Paranoid Systems
Antonia Majaca

Maybe all systems - that is, any theoretical, verbal, symbolic, semantic, etc. formulation that attempts to act as an all-encompassing, all-explaining hypothesis of what the universe is about - are the manifestations of paranoia. (Phillip K. Dick, at the Vancouver SF Convention, 1972)

In 1974, Phillip K. Dick sent a letter to the FBI. He had some valuable information about a communist conspiracy that the security service should know about - Stanislaw Lem, the most famous science fiction writer of the Soviet Block, was not actually a single person but a secret committee with the agenda of spreading communist ideology in the US by way of science fiction. At the time, Dick was rehabilitating from the recreational use of sodium pentothal that apparently granted his brain supernatural abilities and sudden, mind-altering faculties of extrasensory perception. The drug, popularly known as the ‘truth serum’ was one of the many chemical darlings of the CIA during the paranoid decades of the Cold War. Symptomatically, Dick’s favorite barbiturate was also used in the infamous MKUltra- the CIA’s illegal ‘mind control’ program that attempted, by experimenting on humans, to come up with the psychopharmacological interrogation aid which would repel lies and weaken the enemy subject. This program by the ‘Scientific Intelligence Division’ of the CIA was conducted in a wide array of public institutions - universities, prisons, hospitals and pharmacological companies across North America and was part of a wider research in psychochemical warfare and mind control. In parallel to these developments, across the Atlantic, Stanislaw Lem was putting together ideas for his later novel in which the futurologists gather in Costa Rica to discuss how to save the overpopulated, dying planet, but are prevented from even starting the discussion by the unrest triggered by guerrilla groups kidnapping the American ambassador. As a way to pacify the population the government initiates a covert psychopharmacological program by ‘enriching’ the tap water with empathy inducing chemicals. In the future, in which our protagonist wakes up after being frozen for several decades, psychopharmacology is not anymore a governmental mind control mechanism but has become a completely normalized state, whereby whole populations are continuously drugged in a perpetual state of self-deception about reality – the epistemic uncertainty becomes the ground for a new era of human automatons unable to decipher fact from fiction. Trapped between the continual process of mind programming and the sea of mental unfreedoms, the truth becomes irrelevant.

Antonia Majaca is an art historian, curator and writer based in Berlin and Graz. She is visiting professor and research leader at the IZK Institute for Contemporary Art at the Graz University of Technology, where her three-year research and publishing project ‘The Incomputable’, funded by FWF - Austrian National Science Fund, is developed through an international platform involving Graz University of Technology, Goldsmiths University of London and the Department of Human and Social Sciences at the University of Naples. Currently she is also one of the research curators for the multi-year project ‘Kanon Fragen’ at HKW - Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, initiated by Anselm Franke. Her ongoing long-term research “Feminist Takes”, involving a wide network of contributors - artists, art historians, film theorists, filmmakers, psychoanalysts and philosophers, has so far been presented at G-MK, Zagreb, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham and Tranzitdisplay, Prague. Recently curated conferences include ‘Knowledge Forms and Forming Knowledge - Limits and Horizons of Transdisciplinary Art-Based Research’ (co-organized by Patricia Reed and Mohammad Salemy) at the Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz and ‘Memorial For(u)ms – Histories of Possibility’ for DAAD at the HAU - Hebel am Ufer, Berlin.