“Larval Terror and the ‘Asymmetric Enemy’ Larvatus prodeo—I advance masked—wrote the young René Descartes, suggesting that he advanced upon the stage of the world like an actor wearing a mask (larva being the Latin word for mask). A few centuries later, Friedrich Nietzsche observed that ‘whatever is profound loves masks’ (1966: 50, aphorism 40) and that ‘every philosophy also conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a lurking-place; every word is also a mask’ (1966: 228-29, aphorism 289). Indeed, every presentation and/or subject-position is a ‘projection’ that conceals, disguises and dissimulates; every persona is a mask atop a mask—a meshwork of masks and of masking. I—any I: myself, yourself or otherwise—advance not merely camouflaged, but forever camouflaged (indeed hypercamouflaged): every persona hides another persona, and another and another, ad infinitum. So my first point is to highlight this larval condition of [an] infinitely recurring masking—the darkside or underbelly that accompanies and ultimately ungrounds any and every quote‐unquote ‘enlightened’ position.
When carried to its darkest extremes, a feeling of terror often emerges from this condition of infinitely recurring masks: not the discomforting suspicion that ‘truth’ is masked and that the ‘true nature’ of reality is hidden from us, but rather the more terrifying realization that ‘reality’ is a perpetual mask‐generating machine, that behind every illusion is not ‘truth’ or something really and truly ‘real’ (the ontos of the ancients) but rather an illusion‐generating meshwork that operates autonomously beneath every stated presentation, position or claim. Just as in the film Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, larval terror is chiefly an affective state in which we may sense something—we may feel it viscerally—that we can’t identify, quantify or qualify. ‘Larval terror’ is the feeling of ontological and epistemological insecurity that results when we are confronted with the infinite recursivity of the larval condition. When viewed within the context of globe‐girdling and ubiquitous digital information-networks, what is terrifying about this reality of advancing ever‐masked (especially in digitally mediated societies such as our own) is the ease by which its banality and ubiquity—its ongoing and widespread everydayness—can be weaponized. Even more terrifying than the realization that every mask hides another mask is the weaponization of insecurity that results from this larval feeling of terror. A passage from Philip K Dick’s classic Scanner Darkly (1977) is telling in this regard:
One of the most effective forms of industrial or military sabotage limits itself to damage that can never be thoroughly proven—or even proven at all— to be anything deliberate. It is like an invisible political movement; perhaps it isn’t there at all. If a bomb is wired to a car’s ignition, then obviously there is an enemy; if a public building or a political headquarters is blown up, then there is a political enemy. But if an accident, or a series of accidents, occurs, if equipment merely fails to function, if it appears faulty, especially in a slow fashion, over a period of natural time, with numerous small failures and misfirings—then the victim, whether a person or a party or a country, can never marshal itself to defend itself (96).