Eugene Thacker: In the Dust of this Planet

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The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.
– Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Eugene Thacker would like us to believe that he is a philosopher rather than an obscurantist and harbinger of a new mysticism beyond the Death-of-God. His new work purports to be among other things a philosophical excursion into demontology; or, the study of the inhuman world-without-us, which denies the anthropological view of the world as not simply the world-for-us or the world-in-itself, but as the world-without-us.1 As he further explicates:

Likewise denying the view of metaphysics means considering the unreliability of the principle of sufficient reason for thinking about the world (not sufficient reason but a strange, uncanny, insufficiency of reason). A philosophical demonology would therefore have to be “against” the human being – both the “human” part as well as the “being” part.(ibid.)

A philosophical demonology? He couches his work in a series of Medieval philosophical approaches, tabulating the quæstio or “question” as forming an occasion for an inquiry or “questioning,” the goal of which would be to achieve some sort of synthesis or reconciliation of the discrepancies at the heart of philosophical inquiry.2

The work itself starts with the lofty aim of exploring the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world.” (ibid. p. 1) Rather than a philosophy of horror we get its opposite ‘the horror of philosphy’:

…the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language. (ibid. p. 2)

Horror in this scenario becomes a form of philosophical thinking that deals not with human fear or any anthropomorphic conceptions of demons, but rather as questioning the “limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us)” (ibid. p. 8).

In the first part he measures the notion of demon against such popular culture strands as Black Metal music in its various guises. He starts by defining black as used by various bands as a figure or trope of Satanism, Paganism, and Cosmic Pessimism. He sublates the first two into the overarching concept of Cosmic Pessimism and utilizes Arthur Schopenhauer as the forefather of such a move and its explicator. He offers the notion that Satanism has the structure of opposition and inversion, and Paganism the structure of exclusion and alterity. Cosmic Pessimism which includes both forms offers in his words:

a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups. Its limit-thought is the idea of absolute nothingness, unconsciously represented in the many popular media images of nuclear war, natural disasters, global pandemics, and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Certainly these are the images, or the specters, of Cosmic Pessimism, and different from the scientific, economic, and political realities and underlie them; but they are images deeply embedded in our psyche nonetheless. Beyond these specters there is the impossible thought of extinction, with not even a single human being to think the absence of all human beings, with no thought to think the negation of all thought.(ibid. p. 17)

In his quest to develop a new demontology he defines it against current anthropological notions, saying:

If anthropology is predicated on a division between the personal and the impersonal (“man” and cosmos), then a demontology collapses them into paradoxical pairings (impersonal affects, cosmic suffering). If ontology deals with the minimal relation being/non-being, then demontology would have to undertake the thought of nothingness (a negative definition), but a nothingness that is also not simply non-being (a privative definition). (p. 46)

So it is with the concept of ‘nothingness’ that this philosophical work underscores its main theme of demonological thought. Using Agrippa’s ‘Occult Philosophy’ as a forerunner he hopes to provide us with an occult philosophy of the the world that simply reveals its hiddenness to us (p. 54).

He provides several literary readings of such works as Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, Goethe’s Faust Part I, Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out, Blish’s Black Easter – or Faust Aleph-Null, Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and “The Borderlands”. Each of these stories dealing with the occult them of the ‘magic circle’ and its occult usage in which the “magic circle serves as a portal or gateway to the hiddenness of the world” (ibid. p. 73). In other stories such as those by H.P. Lovecraft there is a sense of the world devoid of the human, one in which the hidden world is no longer bound by a magic circle in which humans can control or govern the daimonic powers but is instead its dark inverse: a realm in which the “anonymous, unhuman intrusion of the hidden world into the apparent world, the enigmatic manifesting of the world-without-us into the world-for-us, the intrusion of the Planet into the World” stands revealed (ibid. p. 82).

Thacker will trace this theme through natural figures and tropes such as “mists”, “ooze”, “oil”, etc., and even through such writers of political theology as Carl Schmidt. Through it all the notion of the ‘hiddenness of the world’ juts up as “another name for the supernatural, exterior to its assimilation by either science or religion – that is, exterior to the world-for-us” (ibid. 96). He adds:

But these days we like to think that we are much too cynical, much too smart to buy into this – the supernatural no longer exists, is no longer possible…or at least not in the same way. In a sense, it is hard to escape the sense of living in a world that is not just a human world, but also a planet, a globe, a climate, an infosphere, an atmosphere, a weather pattern…a rift, a tectonic shift, a storm, a cataclysm. If the supernatural in a conventional sense is no longer possible, what remains after the “death of God” is an occulted, hidden world. Philosophically speaking, the enigma we face is how to confront this world, without immediately presuming that it is identical to the world-for-us (the world of science and religion), and without simply disparaging it as an irretrievable and inaccessible world-in-itself. (ibid. 97)

