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Language as a Fiction

Michael Salu (2018)

Keynote. Afroberlin. Parataxe Symposium III, May 24th, 2018 

It has been said we’re often taking a picture because we have seen a picture like it. But do we question the veracity of pictures enough? And might we apply the same questioning and reasoning to our use and understanding of language. We are often saying something, regaling a tale and succumbing to a narrative because we have heard, or been fed one just like it. But do we question the veracity of language enough?

A wasp or swarm of wasps that feels threatened will sting continuously until they feel safe again.

Many species of insects have been known to move in large numbers, a behaviour we more commonly refer to as a swarm. A swarm can serve a variety of purposes to the species that has favoured this form of movement. A swarm is likely to exist primarily to protect the home of that [particular] group of insects. A coming together en masse serves as a useful method for survival and self-defense. The home being where their life form is preserved by new incarnations of themselves, fluidly cyclical reincarnation and continuity. Such is the method and the organic molecular function and make up of the species that a definition of the wasp or other such swarming insect as a singular being proves rather defunct.

Many insect species also swarm in order to move. They flow from spot to spot most often looking for a suitable place to nest. It is a curious place at which to pause and ruminate on what characteristics and attributes the swarm may use to determine what might make a suitable home. Is there a detection of a certain expectant temperature for the duration of their stay? Through the patterns of nature’s interplay with itself can the wasp or other said swarming insect species detect the appropriate humidity of its prospective real estate? How much of the swarm’s collective activity is a conscious intuition beyond an automatic biological function of a collection of suitably pre programmed molecular forms?

When this collective identity finds a suitable place to nest, how does it centre itself on its precise formation? How does it read and render the space it has chosen to colonise and how does it understand and automatically structure the proportion of its cities and subsequent social hierarchies in accordance to the form of this newly colonised space?

The nomadic spirit of wasps and some other swarming insects leads them ordinarily to abandon a nest after a season. This flowing mass of objective continues on and what remains is an arid husk of an intricately formed series of passageways and levels and enclosed spaces. Remnants of a history, a time of some life and a centre of ideas. These abandoned nests resemble the relics of our own historic clusters. Cities and one time bustling architectures become coffee stained in colour – from the nest’s initially imperially bright white facades – and become arid and brittle to touch, the moisture and respiratory viscosity of civilisation long since departed and the disused nest disintegrates into dust upon touch returning to the earth to contribute to the forming or even reforming of another future idea, layers upon layers as stories to be taken forward.

Language itself takes the form of a fiction. Husks of ideologies, cultures and conflicts are refilled and re-swarmed, sagging under the weight of this recycling and splitting or fragmenting in a way that isn’t a disintegration, but rather a multiplication akin to the nature of the way cells refract and replicate life. Each new cellform carries with it identities amalgamated from previous swarms, previous seasons of being, full of the enduring tenets of the human experience. Lost languages are often decried rather than graciously taken on with the eternal reincarnation and endurance like the spirits of Shona or the spirit as sensed through the accepting soul of a buddhist monk, or examined in relation to the heideggerian scope of time.

Much contemporary discourse circles around the concept of ‘The Singularity’ in which at a point on our quantumly accelerated existence, the automated processes and intelligence we have constructed essentially outrun our own capacity for evolution and accelerates off in its own sentience to determine the future of existence, a becoming of one with machine. The result of which many claim is indeterminate and beyond our own faculty of comprehension, certainly with our own limitations of language. It is indeed when existence is managed and directed by a chosen few upon an invisible plane on a somewhat particle-like level, that our limits of comprehension float to the surface and we wail in frustration at our own futility. There is also possible scope for alternative readings of ‘The Singularity’ and not necessarily metaphorical readings.

New nests are formed by new swarms and an inequality grows exponentially, but not necessarily the inequality we know as the narrative of poverty thrust at us, but an inequality of knowledge and understanding how these new worlds are built. As new platforms are laid out benevolently for us to discuss and explore, consequently new languages are formed unwittingly in real time. The structure of these new nests or rather these new cities are amorphous in form but are dynamic and utilize and manipulate the space of language around us and we find ourselves caught on in the movement of these new swarms as opposed to possibly being at the helm of one’s own destiny. Thus ‘The Singularity’ could also be witnessed as a swarm, a congealing of thought, myth, story, fable and feeling. Increasingly this dynamic swarm carries us off with its power, mixing and swirling the stories upon which we were raised, the images we consumed, the films we absorb, funnelling every experience through the same narrow pathway that leads us in a circular vortex around this newly demarcated city. It then becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle ourselves from the vortex of this dynamic swarm, given we are nowhere near its own organic destiny and purpose and become rudderless to an extent. In that it is difficult to stem the erasure that occurs so swiftly, an erasure of language, of experience and of histories, difficult to combat, when the hierarchies of every language culture and experience has plateaued. The Singularity can be seen occurring to us as a mono existence or a mono experience rather, in which this alien swarm determines what stories we ourselves are able to tell. This new autonomous swarm sprung out with technological force from a broad secular consumption and the inhabitation of a congealed monoculture. There was a kind of inevitability of a singular experience arising when the new environments for us to share our languages have become the most dominant export of American exceptionalism. So who exactly dictates language?

