Eugene Thacker: The Horror of Philosophy

A_monk

“Nothing matters…” – Cioran

On discovering that the earth is not our earth the philosopher wandered in exile and solitude among the ruins of a depleted thought of earth, a nonhuman earth, indifferent to our needs or our desires; a planet devoid of any human taint or the corruption and degradation of an Idea, a place where even the name “human” had no meaning or comfort much less a reason for being. Thus began the disenchantment of the human rather than of the earth: a slow process of alienation; or, should we say disalienation in which the human project vanishes into the nonhuman indifference of an impersonal and impervious realm of nonbeing. Here the philosopher would at last divest himself of thought and being, become one with the nonbeings of that vastation which is the immutable and indifferent face of chaos. Here the horror of philosophy would be enacted. A meditation in silence and blackness. Where the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not would cross those fantastic waverings between thought and thought. A realm that had forgotten the human animal, a realm without a reason for being, a world without us. At last the non-philosopher stood before the unknown – devoid of thought, sensible only of the vast nothingness of things, depleted and alone among the ruins of time he gazed on what could not be named: the absolute indifference beyond which all names go silent in ignorance…

In the past few days I read through Eugene Thacker’s trilogy on the horror of philosophy that seemed more like an absolute meditation in darkness and blackness, nullity and nothingness, a dark diver’s adventure into the realms of secret oblivions, spaces of silence and nonbeing; of the emptiness of Śūnyatā (emptiness without mind or thought). In fact this trilogy seemed more like a series of tentative movements around a black hole, dipping here and there into the dark mystery of that burnt horizon of thought beyond which is nothing, nothing at all: a dark impenetrable limit beyond which thought is no longer thought but is something else altogether – an event.

One can imagine these meditations like a series of woodcuts where the endless iconology of a forgotten language of nightmares and inhuman horrors is traced, a hidden world yielding its energetic and unholy silences, scratches and screeches from the hinterlands of thought; of something so real that if exposed to it’s dark mystery one would enter the final shadows of a virulent and total annihilation. As Thacker will offer by way of warning in the first volume the aim of his books is to explore the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world.”1 The notion of what comes after thought and philosophy, the demise of a two-thousand year project seems on the horizon to many these days. Will the sciences uncover the dark secrets of our brains, will the neuroimaging devices unlock the strange worlds of our thought like so many neurons firing across the abyss of the brain’s secret programs? Or will we rather enter a nonreligious age of atheistic mysticism, monks of a new and darker truth where nonbeing rather than Being becomes the new order of nonknowledge rather than knowledge. An age of non-philosophers and strange thought experiments that enter into the black contours of a forbidden othering of thought? A collapse or apocalypsis of thought? A thanatopolis of the abyss where nonbeing asserts its vita negativum, or a drift among the blank spaces between the stars – a probing of the infinite voids where nothingness begins to move in the silences and ignorance of a last thought?

Along the way Thacker visits the ancient enclaves of cenobites in their solitary cells, the mad monks of the desert whose mystic paths led to the unknowing powers of secret thoughts; of dark mystics of a negative and negating internal worlds of self-divestiture; to the generosity and vitalistic organicism of German Idealism; the estrangement and cosmic pessimism of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and H.P. Lovecraft. He will visit the broken ruins of thought in Georges Bataille and many other lesser lights, including the traditions of the Kyoto School of Japan where the emptiness of things is revealed, where the West meets the East in an exchange that tempts us to broker the nothingness and nullity of Being itself.

In these works he’ll read philosophy as if it were horror fiction, and horror fiction as if it were philosophy. He’ll read both from a non-philosophical language of atheistic mysticism that brings with it a deep knowledge of the ancient threads of Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Decadent, Symbolist, Surrealist, and other artistic, religious, and atheistic endeavors through art, literature, poetry and mystical writings of Eastern and Western  Heritages. At times Thacker will enter his text in a personal manner allowing us to see a man grappling with thought that is non-thought from within its paradoxical estrangement from the human, and its temptation between its emergence and its final dispersal into the unhuman. For at the center and circumference of these works is the strange theme of thought itself as agent of its own unbinding into the unhuman, and of how men and women have grappled with this unnamable thing that has for better or worse made of us what we are and begun the process of disinvesting us of Being. Thacker will seek in his dark and atheistic mystic quest an end to the human project, an end to the very thing that has given us this long unyielding destiny into the void, an end to the human and the beginning of the unhuman as it manifests itself in the dark contours of outer thought at its limits. This horizon around which Thacker like some philoastronaut revolves in spiraling and concentric nonphilosophical movement, his divagation upon a naming and unaming of thought itself as it sinks into the black hole of an immanent revelation from which there will be no return – here, just here he situates the horror of philosophy and the philosophy of horror; a paradoxical relation between terms that cannot be reduced to any human meaning, but both share and inhabit the space of nonthought and unbeing. A space of nonreasoning where the principle of sufficient philosophy gives way to a new hyperchaotic time of pure voidic immersion, where thought empties itself of its conceptual baggage and suddenly drifts into that nonphilosophical zone of experience where only the dark mystics of nonknowledge dwell.

