Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator


Utter nullity. In the words of the ancient sages of ruined Ashenzohn, it was the endlessness that ends in itself. Dark silence beyond sleep and time, from whose oceanic immensities some bedraggled speck of attention – pulled out, and turned – still dazed at the precipitous lip, catches a glimmer, as if of some cryptic emergence from eclipse. Then a sound, crushed, stifled, broken into gasps. Something trying to scream …

Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

What do you fear most? What lies in the shadows of your thoughts like a lost memory on the edge of oblivion? In the long night of our despair the slow realization awakens out of the outer silences: the ‘Thing’ we fear most, the monstrous truth that will not go away is that we are alone in a universe that neither cares about us nor even acknowledges our existence. That behind the dark screen of the abyss beyond the stars there is no Big Other, no godlike being within or without who cares what happens to us. No god that will save us from ourselves. No one to hold our hands and comfort us when the darkness and decay finally brings us into that endlessness from which there is no reprieve. The namelessness beyond us is utter darkness and nullity; total oblivion.

Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.

H.P. Lovecraft – The Poetry of H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft in his litany of horror weaves the tropes that bring both dread and terror. In one passage he praises the French Decadent Gautier:

Gautier captured the inmost soul of aeon-weighted Egypt, with its cryptic life and Cyclopean architecture, and uttered once and for all the eternal horror of its nether world of catacombs, where to the end of time millions of stiff, spiced corpses will stare up in the blackness with glassy eyes, awaiting some awesome and unrelatable summons.1

A summons that will never come, a resurrection that will remain a lost memory in the dust of years. We belong to the tribe of fabricators, illusionists, makers of false worlds and dreamers of eternity. Yet, in the end our lies are just that: lies against time’s dark curvature, the sense of déjà vu – the amorphous feeling that we have done this before, that we are living through the steps of an eternal cycle that we have repeated over and over and over again from eternity to eternity. That we are not ourselves but rather patterns in a cosmic game of repetition without outlet. Is this not the dark truth we hide from ourselves? Are we mere dust motes in a cosmic funhouse?  Are the hideous faces in the House of Mirrors none other than the distorted image of our real selves staring back at us? And the moment we walk up and seek a clearer image of what lies behind those distorted eyes we discover a darker truth: the Void. The nothingness we are and are not.

“…the consolation of horror in art is that it actually intensifies our panic, loudens it on the sounding-board of our horror-hollowed hearts, turns terror up full blast, all the while reaching for that perfect and deafening amplitude at which we may dance to the bizarre music of our own misery.”
– Thomas Ligotti

Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Just finished reading Nick’s latest work and was pleasantly surprised that it was a fictional piece, a work of theory-fiction which uses the horror genre as a trope or metaphor for the present strangeness of his mental quest. We do not need to go over the history of Land’s slow fall into madness and decay at his own hands in his search after answers; after his heroic plunge into the abyss where he lost those bearings that keep us bound to the illusions of our tribe. No. This would be to belabor a ghost, an illusion that does not exist. No. The creature who goes by the name ‘Nick Land’ has already moved on, left this darkness for others to wallow in. Instead he lives a parallax life, a life between the gnomic and the betrayed. Nick Land’s eyes are wide open, and what he sees is not the terror at the end of the road, but the fabrications of terror we continue to build up in our illusionary striving after the absolute truth of some forbidden knowledge. Freud/Lacan would have seen it as the death-drive in us doing what it does best: the self-relating negativity that keeps us going.

“We exist within a stream of signs – a torrent. Information flows through us, in overwhelming abundance, as a deluge. It is screened, sieved, filtered, and edited, trimmed, narrativized, delegated to mental sub-systems, dumped, so as not to drown us. Yet, if we can calm ourselves enough to think, it is clear that this flood of signal can have only one possible source: reality.”

Nick Land,  Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

“Reality?” What is this thing we call reality? Is it a game, a fiction, a place you’d like to visit but feel it’s better to keep locked up in some dark corner of the mind rather than a place to truly know? Alison’s husband declares: ”

“So what is reality? That’s the question, yes? Don’t you see? It’s telling you. It’s The Flood. It’s total revelation. Every second, it pours in, through hundreds – thousands – of channels. ‘Don’t ask for a sign’ – I’m quoting Phyllis now. Perhaps I have been for a while. ‘You have a billion signs a minute that you don’t want. You’re already in The Flood.’”

