I teach contemporary philosophical anthropology at Stasis Center for Philosophy at the European University in St. Petersburg. Inspired by Paul Preciado’s ‘Letter to an Extraterrestrial’, originally published in Libération in July 2021, I decided to begin our classes with reading this letter aloud and discussing it with students. The discussion was intense and brought us to the idea that an extraterrestrial form of life, which Preciado addresses, stands for the one, or, better, for the Other, who does not speak human language. This address reminded me of the chapter ‘And Say the Animal Responded’ from Jacques Derrida’s book The Animal that Therefore I Am, where he challenges the anthropocentric categorization of the animal as the silent Other. The form of the letter, chosen by Preciado, presupposes that at least it will be read, and as far as the letter is read, perhaps, it already reaches its addressee. Finally, I gave my students a piece of homework: to write responses from the aliens that, therefore, we are. Below are the responses – six letters from ‘extraterrestrials’ from Russia, with love.
Authors: Natalya Rybalko, Andrey Denisov, Mikhail Fedorchenko, Alina Kondakova, Elena Kostyleva, Ilya Izyumskiy
My name is Natalya, I am a second-year master’s student at the Stasis Center for Practical Philosophy at the European University of St Petersburg and I, it seems, am that very alien you have called upon. After all, we both understand that your letter is addressed not to some extraterrestrial intelligence but to your rather earthly readers. When you wrote your message, you had us in mind; it is we who have to think about the flawed arrangement of our earthly life, shudder at its injustice and . . . do what? Attempt to change it all somehow?
Let us first try to understand why you do not approach us directly, why you need the figure of an alien. It should be admitted, perhaps, that the figure of a nonexistent other, the figure of a mediator, allows you to legitimate your discourse. Indeed, it is one thing when you turn to us directly, as one human being to another—in this case we have the right to ask whether your problems are really as important as you make them out to be (I personally agree that they are very important). It is a completely different thing when you, choosing an alien being as the recipient of your utterances, speak as if in the name of the entire human race. In that case the problems you voice acquire a planetary scope, for they become that singular most important thing that should first and foremost be shared with the denizens of another galaxy (it is here that I begin to have my doubts). And, of course, your assumption that the problems you name are unknown to the higher extraterrestrial intelligence presupposes that we too should overcome these problems, but this does not raise the question of the means for overcoming them. This way, a higher intellect is also incapable of helping us. After all, judging by your letter, it is unaware of these foreign problems.
Furthermore, by designating the figure of a third, you are free (and you use this freedom) to designate this figure as that ideal toward which we all, so imperfect, should strive. But using this ideal to reproach us, do you propose any paths toward attaining it? The result you so desire could not be attained by a mere act of volition. Otherwise, your proclamation of this ideal has, as its goal, our acceptance of the feeling of guilt for our imperfection, a feeling that is unproductive, passive, and consumes us from within. In other words, the question you do not pose—that of the means of action and resolution of the current crisis—comes up again.
Undoubtedly, the fact that you address us indirectly through a third, made-up, idealized figure takes care of unnecessary pathos. Had you not done this, your message would have merely stated facts obvious to all, striking a somewhat histrionic note and appealing to “all that is good”, so I do acknowledge the elegance of your move, which has allowed you to distance yourself from such pathos, bringing into your narrative the illusion of an honest attempt to thoroughly explain the problems that matter most to you. This is a great move, I will admit that.
But, overall, in the name of the alien you address your message to, I would like to ask you, dear Paul: could you perhaps address me—yes, me, who has a body with a potentially reproductive uterine cavity, subject to bodies producing that fluid with a high concentration of genetic material we call sperm, and vulnerable to stigmatization through exploitation practices—could you perhaps address me directly, see in me the direct and intended recipient of your utterance and, most importantly, a potential comrade and agent for intending and implementing the changes that will bring the ideal you appeal to closer to fruition. Yes, I, so imperfect, not just an object of oppression in an existing binary gender system, but also, likely, the oppressor in another system (like the “human-animal” system) would like to have the opportunity, despite all the bitterness and guilt, to honestly and openly discuss my position and, most importantly, those paths out of it, which we can only build through solidarity with each other and not with idealized and made-up creatures.
With hope for mutual understanding,
Natasha Rybalko, your “extraterrestrial” friend.
Your letter delights me. You truly entrust me with something intimate and precious: your dream to save your home. Every species appreciates it when a stranger bares their soul to them without having any guarantees that they will receive something in return. Therefore, I will answer you in kind. I am filled with bitter regret, for I cannot be your savior: I am your jailor. I am truly ashamed, dear Paul! You are completely right: by your standards, I have lived among you for a long time.