What he seeks is “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” (p. 2). Ultimately his works on “horror” are a non-philosophical attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically. Here culture is the terrain on which we find attempts to confront an impersonal and indifferent world-without-us, an irresolvable gulf between the world-for-us and the world-in-itself, with a void called the Planet that is poised between the World and the Earth. (p. 9) Moving between the pure abstract realms of Kantian thought to the visceral and animalistic peregrinations of the Comte de Lautréamont  (Ducasse) he will treat of both the expansive and intensive worlds at the edge of thought and body (senses), as well as our views of the natural and Nature. He’ll explore vitalist traditions of unholy matter and its generosity from the early German Idealists through Deleuze of a deep Will (Life-Death). As well as the materialist pessimisms of a panoply of major and minor philosophers into their respective infiltration of current popular horror literature.

If you haven’t read his works then do it. Whether one agrees or disagrees there is a great deal to ponder. Like many thinkers of our moment – I think of Quentin Meillassoux in this regard – Thacker’s main thrust is to overturn the “principle of sufficient reason” which has grounded philosophy for far too long. His own cosmic pessimism following the likes of Schopenhauer, H.P. Lovecraft, Ligotti, Zappfe, Cioran and others. Shifting between a pessimism of indifference and malignancy, he seems at times to harken back to the old gnostics who were fated to explore the extremes of excess in libertinage and asceticism, fecundity and anti-natalist negation. Yet, over and over one is sparked that his mission is to discover in all these various traditions and ruins of time a form of atheistic mysticism: an inhuman system of nonphilosophy and nonknowledge that is devoid of the corruption and taint of the human, a nonhuman mysticism based on the impersonal and indifference of the universe without-us. One wonders if such a thing is possible?

Once we disembark from the known realms of human thought, abandon the worlds of philosophical speculation and the groundings this entails in the human animal, who will be there to communicate; or, is this ultimately a mystic exercise in total silence? Without the human will it be much like the old zen koan of “If a tree falls who is there to hear it?” No one and nothing, or everyone and everything? A paradox that is irresolvable for thought as we’ve come to know it? Shall we admit with those pessimists that like the old preacher of Ecclesiastes:

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.2

And, yet, in the wavering between the marvelous and the uncanny we shift in that realm of the fantastic where as Thacker will remind us:

Matter is unstable, unpredictable, innovative, ambivalent – especially when the matter is the stuff of our own bodies, often obeying an occult logic of its own, continuing to live bit by bit, continuing to die bit by bit. Perhaps the various “miracles” that populate supernatural horror are, in a way, variations of holy matter. Except that the world of supernatural horror stories is a secular world, where no one believes, at least not without empirical “proof.” And yet there occur in the normal, day-to-day world irruptions of paradoxical matter: from the living dead to the undead, from human-animal metamorphoses to creatures that have no name, from resurrected bodies to autonomous body parts, from ominous and animate objects to accursed secret books, from the atheistic passion plays of “splatterhorror” to the mesmerizing dissipations of “cosmic horror.” Matter behaving indifferently to the self-conscious human beings that it composes and decomposes. An unholy matter…3

I have to admit the only criticisms for me were that he does not go far enough, that he stays with the outer realms of this dark heritage, that he does not explore the actual experiential dimension in a personal and actual way. By that I mean his own personal risk and movement into an atheistic mysticism. (One wants an exploration from the inside rather than a pure philosophical portrayal or history of others experiments. Although there are times that Thacker’s own personae will almost break through into the text… one wants more of that personalism in his impersonal thrust into the unhuman.) He explores those who have themselves sacrificed all (Ducasse, Bataille, Medieval Mystics, etc.), their minds, sanity, hearts to enter the blackness of this unhuman zone of silence without-us. That he gives a hint of an atheistic mysticism without providing a road map to its dark heart is something we hope to see in a future work, a more personal investigation into the experiential dimensions as in Bataille (Inner Experience, Guilty, On Nietzsche, etc.).