In recent years scientists have discovered fascinating things about how our brain actually works. The amygdala (Latin, corpus amygdaloideum) is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. In humans and other animals, this subcortical brain structure is linked to both fear responses and pleasure. Conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias are suspected of being linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala, owing to damage, developmental problems, or neurotransmitter imbalance. (see Wiki) Recently neuroscientists have discovered large amount of data indicating that the amygdala, a particular structure in the brain, is strongly involved during the learning of “conditioned” fear.

What do we know about the Great Filter, really? We have a name for it, if only a provisional one, which says something. It has acknowledged existence. In the terms of the philosophers, it is rigidly designated. Something there is, of which we know nothing, except that it efficiently exterminates all advanced civilizations, at a cosmic scale.

Nick  Land,  Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

As I was reading Land’s fictional uptake on the ‘Great Filter’, a concept he lifts from Nick Bostrom:

Among recent thinkers, Nick Bostrom has been especially dogged in pursuing the implications of the Fermi Paradox. Approaching the problem through systematic statistical ontology, he has shown that it suggests a ‘thing’ – a ‘Great Filter’ that at some stage winnows down potential galactic civilizations to negligible quantities. If this filtering does not happen early – due to astro-chemical impediments to the emergence of life – it has to apply later. Consistently, he considers any indications of abundant galactic life to be ominous in the extreme. A Late Great Filter would then still lie ahead (for us). Whatever it is, we would be on our approach to an encounter with it. With every new exo-planet discovery, the Great Filter becomes darker. A galaxy teeming with life is a horror story. The less there is obstructing our being born, the more there is waiting to kill or ruin us. (ibid. KL 1134-1141)

As I began to muddle through this it occurred to me that the threat from the Outside is actually in a dialectical reversal actually to be found within the brain’s own processes: the Great Filter is truly deep seated within our own brain’s primitive survival systems that seek to protect us from our own misguided adventures. Could it possibly be that the threat we see externally out there is in fact the primitive response of our own amygdala and other neuronal activity? Are we truly just the victims of our own faulty evolutionary hijinks?

Our brain scientists tell us is shaped by pathological neurons: “Patients suffering from disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety problems, exhibit disruption of certain neuronal circuits which leads to unsuitable anxiety behaviour responses. The selective manipulation of neuronal circuits that we have identified, using new therapeutic approaches which need to be developed further, could make it possible to regulate the pathological manifestations of fear in these patients.”2 But as in all things science is a two-edged sword. What can be used to help patients can also be turned toward other ends, nefarious ends that could someday be used for controlling vast populaces through fear and terror. Isn’t this the true horror ahead? As Nick Land tells us in his notes:

If we could clearly envision the calamity that awaited us, it would be an object of terror. Instead, it is a shapeless threat, ‘Outside’ only in the abstract sense (encompassing the negative immensity of everything that we cannot grasp). It could be anywhere, from our genes or ecological dynamics, to the hidden laws of technological evolution, or the hostile vastnesses between the stars. We know only that, in strict proportion to the vitality of the cosmos, the probability of its existence advances towards inevitability, and that for us it means supreme ill. Ontological density without identifiable form is abstract horror itself. As the Great Filter drifts inexorably, from a challenge that we might imaginably have already overcome, to an encounter we ever more fatalistically expect, horrorism is thickened by statistical-cosmological vindication. The unknown condenses into a shapeless, predatory thing. Through our techno-scientific sensors and calculations, the Shadow mutters to us, and probability insists that we shall meet it soon.

– Nick Land,  Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator .

The dark secret is that we are that thing which we have been and will always be: the shadow that seeks to encompass us is the realization of our own nullity, the fruitless seed of a fruitless universe. Oh, and you were hoping for a sign of hope. Go look in the mirror my friend and tell me if there is hope or terror staring back at you out of those voidic eyes. In the end you are alone with the alone, without support or foundation, born of emptiness you will return to the vastation that is

But will you open your eyes or close them? Will you return to the comforts of you gods and fictions, your human habitations of thought, and zones of safety and marginal beliefs shaped by the cultural others. Or will you enter the darkness on your own terms, confront the bleak truth with your own unknowing mind?

