Issue: №1 2005

Section: Essay

Postcosmos. Capitalism and Dreams

Postcosmos. Capitalism and Dreams

Pavel Pepperstein. Political Hallucination. 2004. Drawings. Courtesy Kamm gallery, Berlin

Pavel Pepperstein Born in 1966 in Moscow. Artist, essayist and writer. Founder of the group Inspection “Medical Hermeneutics”. Lives in Moscow.

1. Post-Cosmos

Once upon a time, Giacomo Casanova wrote a little utopian story called "Protocosmos"[1]. It described the blissful life led in a wise republic located at the center of the earth. Its inhabitants are hermaphrodites. They walk around in the nude. Even if they all they drink is mother's milk, they are still just and intelligent, constantly inventing refined technical devices, producing artificial gems and other precious stones. Once the people from the surface reach this strange world of Protocosmos, they gradually begin to corrupt it, infecting its innocent inhabitants with lies, violence, avarice, and spite. But Casanova the great seducer wasn't able to fool anyone with this story: basically, the text was a flop.

In our time, a Post-Cosmos in its own right own surrounds us, a world of complex consequences that includes our own "post-communist condition" as yet another set of circumstances in some boundless row of post-effects. The word "post-communist" sounds strange, since communism was always located somewhere in the future. So "after communism" is like "after the future". This is actually often what people mean when they talk about "post-communism". Once upon a time, there was this utopia – some kind of illusion – which has now been replaced by (harsh) reality.

The problem is that capitalism has a utopian program of its own; it is impossible without hallucinations, without movies, without advertisements, without a cascade of illusions that helps it to sell and buy itself ceaselessly.

Once in a while, I write down my dreams. I also collect the dreams of my friends and acquaintances (following Freud's example), if they happen to strike my fancy. These dreams present themselves in the context of a contemporary capitalist society permeated by medial systems. They are not only determined by this context but are in fact one of the most powerful medial systems themselves; they are always interacting directly with other media, which could include money, movies, advertisements, television, news-programming, design, computer networks, medicine and narcotics (among others). This is why I write down my dreams in chapters like "Dreams and Television", "Dreams and Movies", "Dreams and Drugs", "The Pragmatic Value of Dreaming" and others like them.

I would like to dwell upon three things that determine the character of how dreams function under capitalism: environmental misbalance, being regulated by computers, and advertising. Let's begin with the environment. Lenin once said that the proletariat would be become capitalism's gravedigger. But there is no more proletariat. So who can be entrusted with this mission? Or, better yet, not who but what can take on this difficult task? Where is the border that will delimit the end of the capitalist world? It is possible and even probable that this will be the environmental boundary.

In unfolding and expanding its phantasm of the future, capitalism doesn't hide the fact that it does not want and is not able to be ecological; it doesn't even pretend to be interested in preserving some natural habitat. Quite on the contrary, capitalism advertises its own tendency to destroy the environment. This idea has a metaphysical background. Capitalism's hatred for the natural environment is ripe with utopian content.

Under capitalism, the human being becomes a total image of the world, soaking up and reconstructing all things non-human. There is little space left for non-humanity beyond these procedures. As capitalism tells us, humanity no longer wishes to live in a world that it itself did not create. It doesn't matter whether this world was created by God, or gods, or nature, or random circumstance, or some unseen force: it doesn't matter; humanity doesn't really want any of that; it doesn't want the rabbit; it doesn't want the tree. It's ready to destroy, sweeping all tender feelings aside. Humanity (in its capitalist edition) is a juggernaut, the machine destroyer of non-humanity. Its program shows through all of the good ecological intentions: destroy everything and then rebuild! Capitalism sets the human principle on a collision course with the natural environment in the most aggressive way possible. This is arguably capitalism's most striking distinctive feature, an identifying mark far more outstanding than the power of money. Capitalism can basically free itself of money by replacing it with its informative and technological equivalents. But it will never be able to free itself from the passion for destroying and reconstructing all things non-human. Even as a system of total equivalence, money will be little more than yet another universal sign used by capitalism to symbolize humanity over non-humanity.

TV (the BBC, for an example) broadcasts popular science shows. These shows explain why there is no need to worry; after all, our planet is doomed anyway. The sun is expanding. Soon (in only a few million years), the Earth will be incinerated. The catastrophe of global warming is a living illustration of this process. However, on the whole, television prefers to avoid the question of how science and technology might try to save Earth's thermal regulation and planetary climate. It tells us that it's stupid to waste money and strength on global ecological programs. Instead, we should invest in scientific research and technologies that will help us run away.