One sees a tentative almost academic distancing between what he’s uncovered and its actual hard core inner work. As if he were fine with peering into this dark hell hole of thought, but hopes only to be a visitor rather than a participant of its corruption and failures. One must enter the labyrinth, experiment in the darkness within this unholy dimension of thought, be ready to expose and risk one’s sanity. Otherwise one becomes a chronicler rather than a dark knight of its strange mysteries of unbinding. To know what cannot be known is to enter the sacrifice of one’s own mind, become a part of that unhuman sphere where no thought can save us nor is salvation even an option. In this realm only the erotic violence of excess is allowed. A metamorphoses of mutant thought both indifferent and inhuman can only come by way of divestiture, by sacrificing the human to a thought that has strangled us and kept us bound to a false image of the universe. Maybe this is the horror of philosophy that it must become horror – enter its own mad chambers of impure thought, divest itself of any sustaining “principle of sufficient reason”, walk free of the ground and enter the groundless ground of its own forgotten existence, enter the hellish paradise of unbounded thought where freedom is nothingness outside beings and Being.


One can find all of Eugene Thacker’s works here…

  1. Thacker, Eugene (2011-08-26). In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 . NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
  2. Carroll, Robert; Stephen Prickett (2008-04-17). The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 21398-21400). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Thacker, Eugene (2015-04-24). Tentacles Longer Than Night: Horror of Philosophy: Vol 3 (Kindle Locations 2863-2870). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

3 thoughts on “Eugene Thacker: The Horror of Philosophy

  1. I’ve not read the final one yet- moving backwards and progressing slowly with pessimist thought. I’m a slow reader at the best of times and trying to be more attentive, so I may never get there. As ever, I’m impressed by your ability to read and parse stuff so quickly.

    I wonder if the sense of disappointment you identify as the “academic distancing”, the sense of being a “visitor rather than a participant of its corruption and failures” is overcome in his book on cosmic pessimism and resignation. Whether it is or isn’t though, it seems to be a necessary feature- qua Ligotti and Zapffe’s thesis of sublimation- that any attempt at philosophy necessarily ends in this distancing. After reading through Ben Noys short work on accelerationism in MV (and writing a shitty review I’ve since taken down until I can adapt it) it’s as if he the latter has actually struck on precisely this tension in thought. Quite aside from the applications and instrumentalisations of cognition found in the leftist political project, the fear of immersion that Noys constantly betrays while he castigates the “fantasy of smooth integration” into machinic being is precisely the fear at work here too…………. the fear of madness. An inhuman madness- the madness of the cosmos itself.

    There is a very tempting vision of society that I lapse into very easily- especially at the moment in the throes of nicotine withdrawal- that the human world is a carefully managed insanity. Thacker or any other philosopher, and perhaps political philosophers and politicians themselves more than any others, are the fools who con themselves into believing they are in the position of the visitor. The world and the universe beyond it is a vast psychiatric ward in which insane mutters and manic bursts of energy move towards the inevitable moment of thanatropic depression (heat death as generalised catatonia).

    So the image of Thacker or whoever he might stand in for as a visitor is the ultimate moment of the attempted domestication of the inhuman forces: I am not a patient here- says the brain infested with lunacy as the body it is encased in rocks back and forth.

    The truth is that there is no sanity. This is not to romanticise madness but it is to suggest that the originary lunacy is prior to humanity and to all else. The Schopenhauerian Will or the Ligottian puppet idealism brought to the level of a panpsychism in which everything is deranged and deranging. Materialism would become an idealism in this context- the dreamscape of a universal insanity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • One of Leopardi’s poems ends:

      “Maybe in whatever form or state,
      be it in stall or cradle,
      the day we’re born is cause for mourning.”

      It’s this sense of a gnosticsm without religion, of an acknowledgement that vast malevolent forces rule the universe, but that in this rule of utter atrocity the truth shows itself in that these forces are absolutely indifferent and unknowning of our existence, our appeals, and our anathemas. Our gods are dead, our brains send forth scribblings and allegories of ignorance, our sciences are magical systems of heretical thought tracing the secret patterns of extinction across the distant darkness of the abyss….

      Liked by 1 person

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