Laurence A. Rickels

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]


Mining was the first technology to be institutionalized as science and discipline. Paracelsus already knew enough on his own to go study down in the Tyrolean mines, a unique lab space for experimental treatment of accidents and diseases. In the Central European culture of Bildung, the home turf of such doctors of monstrous body Bildung as Caligari, Mabuse, Frankenstein, the first mining academies were opened in the 1760s in Freiburg, Berlin, and Prague. By then Novalis could be both a mining engineer and the author who in "Hymns to the Night" would dig deep into what's mine about the other's death. In Sweden, never so far away from Central Europe -- the how-to manual that gives Dr. Caligari his remote control over a medium is the property of the University of Uppsala -- mining also fit the corridors of modern institutionalization. Before his turn to mysticism, Emanuel Swedenborg was the inventor of iron smelting, salt pans, and docks and locks. He also officiated on the Royal Board of Mines. Jumpcut. The cinema of Ingmar Bergman goes as deep as his proper name: somewhere between German and Swedish, the Bergman could be another name for "miner."

The modern sciences of geology and archaeology were born out of the spirits of mining excavation which all along shared the transgressive desire or dread of grave robbery. Yes, the minerals were seen from the Middle Ages onward as organic, maternal outgrowths concealed and protected inside the womb that one had to but also should never penetrate. The legendary journeys into the underworld that double as the constitutional narratives of so many nations were most likely based not only on the mining experience, and mining operations indeed extended back into antiquity, but also, at least at the same time, on the concerted efforts of grave robbery which went for the gold in Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Crete, the gold that bankrolled the more mobile "Western" cultures that took their origin from Greece. The loot of burial was thus the primal capital for the latest ventures of our culture. A new and improved death cult had to be fashioned too out of the literal and material pileup of mummification of body and preservation of goods. The first step away went the way of cremation, the original emergency line of defense of the dead and their supplies against the robbers. Finally the steps went all the way to the dramatic staging of rites of passage and journey of the dead. At the origin of community spirit and its recycling centers, this stage served up the drama of the Greeks for the working through of the trauma of the other's death, but now in symbolic, mobile, transportable, and transferable terms. But mining has always kept open lines of return with the earliest phases of preservation or disposal: the murdered Romanovs, for example, were ditched in a nearby mine.

By 1912, the year Totem and Taboo went public, the Cargo Cult was introducing yet newer terms into this genealogy of the dead. The techno gadgets of the white man were received by the Melanesians as media of long distance built by their long distant, their dead, to communicate and commune with them. But the white man, the vengeful phantom, kept the Cargo -- the sum of all messages and all gadgets -- to himself. With the arrival of media technologies not only the Melanesians trashed the old belief systems structured around the round trip, the journey between life and death. Instead they set up what they took to be telegraph poles across their islands, beating them with the desire for direct live connections with their dead. Mediums standing by would await messages via the belly sounds vertriloquized by ancestors down the relay of poles. Under techno conditions we want immortality now, we want long-distance connections with our long distant, our dearly departed. But what always happens is some unmourned specter disconnects or interrupts the broadcast, thus completing the system of unmourning, which is part of technology's program.

The legacy of mining went up into the formulation of the modern science of geology. It was the discovery of deep time, time that could be correlated with space, originally in the simple but subtle sense that what digs down into the earth also goes back into the past. Deep time contradicted the strict Christian accounting of the time alotted for human history, and made room or space for the evolutionary time scheme. Evolution also allowed the first time scheme in history that could account for technological innovation, the discontinuous shifting along the front lines of our media-technological extensions, and thus time out still for the appointment or dis-appointment with the other and for the time it takes to mourn or not to mourn in techno culture. In 1895, the science fantasy of time travel drove a split into a future determined by the evolution of our machines. The time traveler in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine arrives, in the future, somewhere between the German pleasure garden of Metropolis and "California." But the gadget loving teen friends forever live just a heart beat above an underground populated by another species, evolved from the class of miners and workers, which keeps the machines below ground and the split between above and below running in exchange for consumer rights to all that cute flesh up there. The time traveler saves one of the teens, his girl Weena, only to lose her and then, in the time trip back home, lose the immediacy of this loss to the dissolution of what one barely remembers upon waking up from a dream. H. G. Wells was raised by his mother in the dresses that should have been worn by the girl that died on his mother, who just couldn't let her daughter go. This is where the trans- of time travel, the across that H. G. Wells had to bear in childhood, begins and ends. In the course of the story, the orifice-like connections between the worlds above ground and below, the holes and throats of the time traveler's first contact with the split in the future, are regularly described as wells. The split fits one name and one corpus. Little sister can be put to rest, a settling of accounts that will open up the new accounts of science fiction to follow in far greater technological detail. The open display of the mother's unmourning on the body of her surviving child did not, however, stuff a crypt down the child. Nor did the same scenario, his later Dracula identification notwithstanding, make Andy Warhol the carrier of his sister's crypt. The cross dressing performed for love of mother is already a work of mourning, a work, however, long deferred in its terms of outcome. In The Time Machine, in a world of vertical oppositions in deep mine time, a world of sudden techno-evolutionary changes, H. G. Wells gave the loss that had been draped across him a place of rest, the resting place at once of prehistory and of some science-fantastic future.