The truth is that several centuries ago our species evolved extremely quickly. We had overcome the confines of binary bodies and begun to exist as a manifold structure that reinvents new powers for every object, and thus we have begun to understand beings in all their potencies. This has opened up an incredible potential, and yet everything has its price. To satisfy the needs of such complex bodies, we quickly ran out of resources on our home planet, and I was given the task of finding a new source. And I found you, the earthlings.
Your planet is fantastically rich, so you developed slowly. I needed to speed you up. Looking at the strong magnetic field of your planet, I realized that if it is studied, that which you now call electricity can be created. For several centuries I nudged du Fay, Lomonosov, Coulomb, Ohm and many others along the path to harnessing electricity, until in 1834 Jacobi built the kind of electric engine I needed. After that you have done everything by yourselves. Since then, your development began to accelerate so much that you started to overproduce, and through this all-penetrating electric current, or what you call capitalism, I have begun to extract resources to help my own species.
I tell you this because over the centuries of staying with you I have begun to love you. I cannot stop what I myself have done, for betraying my species is beyond my power. On top of that, your liberation must be accomplished by your own hands. I hope that in reading this letter, you will stop counting on me and taking me for a savior. I will also ask you for more.
Please, depose me,
To a citizen of the so-called Earth,
Preciado P. B.
Esteemed P.B. Preciado,
We must disappoint you: your letter has reached its destination, but due to foreseen circumstances we have to inform you that there are no extraterrestrial forms of life here, only us, Metarussians. Gagarin, being the first Metarussian in space, undertook a revolution in xenorelations with the cosmos, claiming that he, as it were, “went to space and saw no aliens”. But if Russian revolutions of any sort have no meaning unless they are cosmic revolutions, that is, Large Repairs, then we, the Metarussians, fix cosmic Breakages with the help of appropriately cosmic Repairs. Since Metarussia (which is, according to the theory put forth by Metarussian general M. Kurtov, a process of incessant infiltration, of the becoming of that which will be) inherits Russia’s techno-religious Gestalt, we have perfect mastery over the art of breakages which we, in the current cosmic economy, export to the Earth.
You plan to solve the planetary crises, ecological disasters, and political intrigues you describe through Small Repairs that you create and market anew in Western society: human rights, political correctness, neoliberal reform, and so on. We understand that you, being a Western subject, see gender and anti-phallogocentric revolutions as merely the most radical step in the chain of efforts meant to perpetually delay the Big Breakage, yet we propose to resolve political-social crises by adequate countermeasures: the system of production based on accumulating and destroying resources is to be solved by a Large Repair of anti-capitalist projects and revolution; race and gender segregation—by the acceleration of a post-gender agenda; binaries and phallogocentricsm—by queer resistance and new xeno-relations; while alienation and objectivation are to be solved by full automation. We call this the schizophrenic mode of resistance, which is the most successful and effective one (the more breakages, the more schizophrenia, the better everything works, as Deleuze and Guattari used to say).
Metarussian cosmism, to turn Fyodorov on his head, re-conceptualizes the Earth as a common territory of nature, resources, non-human agents, as well as the individual and social aspects of human beings. It creates a machinic noosphere, renders consciousness cosmic, and detaches ontological continuums from astronomic striations, giving technological progress cosmic freedom when it comes to the immortal construction of mothers and fathers from the atoms and molecules of desiring machines. Metarussians approach universal immortality not through resurrection, the zombification of mothers and fathers, and mastery over nature, but through splicing the technical and the biological (“humanity should not be idle passengers, but the crew of its terrestrial craft”), assembling ancestors, accelerating the capacities of the human/nonhuman organism and cybernetic control of cosmic processes.
The impersonal machinism of the unconscious, represented by schizoanalysis, turns into a catalyst of cybernetic flows, which “fold pragmatism into involutionary technical runaway” in becoming a Metarussian cybergothic, annihilating the sublime, the subversive play of forms, negations, mysticisms, and schizophrenic withdrawals to the techno-noo-sphere. The accelerationist decision here reappropriates the cybergothic through machinic animism and splicings with the inhuman. Machinic desire rips through political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities. Digitization and capitalism are ideal technoviruses, reprogramming desire and virtualizing production. Alienating tendencies are only consolidated through the availability and development of neural network interfaces, techno-economic intelligences, big data, the immanentization of the market, and cyberpositive sophistication, characterized by platform economies and social network monitoring. Experiments in commoditization, as well as those dismantling and co-opting social and cybernetic spaces, only confirm the capitalist totality, moving not so much toward the borderline splintering and decoding of immanentization that the market and expanding techno-commercial replication conditions, but toward preserving and imparting to unfolding processes a negative speed through decelerating splicing.
