotidian, inspiring adversaries like Al Gore and John McCain to lipsynch the same refrain: the robins are singing in the Arctic Circle. The Inuit have a word for the planet's climate-changing ambience. Roughly translated into poetic English, it echo-locates "a familiar friend now behaving strangely."1 In a parallel line-of-flight, in a doubly post-9/11 performance, poet-artist-activist Cecilia Vicuña laments that the Chilean government has sold the land beneath the Southern Cone's glaciers to transnational corporations, who short-sighted as Hernando de Soto, plan to move mountains in search of gold—never mind that the glaciers' already accelerated drip appears or anticipates some meta-biological clock's tick.2 Eco-activism has the viscerally magical on its team. What once sounded apocalyptic has slipped into something more comfortable—to repeat the quotidian: robins are singing in the Arctic Circle.

Eighteenth-century philosophers such as Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant identified the sublime as monumental, as that which exceeded their own imaginations. The focal range implied intelligent design, larger than life, approaching infinity—a picture screen going dark with the remaindered allowable for string theory. Post-contemporary critical assessments of climate change often enough stumble on the remains of the sublime. Freeze-frame the most believable as unafraid to discard quixotic searches for purity—those which belong to the classically beautiful and the military-scientific-industrial-complexes' clean-rooms. For, often enough, in poignant testimonios of global decline in circulation, the visible amounts to circumstantial evidence. In contrast, the proof perfect of another viscerally magical quotidian, a focal range, equally mind-boggling, one nanometer (1/1,000,000,000 of a meter), the contrived size of a single molecule, vibrates, nano-sublime in and for the human being/becoming part and particle, depth-defying.

Infinite jest or infinitely demanding—is that a nano in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

For a long time, we attributed the following bananotechnological quote to K. Eric Drexler: "Not much difference between a banana and a human. Same Atoms, just arranged differently."3 Recombinant as codes' rhizomatic roots, the banana-human promises to fade in and out like a radio station, testing sound's judgment. In Brazil, absence is the order of the day: bananas, like condors, are disappearing, although the latter's endangerment remains puzzling. Nobody knows why the banana's leaving, why it's no longer branching out horizontally.

Nano-nook of the North: in the Arctic Circle, twice as many girls are being born than boys.4 Some speculate it's the rite of the rain: toxins in the water, and, by extension, the landscape become squatters in pregnant bodies to reshape trigger-happy hormones. An ironic "natural" reversal of cultural mandates to reproduce the Son? Quizás, quizás, quizás... Environmental racism? No doubt. But more than one species sinks-or-floats, lost in translation, i.e., this promises to be the critical winter of the bees. Hives, literally emptying, foretell bleak-house futures of scarcity. Like A Day Without a Mexican, this 21st century "fable of the bees" accents labor taken for granted, the hum and drone of cross-pollination, the hitherto multitude's endlessly deferred arrival at social contract, rescinded (Latin rescindere: re-, re- + scindere, to split) at the level of neoliberalisms' nano-contact zones. One ominous hypothesis: "colony collapse disorder;" for our purposes, the particulate matter of particle capitalism. Not liquid words ("grey-becoming-green goo syndrome"), but that which, dispersed, "all creatures great and small" involuntarily imbibe and inhale.

A few years ago in P.S. 1's Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, D.F.-based performance artist Teresa Margolles showcased Vaporization.5 Everything was aboveboard: the viewer, armed with the opacity of artistic transparency, had to sign a release form before entering the installation's domain—more than corporate culture currently supplies its own rhizomatic constituencies (no nanotoxicological warnings, only the unbridled glee of divide and conquer).

