- Hidden Writing
Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials is weird, not only because its monstrous and nonhuman tenor resonates with the weird fictions of China Miéville and H. P. Lovecraft, or the weird realities conjured by the philosophers of speculative realism; Cyclonopedia ungrounds and mutilates the very genres of horror, philosophy, and author, leaving in their wake what some have called para-academic theory-fiction. It is precisely the weirdness of both Cyclonopedia and Negarestani that has captivated so many—the text has become an inspiration to academics and intellectuals, spiraling out into the disciplines of media theory, continental philosophy, queer theory, and political thought; the creative industries of architecture and the arts have also embraced the text (Artforum International listed Cyclonopedia in its Best of 2009 issue), either making work as a direct response to Cyclonopedia or collaborating with Negarestani. A 2011 Cyclonopedia symposium at The New School in New York City brought these splintering engagements together, demonstrating the profound and varied impact the book is continuing to make.
Arguably more perplexing than the text is the enigmatic figure of Negarestani himself. An illusive persona based in Iran, Negarestani maintains an active blog and Facebook profile, yet debates have raged on as to whether he actually exists: Who or what is/are Reza Negarestani? Is he real or an invention? This anxiety over the existence of Negarestani is exactly how Cyclonopedia begins. In the foreword, Kristen Alvanson documents her journey to Istanbul to meet an online friend. As she searches for this ultimately unlocatable person, she discovers a manuscript labeled Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani. After several unsuccessful attempts at making contact with Negarestani, Alvanson returns to the U.S. with Cyclonopedia, intent on publishing it—or so we are told.
Cyclonopedia is an examination of the works and writings of the fictional Dr. Hamid Parsani, a former archaeology and mathematics professor at Tehran University, who was exiled for "insufficient scholarship" and soon after mysteriously disappeared. Parsani's bizarrely esoteric research explores Middle Eastern theologies and ancient occult relics, as well as their relation to the contemporary War on Terror. Parsani writes about bacterial archeology, polytics, the Tellurian Omega, and Xerodrome, producing a challenging codex though which to think about the Middle East. Throughout Cyclonopedia, Negarestani employs Parsani's corpus to explore warfare, demons, decay, and the destruction of the Earth. Crucially, Parsani and Negarestani shift the locus of political agency in their work to nonhuman materials. Thus, when war in the Middle East is discussed, one must account for dust; or when political power is considered, one must account for material decay. As Parsani says, "The Middle East is a sentient entity—it is alive!" Parsani/Negarestani's words read like a materialist geo-philosophy meets horror novel.
Cyclonopedia begins with a nonhuman topic of interest to Parsani at the time of his reappearance in 2000: the Cross of Akht, an ancient Zoroastrian relic that is able to mathematically process and diagram "planetary events of epic proportions in the form of various modes of heterogeneous or anomalous narration." Negarestani explains that oil for the Cross of Akht is its supreme "narration lube," grasping "all narrations of the Earth through oil." Here, oil becomes a powerful political agent, depicted as the only nonhuman element that can narrate all events on Earth. Oil's role in the Cross of Akht permits Negarestani to elaborate several points on politics and war. Importantly, political models and global dynamics cannot be viewed as whole; they always have oil flowing through them at a subterranean level. Negarestani calls these flows "plot holes," and they reveal a "blobjective" point of view. This viewpoint, which is oil's, tells a new political narrative: with the aid of Western Technocapitalism and Eastern Monotheism, the Earth is moving toward total degradation by attaining a "burning immanence" with the sun and unleashing the Earth's "burning core." Of course, it is not hard to associate a burning immanence with the sun with contemporary battles waging around the use of fossil fuels and the ozone layer, or...