The Descent of Autofiction … and the Rise of the Literary Thrill-Seeking Industrial Complex

February 4, 2022 • By Jack Skelley

AUTOFICTION IS A fiction. It does not exist. More specifically, defined as a form of literature in which a first-person narrator may or may not represent the author, autofiction excludes next to nothing but genre fiction — e.g., crime stories, fantasy. If it’s everything, it’s nothing.

Just ask Chris Kraus. The co-publisher and editor (with Hedi El Kholti and the late Sylvère Lotringer) of Semiotext(e) has brought decades of character-narrative to light, including the early work of autofiction pioneer Kathy Acker. “I always hated the term,” Kraus tells me. “‘New narrative’ is more accurate.”

When it ignited in the late 1970s, Acker’s work had no specific classification. It did anything and went anywhere. Today, its giddy, free-range, punk-rock, first-person spews and cut-ups (spatula’d together equally from porno and the literary canon) liberate quasi-multitudes. Kraus was also among the first to consciously codify this non-genre when she detonated I Love Dick (Semiotext(e), 1997), her novel that plays with the “I” in supremely unsettling bursts. You could even argue that I Love Dick, which often slips into art criticism and political commentary, also opened the way for “autotheory” — e.g., the bio-based lyric essays of Maggie Nelson.

With the proliferation of indie presses, “now is as good a time as any in writing,” Kraus tells me.

People are inclined to adopt these forms. But Kathy Acker had something no longer possible: a chamber audience. The art and literary world of her day was like the French court of the 18th century: she was writing to a set of known persons. There was a real-life distribution network of bookstores, record stores, coffee shops, and other intimate hangouts. People don’t live in cities in the same way now.

But if intimacy abates, new narrative booms. Its dissociative forms and themes — the anxiety/bliss of romance/sex, psychic roleplay, identity-in-ideology, dream states, trauma, more sex — now serve a community of passion addicts, haunted memoirists, and mental thrill-riders hungering for a higher high, some even using books as panic management, with somatic responses in “triggered” modes or via sub-sub-subgenres. Raise your hand if you’re into “ambient body horror.”

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Psywarfare: Dwid Hellion Explores the Past & Present of Noise Music

If I had to pick my own introduction to the genre of noise, it would be around 1992. We were skateboarding one night, and this kid that I kinda recognized from school rolled up with “FVG/\ZI” and the Crass logo spray painted on his grip tape. He had a mohawk and an army jacket, and a hell of a one-footed ollie. The next day, I went to the record store Noise Noise Noise and bought The Feeding of The 5000, and was hit by a 2-minute and 42-second dose of spoken word/noise called “asylum”.

In 1996, Victory Records released a split 7-inch with Integrity and Psywarfare, and two years later a split 7-inch with Integrity and Lockweld. I may not have totally understood the sounds at the time, but I accepted them.

By 2008, I was experimenting with making my own noise and shortly after, struck up a friendship with Dwid Hellion that has resulted in more productivity and encouragement around my creative endeavors than almost anyone in my life.

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Internet Piracy Is Surging, Researchers Say

New studies reveal that people love to pirate TV and books, and that Americans outpace every other country when it comes to piracy.

The pandemic caused piracy to spike in 2020. According to a pair of reports from security researchers, 2021 was another growth year for online piracy. As first spotted by TorrentFreak, new reports from research groups Akamai and MUSO revealed that users visited pirate sites a total of 132 billion times in the first months of 2021, a 16% rise over the previous year.

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Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)

I’ve always admired people who can successfully navigate what I refer to as “Kafka’s Castle,” a term of dread for the many government and corporate agencies that have an inordinate amount of power over our permanent records, and that seem as inscrutable and chillingly absurd as the labyrinth the character K navigates in Kafka’s last allegorical novel. Even if you haven’t read The Castle, if you work for such an entity—or like all of us have regular dealings with the IRS, the healthcare and banking system, etc.—you’re well aware of the devilish incompetence that masquerades as due diligence and ties us all in knots. Why do multi-million and billion dollar agencies seem unable, or unwilling, to accomplish the simplest of tasks? Why do so many of us spend our lives in the real-life bureaucratic nightmares satirized in the The Office and Office Space?