The buzzing of desiring machines in cyberspace and the shimmering of the Metarussian cosmos resonates with the pulsation of matrices’ digital flows, with cyberdevices’ artificial sex in Žižek’s kitchen, with mating with prosthetics, with Giger and Akira’s biochemical superstitions, with partisan zapatista Wi-Fi, with the death of the political, unfolding to a measured glimmer of burning corporate servers, with the lynching of Silicon Valley, with dvach-cyberterrorism, as well as with how Alice paints pictures, while Siri (and not only she) spies on iPhones, trade unions organizing, and the cryptorave, where, in the very last cyberpotlatch, the last surveillance camera is destroyed.
Greetings, dear earthling.
My species is biologically only slightly different from yours, so it would not be very difficult to accommodate my feelings and thoughts to your kind. However, even having done so, I, of course, will not be able to guarantee complete mutual understanding, since, as we conceive it, such an understanding lies beyond the place where thinking is born. Forgive me if I am imprecise at choosing earthly signs and uniting them into figures, as my species is more inclined to use sensuous and sensory means to establish effective communication, but in this case I will try to maximally engage thinking structures without turning off the sensory apparatus intrinsic to my kind.
Perhaps you will be disappointed, for I am other than what you imagine. True otherness remains essentially hidden, but reveals itself through borders and differences—we honor our differences and the borders that separate us. That said, we refuse to cast our morphemes onto those who are at least somewhat different from us; we have rejected indifferentiation. Having analyzed our species’ endlessly long violent history, we have accepted the need to give up fleshless reflection, for it destroys the collective body by immersing the vital impulse deep into the all-consuming consciousness, which leads straight to an intoxicating hallucinatory world. And so, naming and boundary-setting have become in essence foreign to us, being unreliable and potentially pernicious forms of communication. I cannot understand, little earthling, why your species is so persistently producing bounds and categories of all kinds: do you not see that they cut into the body of your collectivity and tear it so barbarously into tiny pieces, impinging upon the individuals subsumed into this body? Do you not see that, it seems, you too are infected by this sickly desire?
I do not know you in any way beyond the signs that you have sent me. But, according to how I feel and understand, you are also outside of these signs, you leave an impression of an individual who belongs to an as-yet not fully developed species, childishly naïve and cruel. Such qualities, if they pertain to your entire kind, however, make you exceptionally lively and adaptive. Despite the unimaginable distances between us, the message of your existence fills me with fear, the fear that I will be consumed at our very first meeting, for you explicitly say that you need a fresh look at your existence, and you will not be too shy to take that look away from us and appropriate it, as you did with your planet’s resources and most members of your species. You write that you invite me not because you need my help, nor in order to accept my otherness, but so that I bear witness to the time of your metamorphosis: this is a gesture of self-indulgence that seeks cosmic acknowledgment, no more and no less, even if it would require destroying members of your own kind . . . I see it! You desire’s expansion! It seems to be rather in the spirit of your tribe.
Having received the message about your species’ mode of existence, I pray to every star in the silent and cold cosmos that our interstellar paths—and those of others—never intersect with yours, because, despite sympathizing with your plight, we think that salvation from the outside is obviously impossible for you. Nevertheless, we harbor some hope that you could understand and accept your nature, for until now you have merely suppressed it, causing suffering to your species and to all that constitutes your habitat.
With endless love at a distance,
By appealing to extraterrestrials, you appeal to God, the radiant and the good; you appeal to him whom we await. Such an appeal to an other is no longer possible on our planet. To create and organize the scheme of transcendence, one needs to go beyond totalitarian planetary capitalism. Or beyond the world. The need to transcend the world is essential, inherent to the human.
Yet, we are all chased into the Umwelt. Into a concentration camp, Paul. It is an Umwelt of political and sexual identity, an Umwelt of a personal banking card and its pitiful contents: digital bonuses that appear and dissolve so quickly we do not have time to spend them on anything truly precious. It is obvious that your column was written for such a bonus.
Assuming that the specific gesture of appealing to extraterrestrials is a philosophical move, we would like to return this move to you in reflection—in a literal reflecting, from the other side, from behind one of the iron partitions with which our planetary concentration camp is carefully divided.
There is envy in the appeal to extraterrestrials, a delegation of that freedom which you do not possess. Envy and idealization are one half of the split, the reverse of which is persecution (this mechanism is discussed in clinical psychoanalytic work; it is well-described by Melanie Klein). The simplest reply to you would be that an extraterrestrial will not be kind, that he is not kind.
