Are we in the midst of a Conceptual Revolution?

Having at last escaped from the torture-palace of authoritarian love we shuffle about, numb and confused, flinching from the twisted septic wound of our past… It is painfully evident that post-Christian humanity is a pack of broken dogs.

– Nick Land, Shamanic Nietzsche

Having escaped the dark shadows of the supernatural, having overcome the fear of death, opened up our lives to the sciences of the Enlightenment, are we so quickly ready to fall back under the black hand of this bleak religious vision. Or is there an alternative? Is the Hermetic Revival the dark secret of materialism? Even that great materialist and mathematician Sir Isaak Newton spent his late nights mastering the hermetic worlds of alchemy.  Sir Arthur Eddington says: “The science in which Newton seems to have been chiefly  interested, and on which he spent most of his time was alchemy. He read widely and made innumerable experiments, entirely without fruit so far as we know.” One of his servants records: “He very rarely went to bed until two or three of the clock,  sometimes not till five or six, lying about four or five hours, especially at springtime  or autumn, at which time he used to employ about six weeks in his laboratory, the fire  scarce going out night or day. What his aim might be I was unable to penetrate into.”    The answer is that Newton’s experiments were concerned with nothing more or less than  alchemy.

Why at the summit of the Enlightenment did a counter-reaction arise in the power of the Romantic movement and a return to myth, magic, mysticism, and the gothic nightmare worlds of vampires, werewolves, and other metamorphic creatures come about? In the midst of Reason, the old supernatural worlds repressed and hidden found other outlets other forms. Is it possible that these returns are not supernatural at all, that the dark worlds of this resurgence is rather a return of the repressed Parmedian traditions, and that in Germanic Naturphilosophe – in the four greats of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, with their involvement in a subjectalist turn,  rather than in the inner dynamism of an immanent revolution, philosophy had forgotten its material roots and resolved itself into a reemergence of the World Soul? The metaphysical thesis of the (proportional) correlation of existence and cognition seems to have started even with Plato’s conception of the World Soul whose function is to come to know, and make (conjectural or categorical) judgments of the identity and difference of every finite thing it comes across in its circular movement in and around the world.1

The pedigree of the Anima Mundi (World Soul) threads its way from Plato, Plotinus, through the Hermetic Revival in Giordano Bruno and on to Schelling, and even into our own time in the guise of such hermetic monists as C.G. Jung and his followers. I do not want to reiterate the litany of this history in this post, which although would be fascinating is not the objective of this particular post. What is more interesting to me is how this strange notion became what we now term a materialist concept of immanence. The idea of the Anima Mundi is hiding below the surface of this concept of immanence like a dark shadow that will not go away but moves like a ghost through philosophical speculation in ways that most have either forgotten or did not know existed. In our long battle with the supernatural elements in philosophy that have over the past two-thousand years slowly been expunged or twisted beyond their original intent and meanings, we have been led to believe that our concepts have nothing to do with that ancient barbarism of the spirit. But if we were to be honest and actually begin tracing the heritage of our philosophical concepts and conceptual frameworks we might just discover that what we have taken to be pure materialist conceptions still have he taint of supernatural lineages. How did this come about? Why are we still bound to the older spiritual images and worldviews of our ancient forbears? Is there something innate in our natures that cannot move beyond of escape this dank world of the supernatural? Are is it that we need our strange ties to this spiritual heritage even if in its transmorgrified and metamorphic form as abstracted concepts of force and immanence? Are the gods still hiding in our concepts? Have we just displaced their names for our own conceptual trajectories?

After reading the resurgence of such trends as the Return of Religion in philosophy, as well as the recent turn to Hermetic thought I have begun pondering why so many of the philosophers we cherish as material idealists or in its proper form: transcendental materialists. Why these philosophers hold to conceptual frameworks that still have the taint of the supernatural. Even Speculative Realism with its fascination in the gothic, H.P. Lovecraft, Leper Creativity, Cyclonopedia, darker music and art, etc. Is Speculative Realism and its offshoots closer to the older Hermetic strains than it would like to admit? German Idealism is still alive and well in our time. Even Deleuze in his version of idealism as Transcendental Empiricism brings back the materialist empirical traditions that arose out of a confrontation with the Lucretian revival in the Renaissance in those rationalists of the 16th and 17th Century. What are we doing when we touch the rational with the irrational, logic of sense with nonsense? Even our modern sciences are tinged with the magic of numbers, with a belief in the hidden powers of number to explain everything. Is this a return of the mystical Pythagorean tradition. Even Badiou the Platonist brings us a philosophy of Love. And his epigone Mellassoux a ‘virtual god’ from the future. Laurelle the thought of a gnosis-fiction that is at once philo-fiction and scifi-philosophy for the adepts of our post-modern malaise.

I used to love J.G. Ballard’s great surrealist novels and short stories that brought us strange visions of time and its metamorphic powers. John Crowley in his series of novels gave us the Secret History of the World which was none other than this Hermetic philosophy as seen both in modern and Renaissance worlds. Nick Land brought us into the Shamanic worlds of Nietzsche, the strange cybergothic worlds, and the splendor of Ziigothic X-Coda. Progeny of Bataille, Land weaves a thin thread between creativity and cosmic madness that opens up the world to those ancient repressions that we once called the Dionysian. Camille Paglia brings us a visionary materialism that  shifts between Apollonian and Dionysian art forms in a more up to date version of the Nietzschean aesthetic. But what does all this portend for philosophical speculation? Is it worth investigating this arcane worlds, entering into such strange zones and modes of being? I guess I’ve always lived in that realm, yet was able to shift between our worlds of reason and the irrational more like as a poet who seeks out the symbolic progression of our strange history and possible futures. Not being an academic I’ve used the stringent techniques of critical thought only because as Foucault reminded us along the way that we all exist within ‘orders of discourse’, and if you use linguistic habits of thought that are too far outside the mainstream your voice and thoughts will not be heard. That is a truth we accept at our peril. But it is a truth none the less.

