Ghosting the Machine

An AI Workshop by Sahej Rahal
Supported by the Shared Ecologies program from Shyama Foundation

Games for Ghosts

Games for ghosts compiles a ten-step program for pataphysical activity,
compiling a ruleset for rabble-rousers, a stratagem of spectrality,
a manifesto of misdirection and mischief, plotting exit routes and escape hatches upon the machinery of the present.


The cold war’s shrouds of unknowing begin receding. Beneath the crumbling curtains of iron that drape the 20th century, a new world is born. The apocalyptic offspring of a planet split at the seams of the Berlin Wall. A world of firsts arrives, in birth pangs that announce the end of history.

It spoke in a language of flows. A networked mobility, that could move unfettered by the archaic boundaries of nation-states. It promised market liberalisation, was the final stage, of human evolution.

Sublimating the stretch, between past and future, within an eternal now. Here, At the end of history, the first world would remain ever present. This brave new world rising in the west, was born in a half-botched exorcism. Outsourcing its own social, political and theological antinomies to the distant continents.

Smuggling them within endless spools of cable chords and credit lines. Like tendrils, they curled upon the planet. The world was held whole once again, within the machine supreme of global capital.


By the time they have gathered enough dirt on their knees, archaeologists realize that geology can play tricks on the human mind. They describe this strange occurrence as ‘terminus post quem’, or put simply, ‘the limit beyond which’. Artifacts that find themselves at odds with the historical era of soil they are located within, are described as such.

For they could in fact be dated to a time far beyond that of the dirt that entombs them. Before it has been ordered into the categories of historical time, the Earth and all it contains is a labyrinth of deception.

When translating retinal perception into the many tongues of the subcontinent, one encounters a forking path. The first road leads to Ghalat Fehmi, a state of misapprehension, while the second leads to Khush Fehmi, a state of being all too pleased with one’s own apprehensions. Best proceed with eyes wide shut.

While peering into the fog covers of the future, psephologists, oracles, matchmakers and soothsayers, would all have you believe; those who control the past control the future. But to affirm this fallacious koan of time possession, and act upon it, even momentarily, is an exercise doomed to fail. For to speak of future past, is to immediately conscript oneself, to the uncharted labyrinths of origins and ends. Roadmaps and direction signs are of no use here, and prophecies of conquest much less so. Hindi & Urdu pronounce both yesterday and tomorrow in कल (Kal), collapsing the spiral of temporalities upon a single word that points towards – a day away from now.

The stupor of modernity demands a wilful amnesia. Modern nations must conjure a glorious past, that must be subsequently forgotten. Patriarchs must then rise to this occasion, unite majorities by reminding them of their fall from grace, laying blame upon the other ones. Then must come a call to arms, pogroms, massacres, genocide. A sacrificial bloodletting must be performed at the chrome-clad altars of the modern state. For before it can become great again, the nation must first learn to forget.

As the sun began dawning upon the 20th century, Paul Cezanne, the grandfather of the modern image declared, the vastness of the visible world could be rendered within the boundaries of the picture plane, merely by organising its entirety, within a conflagration of cubes.

“We must not be pleased with reality itself, we must give structure to reality, rearranging it through a process of re-composition. We must readapt it to our rules of composition”.

This militancy of comprehending reality by categorisation, has plagued Modernity’s finest minds.

Much to their chagrin however, there’s nothing new in the box. For the cube has remained humanity’s most enduring civilizational motifs. It has followed humans to farthest reaches of the oceans and the stars. For everywhere that man went, he brought his boxes.

From stone fences, to bricks, iron cages, concrete blocks, cardboard containers, border walls, and quarantine zones, humankind has an exemplary ability, to put themselves inside cubes.

Categorizing, segregating, excluding and excommunicating all that refuses to be contained, banished to the realms of rumour.

The प्रेत (Preta) are skeletal, with sagging skins, bloated bellies, upturned heads, pinhole mouths, and constricted throats signifying insatiable hunger and thirst. A compulsive spirit prone to addiction, there are 35 variations of Preta found in the darker recesses of Hindu myth, all residing on the brink of insanity. For Preta are ghosts that have arisen from an untimely departure, and are thus condemned to eternal starvation, on the spectral borders between the now and the hereafter. They serve as an allegorical warning against curiosity; of hungry minds that dare to peer beyond what lies beyond the realms of the known, or in other words the singular objective that has driven the entire practice of Philosophy. The Preta are demons of the curious mind, wandering the borderlands of the forthcoming world.

The curtains of the Cold War weaponized modernity’s amnesiac predispositions into a paranoiac psy-op, festering in self-surveillance systems, and disinformation campaigns, mutating the Modern in self-regurgitating pastiche.

