Radical Idealism: The Extimate Core of Transcendental Materialism

When it comes down to it we’re all Idealists caught in the prison house of the symbolic order of culture: it determines the boundaries and limits of what is thinkable. The moment you use or enter language, math (matheme) or natural (linguistic) you are trapped in the iron cage of the play of signifiers in an infinite circle without exit or end: a psychotic universe of solipsistic self-lacerating sophistication. This is the core of the poststructuralist rational myth; or, the Anti-Realist stance par excellence. One can never break out of the cage and into the Real. In such a universe of meaning “thought and being” are One. Yet, does this mean we can do nothing? No. This is but the beginning of an exit strategy. For if the truth be told it is out of acknowledgement of our predicament that we can intensively pursue a new radicalization of the correlational circle of Idealism; push it to its extimate limits.

One is always borrowing from the future. Think of the Mobius strip that is folded back on itself in such a way that the inside/outside distinction vanishes. No matter how far one travels on this surface one will never reach beyond into some alternate world, one is always riding upon the surface of an unbounded curve around the extimate core of universe in and endless strange loop folded and refolded into itself: a paradox that appears irresolvable but by its very nature offers within its own insurmountable obstacle a way out. Think of a Mobius strip as social time: the temporal history of one’s life, or the history of Society, or even the Universe.

As Molly Anne Rothenberg describes extimate causality in The Excessive Subject: A New Theory of Social Change:

One can define each point on the band as here or there, but each point is excessive with respect to the determination of its “sidedness.” The Möbius band suggests a field in which both the paradoxical boundary of external causation and the infinite mutual implication of cause and effect of immanentism cease to be problematic. We can define points of contact that are not so discrete as to become uncoupled, thanks to the non-determination or excess embodied in the band. This excess alters the apparently rigid boundary between sides (or between cause and effect): non-determinate sidedness means that causes are not quarantined from their effects because the excess brings them into contiguity. At the same time, these points and their relations have a certain specifiability; they do not merge into one another as they do in the infinite flux of immanentism.1

She’ll describe the social field in which the subject is situated in terms of a non-orientable object, an excess within the temporal distortion that is both non-determinant and acts by way of an “operation we will call the formal negation” (Rothenberg, p. 32). As she remarks: “We can say, then, that each subject is a Möbius subject, a site of non-determinate “sidedness” or switchpoint, if you will, which lends to the social field its character as non-orientable object” (Rothenberg, p. 32). Because of this we can define “extimate causality, as the alternative to both external and immanent causation, produces the excess that links subject to social field” (Rothenberg, p. 32).

One imagines Jacques Derrida’s project of deconstruction as a paranoiac hermeneutics: an endless search for the missing signifier: the movement of an infinite play of subjects on a Mobius strip, each seeking the undecidable hole of meaning that will allow them to escape the prison house of the Symbolic Order. Or as Zizek will say of it we can think of the modern Leader who is obsessed by plots – “to rule is to interpret” is the perfect formula of Stalinism (Rothenberg, p. 31). But as Zizek will relate:

the fantasy of breaking out of the closed circle of representations and re-joining the pure outside of the innocent presence of the voice – a voice which is in excess of the self-mirroring prison-house of representations, that is, which needs no interpretation but merely enjoys its own exercise. What is missing here is the way this innocent externality of the voice is itself already reflexively marked by the mirror of interpretive representations. (Rothenberg, p. 32)

To radicalize Idealism is to discover that even though we are locked within the cage of correlationism unable to escape into the “Great Outdoors” of Being, we can nevertheless act, produce certain inevitable “unintended consequences” due to the very complexity of the symbolic network which is always overdetermined (paranoiac hermeneutics) by meaning; as well as, realizing that those very acts by their nature produce unintended consequences that “emerge from the very failure of the big Other, that is, from the way our act not only relies on the big Other, but also radically challenges and transforms it” (Rothenberg, Forward). The big Other being none other than this Symbolic Order within which the Subject is caught as if within a fly trap, glued to the surface of a Mobius strip, gliding through the temporal decay of entropic life, etc. But against this symbolic order as Zizek will emphasize the “awareness that the power of a proper act is to retroactively create its own conditions of possibility should not make us afraid to embrace what, prior to the act, appears as impossible” (ibid.).

Once we have seen that “[t]he opposition between idealistic and realistic philosophy is therefore without meaning,” we can develop a metaphysics critically rather than dogmatically. This dissolves the worry regarding how we can have access to the world from within the clutches of subjective thinking. To say that the Real is a product of thought is not to lapse into a Berkeleyan form of idealism wherein reality is simply created by the subject: “the Real is not some kind of primordial Being which is lost,” but rather “what we cannot get rid of, what always sticks on as the remainder of the symbolic operation.”2 Rather it is by this very operation that we have an indirect but methodologically secure entry point into the world by means of the inconsistencies that our notional apparatus generates in the freely determined self-generation of the universe of meaning, inconsistencies that unexpectedly let us develop an objective discourse. (Carew, p. 270)

It’s these inconsistences and failures in the symbolic order of meaning that give us an opening onto the Real. Radical Idealism by its very nature becomes contaminated, as it were, by a constitutive “outside” as soon as it tries to posit itself in its own self-determining freedom, so that it must constantly struggle with this outside. As Zizek states it:

There is a Real not because the Symbolic cannot grasp its external Real, but because the Symbolic cannot fully become itself. There is being (reality) because the symbolic system is inconsistent, flawed, for the Real is an impasse of formalization. This thesis must be given its full “idealist” weight: it is not only that reality is too rich, so that every formalization fails to grasp it, stumbles over it; the Real is nothing but an impasse of formalization—there is dense reality “out there” because of the inconsistencies and gaps in the symbolic order. (C, p. 271)

