Who Goes There?
by Robert Cheatham

Establishing residence has always been a tricky
business, ever since humans decided that the fertile
triangle where the nile and euphrates rivers meet might
be a good place to set up a really big camp and hang
around for a few generations. Large groups of humans
have always congregated where various flows are
possible (rivers, flood plains), materials can be brought
in and out; at the joinings of different topological
domains (ocean/land, mountain/plains); where defense
of perimeters can be easily set up (hilltops); and just
generally where various crossings take place.

But of course the very things that make crossings so
valuable for life contribute to the very things that often
make life unbearable. In a closed system, everything
seems to contribute to a crossing. Any particular
biological body is evidence of that. However once the
system is breached, the very efficiency of the crossings
in the closed system contributes to the total failure of
the 'system' (death of the body). In reality, there do not
seem to be any totally closed systems, all
configurations, constellations, ensembles, bodies,
having a certain amount of leakage built-in, entropy
being one measure of a crossing of energy and matter.
(Keep in mind that entropy means a "theoretical
measure of energy which cannot be transformed into
mechanical work in a thermodynamic system", energy
transformed into heat, then lost or dissipated, via, e.g.,
friction). The history of the crossings of matter, energy,
and consiousness -- or technology -- is the history of
attempts to turn larger and larger amounts of that
entropic heat to useful work and thus reduce entropic
decay. (In truth, the heat loss is simply transferred to
the next larger 'system', which, for all earth bound
processes, is the eco-system of the planet earth.)

There is, however, a type of crossing which, at least
initially, seems immune from the type of decay
asociated with physical processes and that is the flow
and crossing of information and communication. It is,
no doubt, imbricated with materiality but increasingly
the rhetoric of information is tied to its de-materialized
aspect, a virtual 'ballooning' away from objectness.
Information and its movement becomes an infinitely
renewable resource, creating its own containers out of
its own non-substance.

This negentropic crossing of information,
communication, consciousness is not a new one
however, the mythopoetic tradition having long been
aware of the crossing of streams of dreams, bodies,
minds, dimensions across different realms and
'platforms'. That tradtion has also long recognized the
powers available to those who find those nodal points
or gateways. Science and technology have long been
pre-occupied with the materiality of those crossings.
Those ensembles of information are now themselves
undergoing a rapid transformation as even the idea of
'materiality' undergoes change. Matter itself is
becoming nothing but a crossing at the node of
information and communication, infinite surface within a
finite space, holes traversing holes (see the Menger
Sponge for such a holey model.)

The Greek traditions of Mercury and Hermes embody
the aspect of communication, boundary patrols, the
uncertainty and instability of flows and crossings
(Hermes in its trickster mode). These instabilities
extend even into its sexual self (from whence we get
the word 'hermaphrodite'.)

The African Yoruba tradtion of the West Africa, also
has the crossroads figure in Elegba (and in the
Afro-caribbean Voudoun tradition of the Loas
Erik Davis (http://www.levity.com/figment/trickster.html)
lays out many of the characteristics of Elegba: the connection
with languages, communications, the act of divination
as a hermeneutic entrance into a network of meanings
which are always in oscillation and moving from place
to place and plane to plane (its very partiality creating
an interpretive need, a boundary and breach all in one)
and the 'possession' of one system by another. (One
could suppose that possession is simply one aspect of
a dynamic style of thought, which includes the idea of
doubling or twins, wherein sympathetic resonances can
be set up between areas of similarity. As novelist
William Gibson points out, the veves bear a
remarkable similarity to the printed circuits; both are
used to establish communication.) For Davis,
Eshu-Elegba is "the being of the network", the very
essence of a global telematic presence, with all of its
ambiguated communicational strategies. And like
almost all shamanic figures in mythology, Elegba is a
cripple, using a cane to maneuver, feining falls, actually
falling sometimes, proceeding in a crab-wise motion,
never in a straight line. And yet always the custodian of
the gate, the way, for those who would pass from one
domain to the next.