Consisting of the vaporization of water taken from the washing of corpses in Mexico City's central morgue (SEMEFO), Vaporization interpellated its suddenly participant-observers into a looping intersubjective relationship with the corpse, where breathing involved the partial inhalation of human particulate matter, the enactment of a Manifesto Antropófago (like breathing in New York City after the collapse of the twin towers). Cannibalistic, cabalistic, the installation performatively forced audiences to acknowledge that, while all that is solid may melt into air, it does not disappear. Taking seriously Theodor Adorno's claims for the artwork as apparition, Vaporization's "ether is bound up with particularization; it epitomizes the unsubsumable and as such challenges the prevailing principle of reality: that of exchangeability," reminding participant-observers that the aestheticization of neoliberalism does not diminish the violent undercurrents of transnational global flows, which structure the tenets of the biopolitical. Vaporization begs a question that seeds, but does not cede to, the rhetorical: who and what qualifies as disposable?6

Meet the proto-ticklish particle: artist Andrea Polli elected to travel, to track the carbon footprints of a particle as it globe-trotted.7 Caught in the current, winds of change, she witnessed and documented her particle rearrange the furniture on this sinking ship formerly known as the sun's thrice-removed planet. A molecular over-identification qua politics? Maybe predetermination is as random as this, quid pro quo—we (always-)already slipped on Drexler's banana peal, on the siren-cyborg/(la llorona)'s wail of a laugh. To mince words: we're not waiting for the Machiavellian prince's kiss; now is the time for sleeper-cell (sinthomestiza!) consciousness.8

The BIG b*a*n*g (bits*atoms*neurons*genes) or particles of interest and their ticklish schemes

Redux—a word deserves to be massaged as well as minced. The Word is our transference point and projection; in what follows "a familiar friend now behaving strangely." Sample a focal range of parallel universes in which *particle group* invites collaboration (bend timespace to site-see):

One—Prometheus unbound—steal the fire of the epic's languish. "Particle poetry" replaces the omniscient forces in epic poetic narratives with nanotechnological method, both attending to the detail of the line (formally speaking, remember the iamb!) and content-wise, "Particle, particle, burning bright-"

Two—catch the wave of transpatentry, mine corporate science's creative writing. "Transpatents" post-humanize the potential drama inherent in nanotechnological patents, tweaking and casting a spell on neoliberalisms' juridico-scientific pageantries of possession, i.e., "Trans_Patent 6608386/Sub-nanoscale electronic devices and bacterial processes/[...] Sometimes Lila would feel a bit itchy as she floated in her partner a few hours before integration. Most birthing was now a trans_patented condition involving sub-nanoscale trading-"

Three—keep contributing to the larger picture we're outing as "particle capitalism." Challenge, cherish, corroborate, revise, revile, deafen, denounce, defy definition and the data—World Bank. Might we suggest...? Fuse ideological and philosophical improvisation with marketing critique and economic theory to trace, map, manipulate, gerrymander, parody so-called behavioral enactments of the matter market under the neo-sign(age) of Globalization: "Particle Capitalism is but the latest phase in the quantification of the world..."

Four (post-Berlin)—split the atom of language ("dwell between—PAR/T (i) C-L=E/s"), chase the shadows of the energy released. Visually, maximize a storyboard's break, a sentence's cleavage, a word's syllabic divisive decisiveness. Sonically, scratch, cut, remix, trek all of the above (one through three) to the top of Babel's tower (Any chance you're caught in the sway of a vertigo?) and cast the project into the polluted waters below.

In Formless: A User's Guide, Yve-Alain Bois reads minds (like ours):

The essence of language is to be articulated. Such articulations can be as smooth as one wishes; they are no less divisive for all that. In order for language to function, signs must be isolable one from the other (otherwise they would not be repeatable). At every level (phonetic, semantic, syntactic, and so on) language has its own laws of combination and continuity, but its primary material is constructed of irreducible atoms (phonemes for spoken language, and for written, signs whose nature varies according to the system in question; in alphabetical writing, for example, the distinctive unit is the letter). Whoever says "articulation" always says, in the final instance, "divisibility into minimal units": the articulus is the particle. Language is a hierarchical combination of bits.9

Dream small to dream big, Other epic proportions of vis-reality-ni mamacita, ni Pachamama, but, the filagreed indelicacies of maternal tongues. We're not ready to pass judgment on Latin America's genre that's tumbling into disrepute. For, visceral realism, the too cocky son of the afore(not)mentioned magical realism, in its worst moments reeks of an Oedipal complex, while, at its best, like Hamlet, seems overscented as a teen.10