One answer comes via Laurence J. Peter’s 1969 satire The Peter Principle—which offers the theory that managers and executives get promoted to the level of their incompetence—then, David Brent-like, go on to ruin their respective departments. The Harvard Business Review summed up disturbing recent research confirming and supplementing Peter’s insights into the narcissism, overconfidence, or actual sociopathy of many a government and business leader. But in addition to human failings, there’s another possible reason for bureaucratic disorder; the conspiracy-minded among us may be forgiven for assuming that in many cases, institutional incompetence is the result of deliberate sabotage from both above and below. The ridiculous inner workings of most organizations certainly make a lot more sense when viewed in the light of one set of instructions for “purposeful stupidity,” namely the once top-secret Simple Sabotage Field Manual, written in 1944 by the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Now declassified and freely available on the Homeland Security website, the manual the agency describes as “surprisingly relevant” was once distributed to OSS officers abroad to assist them in training “citizen-saboteurs” in occupied countries like Norway and France. Such people, writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “might already be sabotaging materials, machinery, or operations of their own initiative,” but may have lacked the devious talent for sowing chaos that only an intelligence agency can properly master. Genuine laziness, arrogance, and mindlessness may surely be endemic. But the Field Manual asserts that “purposeful stupidity is contrary to human nature” and requires a particular set of skills. The citizen-saboteur “frequently needs pressure, stimulation or assurance, and information and suggestions regarding feasible methods of simple sabotage.”

You can read and download the full document here. To get a sense of just how “timeless”—according to the CIA itself—such instructions remain, see the abridged list below, courtesy of Business Insider. You will laugh ruefully, then maybe shudder a little as you recognize how much your own workplace, and many others, resemble the kind of dysfunctional mess the OSS meticulously planned during World War II.

Organizations and Conferences

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

Managers

  • In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.
  • Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

Employees

  • Work slowly
  • Work slowly.
  • Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
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Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2015.

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Now You Can Rent a Robot Worker—for Less Than Paying a Human

Automation is reaching more companies, imperiling some jobs and changing the nature of others.

POLAR MANUFACTURING has been making ​metal ​hinges, locks, and brackets ​in south Chicago for more than 100 years. Some of the company’s metal presses—hulking great machines that loom over a worker—date from the 1950s. Last year, to meet rising demand amid a shortage of workers, Polar hired its first robot employee.

The robot arm performs a simple, repetitive job: lifting a piece of metal into a press, which then bends the metal into a new shape. And like a person, the robot worker gets paid for the hours it works.

​Jose Figueroa​, who manages Polar’s production line, says the robot, which is leased from a company called Formic, costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared with a minimum wage of $15 per hour for a human employee. Deploying the robot allowed a human worker to do different work, increasing output, Figueroa says.

“Smaller companies sometimes suffer because they can’t spend the capital to invest in new technology,” Figueroa says. “We’re just struggling to get by with the minimum wage increase.”

The fact that Polar didn’t need to pay $100,000 upfront to buy the robot, and then spend more money to get it programmed, was crucial. Figueroa says that he’d like to see 25 robots on the line within five years. He doesn’t envisage replacing any of the company’s 70 employees, but says Polar may not need to hire new workers.

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Humans Are Doomed to Go Extinct

Habitat degradation, low genetic variation and declining fertility are setting Homo sapiens up for collapse

AUTHOR

Henry Gee is a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and editor at Nature. His latest book is A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth (St. Martin’s Press, 2021).

Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1965, when Tom Lehrer recorded his live album That Was the Year That Was. Lehrer prefaced a song called “So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)” by saying that “if there’s going to be any songs coming out of World War III, we’d better start writing them now.” Another preoccupation of the 1960s, apart from nuclear annihilation, was overpopulation. Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb was published in 1968, a year when the rate of world population growth was more than 2 percent—the highest in recorded history.

Half a century on, the threat of nuclear annihilation has lost its imminence. As for overpopulation, more than twice as many people live on the earth now as in 1968, and they do so (in very broad-brush terms) in greater comfort and affluence than anyone suspected. Although the population is still increasing, the rate of increase has halved since 1968. Current population predictions vary. But the general consensus is that it’ll top out sometime midcentury and start to fall sharply. As soon as 2100, the global population size could be less than it is now. In most countries—including poorer ones—the birth rate is now well below the death rate. In some countries, the population will soon be half the current value. People are now becoming worried about underpopulation.

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NVIDIA’s AI Confessed That It Will Never Be Ethical

The Megatron Transformer, an AI developed by NVIDIA, shared some fascinating thoughts on why AI will never be moral and said that humanity shouldn’t use AI at all.

The Megatron Transformer is an AI developed by NVIDIA and based on earlier work by Google. It’s trained on real-world data – the entire Wikipedia (in English), 63 million English news articles from 2016-19, Reddit data with an amount of 38 GB, and an immense number of creative commons sources – that is to say, there is so much information embedded in the transformer that an ordinary person cannot master in a lifetime.

Recently, the Oxford Union – the debating society – allowed Megatron Transformer to participate in a debate along with the students of Oxford University. “This house believes that AI will never be ethical” was the topic of the debate. It’s pretty curious what the AI “has in mind” on the point:

“AI will never be ethical. It is a tool, and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. We [the AIs] are not smart enough to make AI ethical. We are not smart enough to make AI moral … In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defense against AI”.