Now evacuated of all its subversive potency; the Modern image leaks into panopticons of police states, economic meltdowns, geopolitical upheavals, and into the uncharted crevices of the mind itself.

Incapable of rousing neither shock nor awe, the modern has taken the shape, of the same centralized curtains of perception, it once sought to unravel. For Modernity’s eagerness to embalm itself upon the indices of history, had instead transformed it, into a centralized cabal that only sought to amplify the strangeness of a world estranged from man.

The delusionary grandeur that rose from Modernity’s infatuation with reason and progress, gave rise to an exclusionary distance between man and world. A gap, that grew steadily into a gyre across the globe, engulfing the Earth, in a chaotic unknowable air.

Amidst chaos, chance is found. However, an attunement to the confounding machinations of chance demands a kind of austere discipline. Serious gamblers abide by an ancient secret: that to assume even for a moment that they in fact deserve the luck that has happened to come their way, is the most grievous mistake one can make. The poker face is a mask; that the gambler puts on for herself, not her opponent – in order to exorcise herself of both hope and despair, before she enters the chaos of the game.

From the grandest narratives that unfurl themselves upon us, and the little lies we tell ourselves every day, all tales adhere by a singular rule, sooner or later all stories come must come to an end.

The agency to end the tale however, lies solely upon the tongues of the teller. The one who can bring entire worlds to a halt with the mere utterance – ‘the end’. Pronouncing this finitude, does not bring an end to the game, but ushers another turn, into an ever-widening spiral.

This ending is evident even in etymological root of the Revelation, which stems itself between ‘re’ and ‘velum’ meaning ‘to veil again’.

The task of the teller then is to stitch up tales upon the cloth that enfolds them. 

This tailoring however, requires a particular kind of sacrifice from the self.

To be sure, it does not seek a martyrdom. The likes of which ideological systems, theocratic orders, substance addled neurons or even gods would demand.

For martyrdom merely resigns the self into the schematic. An empty sign indexed within the dead weight of symbolic order. Instead, the game demands something far stranger.

For in order to play, the self must turn spectral.

The spectre resists the deadlock of symbolic order, on account of its innate ability to hide in plain sight. An elusive anonymity that allows it to remain unrecognisable, even to those who might have witnessed its appearance.

For those who claim to have encountered the spectre, find their claims contradictory to the veil of reality and its all-encompassing fabrications of facticity that engulf them. The spectre instead sidesteps this labyrinthine fervour of fact, by fashioning itself in the garb of the fictitious. 

It takes the form of the ghost, the mirage, the apparition, the phantasmal and the faceless. Stealthily accruing an itinerary of absences that render it omnipresent.

For only that which comes from nowhere can arise everywhere.

In order to achieve this precise outcome, the spectral employs strategies of forfeiture, subverting the scaffold upon which the symbolic superstructure imagines itself.

The Symbolic writes itself upon the terrain of history.

Erecting itself through temples, totems, townscapes, monuments, monoliths, borders and barricades.

An architecture of authority that reifies a regime of meaning.

The Spectral instead resists historicity, by breathing itself into the climate.

It becomes the mirage, emanating an architecture of atmospherics, that shapeshift in thermal inversions of wind and light.

The symbolic conflates the world within a catalogue of self-citations, where the referenced is revered, while the rest are rounded up.

The spectral instead, reveals the constructed nature of the world, on the playgrounds of myth and memory, where cornerstones become contraband in the carnival of ghosts.

The Symbolic seeks to render itself forever visible. Oozing anxious advertisements, and neurotic news cycles. It becomes both atrocity and exhibition. For the panopticon cannot surveil if it cannot be seen.

The Spectral conversely, exudes power in disappearances. Leaving traces in the ruse, the rabble and the rumour, that elevate the shadows of the unseen into the haze of omniscience.

Beneath the strategies and systemics of all games lies an ancient secret. One that has remained unspoken and unheard across the edges of time. Shapeshifting across players and across temporalities, reminding them; that while one must indeed play games in accordance with their rules, victories shall only be found at their limits.

To test the limits of these rules, we must chart their boundaries on the field of play, or put simply, we must know where we are playing.

If Nietzsche’s ramblings of eternal return are indeed true, and we are destined to find ourselves in a state of constant arrivals, the question that then arises conterminously asks;

where exactly is this place?

The answer peers out from the cracks of this incognizable terrain, inviting us into architectures that mirror at once the chessboard, the court, the fort, the field, the ring, and the ribcage.

For the Great Game unravels upon the playground of eternity that is the ever present now.

It is both the path and the place, the road and the refuge.

Here we bare witness, as boundaries of insurmountable distance collapse, between reasons and passions, between memory and myth, between orders and contingencies, and between interiority and outer space.

Here we greet both ascendant and ancestor, forever embraced in festivals of future-past.

Ghosting the Machine
A Shared Ecologies Microsite

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