Giger/Hegel

Guillotine © 1961 H. R. Giger, et. al

From the very beginning, Giger visually situates himself as a reader of Hegel. Consider the image above. In it, the artist makes his art beneath the guillotine. His canvases capture the synchronicity of execution, of slaughter. They take the moments of death, defeat, and failure and by transforming those moments into artistic productions, he seeks to redeem them. Hegel asks us, "[...] as we contemplate history as this slaughter-bench, upon which the happiness of nations, the wisdom of states, and the virtues of individuals were sacrificed, the question necessarily comes to mind: What was the ultimate goal for which these monstrous sacrifices were made?" The implication is that without such a goal, the long nightmare of history remains without meaning. For Hegel, if there is no reconciliation of suffering with purpose, then the law of the cosmos is Roman. To the victims ("those who are sprawled underfoot"): damnatio memoriae. But it is Hegel's goal precisely to avoid this. Indeed, Hegel's entire project is a metaphysics of redemption (whether that redemption is forever deferred or not is secondary to its aim). Thus he reconciles himself to the guillotine in the belief that its excess (the splatter of blood upon the canvas of world history, the thump of the victim's agonized head as it drops to the cobblestones below) will be someday reintegrated into the Absolute. For "the life of Geist is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself." The excess of dismemberment is the blood of the dismembered, and that excess necessarily accompanies the act itself. What must the world fundamentally be like for Hegel in order for this to be possible?

Biomechanical Landscape II No 417 © H. R. Giger, et. al
Biomechanical Landscape III (Trains) © H. R. Giger, et. al.

Giger's biomechanical landscapes compose a distinctly Hegelian metaphysical portraiture. They are snapshots of Substance, a true "world-picture" (Weltbilder). In short, the landscapes are perfect representations of Geist supervening over or inhering within Nature. As articulations of the technics of Geist, they fully ensmear the raw, sick mess of materiality. Matter rots, but its rottenness is only another site of production. It is even misleading to postulate the distinction in such terms altogether, for no (ontologically) strong distinction can be made. For Hegel, there is substance, not substances. There are only differences in textures, spatial variations, permutations and distortions, whorls − but there is no clear distinction between that which is "biological" (or Geistig) and that which is "mechanical" (or natürlich). Hence the affective response of disgust commonly experienced when first viewing the biomechanical landscapes. Why disgust? It is not because the biomechanical as such is abjected (Kristeva). Fundamentally, Hegel's philosophy does not rest upon an abject-oriented ontology (as Bataille's does). Instead, it is because there is nothing imaginable outside of the biomechanical landscape's contours. It is a living map of an undead territory. That is Hegel's innovation. For him, metaphysics is a machine for living in (Le Corbusier). Bios does not occupy a privileged space in a hierarchy. Rather, it traverses the mekhanikos (from the Greek, meaning that which is "full of resources, inventive, ingenious"). The traversal in question is less like "a schizophrenic out for a walk" and more like the slow growth of a radiotrophic fungus, feeding off the Zone. In Giger's biomechanical landscapes, there is no penetration (despite, at times, appearances to the contrary). All that exists in them is all that exists, the World Stuff, only a pulsing and pure immanence. The perspectival trick they perform is to subsume the viewer forcefully into themselves, like a conceptual-visual glue trap. They ensnare the viewer, at first, by embodying seductive abjection, but the abjection is simulacral. When the viewer finally looks away, she has already been illuminated. Escape is no longer possible once the viewer realizes that the painting was a hole in the curtain of appearances, that one cannot look away from that which environs and surrounds. The biomechanical landscape − that which Hegel's System limns − is the World and everything in it. To view it is to become aware of immersion in the inextricable amnesis of Geist/Nature as the condition of possibility for the whole (e.g., imagine a disturbing inversion of Augustine1 or Whitman's2 "continual miracle" of Being).

Landscape © 1979/1989 H. R. Giger, et. al.

Addendum: despite the appearance of fine reticulation, the biomechanical landscapes (like the Hegelian world substance) are smooth, not striated. The smoothness inheres in the coils and curves of tentacular space. Tentacular space can "feel itself up," so to speak, but only on the condition of its smoothness. Ontological smoothness necessarily appears reticulated, but underlying (even making possible) the reticulation is a form of homogeneity that any immanence embodies. This is what Badiou means when he writes of Deleuze that his "fundamental problem is most certainly not to liberate the multiple but to submit thinking to a renewed concept of the One" (Deleuze occupies the latter part of a trajectory in thought that begins with Parmenides).

Biomechanical Landscape No. 347 © H. R. Giger, et. al.
Landscape with wreck © 1979/1989 H. R. Giger, et. al.