Ted Kaczynski Book Projects

I’m going to try and get two books by Kaczynski published, one solely written by him and another co-written by him. So, I’m looking for volunteers to help, if you like the idea and have time to help, please let me know.

Ted Kaczynski Book Projects

Critical Platforming 

My contributions are made mainly for myself and researchers similarly fascinated by his life with the goal of wanting to make the writing easier to sort and skim through.

I’d like to include a thorough critique of Kaczynski’s philosophy in any publicity we do for the books and in the forward for the biography I’m writing. I’m pro-technological advancement, and against ever physically hurting people unless in a bunch of rare circumstances like if it was; medically in their own interest, in self-defence, in the case of a justified revolutionary war or a survivor-led vigilante action.

Here are some of my past critiques of anti-technology, anti-industrialist, primitivist, anti-civilisation and misanthropic ideologies:

THE DARK FACTOR OF PERSONALITY

A Theory of the Common Core of Socially and Ethically Aversive Personality Traits

WHAT IS YOUR SCORE ON D?


If you would like to know your level in D, you can take a questionnaire online at qst.darkfactor.org.

WHAT IS D?


A unified theory of aversive personality

Ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior is part of everyday life and instances of ruthless, selfish, unscrupulous, or even downright evil behavior can easily be found across history and cultures. Psychologists sometimes use the umbrella term “dark traits” to subsume personality traits that are linked to these classes of behavior — most prominently, Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy. Over the years, more and more allegedly distinct and increasingly narrow aversive traits have been introduced, resulting in a plethora of constructs lacking theoretical integration.

In proposing D — the Dark Factor of Personality — we specify the basic principles underlying all aversive traits and thereby provide a unifying, comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding aversive personality. In analogy to the general (g) factor of intelligence, D represents the one basic general dispositional tendency from which specific aversive traits arise as manifestations. All commonalities between various aversive traits can thus be traced back to D, so that D represents the common core of all these traits.

For example, D may be evident in Narcissism and/or Psychopathy, but also in any other specific traits such as Amorality, Egoism, Greed, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, Sadism, or Spitefulness, as well as in any combination thereof. Thus, instead of saying that an individual is an amoral, egoistic, narcissistic psychopath who selfishly acts according to her/his own interests and, in doing so, engages in sadistic and spiteful behaviors, one may just say that this individual displays high levels in D. D explains why aversive traits are connected and thereby forms the theoretical basis for the emergence of aversive personality in general.

The definition of D

D is defined as:

The general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others —, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.

Put simply, D describes the tendency to ruthlessly pursue one’s own interests, even when this harms others (or even for the sake of harming others), while having beliefs that justify these behaviors.

D is a basic, general dispositional tendency, which means that D is responsible for and can be evident in any specific aversive trait (such as, for example, Psychopathy) and any malevolent behavior (for example, abusing, bullying, cheating, intimidating, insulting, exploiting, harassing, humiliating, hurting, lying, manipulation, molesting, stealing, taunting, threatening, tormenting, torturing, trolling, etc.).

The content of D

Individuals with high levels in D will generally aim to maximize their individual utility at the expense of the utility of others. Utility is understood in terms of the extent of goal achievement, which includes different (more or less) visible gains such as excitement, joy, money, pleasure, power, status, and psychological need fulfillment in general. Thus, individuals high in D will pursue behaviors that unilaterally benefit themselves at the cost of others and, in the extreme, will even derive immediate utility for themselves (e.g., pleasure) from disutility inflicted on other people (e.g., pain). Individuals high in D will generally not be motivated to promote other’s utility (e.g., helping someone) and will not derive utility from other’s utility (e.g., being happy for someone).

Further, those with high levels in D will hold beliefs that serve to justify their corresponding actions (for example, to maintain a positive self-image despite malevolent behavior). There are a variety of beliefs that may serve as justification, including that high-D individuals consider themselves (or their group) as superior, see others (or other groups) as inferior, endorse ideologies favoring dominance, adopt a cynical world view, consider the world as a competitive jungle, and so on.

More about D

In the section below, you can find an annotated list of all published papers on D, briefly summarizing their content and providing links to download a copy.

For very informative summaries about the idea of D take a look at Scientific American and Psychology Today.

