Blind Signifiers in the New Age – tobias c. van Veen

By tobias c. van Veen

By tobias c. van Veen

By tobias c. van Veen

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Keywords:: Hakim Bey. Magick. Chaos. Technics of perception. Trickster gods. New Age. Occult arts. Derrida. Politics. Advertising. Symbols. Blind signifiers. Foucault. Mandelbrot Set. Sex. Ritual. Incantations. Consensual reality. Pop culture. Fela Kuti. Tectum Theatrum. Unveiling. The naked Emperor.


Magick remains slight-of-hand, taking into account that the hand itself is a symbol of the unforeseen. The hand crafts and manipulates through an art (tekhne) of symbolic infrastructure. With a wave of the hand, signifiers come crashing down to form new consensual realities. Chaos patterns these principles in their levels of control and organicism. Yet the invisible is not “magical”: it remains a technics of perception. Hakim Bey, who discerned inventive relations between magick, chaos and tactical intervention, and who has infamously eschewed technology in his later works, is posed the following question: is there not a technics of perception to the art (tekhne) of magick?

Every time a mouth is opened, an orifice of meaning – a text is deciphered, writ on the wall, disseminated across digital realms – at any point in the generality of the technics of perception – the art of magick is at play.

The magick I wish to speak of is neither that of enchantment nor that of transmutation and the history of alchemy. Certainly it bears its relation to the dark arts of the occult and those of politics, the two fields being closely linked.

Magick is the tactical deployment of symbols, sometimes for strategic ends, always to serve the unfolding process of play, otherwise known as the first principle of magick, CHAOS.

More precisely, magick is the manipulation of the slippage between symbols, between signifer and signifier, the minimal distance of which constitutes the effects of a consensual reality.

To intervene through the symbolic realm, which is to say within the technics of perception, is integral to many dark arts: advertising, public relations, and other campaigns of perception and infowar, most of which operate at levels more banal than often thought and thus, within the muck of the fundament, which is to say, the technics of ontology. These are battles fought over appearances and disappearances on the ontological plane, skirmishes over the way in which apparitions embed themselves within networks of deeply-entrenched, fragmented shards of signifiers, the feedback effects of which Derrida called consciousness, that shadow of nothingness between us and its myriad transmissions and decodings, of which either of us claim an I.

Magick undertakes unconscious intervention. The conscious manipulation of its effects can never be determined in its whole. Uncontainable and unpredictable effects always supercede the ends of its means. This is why “magic” never works: it’s always a trick. The trickster gods are always at play: Raven, Hermes, Loki, Anansi, Eshu, Coyote, Ellegua…. Yet this is also why, like all tricks of selective perception, it is a dark art — even in its coda of New Age ideology, magick requires a certain disposition in which collective blindness is required. Indeed, learning to trick blindness is the first art of magick. For the New Agers, the revealed secrets of Aquarian or Mayan collective reality demands selective blindness to enact its magickal infrastructure. The coming of 2012’s culmination of the Mayan calendar is thus a high magickal act, for it calls into blindness the consensual hallucination of transformative effects.

Advertising, voting, sex and purchasing – from picking-out to picking-up – are all strategies of selective perception that act under cover of blindness. Coercion is often the endgame of magick, whether self-ritualized or at the hands of those studied in second-level cybernetics. Deciding whether a selective process is indeed self-initiated, or is a curse upon me, a hidden control mechanism – Foucault called it discipline, in relation to biopower – amounts to an opening of the one eye among the blind. With profound sight, one reveals the hall of mirrors in which the other eye remains blind. There are no secrets to magick. The symbol shards are already at work. Ritualized symbolic magick operates all around us, and there is no secret to its operatives. Indeed, it is not the content of the intervention that matters; rather it is the implicated desire to participate in the unfolding of its meaning that ensnares collective blindness. Those most aware are those most misled.

Which is to reaffirm the structural necessity of magick to consciousness. It cannot be thrown out. Language, as the art of meaning production through the feedback of incommensurate signifiers, the shards of which reverberate as the alien effect of consciousness, is what can be named, in its technical processes, magickal. Jacques Ellul notes that the very transformation of things to tools is an act of magick. Magick, historically, has held the position of accounting for the unaccountable. That science and historical accuracy have overtaken blind belief has in no way affected the deployment nor necessity of magick. Far from it, the expansion of practical uses of complex methods thanks to rigour and process – from particle physics to reality TV – has only widened the scope in which symbolic intervention undertakes its displacement.

Magick always touches upon CHAOS. Which is to say – with deep nods to Hakim Bey – that CHAOS NEVER DIED. The question is often capitulated as a moralism of CHAOS. CHAOS has been pronounced as profound negativity, as demonic agent of turbulent destruction to human order. Theology pronounces CHAOS as the reign of humanity’s sinfulness, but would one expect otherwise from such powerful magick? CHAOS is the underlying fury, the fires of which must be held at bay through discipline and organisation. CHAOS is the destructive endgame, the final point of erasure, Judgement Day and the Rapture. Likewise, CHAOS is the tender, all-embracing wombmother, Gaia. Who can say? What can one say? CHAOS demands its transvaluation to uncontainable and unpredictable ecosystem of unfolding change. Neither Gaia nor Lucifer, heaven nor hell, the clear light of jewel consciousness and/or the horror of its shadow. Chaos as the physicists see it, as the Mandelbrot Set of fractalization, magick in the numerological plane of indeterminacy.

CHAOS unfolds; it is the art of its unfolding that concerns magick, or to more carefully elaborate, it is the perception that it unfolds (at all) that concerns magick. Intervention is thus technical, its elaboration tekhne, its discipline an art.

* 50% of the piece consists of high quality scans of letter/postcard sent to Hakim Bey.

tobias c. van Veen, b. 1978, is doctoral candidate in Philosophy & Communication Studies at McGill University, a renegade theorist and a turntablist practitioner of the technology arts. Since 1993 he has disseminated and exhibited work in sound, radio & net-art, performing and intervening with laptop and turntables, renegade soundsystems and sonic rituals. His label, IO SOUND, explores occult and offworld transmissions of the undead and unheard. His next publication, an edited volume tentatively titled “Afrofuturism: Interstellar Transmissions from Remix Culture”, is forthcoming from Wayne State UP. Tobias is also Managing Editor at Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture. Thankfully, he also mixes a mean absynthe martini, often consumed while scrawling for his unfiltered research blog at

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