Yet another echelon of capitalism's deep dream unfolds – the dream-desire of cosmic escape, of roaming boundless, airless space forever; the dream that Stanley Kubrick put on screen so brilliantly in his "2001: A Space Oddysey" in 1968. The roots of this project can be discovered in the Bible, in the Holy Book of the West; it is the story of Noah and his ark, the narrative of the righteous entrepreneur who saves himself from a world that is doomed. Now, the entrepreneurs are sketching out the next escape route, first to Mars, then on to Europa, Jupiter's satellite, whose advertising campaign has already begun.

The names of these heavenly bodies – advertised as new, temporary homes away from home in space – are hardly coincidental. The god of war (who subsidizes space-programs with funding from the military-industrial complex) and beautiful Europa, held hostage by Zeus are two of the newest manifestations of the state, replete with the star-symbolism of globalization's latest achievements, something very much like a new Soviet Union. There is plenty of water on the moon of Europa, although its ocean is covered with ice; somewhere deep under all of the layers of rock and frozen water, there is a faint glimmer of life warming itself at the planetoid's core, a cosmic Atlantis in space. But there's no point in sticking around here for all too long; we have to move on. We need to realize our program of cosmic nomadism. The experts tell us that it would stupid to allow natural planets to hold us back; we need to create artificial planets, maneuverable planet-ships. Living on these, we will be finally be free to roam the universe. Because natural planets – planets that arise through a suspicious set of circumstances and not through the labor and genius of humanity – make capitalist consciousness sick.

As it projects its space-program, capitalism becomes reminiscent of the cosmonaut-craze in Russia during the 1960s, once again proving that it is intent on finishing what the Russian communist utopia had begun. Under communist rule, Russia was, at times, in the avantgarde of the capitalist West. The Soviet Union came in second after the USA; for a time, its globalization-project was even far more innovative and fashionable and anticipated many of the contemporary situation's elements, ranging from cosmic projects to the conflict with Islam. Of course, today, Russia has fallen to the rear. But maybe it's just resting; maybe its repose is only the calm before another outburst of avantgardism.

Putting the question of Russia's future aside, we could ask something far more important. How can the Environment defend itself? Since people obviously intend to destroy it before it is incinerated by the expanding sun, the environment – all the animals, plants and insects, all the air, all the water – must resist capitalism. Which means of self-defense, which arsenal does the Environment have at its disposal? Maybe the environment has some kind of hypothetical mind; maybe this mind has its own instinct of self-preservation? The main weapon of the Environment (let's capitalize it from now on, as an aggregate living being) is disease. Even though its inventory of armaments also includes tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes and other such things, the virus is simply the best: new strains, new bacteria, more and more.

Earth has long been at war, as capitalism and the Environment do battle, a battle which the Environment is not losing. The Environment's mind has long since "understood", that people, to put it bluntly, "just don't know better"; you have to scare them in ways so frightening that it would change the deep coding of their programming, or better yet, you could simply wipe them from the face of the planet once and for all, in order to then experiment with the possible evolution of other species in peace and quiet. So the Environment is unhurriedly putting together a set of keys to the safe that contains the secret to humanity's life. Mad cow's disease and bird flu from Asia...: almost every season brings another novelty. It seems that the Environment has learned something or another from people; it now knows the meaning of "speeded development".

Under capitalism, the war of the worlds takes on a centralizing status and becomes the capitalist world's central narrative. But even at times of war, diplomatic efforts will continue; attempts to establish contact and even peace-offerings are made. In order to establish diplomatic contact with people, the Environment uses human dreams and hallucinations, mainly those induced by narcotics. If we analyze the influence of drugs on the character of dreaming, we will see that drug-dreams regularly conduct ecological signals. Narcotics become agents of the Environment, maybe precisely because they are outside (and beyond) the laws of capitalist society. Take, for an instance, a passage in Stanislav Grof's "The Adventure of Self-Discovery"[2], a famous book on hallucinogens, where Grof describes one person's hallucinations on the cat-tranquilizer and disassociative Ketimine. In his visions, this person turned into oil. Not just some specific amount of oil, but into all oil on and under Earth. He acquired the consciousness of oil as a whole. He felt what oil feels and remembered its memory (oil has a huge memory), sensed its unwillingness to serve humanity, experienced the humiliation that oil is exposed to every time it is raped and pumped up from out of its underground lakes and oceans, forced to serve human desires that it finds appalling. On the whole, the entire hallucination illuminated humanity's manipulation of oil and oil-products in a harshly critical light. This is probably why the recipient of this hallucinosis called his experience the IG-Farben-trip. But in meditating on the use of gas by the fascists to kill people, he didn't just see all of this as violence done to humanity, but as violence directed at nature's elements, at oil and gas.

This hallucination about oil presents a worthy example of a principle shared by many of the hallucinations that the different kinds of narcotic compounds will cause. In this way, human consciousness can finally hear the "voice" of the Environment: it seems as if the non-human world – not the post-human world, but something that is exactly the opposite – is trying to tell people something, using the psychedelic channel as the channel of secret communication with man.

