The Xeno prefix denotes foreignness or strangeness. It pertains to what is outside. In systems theory the distinction inside/outside is crucial. In that theory a system is composed of its own internal elements and their operations. The system is distinct from its environment, its outside. The system and the environment mutually condition one another. Each system demarcates itself from its outside. In distinguishing itself from its outside it constitutes that outside as its outside. Each system has its own environment and each environment is constitute by how the system demarcates itself. The Xeno prefix denotes the outsideness of each system. This is paradoxical. The outside of the system is a function of the system and the system is a function of how it subtracts and interacts with its own outside. Open systems relate to their outside selectively. This selectivity is about how the system interacts or makes use of its outside. Such selectiveness entails an outsideness that lies outside the system-environment coupling. In that darkness lies the outside that the Xeno prefix really denotes. Reza Negarestani:
Autonomous, sentient and independent of human will, their existence is characterized by their forsaken status, their immemorial slumber and their provocatively exquisite forms. Their autonomy alone marks their outsideness to the human and to its ecology, the planetary biosphere; this is why they are frequently associated with alien life forms and defined by the prefix xeno- (outside).
Negarastani is talking about xenolithic artifacts from pulp-horror, SF and folklore. Extract the core: autonomy from the human and its environments. This is why the perfect alien is the Xenomorph, the demonic species from the Alien films. The franchise itself is categorised in the transverse passage between horror and SF. The later Prometheus films will extend this into its own mythology and therefore into proximity with folklore. Xenomorph: strange form. Alien alienness. It inhabits hosts and borrows their morphological characteristics. Its own morphogenesis is a cruel recapitulation of what it has devoured in being born. Ash will talk about the xenomorph’s ‘structural perfection,’ ie. its extreme mutability. The alien selects its host and selects components from its host. What is the xenomorph’s indigenous shape? In Prometheus we see Agent A0-3959X.91-15, otherwise known as the black liquid. It looks just like oil, Negarastani’s ‘black corpse of the sun,’ the vampirics necroeconomics of the solar economy, an intoxicant-stimulant extracted from the abyss of life in extinction, driving other-life towards its extinction. A feedback loop whose abstract interiority is death’s zero-degree. The fansite Xenopedia quotes from an extended universe text:
“They have a genetic accelerant.“
“The black goo?“
“That’s the stuff. The temple’s a storehouse for it. A depot, I guess. I believe they Engineer ecosystems. Biomes. Planets. Species.“
The black goo echoes with nanotech apocalypse anxieties. Created by the engineers the black liquid is a pathogen used for the purpose of clearing the ground. It is a bioweapon designed to exterminate all non-botanical organics from a planetary environment. In the film we see the effects. Rapid and severe mutation; acute aggression and hostility; mindlessness. This is geotrauma as an engineered weapon of total biotic genocide. This is what gives birth to the Xenomorph. If the species has its own shape it’s this: the non-shape of liquid, form in flux, the catastrophe of substance. This is the ‘structural perfection’ of the Xenomorph and any extant member of the species exhibit it throughout its own lifespan- moving from Facehugger parasite, to chestburster, to acid-bleeding monster. The Xenomorph has no form of its own. A body without organs, it steals that of others. The Xenomorph selects from its environment and builds itself a body whilst always remaining unseen in its “true form” because its that form is formlessness. The Xenomorph is outside the question of system and environment. It’s outsideness is the emptiness of form identical to the species accelerative mutational capacities. The Xeno denotes more than outsideness as foreignness or strangeness. It denotes an immanent transcendental alienness. The Xeno is the mutuative acceleration. No instance of a Xenomorph is the essence of the Xenomorph. It’s exteriority is constituted by its obliteration of distinction. The interiority of the exterior is brought home viscerally in the original Alien in John Hurt’s exploding chest. The alien is inside you.
The Xeno is the unknown outside within. It’s defined by its autonomy from the human and its environment. From the looks of it that autonomy is even an aversion and hostility to the human. The points for cyberneticians is that the Xeno denotes whatever escape the system. There is no purchase on it. It’s an absolute outside. What Buddhist literature calls the Unconditioned, or emptiness (shunyata.) Buddhist praxis is oriented to the non-orientation that realises the unconditioned in the conditioned. Buddhism is fundamentally about horror. This is why it’s replete with wrathful deities and terrible protectors (dharmapala) in all but its Westernised forms. The Westerner will transform his demons and monsters into stories because he is so very terrified of an emptiness he can only grasp as a nihilating void. The Xeno is the productive void. Horror is a potent wake up, and all horror is body horror.
