TENET-ISE THE FUTURE: Christopher Nolan and the de-algorithmisation of desire

I wrote my review on Christopher Nolan’s TENET (https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/11/15/christopher-nolans-tenet-absolute-knowledge-as-living-with-temporal-paradox/…) as an extension of my ongoing engagement with Zizek’s thought and of its points of convergence with Deleuze’s philosophy.

The conceptual substrate of my analysis of Nolan’s film is based on my immersion in and my responses to the concepts and perspective of Bernard Stiegler, whose books, articles and online seminars I have followed for over a decade.

Bernard Stiegler’s research programme contains a very useful and stimulating set of reflections on the algorithm, desire, and drive, and its heuristic power seems to me to be superior to the rival Zizekian research programme’s treatment of these themes.

Stiegler’s research programme has the advantage of integrating Deleuze’s concepts and insights (and those of Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and many others) into its framework knowingly and explicitly, without the sort of revisionary Zizekian approach of implicit appropriation and explicit denial that is typical of Zizek’s own work and that of his followers.

Stiegler is not in Deleuzian denial, and so he has no need of the deliberate re-writing of philosophical history that Zizek often engages in.

My own thought is close to Stiegler’s. However, I diverge from his research programme on one important point. I do not accept his dualism of drive and desire.

For Stiegler the algorithm is destructive of desire, and releases and composes with the drive. For Deleuze desire exists in both territorialised forms (including algorithmic desires) and deterritorialised forms (including tenetic drives).

From a Deleuzian point of view TENET is about algorithmic desire. That which is slowly cancelling us in the present and our projected future is the « Algorithm », a future desire for the death and annihilation of our present as a past to be cancelled.

From Stiegler’s point of view, the expression « algorithmic desire » is a solecism, as desire is the « incalculable ». For Stiegler the algorithm corresponds to the destruction of desire and to the hegemony of the drive.

I side with Deleuze on this point, against Stiegler (and also against Zizek): there is no dualism drive/desire. To posit such a dualism is to fall into a reductive scientistic stance, a neo-biologism.

In Feyerabendian terms, the problem is not a biological one but a pragmatic one – of fruitfully combining tenacity and proliferation. We need to conserve the « tenacity » of the drive while freeing it from its territorialisation. Desire can be just as tenacious as drive. This is what Nolan calls « tenet » and what Deleuze calls « faith » (cf. his thematic of « faith in this world »).

Christopher Nolan diagnoses a death drive impulsing our civilisation and its tenacious push towards climate catastrophe. He finds this death drive within our technocratic hubris intending to « fix » it by means of geo-engineering. The hyperbolic image of this techno-fix is the Algorithm.

Nolan’s proposed solution is to reverse the algorithmic reversal of desire into drive, to resist the full calculability of desire, to operate on a faith outside techno-nihilism. He invites us to tenetise the future.

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