I may be repeating myself, but it could be that this all is thanks to thanks to the illegal status of narcotics. Today, drugs are much like dissident literature in Soviet times, when people covertly gave one another "Archipelago GULAG" and called it "Turgenev" or "kilogram of carrots" on the phone. If we ask ourselves what is subject to a similar encoding in our lives today, then the answer is: everything that has to do with drugs. All drugs have secret nicknames and designations. This codes amount to nothing less than a secret language, an extensive shadow-literature, which makes it possible for many people to understand one another through no more than hints. What lies behind this language, what is secretly encoded into its message, is a shadow signal from non-human life-forms.

Strictly speaking, if we are to nurse any hope at all, then it can be found growing here, on the fields of psychedelic sub-culture. Contemporary capitalist society attempts to convince us that this all lies way back in the distant Sixties and Seventies, at the time of the psychedelic revolution, but psychedelic revolutions are still taking place today; moreover, the psychedelic pharmacon has been integrated into the very core of the world of consumption. We find ourselves agreeing with Michel Houellebecq's observation that the potential of New Age ideologies is enormous and is only now being actively realized at the mass-level. Capitalism is psychedelic through and through, but its schizophrenia allows it to keep drugs in a position of illegality: the capitalist states (i.e. by all states) understand narcotic subcultures as dissident communities, because these subcultures have betrayed the human principle, "humanity's common cause ".

Which conclusions can we draw from all of this? Can humanity and Environment ever coexist peacefully under capitalism? I don't think so. One alternative is that the agents of the Environment succeed at displacing capitalism, and that capitalism will then be reborn as something completely different, only that this new system won't arise under the influence of the proletarian revolution, but under the influence of viruses, cataclysms, diseases, and drugs. The other alternative is that capitalism destroys Earth and flies away to Europa. Capitalism will have finally triumphed when the post-human world has supplanted the non-human world. People (in their capitalist rendition) are still basically ready to die as a result of the consequences, but only at the hands of their own inventions, at the hand of their own children, i.e. through the machines. At any, none of the films about the future, from "Terminator" to "Animatrix", have never really been able to find any better narrative.

2. Computer Regulation Crash

After ecological catastrophe, the second factor that influences the character of dreams under capitalism is the idea of total regulation through computers and some sudden crash and collapse of this regulation. This theme manifests itself in a great many dreams dreamed by people today, dreams which often present themselves as a computer-program or some kind of show that is regulated by computers. At some point, a rupture is produced within the dream, as the computer program goes berserk, explodes, and crashes. Since so many people dream around the theme of the computer-crash, its aesthetics and consequences vary greatly. I know this personally, not only from my own dreams, but from the dreams of those of my acquaintances who are programmers.

Two films that came out recently are very symptomatic in this regard, namely the new "Matrix" and the new "Terminator". In "Terminator 3", it turns out that all of the heroic deeds of the earlier terminators were in vain, that all the messianic pathos of saving the world was meaningless. It turns out that it was impossible to save the world because of the interference caused an evil program by the name of "SkyNet". Something very similar happens in the last "Matrix". The heroes of the first two films were rebels with revolutionary attitudes, fighting against an inauthentic reality[3]. But now, it turns out that all their efforts were useless because everything was just another glitch of yet another program. The result is more of a Germanic-Scandinavian variant of pessimistic eschatology. The gods don't need life to save the world, but to do quite the opposite, namely to kill and destroy everything in a heroic frenzy of a Gotterdammerung that is a divine manifestation of the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian "berserker"-tradition.

Not long ago the lights went out in New York and other American cities. I saw it on TV, and then opened up my old notebooks where I used to write down my old dreams and found many versions of this particular theme. Some dreams successfully predicted this situation as something that was going to happen in New York, while others played out more exotic variants than reality. But still, my acquaintances and I have dreamt of all of this millions of times: the lights go out, the household appliances stop, all the technology simply shuts down.

3. Dreams and Advertising

Under capitalism, dreams are constructed like advertisements. Both one and another are things you can get for free. We all know that under capitalism everything costs money, that you have to pay for everything, and that the only thing that people can get for free are dreams and advertising. Dr. Freud's light (or heavy) turn of phrase call dreams the world of desires. Advertising is defined much in the same way. Advertising cannot simply reduced to advertising of products. It is far more than the world of goods and exchange, far more than the world of consumption. Things like love are advertised, for an example. All of Moscow is full of huge posters with the word "I love you". The reason isn't that they're trying to get us to buy condoms or something like that, but that they're advertising love as such. They're advertising good relations with parents ("call your parents"), good human feelings. And political posters advertise politics.

