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)