We'll stick to the ribs of queer mother-love, refusing/reusing the commodified Trinities of father-son(-holy-ghost). A word's fracture is magical AND visceral, not the cult of the cut of language (yes, we know—fingers' drumming—we live in the width of the without), but, that "something you have to figure in before you can figure it out,"11 the sinthome of the nano-sublime, the sin of the home one cannot define. Just as, "(k)nowing how to love does not mean remaining a man or a woman: it means extracting from one's sex the particles, the speeds, and slownesses, the flows, the n sexes that constitute the girl of that sexuality,"12 we'll begin "in the (sic) beginning": knowing how to write-read his(hiss)/her-stories of the vanishing present entails heavy trading in languages like futures to reconceive primogeneses sans ownerships' tethers and tendencies. Utopian as plagiarism, we want to boggle-toggle minds, to fabricate the arc of an over-the-rainbow focal range that responds-corresponds to that of the nano-sublime's as an emergent "literary"/"aesthetic," replete with attendant specters of the politically indeterminate (the unnatural resources/raw materials of our tactics' in/appropriation).

View Companion MaNifesto: Nanofest Destiny 3.0


1 I borrow this reference from Wai Chee Dimock, who used it as one framing device for a lecture entitled, "World History According to Katrina" (University of Michigan, 10/18/2007).

2 Vicuña spoke of this situation in a presentation at the Center for World Performance Studies at the University of Michigan (10/30/2007).

3 In fact, we were certain this was from Engines of Creation (New York: Anchor Books, 1986), although we couldn't find the exact page. In pseudo-desperation, Ricardo wrote Drexler on June 17, 2009 to clarify the matter once and for all. He received this reply on June 26, 2009:

This isn't an accurate quote from me, since those aren't the words that I'd use to express any similar idea. The most similar statements that I can recall making are variations on the opening of Engines of Creation:
"COAL AND DIAMONDS, sand and computer chips, cancer and healthy tissue:
throughout history, variations in the arrangement of atoms have distinguished the cheap from the cherished, the diseased from the healthy. Arranged one way, atoms make up soil, air, and water; arranged another, they make up ripe strawberries."

We take the above as an intellectual/artistic object lesson: words like atoms can be rearranged to yield soil, bananas, ripe strawberries... Alternately, the "mystery quote" remains shrouded in mystery.

Regarding the "bananotechnological" (and to keep the wheels of the neobaroque spinning), we won't be the first or last to promote the felicitous infelicity of that super sonic slippage between nanotechnology and bananotechnology. Consider the following exchange in Alastair Reynolds' Century Rain (2004), a sci-fi future-historical thriller/chronicle of the "Nanocaust,": "'...It wasn't just...' and then she said something that sounded worryingly close to 'banana technology,' but which Floyd assumed—hoped for the sake of his sanity—he'd misheard" (New York: Penguin, 443).

4 For more on this phenomenon, consider the likes of this (accessed 6/14/09).

5 Biesenbach, Klaus. Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values (catalog). New York: P.S.1: MoMa. 2002.

6 Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997 [1970], 83.

7 For more on Polli's work, see her website (accessed 6/14/09).

8 The excellent neologism, "sinthomestiza," of course, is featured in Antonio Viego's Dead Subjects: Toward a Politics of Loss in Latino Studies (Durham: Duke U.P., 2007).

9 Bois, Yve-Alain and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User's Guide. New York: Zone Books, 2000, 124.

10 Since writing this, I have become hopelessly attached to Roberto Bolaño's prose. And, while I still shake my head at its (sic)/his masculine aesthetic, I'm just as inclined to formulate a ridiculous timeline (my life, pre- and post-Bolaño). To wit, surely after contemplating this admission, you will give further credence to Holly Hughes and David Román's argument in O Solo Homo's "introductory conversation" (New York: Grove Press, 1998, 2–3) for a relationship between performance, testifying, and confessional poetry.

11 Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Plume, 1992, 228.

12 Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987 [1980], 277.