By the end of World War One, the deep time of technologization was populated with ghosts, as witnessed by the rise of three institutions dedicated to the study of the double and the undead: the occult science of Spiritualism, the film medium, and psychoanalysis. Notwithstanding the new depths to which time had sunk beginning with mining technology, and the parallel universal of new heights and speeds, which the same claustrophobically controlled environment shot up into the skies, into outer space, in planes or rockets, the automatic progress or infinitude of technologization in any case still choked on the exhaust of loss or lack. Yes, there was a death cult inside technologization just the same, one that cannot be overlooked, at the latest following Freud's inside viewing of the libido flow of narcissism (with no place to go) under the newest laboratory conditions of shell or mine shock afflicting soldiers en masse inside techno-narcissistic relations with their prosthetic media. Even gadget love, to the extent that it is also at the same time a medium of identification, has its origin in trauma.

Already beginning in the sixteenth century, and then going through more and more phases, complete with military distinctions, mining and warfare served as the chief agents of technologization. The use of explosive mines, which is as old as war, disappeared from war's theater at the end of the 18th century only to reemerge in the Russo-Japanese War, the first war to send psychiatry to the front to treat the psychological casualties of detonations. The shock of the mines technologized and internalized the trauma of warfare marking the spots we were already in with internal conflict and eternal loss.

During the First World War trench warfare turned European borders into a noman's land that was at the same time one big mine (also in the sense that was lying out there in prospects for detonation). Cinematic projections (the only entertainment that could satisfy in the modern work and war world) and psychotic hallucinations (as in the drug-induced gadget loving of Ernst JČnger or the double case of Fritz Lang and Hitler) were sprung from the detonation of crypt trenches. This tunnel vision of trenches or mines rehearses or repeats the non-peripheral vision of cinematic picturing.

Mining for ore and the undermining of the modern battlefield gave us rights of appropriation over the world of materials, supplies, resources, and reserves. It was down in the mines that getting blasted was won for the money, two to go. Because mining forged the drive of the proper, the drive to call something or someone mine, even or especially in death. But the mother's body was at the same time up for penetration in the course of its transformation into what, in the name of fathers, can be called mine, and before the transfer of the rest, what's left, can be made to the group for safe keeping. In the beginning, therefore, there was primal repression.

In Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat, we witness the cinematic playback of the interiority of mummified bodies holding the place of our always narcissistic relations with our own bodies, which began, in the first place, as the relationship to the mother's body, the only body around and the one that without exception is declared off limits (Freud's "primal repression"). These mummified women in their Snow White coffins are emplaced right where the long-range guns had fired in the lost war. They are the batteries of the narcissistic charge set off by trauma and charging itself on hold, a blast from the past war held back in the crypt of longdistance relations. But then Werdegast cannot not recognize a loss when his daughter, the second or double Karin, is declared alive after all, only then to be found dying, right before his eyes. Werdegast now moves to protect the substitute, the American wife, with his life, and sends the American couple out of the crypt into the space of substitution, circulation, survival. At the same time he sets off the telegraphic detonation of the "undermining" of the fortress crypt. The citizens of the European techno death cult, just as the Frankenstein monster says of himself and his mate at the close of James Whales's Bride of Frankenstein, "belong dead."

All key inventions of the industrial revolution were punched in by innovations required for safer, faster mining. The steam engine was first developed to drain groundwater from mines (drowning was a common way to go for miners coming to catastrophic ends). The first steam-powered locomotives hauled ore. By the early 1800s the British town of Newcastle was surrounded by a dense network of railways between the mines and the water ways. Canals were first built to improve on natural waterways for easier transport of the ore. Even the so-called second industrial revolution was built up on the longdistance extensions and networkings of the mining industry. When the trains that first transported ore were reopened as vehicles for all travelers, the reception of accident was also opened up along this extension of the underworld. Like the miners, train travelers, while passing through tunnels, experienced the same loss of contact with nature. For both miners and train passengers, this tunnel vision belonged both to the safe passage of technologization and to a danger zone. Train wrecks were common enough, at least for phobias to be a common development. Passage through tunnels -- the way mining first entered mass culture -- was particularly risky. Trains contributed the first public form or forum of psychic trauma when the shock of real or anticipated accidents was recognized as the cause of psycho-cultural disorders. Amusement parks and films supplied the catastrophe preparedness by injecting doses of train wreck into the sensorium to absorb future shock. We withstand shock by getting wired: we learn to get a blast out of being terrified through a culture industry of simulations of catastrophe. This development overlaps not only with the early history of cinema, but with that of psychoanalysis too. Freud's train phobia was based, according to his auto-excavations of early memories, on a childhood recollection of a train trip taken with his mother some time following the death of his younger brother Julius. Freud remembered that he got his primal first look at his mother's nude body in the railway compartment they shared. But when he looked out the window at the industrial mining landscape they were passing through, techno chips passing in the night, he thought he saw an underworld of tortured lost souls. It was at this time that Freud commenced carrying the secret cargo his mother slipped into him in transit: the unmourned remains of Julius.