The news channels CNN and BBC don't only broadcast news, but constantly advertise their own news-programs. The advertising of news on these news-channels takes up just as much room as the news itself. Of course, the dreams of people who live under such conditions advertise dreams. Many of the dreams that I have studied (mine as well as those of my acquaintances) are constructed like self-advertisements. Dreams don't simply appear; they advertise themselves. They show what they could try to show. Often dreams will say something like "What do you think we're doing here? Standing still? No. We're working! And you, my friend, are going see something that you have never been able to imagine in your wildest dreams!" Of course, they really do go on to demonstrate something astounding, something that that was unthinkable even six months ago. This motif of constant perfection – which sometimes even comes down to completely delirious microcosmic improvements, some of which are very serious – is constantly present in our dreams. The same is true of drug-induced hallucinations, where you can hear the drug advertise itself: "Look at what our creative laboratory can do", goes that certain voice again. Again, there's the theme of development and innovation. "So what if you ate some magic mushrooms; you think that those are the same magic mushrooms your girlfriend just ate? No, these are completely different mushrooms, and soon you'll see that they aren't even like those amazing magic mushrooms you ate last year." Again the developmental speed imposed by capitalism comes to the fore, somehow reminiscent of Stalinism, where there was always some kind of All-Union Exhibition of the Achievements of the People's Economy (VDNKh) going on. Under Stalin, this exhibition was held back by a cathedral complex, but capitalism turns the entire world into an exhibition of the Achievements of the Capitalist Economy.

4. The Truth of Dreams

I would like to generalize all these observations – "Dreams and Ecology", "Dreams and Computer-Based Regulation", "Dreams and Advertising" – with a final philosophical passage on dreams and their relation to truth. Why do dreams play such an exclusive role under capitalism? Why do they become the key to understanding capitalism? Maybe it's simply because dreams represent unverified reality. They are the place where there is no possibility of establishing any truth. No amount of effort will ever be able to establish whether or not a dream's narrative (which inhabits the plane of secondary exposition, once it is told as a story) is true or false. Freud wanted to create an effective therapy for neurosis and other new deep-reaching insights into the human soul, but only succeeded in creating the basis for the ideology of consumerism. He succeeded in doing what he wasn't out to do. Nevertheless, the result turned out to be far more meaningful than if he had realized his intentions, just like the discovery of America brought far more important consequences than the discovery of a new trade-route to India. Thus, Freud's relation to the subject of truth and lies in dreams becomes very important: he is cited as saying that it makes no difference to the psychoanalyst whether a patient is telling him the truth about his dream or whether he is, in fact, lying. Everything the patient says is both lie and truth to the same degree and is equally valuable to the psychoanalyst as material. This has become a symbol of contemporary media-capitalism, which strives to create an unverified reality, a reality in which criteria of authenticity are impossible to apply.

Some thinkers were horrified, Heidegger among them, while others tended (and still tend) to respond with exaltation and fits of hope and joy. Growing aware that he is, in principle, a lie, man becomes total, blotting out all of the countless, invisible causes and circumstances that make up the truth. As Leonardo da Vinchi once said (and Freud quotes this great statement in one of his works): "Nature is full of countless causes, none of which experience will ever be able to acquire." You could relate what Leonardo said about nature to truth. Truth is made up of a countless quantity of unseen circumstances. All of these circumstance may be impossible to articulate, but they are all located inside of the truth, as ungrasped, incalculable realities. This is not an anthropomorphic notion of truth. Under capitalism, "man" is overcome with enthusiasm at the thought of eliminating the truth completely; "man" wants to replace truth with lies, which correspond to hope: let's hope that we'll be able to lie forever, and let's hope that no kind of otherworldly forces or circumstance will be able to dam this flow of lies, until we fly off onto our journey to the moon of Europa, or somewhere else, off into some gas-particle-cloud.

I really liked the image of the gas-particle-cloud, some huge nebula hanging somewhere in space, changing colors all the time because its unusual chemical composition breaks the light of the stars in different ways. The gas-particle-cloud is actually a proto-star; it will become a star as soon as it finally reaches the necessary density.

Present-day visionary capitalism (let's finally call it oneiro-capitalism) would like to take all the post-people away to colorful worlds that are amorphous and mobile, nebulous, where it would be possible to roam space on artificial planets, forever wandering into infinity, beginning a war here or there, engaged in beautiful intergalactic adventures.


  1. ^ The full title of this utopian novel is: Jacques Casanova De Seingalt, Icosameron: The Story of Edward and Elizabeth: Who Spent Eighty-One Years in the Land of the Megamicres, Original Inhabitants of Protocosmos. 1788 (Jenna Press, 1986).
  2. ^ Stanislav Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press: 1988.
  3. ^ These freedom-fighters are "Zionists" – they live (and die) for the human city of Zion. 

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