The derelict is the remainder of a spacefaring culture that has passed away, destroyed or sacrificed, a site of dialectical failure that is haunted, pregnant with potentiality. From its dusty arcades and twisted ruins emerges Giger's Alien, stalking the landing crew first in its very absence before discharging its biomechanics upon them, penetrating their bodies violently with its obscure desire (revealed to be nothing so obscure at all, for the Alien seeks to reproduce itself). If the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space (Bataille), the Alien then embodies both: coiled, erotic, predatory, and savage. Natural, but Nature's excess, both the ghost and the darkness. The bodies of the Nostromo's crew are its standing reserves (Bestanden). But first there is nothing, only the empty space of the derelict, filled with echoes. In it, "the imminent awakening is poised, like the wooden horse of the Greeks, in the Troy of dreams." This is precisely crucial: from the derelict, a ruin, springs the resurrection. A speculative Good Friday − not for Ripley, nor for the Nostromo's crew, but for the Alien itself (Hegalien). The Alien (that which does not belong), that which takes first one shape, then another, proceeding dialectically along its pathways of development. First, it is an unknown interloper and, later, entitative and taxonomized, the product of breeding habits and lifecycles ("the wealth of the appearances of spirit, which at first glance seem to be only chaotic, is brought into a scientific order, exhibiting them in terms of their necessity and within which the imperfect modes fall into dissolution and pass over into the higher forms which are their proximate truth"). Alien is a Passion Play. It is a story of a God coming to be. "A transmission of unknown origin," "the exposition of the coming to be of knowledge." In short, the Alien is a further articulation of Hegel's biomechanical world substance, Giger's perennial subject: "the perfect organism, its structural perfection matched only by its hostility." "The final report of the commercial starship," humanity's artificial womb and its sole protection against the void between the stars, the preparatory stage before the gestation and maturation of that which proceeds by sublating the human body itself − Alien, or animate Geist, the operative coextension of Nature, the two combined perfectly into an organism whose hostility is incidental, even accidental. Sublation necessitates destruction, sacrifice. Futurity emerges blood-spattered from the chest cavities of those who encounter it. Thus, from "the quiet shore where we can be secure in enjoying the distant sight of confusion and wreckage" (ruin gazing on an extraterrestrial scale), to the utterly nonconsensual integration of the Alien body into our own, this is what Hegel (Hegalien) ushers forth. The passage of Geist traverses the landscape of biohistory in the same manner as the Alien stalks the Nostromo's decks. This is what the cunning of reason entails: real cunning, real slaughter ("what it brings into existence suffers loss and injury. [...] Compared to the universal, the particular is for the most part too slight in importance: individuals are surrendered and sacrificed. The Idea pays the ransom of existence and transience − not out of its own pocket, but with the passions of individuals"). Hence why there is always another Alien in the making, one way or another, why Giger's Idea (Hegalien) gets reconfigured endlessly. Ripley may escape for now, but the Alien always returns in the next installment.

Necronom IV © 1984 H. R. Giger, et. al.
Shoe-Werke Landscape © H. R. Giger, et. al.

A material-philosophical study in verdigris. "The faint scent of rotting metal," they contain the hints of bones within them, as if they were subjects physiologically repurposed. The fetish object in its purest form ("visible and dazzling to our eyes"), in which the fetish and the fetishist become identical, with only the barest skeletal tracings to signify that the object had once been animate. Now there is a radically new form of life, self-identical and static, the calcified remnants of Time. It is like a painting of a stopped clock. These are history's afterbirth, stiletto placenta. Raw meat commodities produced in entirely automated and mobile factories. The factories on great spidery legs skitter slowly over a desert world, dumb creatures beachcombing a planet with no more seas. Slowly but surely, they recycle all repurposable materials and process them according to ancient machine instructions. Conveyor belts spit out thousands − millions, billions − of high-heeled shoes, dropping them in the patinized wasteland like a strange spoor. In discarded heaps of heels, Giger depicts the end of history. "The mode of existence of fetish objects" as a utopian project. Bewusstsein becomes Warenfetisch: history materializes. The nightmare of time fades into eternity, which is a Now that does not fade. Augustine states that time consists of the movement of (all) physical objects. "Time is the movement of an entity." So when Time (History, "the halls of night") ends, motion becomes impossible. Perhaps it was always an illusion; at the end of history, "Being becomes Begriff." Was it not always already Begriff, only calved and fractured? The meaning of the end of history is the erasure of all possible caesurae. "Absolute Knowledge, which reveals the totality of Being, can be realized only at the end of History, in the last World created by Man." This is the desert world, the shoe work landscape, geologically perfected by means of precipitated climatological reform on a global-industrial scale. The originary philosopher of the end of history is Parmenides. History as the history of Idea is the slow solution of the following Gordian riddle: "being is, but nothing is not." That nothing which is not is that from which Hegel's negative springs, like a dark, slow river eroding the programmatic error that Time was. "History itself must be essentially finite; collective Man (humanity) must die just as the human individual dies; universal History must have a definitive end." Absolute knowledge, "being the last moment of Time − that is, a moment without a Future − is no longer a temporal moment." This is why Parmenides is Hegel's progenitor. "What exists is now, all at once, one and continuous. Nor is it divisible, since it is all alike; nor is there any more or less of it in one place which might prevent it from holding together, but all is full of what is." The end of history is a incalculably vast and unimaginably still planetary archive of fetish objects that once were subjects. It is not the murder of the Real (Baudrillard) that conditions the present, but rather its birth. Simulation is a form of production in which ontological impurities are removed. The primal scene is an endpoint, not an Ursprung. It takes the form of the fetish object because "to be aware and to be are the same" (for Parmenides, being and thinking are numerically identical because there is only a metaphysics of the One). In other words, if a fetish is an acute awareness in which libidinal investments saturate the object of desire, then the identification of the fetish and the fetish object is its implicit trajectory. We know now, for Giger has shown us, that for Hegel the end of history is marked by the materialization of the Absolute − not in the form of a Book of Wisdom (Kojève), nor a classless society (Marx), nor a properly ordered state (the ancients), but in the form of a Shoe.

"Helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breasts; they are carried along deaf and blind alike, dazed, beasts without judgment, convinced that to be and not to be are the same and not the same, and that the road of all things is a backward-turning one." - Parmenides