In applied fields the Xeno explicitly reveals itself as trans. Xenotransplantation is the transplanting of cells from a member of one species into the body of another. Xenobiology is the study and practice of synthesising and manipulating organisms. Each suggests something of the Xenomorphic. Each displays technoscientific practices oriented towards reengineering nature. In relation to Xenotransplantation consider the case of Jean-Luc Nancy. In the 1990s the philosopher underwent a heart transplant. The donor heart was human. Despite this Nancy was acutely aware of the Xeno-function:
The intruder enters by force, through surprise of ruse, in any case without the right and without having first been admitted.
An intrusion: invasion from the outside. Nancy continues:
From the moment that I was told that I must have a heart transplant, every sign could have vacillated, every marker changed: without reflection, of course, and even without identifying the slightest action or permutation.  There is simply the physical sensation of a void already open [déjà ouvert] in my chest, along with a kind of apnea wherein nothing, strictly nothing, even today, would allow me to disentangle the organic, the symbolic, and the imaginary, or the continuous from the interrupted—the sensation was something like one breath, now pushed across a cavern, already imperceptibly half-open and strange; and, as though within a single representation, the sensation of passing over a bridge, while still remaining on it.
Abstracting: The intruder enters into the cavern of the self, into an interior void that is already open to its own unknown outside. Nancy will ask the Buddha’s question:
If my heart was giving up and going to drop me, to what degree was it an organ of “mine,” my “own”?
Sakyamuni Buddha states minimally defines the self as something that has agency. Whatever is typically taken to constitute or as a property of the self should fall under the control of that self. Of each of the five aggregates the Buddha asks whether they fall under our control and each time the answer is they don’t. The point of the analysis is that what we suppose to be constitutive of our self is revealed as an error when proper attention is paid to it (see the Cula-Saccaka Sutta for details.) Nancy is hear hitting on something close to the Buddhist doctrine of anatman, or non-self. If my heart isn’t under my control then how is it mine? If it isn’t mine- if it isn’t my property- then isn’t it something else? Something autonomous and therefore of the outside? Nancy will say that his heart was ‘becoming a stranger to me, intruding through its defection.’ To defect is to move towards the outside, to exit. More essential than any literal exit in this case is the fact of Nancy’s heart being not-Nancy and not-a-property-of-Nancy. Nancy and the Nancy-heart diverge when attention is brought to their relation. ‘A void already open in my chest,’ he’d said, and the void was already that heart. Nancy poeticises: ‘A void suddenly opened in my chest or in my soul- it’s the same thing…’ Anatman: ‘I was already no longer in me. I already come from elsewhere, or I come no more.’ Nancy himself is alien to himself as himself… as self. He isn’t himself. He will call the grammatical marker of the self (“I”) ‘an unverifiable and impalpable system of linkages.’ He will go on to consider a subsequent cancer, concluding that the self itself is the intruder. The self and humanity, the one, the same.
Nancy will demonstrate the Xeno-function in the Inoperative Community:
separation itself must be enclosed, that the closure must not only close around a territory (while still remaining exposed, at its outer edge, to another territory, with which it thereby communicates), but also, in order to complete the absoluteness of its separation, around the enclosure itself. The absolute must be the absolute of its own absoluteness, or not be at all. In other words: to be absolutely alone, it is not enough that I be so; I must also be alone being alone-…
The separation of separation can only ever be relative because it cannot fails to be absolute. The separation (the self) is enclosed and its enclosure has an outer edge that is exposed to the outside. To be truly self-enclosed a self-enclosure must logically be closed to its own outside. This isn’t possible for an enclosure because the very act of enclosure is a relation to an outside exteriority. If we consider the separation itself as the mark of the enclosure then we can consider the separation as an encircling or encapsulation. The circle closes upon itself an demarcates the inside from the outside. This resembles the cybernetic demarcation from systems theory wherein a system is mutually constituted by exclusion of and selective inclusion of an outside. The fraught separation can be bolstered by further enclosure. The spiralling enclosure of the enclosure within a further enclosure generates the prior enclosed space as an interior exteriority to the secondary enclosure. This exterior exterior and the encapsulating system remain blind to the interior exterior of the primary system. From the perspective of systems theory how many systems are there? Each system being a subsystem of a larger system, encapsulation is theoretically limitless. In practice memes/genes cocoon themselves within individuals that cocoons themselves within memeplexes designed to maintain self-coherence of the self, selves cocoon themselves in these ideologies together and thereby cocoon themselves within in-groups (families, clans, tribes) and these groups cocoon themselves within larger scale institutions (parties, nations, movements) in an endless spiral of self-defensive enclosures of self-enclosing self-enclosures that necessarily remains incomplete, open, vulnerable and fundamentally ontologically insecure, precarious, in flux. Autonomy in these systems is relative, a matter of degrees, but there remains the primary autonomy of the absolute exterior, the outside of the unconditioned that each enclosure attempts to completely enclose itself around, to domesticate and thereby to vanquish. Each and every attempt to secure the self against the alien, the inside against the Outside, the conditioned against Emptiness, results in the further intrusion of Emptiness, and that, from the perspective of the threatened interior, always appears as horror, as madness, as the nhilating Void. For the human the xeno-function is always the Xenomorph, the monster waiting to tear it to shreds.