But, like another figure of another crossroads,
Maxwell's Demon, (http://www.pomona.edu/pynchon/entropy/demon.html)
Legba, Hermes, and their kin are not pure flow. A
sorting also occurs at crossings, a sifting of routings,
paths in terms of possibilities, probabilities, a
constrained toss of the dice at each node as the
message makes its way. One might say the divinitory
structure of tosssed coins, yarrow stalks, or pebbles is
built-in to the very structure of the net, a giant Pachinko
game, endlessly combining, separating, combining, a
continual weaving from randomness to order and back
again -- or is it vice versa?

Like Deleuze and Guattari's probehead in a Thousand
Plateaus, the trickster elegba's cane continually probes
fault lines in space and time even becoming conflated
with the phallus as a further probe into matter, genetic,
molecular, always moving materials across boundaries
and simultaneously setting up boundaries, three points
triangulating moving targets (perhaps prefiguring the
crossroads of crosshairs, certainly putting the human at
the ominous end of a certain technological vector). A
roulette wheel but with, no doubt, a slight 'fix' in the
works to vector outcomes to the human domain (while
still being able to consort with the dead, those ultimate
passers-by). And all mythological boundary figures
start and end with communion with the dead. As Avital
Ronell points out in The Telephone Book, the very
history of modern communications technology is tied
up (crossed) with attempts to speak with the dead
(http://noel.pd.org/topos/perf5.html) or a radical other
(Bell, Edison, Marconi, etc. The gateway between the
living and the dead is perhaps only traversible with the
cabalistic incantatory immateriality of information and
language. Perhaps the stroke between life / death
marks the ultimate engagement of technology.)

But several rather severe questions remain, questions
which can only be asked and not answered: what are
the consequences for life, thought, and labor of being
asked to live continually at the crossroads?
Traditionally, that is, up until yesterday, one went to the
crossroads and through them, was sorted, picked up
goods and services that had arrived through various
other crossroads and went back home. What happens
when the home itself becomes a radical, incessant
crossing; when subjectivity becomes even more
slippery as it is crossed by ever more powerful engines
of simulation? (Subjectivity itself is now subject to
simulation, as artificial intelligence
http://noel.pd.org/home/zeug/doll.html) researchers
continue to refine their approaches; does subjectivity
have a gold standard?) What happens when the pure
crossing of information passing itself, becomes the
generator of value, need and necessity?

And the other question is: who's in charge here? Chaos
theoreticians (http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/matterdl.htm)
and partisans of complexity theory would have it that we
are beginning to engage with world-wide
self-organizing systems, systems which find their own
balance, structure, and autonomous governors. These
structures are composed of crossings and boundaries.

Boundary maintenance is also the preserve of Elegba
and Hermes. Indeed, Hermes literally means 'stone
heap,' or a boundary marker for roads. Rafael
Lopez-Pedraza also points out the connection of
Hermes and these stone markers to the phallus as
delineation of borders and as warnings to foreigners:
"The stone heap is, in fact, an archetypal image of a
god. Therefore, we can say, this god Hermes, 'Lord of
the Roads' as he came to be know, also marks our
psychological roads and boundaries; he marks the
borderlines of our psychological frontiers and marks
the territory where, in our psyche, the foreign, the alien,
begins." (Hermes and His Children, p. 14, Spring Pub.,

Perhaps we are coming, historically, to the edge of the
roadway, bumping our toes on the stone heaps which
help to define the path at the end of the twentieth
century. These figures of myth, which even now -- or
especially now maybe -- continue to have resonance as
the way into the future seems all too uncertain and
everything seems to be porous, leaking away from us.
The sublime achievements of an industrial age start to
seem like faded posters as the edges of an increasingly
uncanny age makes its way onto the world stage, an
age presided over by gateways, flight paths, lines of
flight (two quite different things), increasing numbers of
roads, of all kinds, everywhere -- and concommitant
inability to tell which one we should set foot on. No
wonder a gimpy potentially traitorous travel guide
seems better than none at all.


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