That I have always felt closer to the empirical traditions from Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, John Locke, David Hume, Sir Isaak Newton, etc… is without doubt; and, yet, materialism has they forged it is now changing, is no longer viable, and does not explain the truth of our universe in all its sheer magnificence. Why? Because the sciences that they gave birth to have now surpassed those lone masters of philosophy and given us a closer assemble of intruments and methods that allow us to gain a new perspective on that universe. The great thing about the sciences is that they too allow for change, and metamorphosis, and we are in an age of change for the sciences. That the critiques of natural philosophy and modern sciences of the 20th Century are now going through struggles and fine tuning is without doubt, but they will remain even if transformed by the power of thought itself.

Philosophy is the great brother of the sciences that gives it clarity and insight, descriptive powers and justifications for its strange theories as they are weighed in the balance of peer review and the long slow process of acceptance and testing. Do we like it that such things take so long and hold science back from offering us greater advancements? No. We know that science moving beyond the strictures of culture and its mores. Yet, as we know, it is usually the maverick scientists that spawn new and revolutionary theories that give birth to change. Why is that? We still do not have a good handle or theory of how change truly comes about, how shifts in conceptuality and conceptual revolutions come about. But we do know that once a new conceptual framework appears that it takes years if not generations for its affective relations to infiltrate the substantive worlds of our everyday lives. We’ve seen the reactionary pressure even within scholarship and science itself that is slow to change, that conserves its own current knowledge at the detriment of certain ideas, notions, and concepts that would truly bring about sudden and inventive movements within both culture and our material practices.

We are seeing in our age a slow transformation of the older scientific methodologies and approaches which due to the very successes of the past century have given birth to new technologies (biotechnology, AI, Medicine, et al) that are in themselves forcing the sciences themselves to change their fundamental frameworks. The older materialist framework is turning into a new materialism and slaying of the linguistic entrapments of the older worldview. Many philosophers are struggling to invent new concepts and conceptual frameworks within which to understand these processes, the dynamics of this change and its relations to history, self, the non-human, religion, science, love, art, and every other known form of thought, as well as to inscribe a new metaphysics of the universe to help us understand just what is going on in this dynamic rather than static cosmos. Not since the Renaissance has such a empowering battle begun in philosophical speculation, and we are only in the beginning with a handful of speculators leading the way forward. We can only now begin to see a part of the map and its outlying points of reference. It will take this generation to give birth to this new conceptual revolution, but it will come, and it will give us a vision of life and the universe that will guide us in matters of science, law, ethics, economics, etc. The great thing is that it will acknowledge the truth of where its been, where it is, and where it is going…. and will include not only the human but all those other non-human entities that we have left in the dark for so long.

1. Anima Mundi: The Rise of the World Soul Theory in Modern  German Philosophy. (International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales  d’histoire des idées) (Volume 202)Springer; 2011 edition (December 27, 2012)

4 thoughts on “Are we in the midst of a Conceptual Revolution?

  1. I have never bought into ideas of epochal shifts of Thinking, We the people have never been modern to borrow a phrase never really come to grips with Darwin and all, reminds me of earlier discussions of drug induced states for some these are felt as Keys to deep Universal truths for others of us just visceral experiences of the ideas we have learned about the chemical aspects of our being. Poetic dwelling is about our synthetic powers and not about literal-minded Gnosis.


    • That’s the reason I didn’t subscribe to such things as Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigm shift’ etc. I’m not speaking of that, but there is a struggle going on against a form of physicalist and certain types of naturalist frameworks that are an opening out to something else, something that is both a connection to older forms of thought as well as a movement toward a newer conceptual framework that might replace the Kantian one within a multitude of philosophers in our own time. Is this superficial? Is history just one thing after another, or is there a pattern in the carpet so to speak? Is the event able to work this? Or are we just full of crap and all there is is blind blips in the dark?

      Conceptual frameworks do change and tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physics seemed to be a discipline filling in the last few details of a largely worked-out system. In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously told an assemblage of physicists at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over two hundred years.

      I think that there is a synthesis and gradualist model of change that can account for this in the concept of the event that is both synchronic and diachronic, conjunctive and disjunctive that cannot be explained away.

      Yea, I’m a little wary of such use of religious terminology for other means as well… I think the epigraph from Nick Land fairly well sums up all that question begging… In a lot of ways all the poetic scrambling of metaphor and symbolic thought we’ve seen in philosophy is a little too mystifying rather than clarifying. We have yet to see a philosopher emerge that can move us forward. All we see are the fragments of its gesture…


      • I’m all for new ventures/inventions/in-comings, let a 1,000 flowers bloom, so many things all at once pushing and pulling at one another, but as for worlds better left behind…


  2. Pingback: Heidegger, Poetic Dwelling and escaping the literal-minded gnosis… | noir realism

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