You can read Nick’s latest work on Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

1. Lovecraft, H. P. (2013-07-03). The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 810-812). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
2. INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale). “New neuronal circuits which control fear have been identified.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 November 2010.

4 thoughts on “Nick Land: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

  1. Can’t help but wonder. Contemplate the void and the nullity and the bleak truth. Abandon false gods, myths, prophets. Confront the unidentifiable, formless, abstract horror. Feel kind of indifferent really. The inevitability of the end just seems like a logical starting point for thinking everything else. The sun will fizzle out, the universe will become an undifferentiated, formless nothing stuff. So what? Why fear that? Before that we could fuck up and kill ourselves or be destroyed by some Other. So what? Is there some incredible act we can perform to avert the inevitable? If it truly is inevitable, then the answer is clearly ‘no’. We would be better off just accepting it, maybe taking ourselves less seriously, maybe thinking about the little things and of finding ways of living joyously or sincerely or at least in a way that honours the sheer incredibility that there is anything that exists at all. It’s the bit that is not inevitable that irks me. The idea that there are different ways to live/die and that somehow we’re stuck with death by capitalism (and patriarchy, racism, casteism, ecocide, etc.) and that this is not the only way… That’s what makes me think. That’s the matrix in which I want to plant my life, to think my thoughts, to forge my relationships. And if all this is inevitable, if indeed we are doomed to our own human inadequacy, what then? Resignation? Acceptance? Raging against the dying of the light? Loving those close (or distant) to us? Celebrating our numbered days? Or is it just a matter of carrying on, pushed and pulled by countless dark forces, groping about in the dark as best we can. Because the real perpetually breaks through and we are forced to confront concrete intrusions into our lives, to respond or live with them as best we can. What is this best we can? Is it another myth or illusion to think that we can actually do anything better? That we can and do change over time, that we can acquire new sensibilities and abilities, that we can do this by forming new types of heterogeneous collectives and by abandoning all forms of orthodoxy without, however, letting go of a politics that takes the contingent nature of injustice as what is perpetually to be reworked, and by grappling with the other-than-human real and continuously throwing out or allowing our ontological commitments to be rejigged by the brute force of what we encounter… that seems like the only worthwhile thing to be doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha… glad it spurred you onward in your own peregrinations. Yep, there is always behind the fictional worlds of horror the opposite or parodic grin lifting its head out of the abyss. As you say we can take it with a grain of salt, get on with our lives, realize the backdrop is a mystery we fill with either dread or euphoria (i.e., our illusions, our artistic impulses and fictional bandaids, etc. ).

      When I wrote this there was always hiding behind it the imp who smiles, the one who says: “Oh how quaint, this ultimate bleakness of yours… but, why take it all so seriously? Isn’t it also true that the destruction you see is only in yourself, not out there in the darkness? What if you turn it around, realize the abyss of fear is actually a fiery realm of laughter? What if all this dark portent is actually there to spur you into joy?”

      Lacan’s sense of ‘jouissance’ as to denoting a transgressive, excessive kind of pleasure that awakens in us the sense of bodily pain become pleasurable, etc. For me dread and horror bring about that opposite: the power to retroactively instill joy into the world through fracturing our complacent comfort zones, forcing us to confront that which is in new ways. I was reminded of Zizek’s recent deployment of this notion when he describes “jouissance as real is lost for those who dwell in the symbolic order, is never given directly and so forth; however, the very loss of enjoyment generates an enjoyment of its own, a surplus-enjoyment (plus-de-jouir), so that jouissance is simultaneously something always already lost and something we cannot ever rid ourselves of. What Freud called the compulsion to repeat is grounded in this radically ambiguous status of the Real: what repeats itself is the Real itself, which, lost from the very beginning, persists in returning again and again.”1

      Maybe horror is this lost object that keeps returning to us in so many guises, goading us on in our quests to recover this lost realm of our beginnings: the Real. Maybe in the end what we seek is already here, that our life in this universe is all there is and that all our fantasies of past or future are incomplete. We are the lost objects we seek so repetitively in the masks of our desires and fantasies. What we really fear is the truth of our own self-relating nothingness: both our joy and our sorrow.

      1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 8788-8792). Norton. Kindle Edition.


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