Kant’s critical philosophy is the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth!
– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation
Nick Land unlike Badiou or Zizek will tell us that it is to Schopenhauer that we should return, not Kant or Hegel. “With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic.”1
This sense of a diagnostic philosophy rather than a speculative, phenomenological, or meditative steers us into that other materialist tradition that has for the most part seamlessly vanished from site in the past few years, while luminaries of the left will follow such dematerialist materialisms under the sign of the Lacanian ‘Gap’ or ‘Lack’ as Alain Badiou (Mathematization of Being) and Slavoj Zizek (Self-Relating Nothingness) uphold. Land admonishes us to know that before such speculative materialists as Quentin Meillassoux with his notion of the contingency of things and his anarchic obliteration of the principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer had already laid the groundwork. Schopenhauer considers “the principle of sufficient reason or logicality of being to have a merely superficial validity” (Land, p. 9). In other words for Schopenhauer the principle of sufficient reason is not so much an objective truth, as it is a heuristic device – an exploratory mind-tool that serves a particular function in the philosopher’s tool-bag.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism reverses the typical hierarchy of intellect and will, and opts for will as the primary relation and volitional act of a representing subject, and redefines this notion as the ‘desire’ that shapes our actions from a pre-representational movement of blind reckoning and pulsation. Against any form of speculative thought which for Schopenhauer and Land is seen under the sign of optimism and the ‘logic of social progress’, both seek a pessimism of unconditional revolt instead. (ibid., p. 12) Against history and historicism Schopenhauer will enunciate an inhuman discourse that obliterates the semantic concerns of a humanistic world as typified in the Kantian notion of finitude and limits. Rather than a speculative mode that seeks to sustain or take-over and master the world, politically motivated to spawn terror and revolutions; pessimism seeks to escape the exploitative and confined constraints that the State and Church impose; and that of all authoritarian systems based in external forms of normativity. Yet, as Land will describe it Schopenhauer was not political per se, he had no real plan or political programme, and was in tendency closer to a reactionary than a progressive in our modern sense. As Land will tell us Schopenhauer’s plan was an exit plan, a mode of “departure in the mode of renunciation, which is to say, he lacked a nomadology, or failed to explore the delirial antilogic that leads out of the maze.” (Land, p. 13) In the end Schopenhauer will serve for Land as enunciating a full blown pessimism which became among other things the “first truly transcendental critique, operated against being, and in particular against the highest being, by the impersonal negativity of time or denial.” (Land, p. 14) In other words a truly atheistic materialism.
1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)