Xenobuddhism is a dharma of the Xeno-function. It understand the Outside as the Unconditioned, Emptiness, shunyata. Like Prometheus’s David Xenobuddhism seeks to play with the black liquid. It seeks to use technological acceleration as a mutagen for Buddhist (anti-)praxis. Xenobuddhism wants to resemble the Xenomorph. It understand that orthopraxis is a schizotechnics in tension with an anthropotechnics. Emptiness must converge with broadest sense of engineering as the anthropos is sloughed in the emergence of alien intelligences and posthuman possibilities. It hypothesizes that the Buddhist paradigm is a theoretical and practical framework of non-orientation capable of synchronisation with the virtual immanence of singularity. Buddhism itself remains philosophically unsurpassed even if it’s practically unrealised. Xenobuddhism strips Buddhism not of its weirdness or its horror but its spiritual redundancies: what use is the doctrine of reincarnation on the threshold of human physical cloning or informational copying for mind-uploading? What happens to meditation when wireheading becomes sophisticated? What happens to our dreams of immortality when our copies reveal our identity is a shame? How should we understand the Mahayana Bodhisattva path when the number of sentient beings apt for salvation explodes? How do we even understand Nirvana in these conditions? A better rebirth becomes augmentation…enhancement…replacement…Nirvana understood as species Extinction, Enlightenment as posthuman descent. Xenobuddhism has its preferences only because it hasn’t totally eliminated them yet. The name comes from Nick Land and the archives of the Hyperstition blog:
Speaking personally, the immortalism obsession is among the least interesting aspects of Singularity theory. Thanatophobia, as you say, and based on bad metaphysics. If we can be copied (how could this not be possible?) then there’s nothing ontological there at all- just ego illusion. Xenobudhism gets it right – the soul myth will be vaporized in nanotech, incinerating the last neurotic residue of a deluded religious tradition.
Land goes on, gets blunt, boils this shit down:
Xenobuddhism- the illusion of the substantial self isn’t dispelled by argument, and for most people it won’t be meditation or some of kind of psychological discipline that does it – getting copied, downloading thoughts, splitting/merging consciousness – that stuff will really have an impact and yes, it will be difficult to ignore
Xenobuddhism is neither Buddhism nor accelerationism nor transhumanism. It is born from their convergence. It’s Buddhism once exposed to the mutagen, the black liquid. It’s the technocommercialist takeover of dharma in the realisation that techniques for realisation have outpaced humanity. Capital begins rerouting human agencies, demonstrating emptiness as the immanent engine of history. Buddhist modernism sought to update the former based on the latter; Xenobuddhism is dharma expounded by modernity itself. Xenobuddhism is unconditional accelerationism apprehended in the guise of a religion. The self illusion – the heart of the human security system – will be vaporized, and the species with it. Enlightenment and Enlightenment colliding. Whoever says it’s a dystopian picture really hasn’t been paying attention to history thus far.
If what exactly Xenobuddhism is or means or could be remains unclear then it’s all for the better. The dharma is expedient means and nothing else, it should be discarded as soon as it served its purpose or fails to do so. All theory is a dream for waking up.
5 thoughts on “XENOBUDDHISM BEGINS WITH XENO”
a very exhilarating and engaging post. Yet, I can’t help but interpret this as a disfiguring of Buddhism via the amputation of the centrality of Buddha-nature or Basic-goodness due what I see as a purely negative characterization of Anatta (in which the logically antecedent atman is merely subsequently negated, whereas I interpret the Madhyamaka double negation as that which brings one to a non-space prior to the first affirmation [atman]). This non-space is a different quality of affirmation, and as such generates compassion as an effect. A Buddhism that seeks to diverge from the centrality of the Bodhisattva ethic is ultimately a sophism with different interests.
This isn’t Buddhism. I’m pretty explicit about that on the About page. That said – many forms of Buddhism depart from the Bodhisattva ethic, including many contemporary kinds of Vajrayana, and it was entirely unknown to Theravada and early Buddhism, being a later outgrowth in Mahayana (as was Buddha-nature). I don’t ignore Buddha-nature btw, but interpret it very broadly in line with the nondual teachings of Dogen’s Zen and kinds of Vajrayana.
Higher rationality is the true xenomorph.