Nick Land: The Nature of Shadows; or, The Anti-Humanist as Historian of Atrocity

“Sex is the natural in man.”       – Camille Paglia

“Since homo sapiens has prowled the earth, nature has adapted to new shadows.”                –   Nick Land
Homo Sapiens

At the heart of Nick Land’s polemic is a hatred of ‘the superstition of self’. He sees in the thought of both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche an unfolding attack upon the humanistic traditions that have centered themselves upon homo sapiens as the center and horizon of all thought and praxis. As he states it: “Nietzsche is perhaps the greatest of all anti-humanist writers. …his writings attest to the most powerful eruption of impersonality in the Occidental world. …nowhere outside Nietzsche’s texts is there an antipersonalistic war-machine of equivalent ferocity” (98). [1] Of Schopenhauer he says: “Schopenhauer is the great well-spring of the impersonal in post-Kantian thought; the sole member of the immediately succeeding generation to begin vomiting monotheism out of their cosmology in order to attack the superstition of self” (98).

Land sees both of these thinkers as precursors to a philosophy of difference. In his view “the difference between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is not simply that between thoughts of indifference and difference. It is more a question of phases in the emergent thinking of unilateral or non-reciprocal difference, which departs from the bilateral difference synonymous with ontology” (101). This difference is immanent in its relation between the organic and the inorganic in that “the difference between the two is wholly immanent to the inorganic as primary term” (101). In his view of the libidinal economy of energy he sees the idea of the recurrence of the same as the “impact of undifferentiable zero; the abortion of transcendence” (101).

Nietzsche’s movement is toward a unilateral, materialist, or genealogical interpretation of difference. Instead of the Ubermensch (Overman) Land tells us “humanity cannot be exacerbated, but only aborted” (103). He goes on to say: “It is first necessary to excavate the embryonic anthropoid beast at the root of man, in order to re-open the intensive series in which it is embedded” (103). Between Schopenhauer’s metaphysical pessimism (‘European Buddhism’) and Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism (‘exultation of dissolution’) we get the motor of nihilism: Christianity – “the great zero, and the impersonal generator of nature and culture in their incompossible consistency” (103-104).

Christian history had one goal, and one goal only: the return to God. With the advent of nihilism that goal was lost, nullified, brought down to the level of shit and waste. All those posthumanists or transhumanists who seek to transcend the human in some Overman, a restoration of teleology, are all marked by that nihilism of production and productivity of the Puritan smile: an ascetic grimace that aligns both capital and industry in a pact to institute a permanent war through peace. This is religions revenge: to move into the zero world immanently and emerge as the terminal phase of the human project toward God as Man; the zero-function. The acquisition of the material forces of the earth as a project in transcendence of the human through a teleological affirmation of Zero. How to get there these posthumanists ask? Land tells us: War. But War is Peace as Nietzche affirms: “You should love peace as a means to new wars. And the short peace more than the long one./I do not advise you to work, rather to struggle [N II 312].” As Land tells it these “are the most profound words in the history of military thought; the libidinal comprehension of peace as a unilateral differentiation from war” (106). After a lengthy discourse on the dark demarcations of war he shows us along with Freud that war is the free-flow fundamental “violence of desire.” “Civilization (with its attendant militarism) is war subject to repression, and the energy of war is Thanatos; base hydraulics” (107).

History as the study of atrocity is for the genealogist to gaze into the “buried horror” of the laboratory of human cultures. Land then tells us of those scholars of this strange history, saying,

“Academic prose has the remarkable capacity to plunge one into a sublime dystopian nightmare: is anything this appalling really possible? one asks. What happened to these people? Is it part of some elaborate joke perhaps? Or do they just hate books? … One only has to read genuine scholarship to be wracked by ardent dreams of incinerated cities.” (110)

1. Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation (Routledge 1992 )

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