Psychoanalysis often demonstrates the heart of the matter, but it is never sufficient. Politics is needed.
The logic of what you describe, that is, of capitalism, which according to Jamieson has colonized our dreams, is a consistent annihilation of the other, a categorization, a cataloguing, the impossibility of wonder. It has dealt the most damage to the main thing that leads to wonder: the other “in itself”, the concept of gender. The inability to wonder becomes the ability to consume: your own gender and that of another can be categorized in identity politics and consumed.
As a result, a fundamental confusion between the alien and the other arises. Which one is correct: “extraterrestrials” or “xenoterrestrials”? If extraterrestrials were really to arrive, according to the rules of a new ethics, you would not have been able to call them extraterrestrial; their name would have become just as impersonal, would have pointed to just as little as the names of local fevers and viruses.
And, actually, you do know what would have happened, had they really come. First, they would have been walled in and militarized. They would have been kept in secret. Their blood taken. All their blood—the way only vampiric capitalism does it. There would have been attempts to determine their gender. Then there would have been attempts to rape them. Then VIP passes would have been issued to let people look at them. Hollywood would have made a blockbuster about them. One way or another, they would have been betrayed—certainly, inexorably monetized. And, afterwards, they would have been turned into an idol, to which people would bow, praying for their sins to be forgiven. Don’t you know? Just look at what they did to the dinosaurs.
There is no God. No one from without will help us. Theological logic is pernicious and reactionary in all cases. “Mom and dad” are busy and will not come to rescue us from our fear of the endless night. The Big Other does not exist (I call him the “Sick Other,” since there is only the difference of one letter between “big,” “большой,” and “sick,” “больной,”—in Russian). But, and this is the most important point, there is no kind king, to whom you can appeal under the guise of appealing to the aliens. No one would come, establish order, and save the planet from the Anthropocene.
And yet, you appeal to him. You appeal to God.
A philosopher must be careful doing that. What if God were really to come?
What if he is here already?
What if the extraterrestrial is you, yourself? And together do we form your ideal creature—an extraterrestrial? Today we form him together with you, as your other. This is a collective creature, a Hegelian “we”: not a union of two, not the primal scene, but an orgy.
Is this not why they try to divide us and force us to live in a system of identities, ratholes, bank cards? Your column about Notre Dame was beautiful: in it, we flew toward the extraterrestrials and our souls became airborne. Let us fly, Paul! Like Gagarin! Off we go! Shoot!
Greetings, you sack of blood,
OUR telepathic signals are transmitted in your language, so you should understand OUR answer. The means of primitive communication have changed hands in six superclusters, finally reaching US, and WE found that it is meant for US.
WE are radiant, WE are far and near, WE are beyond all your object-subject categories. WE are born in the hearts of stars, WE are those around whom galaxies spin, WE are those who create what you could call the order of chaos. WE are light, WE are darkness. And WE are dissatisfied. If it were characteristic of US to feel your earthly feelings, WE would have been furious. How dare you, presumptuous primate, having climbed out of dark woods only yesterday, address a higher being like US? You are able to understand neither OUR form nor OUR motives. And OUR problems are so large that you, earthlings, cannot even imagine them; they are similar to eternity, stretching out everywhere.
But what is it that ignited in your infinitely little minds a despicable desire for OUR help? You ask US to come to you, whether out of pride or out of desperation. You want US to come to your world, marvel at your impulses and direct you, ceasing to work at solving OUR problems, compared to which yours are merely an echo of a weak planetary jitter.
The true reason for this letter lies in your laziness, your unwillingness to decide and think. Your squirming and grimacing are laughable to US. Your entire civilization is merely dust on the glass of a cosmic vessel. And with all that you think yourselves too proud to perfect yourselves, too great to recognize your inferiority. Even on your tiny planet at the universe’s outskirts, there are creatures higher and better than you. Your bees and ants are far more harmonious and self-sufficient than you are. It follows from what you say that you do not acknowledge your responsibility for that dance of death and dominance that your race performs on the smoldering ruins of your planet.
And you want that WE, a pure luminous mind, come to you? And what are WE to do with you? Conquer you? That is something only your species does. Help and direct? You won’t understand it. Destroy you out of mercy? No. Everyone should be given a chance. You should that understand already, Homo sapiens. WE are not gods to you. You, people, are still too stupid to be OUR flock. The best WE can do is leave you alone.
Look under your feet, not at the sky.
WE break off the transmission.