Ray Brassier: Nick Land and the Art of Truth

“What is really interesting in these texts is the way in which there is an extraordinary re-elaboration of negativity, a kind of non-conceptual negativity, and these texts bristle with this kind of sublimated fury, and that’s what makes them really powerful.”
– Ray Brassier on Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena

Just a quick note… discovered a new transcription of a Ray Brassier’s (9.2010) dialogue on Nick Land at moskvax. In it he tells us that what is exciting in these texts by Land is that “I want to show that it’s possible to rehabilitate the powers of the negative against what Ben Noys has called the “affirmationist consensus” in contemporary theory…” He continues showing that Land is following a track laid down by his immediate precursors Deleuze and Guattari in that he “proposes to radicalise critique, to convert the ideal conditioning of the representation of matter to the material conditioning of ideal representation. In the Landian apparatus, materiality is construed solely as the production of production. Transcendental materialism in its Landian version becomes a materialization of critique.”

Brassier continues telling us that this new transcendental materialist critique is “no longer a Hegelian or dialectical sublation of this difference. It’s non-dialectical. It’s a reduction of the difference to matter, because Land claims thinking is a function of materiality, and representational thought, that is to say, conceptual categorization and even, on this account, the logic of the dialectic itself, is simply a circumscribed or depotentiated version of a functional potency generated by matter itself. The claim is that matter itself is synthetic and productive. Matter is primary process, and everything that unfolds at the level of conceptual representation is merely secondary and derivative. Synthesis is primary and productive, and all synthesis is the conjoining of heterogeneous terms.”

He will retain the Kantian “primacy of transcendental synthesis”, yet not in empirical terms (i.e., of objects of experience anchored in a constituting subject). The key term becomes “self-synthesising potency of… intensive materiality.” As he states it: “Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. Land is quite explicit about the link to a certain version of Schellingianism here. He explicitly links Deleuze and Guattari to Schelling.”

Brassier affirms that this very subversion of the Bergsonian element of vitalism within Deleuze’s thought, and its related materialist subversion of Kantianism brings with it a new set of problems. What happens in Land is that since he’s supplanted representation, yet what he wants to do is to supplant  “Bergsonian vitalist phenomenology for an unconscious thanatropism.” And, as Brassier states the issue: “how do you access the machinic unconscious? It’s not simply given. Land insists time and time again, nothing is ever given, everything is produced. The problem is that Land’s materialist liquidation of representation, because it doesn’t want to reaffirm, allegedly, the primacy of sub-representational experience, which Bergson and phenomenology do in various ways… he has to explain what it is he’s talking about.”

He tells us that Land tries to dismiss this issue by saying “well, you have to understand that thinking itself is no longer about representational congruence between concepts and objects, ideas and things, but is itself a productive process.” Instead of the questions of access to an independent reality Land’s movement is a Deleuzean one of intensification: “It’s no longer an epistemological question of the legitimacy or the validity of your thinking vis-a-vis an allegedly independent reality, it’s simply a question of how your schizoanalytical practice accentuates or intensifies primary production, or on the contrary, delays and inhibits it. Truth or falsity becomes subordinate to the dyad intensificatory/deintensificatory. This is the conceptual trope which becomes translated into a political register. At the level of what it is you’re doing as a machinic materialist, intensifying primary production; all your practices become governed by the imperative to intensify and accelerate. To ruthlessly demolish any obstacle that threatens to delay or inhibit this.”

Yet, Brassier sees a problem here: “the concept of intensity becomes fatally equivocal in this register.” Against a Bergsonian intensification which is based upon the phenomenological corrrelate of intensive experiences Land must forgo this form of vitalism, because, as Brassier argues “he’s not interested in phenomenological subjectivity and he’s not interested in experiences insofar as they are experiences of a subject in the Deleuzoguattarian register: an organism, with a face and a personal identity, etc. These are all the things that are supposed to require destratification.”

Then he makes an acute observation on Land’s predicament, saying, the “claim that you can dispense with the need of any epistemological legitimation for your metaphysics by simply saying it’s not about truth or falsity, it’s just about the intensification of the primary process, is incoherent, because matter itself as primary production, or death, is not translatable into any register of affective experience or affective intensity.”

Instead of the need for a continuing intensification which leads to an affirmation, Brassier stipulates that once “thinking itself becomes subordinated to the imperative to intensify and destratify, it’s clear that there must be a limitrophic point of absolute deterritorialization towards which the process of affirmation or acceleration tends.” Land, Brassier tells us, has no sense of limits for him the “ultimate limit is not a limit at all for him, it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia.”  Ultimately this new intensification leads toward a process that “demands the elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process. The question is then, under what conditions?”

Brassier tells us that this unbounded philosophy of intensification leads us to the Uroborous who eats its own tail: “how can you intensify when there is no longer anything left to intensify? If your schizoanalytical practice is fueled by the need to always intensify and deterritorialize, there comes a point at which there is no agency left: you yourself have been dissolved back into the process. Once secondary production has been re-integrated or feeds back into primary production, ironically what you have is a bizarre mimesis of the serpent of absolute knowledge, except this time, it’s the serpent of absolute production.”

Brassier also approaches the problems for political critique in Land’s thought that leads not to any liberation, but will ultimately fall into the trap of becoming the “pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism.”

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Click here for more info: Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena

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