The Singularity can be witnessed through the mixed reality of bumping into a Kardashian clone on a busy high street, the clone oblivious to this collision, as she is drawn along by the power of this swarm and with pendulum like physics, we watch the back and forth interplay of this infinite loop of experience. The Queen Bee, the Kardashian in this sense, elicits a scent, a rite that in itself is fabricated through the aphoristic nature of presentation and The Queen’s output finds itself out the as multiple poor imitations of digital photo filters masquerading as poorly executed sedimentary make up adornment upon multiple female subjects caught up in the Queen’s own swarm.

The swarm has become a singular narrative in how it houses every cause, idea and micro activism. The secular myths and stories and narratives determine who goes forth and whom will need to stay. We are asked to choose a side, determine a position. Able to assimilate almost any cause, this swarm carries within it patterns, within which our language must sit.

Our language, certainly our new language is beholden to this new congealing of experience and of story. We use our own experience of fictional tropes to speak new common and mostly image driven language, whilst words have taken on new thrillingly malevolent dynamism within this autonomous swarm. A diet of superhero futurist fantasy sets off absolute drivers of binary comprehensions of experience. Yet it is clear Hollywood won’t save you. Arguably one of the clearest drivers of a new language being formed is the whipping of us into a custom framework for hysteria. Dissemination, deflection and chaos become a practice to withstand and decode, the embrace of the surreal and the postmodern becomes themselves sharp edged tools of weaponization. If you were to search online for a categorised library of the many histories of the shona spirit, what would you find? If you were digitally researching the deep histories of ‘Eshu’ in West Africa, what would you find? So who initiated this new character set with which we must speak to each other?

In amongst the swarm, your war is little or no different to my war. It becomes a time of dominant narratives and that dominant education fed to us comes from a source. The swarm itself has an eye at its core and there must be sharp edged insight we must find to be able to transgress these boundaries of predetermined experience. Yet we are often lost in this micro activism, whilst new cities are formed (see refugee centres for example) as the swarm itself moves independently forth from place to place, leaving in its wake new lines of control that gain in strength at every navel gazed at and disagreement sown.

Barely noticeable in this newly protectionist huddle within the swarm is its tightening of the loops our our individual myths and perception. Perception itself is altered by the dynamic reshaping of our languages and our ability to break down forms and representations from afar is brought into a much tighter view like a television moved across the room to be positioned closer to an ageing viewer.


New clusters form within the swarm as a byproduct of accelerated learning, systems learn and relearn what we see and how we see, imagining the scope of our experience, again through the funneling down a tight pathway essentially working invisibly to determine what we thought was our ability as free willed conscious beings. Does this autonomous swarm begin to bring the notion of consciousness itself into question? Our awareness and ability to feel external factors and to shape our own stories is something we take for granted but what happens when this sentience finds itself being driven forward externally akin to the navigation of a self driving car? Will we ask ourselves what stories we can tell and what language we can use?

New moralities are formed from history and the swarm appears to determine which moralities we must exist within and whose story we must tell, yet this singular idea shapes a way of seeing and we find ourselves creating new rules for this new morality. Transgression appears increasingly beyond reach as if to say one’s moral standing in society determines whether one might have access to the space for telling a story a fable or the ability to conjure the imagination to inhabit another mind or experience. These new moralities , a product of this swarm, dictate the binary balance of our experience. In order for a story to exist there must be a scapegoat. The creators of this swarm are well aware of the need for the scapegoat and it is therefore planted at the centre of this vortex, be that the scapegoats of history are used to shape the narrative of today, or the newly acquired scapegoats that help determine what our rituals and unwavering understanding of each other shall be.

Within a colony, the worker bee is usually cast as sterile, or at least lacks the divine reproductive capability of its Queen. Yet the worker bee carries a great responsibility for the growth and pollination of much of the worlds sustenance. Amidst this coming together of every myth, experience and history is there room within the workers language, or certainly the workers freedom and less heralded power to roam the outer reaches of this swarm and challenge or at least momentarily transgress this absolute form that has to a large extent dictated how we all got here today?

 Afroberlin. Parataxe Symposium III, May 24th, 2018 

Michael Salu for © PARATAXE 2018

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