The double, Freud's summary term for all the modes and features of afterlife or unlife, was originally, as he puts it, a form of insurance which the ego took out against its own unthinkable mortality. The opening up of the train complex of traumatic neurosis, phobia, catastrophe preparedness, which came up direct from the mines, was accompanied by the spread of the concept and institution of accident, health, and life insurance. Originally instituted in Roman times as a means of setting aside the funds required for one's own burial, insurance spread its calculation of risk between life and death with each vehicular extension of our longdistance community. Thus shipping was the first risky business to be insured (all forms of property soon followed). But by train and plane time, in time, that is, for world war or total war, accident and health insurance were the facts of life in society. The psychological casualties of train wreck, persons suffering, for example, from railway spine, were therefore doubly registered, once as neurotic, and once more, for good measure, as virtual malingerers, as pension or insurance neurotics. This sliding scale of valuation, along for the more psychological modes of diagnosis, was thus in the ready position in time for World War One and its shell shock epidemic. If in the second half of the nineteenth century, science fictions about underground worlds often share a fantasy of classlessness that has been brought to us by some new technology or energy source which, even more than electricity, makes life in all lanes automatic, then this science fiction of energy or technology makes displaced reference to the real-life mix and match of insurance coverage and catastrophe preparedness. This new mode of group psychologization or technologization did undermine historical conflicts, like those of class, in exchange for a bond between self and other forever and never based on risk.

The group psychology Freud set on Darwin's primal horde credited post-Marxian precursors who had recast the crowd's occult rapport with delusions and superstitions (the underlying bond of crowd behavior according to studies current at the time Marx left implict and excluded a psychology of the group) along hypnotic (and thus media-technologized) lines. Marxism emerged during the first funereal phase of technologization or industrialization which gave way, around 1870, to the illuminated, plugged in, consumerist context of group psychology. As Walter Benjamin confirmed in his own Freudian reception of media technologies: no group psychology without catastrophe preparedness. The first disasters to be contained by the group they at the same time built were the techno-accidents and crashes that reminded everyone of earthquakes. Natural disasters were simulcast (via antidotal group identification or shock absorption) alongside the accidents brought to us by technology. In other words: no group psychology without media technology (which transmits, on station identification, our participation in or anticipation of catastrophes preprogrammed to tune in as techno-accidents). In Eve future, the techno platform, on which Hadaly (the narcissistic object and increment of group identification or mutual identification) shoots up from the crypt once Edison turns it on, shakes to the sounds of earthquake. Shock is always getting injected shot by shot into its reception. The shot of trauma induces -- addiction-style -- auto-micro repetitions looping back onto larger repetitions (phantasm reruns or unconscious blocks of time). At this living end, the techno-underworld becomes again the last resort of blowup-dolly perfection -- of that which is, however, the controlled release (on the side that's not the happy face) of suicide.

Telegraphy was first put to practical use in making tunnel passage safer for train travel: the all-clear at the other end was thus communicated to the train entering the tunnel at the other end of the line. Telegraphy gave us the first means of long-distance remote-control ignition of mines and other wartime or industrial explosives. Amusement parks, which to this day are built up on top of this second phase of mining technology, began with the tours and celebrations held in caverns, mines, and tunnels where visitors were kept safe from but real proximate to risk and accident. The first large scale developments of this theme of thrill inoculation could be found inside works of science fiction about underground civilizations. In William Delisle Hay's Three Hundred Years Hence (published in 1881), the underground setting is all world's fair in its mobilzation of every representative architectural style imaginable -- pagodas, mosques, temples, Swiss chalets -- to cover the mineral slopes of the artificially illuminated, animated underworld. Electricity turned on the last resort of the subterranean fantasy. Light and music could now beam up from nowhere. But the backgroundization of the senses always tunes in the death-wish static of identification overload.

[intro] [first] [second] [third] [shaft] [notes]