This leads Thacker to develop a path toward mysticism rather than philosophy. As he asks,  “…can there exist today a mysticism of the unhuman, one that has as its focus the climatological, meterological, and geological world-in-itself, and, moreover, one that does not resort to either religion or science?” (ibid. p. 134) His answer:

If mysticism historically speaking aims for a total union of the division between self and world, then mysticism today would have to devolve upon the radical disjunction and indifference of self and world. If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet.(ibid. pp. 158-59)

Ultimately Thacker’s approach is an obscurantist mysticism – in the sense of the Latin obscurans, “darkening” from philosophy toward a hidden world of mystic insight and occult philosophy based on emptiness, negativity, and the unhuman.

1. Thacker, Eugene (2011-08-26). In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (pp. 45-46). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
2. (ibid. p. 10)

H.P. Lovecraft: Quote of the Day!

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THE BEST HORROR-TALES OF TODAY, profiting by the long evolution of the type, possess a naturalness, convincingness, artistic smoothness, and skilful intensity of appeal quite beyond comparison with anything in the Gothic work of a century or more ago. Technique, craftsmanship, experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naïve and artificial; redeemed, when redeemed at all, only by a genius which conquers heavy limitations. The tone of jaunty and inflated romance, full of false motivation and investing every conceivable event with a counterfeit significance and carelessly inclusive glamour, is now confined to lighter and more whimsical phases of supernatural writing. Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualization of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain. This, at least, is the dominant tendency; though of course many great contemporary writers slip occasionally into some of the flashy postures of immature romanticism, or into bits of the equally empty and absurd jargon of pseudo-scientific “occultism”, now at one of its periodic high tides.

It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain— a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation.

The one test of the really weird is simply this— whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.1

1. Lovecraft, H. P. (2013-07-03). The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 1349-1361). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

When are we most alive?

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There are moments when I look into that deep well of memories, seek out in the brain’s twisted archive of fragmented neuronal lights; dip down into the chemical vats of its blind pathways certain traces that have established themselves, left their mark in a knot of neurons: discover in its uncertain, lingering waves events that have been copied into the tissue of my three pounds of mentation. In such moments I sometimes discover signs of past life, remembrances of past awakenings, moments in that time temple of traced livingness in which I suddenly felt most alive.

Most of the time it comes in snatches like dream fragments: a forest glen where a young doe looks up, her eyes pointedly staring into mine – a meeting of two beings forming a silent acknowledgement; else, other moments when the pain of a nail ripping into one’s flesh touches one’s being, awakens one to the power and resistance of things, of how they can bring one low, destroy in an instance one’s illusion of safety; or, the power of a smile, the trace of a woman’s mouth that hides more than it reveals: her eyes full of mischief, laughter, impishness. Sometimes these fragments from the neuronal stream pop up as one is going about work or play, mindlessly, like an automaton; living habitually through the day to day cycles without thought or care.

At such moments one will stop, awaken from one’s stupor for just a quick second, becoming aware of the other, of that self one has never known, but always seen scampering through the traceries of these neuronal flashes and memories. What is the Self that it follows one like a ghost? Is it nothing more than these disturbed memories? A broken stream of neurons floating among light bundles that suddenly trigger past events? Are we mere moments in a screen play we did not create, but rather have become unwilling players in its willy-nilly fabrications? Or is it more than the dark traceries below these jutting memories that reveal distorted signs of our only ever real life, a life marked by moments of awakening when the mind is so clear and alive that it sees into things as they are, alive and knowing? A life when the knower and the known awaken to each other?

Have you ever thought about the difficulty in bringing back the face of a loved one out of that dark sea of neurons? Seeking the trace of her appearance in the clouds of images that seem like some protean world that is in continuous metamorphosis? The way she would look up at you with that red baseball cap, her hair stuffed up in a knot, her coal black eyes full of dark-fire, that little turn of her lips, a grin sparking at you revealing both intelligence and humor. When she is gone what remains?

Does the universe hold these things forever? Will the memories in my neurons disperse among the stars, or will stars sing of them in some distant corner of the universe the moment my flesh dissolves into the earth? If I transcend my flesh and become machinic as some posthuman fabricators of descent foresee, will those memories have the same weight for that new positronic mind as they have had for my fleshly one? What in the reaches of those eons when our mechanical children look back on their ancestry will they remember? Will they feel as we feel, will they think as we think; will they know love and laughter, sorrow and terror; will they be troubled in their sleep with dreams?

We tell ourselves stories in the night to comfort us against the unknown terrors that surround us. Will our positronic children do the same?