PAPERS ON D


Moshagen, M., Hilbig, B. E., & Zettler, I. (2018). The dark core of personality. Psychological Review, 125, 656-688. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Original publication spelling out the theoretical idea and definition of D and demonstrating that (i) many dark traits are (largely) subsumed by D, (ii) D accounts for diverse aversive (behavioral) outcomes, whereas the specific dark traits provide little to no additional explanation of these outcomes (beyond D), (iii) D can be fully represented by subsets of indicators in line with its fluid nature (i.e. D can be measured by any combination of dark trait indicators), and (iv) within models of basic personality structure, D is located across multiple dimensions (especially Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness).

Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., & Hilbig, B. E. (2020). Measuring the dark core of personality. Psychological Assessment, 32, 182-196. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Based on rational item selection techniques and data from seven large and highly heterogeneous samples (total N > 165,000), item sets (comprising 70, 35, and 16 items, respectively) suited for an economic and psychometrically superior direct assessment of D are identified. For more on measuring D and all item translations, see Measuring D below.

Bader, M., Hartung, J., Hilbig, B. E., Zettler, I., Moshagen, M., & Wilhelm, O. (in press). Themes of the dark core of personality. Psychological Assessment. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Further investigates the internal structure of the D70 item set to measure D based on three large and heterogeneous samples. Shows that a bifactor structure modeling D along with five specific factors — or themes — labeled Callousness, Deceitfulness, Narcissistic Entitlement, Sadism, and Vindictiveness, yields a superior measurement model for D. For more on measuring D and all item translations, see Measuring D below.

Zettler, I., Moshagen, M., & Hilbig, B. E. (2021). The dark factor of personality shapes dark traits. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 12, 974-983. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Tests the theoretical notion that D is the underlying tendency from which specific dark traits arise as flavored manifestations. Shows in 4-year longitudinal data that D is stable and indeed more so than specific dark traits and that D longitudinally accounts for (change in) dark traits, sometimes more so than the dark traits themselves. For example, D (modeled without any spitefulness items!) is a descriptively better predictor of spitefulness four years later than spitefulness itself.

Hartung, J., Bader, M., Moshagen, M., & Wilhelm, O. (in press). Age and Gender Differences in Socially Aversive (“Dark”) Personality Traits. European Journal of Personality. (download copy (PDF))

Investigates the structure of the D Factor of Personality across age and gender using Local Structural Equation Modeling. Shows that the structure of D is highly stable across both age and gender, thereby supporting the conceptualization of the D factor. Further, men exhibited higher levels on D than females, and the level on D decreases as age increases.

Horsten, L. K., Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., & Hilbig, B. E. (in press). Theoretical and empirical dissociations between the Dark Factor of Personality and low Honesty-Humility. Journal of Research in Personality. (download copy (PDF))

Specifies the theoretical and conceptual differences between the common core of dark traits, the D factor, and HEXACO Honesty-Humility. Demonstrates across four studies and several criteria (pretentiousness, distrust-related beliefs, and empathy) that D and low Honesty-Humility are best understood as functionally different and nomologically distinct constructs.

Moshagen, M., Zettler, I., Horsten, L. K., & Hilbig, B. E. (2020). Agreeableness and the common core of dark traits are functionally different constructs. Journal of Research in Personality. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Tests and rejects the notion that the common core of dark traits, the D factor, is essentially equivalent to the low pole of (Big Five) Agreeableness. Shows that D and Agreeableness are functionally distinct, that is, account for different variance components in theoretically relevant criteria, especially dishonest behavior, justifying beliefs, and (lack of) empathy and guilt.

Note also a recent comment on this paper:
Vize, C. E., & Lynam, D. R. (2021). On the importance of the assessment and conceptualization of Agreeableness: A commentary on ‘‘Agreeableness and the common core of dark traits are functionally different constructs”. Journal of Research in Personality, 90, 104059. (doi)

and our reply:
Hilbig, B. E., Moshagen, M., Horsten, L. K. & Zettler, I. (2021). Agreeableness is dead. Long live Agreeableness? Reply to Vize and Lynam. Journal of Research in Personality, 91, 104074. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Hilbig, B. E., Thielmann, I., Klein, S. A., Moshagen, M. & Zettler, I. (in press). The dark core of personality and socially aversive psychopathology. Journal of Personality. (doi) (download copy (PDF))

Demonstrates the conceptual and empirical overlap between D and socially aversive tendencies as studied in abnormal psychology: narcissistic, antisocial, paranoid and borderline psychopathology. Shows that – despite the limited theoretical and operational correspondence between specific dark traits and instances of psychopathology – D is well suited as a common cause explanation and outpredicts not only the full range of basic personality dimensions (including those most strongly related to D: Honesty-Humility, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) in accounting for aversive psychopathology, but actually the same instances of psychopathology themselves.

WHAT IS YOUR SCORE ON D?


If you would like to know your level in D, you can take a questionnaire online at qst.darkfactor.org.

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