This is the extimate core that cannot be reduced to symbolic inscription or description: the excess that leaves us in the impossible, restless and struggling against the obstacle of the “Outside”. Set adrift upon the sea of linguistic traces knowing it has failed us utterly, yet knowing that it is this very failure that opens a door upon the Great Outdoors of Being. Ontological solipsism is only apparent, for materialism justifies itself in the cracks of a radical idealism: the very condition of possibility of discourse means that discourse is always more than itself, even if that means that its very possibility coincides with its impossibility. (Carew, p. 271) As Žižek correctly points out, “[t]he irony of the history of philosophy is that the line of philosophers who struggle against the sophistic tradition ends with Hegel, the ‘last philosopher,’ who, in a way, is also the ultimate sophist, embracing the self-referential play of the Symbolic with no external support of its truth.” (Less Than Nothing, pp. 76-77)

What we learn from this is that rather than falling into naïve idealism the self-referential nature of thinking itself always already depends upon and is entangled with the world, thereby attesting that the split between knowledge in itself and for us exists not because we are separated from the world, but because we are  a part of it, included within its extimate core: “the very limitation of our knowing—its inevitably distorted, inconsistent character—bears witness to our inclusion in reality.” (Carew, p. 272) This in a nutshell is the extimate core of Transcendental Materialism (i.e., dialectical materialism in Zizek’s vein). In this respect, radical idealism (reflection, notional constructs, language as such) creates the space of reasons in virtue of which things can present themselves to us as they are in reality in itself. As Carew commenting on Zizek remarks,

Instead of merely separating us from the world, the reflexivity of the Ideal thereby allows objects to have meaning for us as something more than objects to be used by specialized biological or natural needs. We symbolize them, grant them a place in discourse, a discourse whose failures make it seem as if a world out there directly attacks our concepts and theoretical models when, in fact, we never exit discourse at all, for only its self-sustaining matrix can sustain phenomenal reality as a universe of meaning. (Carew, p. 272)

It’s this strange double nature of language and the Real as impossible, desutured as the are, forever cut off from each other that allows communication and manipulation between the two intelligibly through the reflective mediation of language itself which by its very inconsistencies, gaps, cracks, and failures opens us to what is incomplete in language and the Real. But we cannot sit back and relax here for the great work of the moment is to push the limits of radical idealism from within idealism (an epistemological sublation of the correlation). To do this we must also overcome it from the side of being by showing how the ambiguities of idealism are in fact a part of the world’s fundamental structure through an account of how being comes to appearance/thinking/phenomenalization (an ontological inscription of the correlation). (Carew, p. 273) The crack or gap in the Symbolic Order is also in the Real. It is only by way of the “vanishing mediator” of the Subject that the two realms meet and form a new relation and thereby produce the bridge between them not by filling this gap with fantasies but rather by “tarrying with the negative” in the very failure to bring closure to the gap between thought and being. By acknowledging that the Ideal and the Real are both inscribed within each other as open and incomplete that we begin to register the truth of the negative that brings thought and being into relation without closing them into identity. It is the very non-identity of thought and being within the Subject that is Transcendental Materialism unbounded and moving along the axis of that Mobius strip of infinity, oscillating between two voids.

Zizek’s Call for a Critical Metaphysics

Against any return to the pre-critical heritage of the Rationalists, or being stuck in the correlational circle of Kantian system and freedom, Zizek supports a move toward a critical metaphysics. As Carew outlines it:  a true speculative philosophy should comprehend both the Real in its pure non-correlationality (the nonhuman) and how correlation comes to pass in being (the human). Perhaps unexpectedly, the price we pay for this theoretical gain of re-inscribing humanity into nature, that is, the latter’s minimal anthropomorphization, is a simultaneous denaturalization of nature and a dehumanization of humanity. (Carew, p. 275)

Zizek’s move is to combine an idealist epistemology with a dynamic realist metaphysics in one single gesture of a post-finitude philosophy. The breakthrough in Kant was not so much his supposed Copernican Revolution as it was that in his philosophy for the first time “the subject loses its substantial stability or identity and is reduced to the pure  substanceless void of the self-rotating abyssal vortex called  “transcendental apperception.” (LTN, p. 631) It’s the discovery of the “void” not the Subject that is central. Neither fully ontological nor yet part of the symbolic register the Subject-as-Void and pure negativity linked to both the Todestrieb that destroys the homeostasis of nature and the Symbolic Order of Culture without it becoming second nature and overdetermining the gap at the heart of our subjectivity, it acts as Zizek’s “absent centre that, by protruding out of all ontological and symbolic structures, negatively ties them together in its very undecidability” (Carew, p. 276). Ultimately this relation between the ideal and real in the subject leads us to “see in what way two lacks overlap in this impossible object: the constitutive lack of the subject (what the subject has to lose in order to emerge as the subject of the signifier) and the lack in the Other itself (what has to be excluded from reality so that reality can appear).” (LTN, p. 642)

Any critical metaphysics must above all supply the ontological conditions of the possibility of its own status as a theory and the ideal conditions of possibility of its own intelligibility in one sweeping move, thus making the theory itself extremely self-referential in its structure. As Carew remarks, such a theory will display a complete systematic self-enclosure: it explains itself as a theory in both the real and ideal registers in such a manner that both depend upon and mutually ground one another in a self-articulating whole; it has succeeded at developing “a concept of the world or the Real which is capable of accounting for the replication of reality within itself.” (Carew, p. 278)


 

  1. Rothenberg, Molly Anne (2013-05-20). The Excessive Subject: A New Theory of Social Change (p. 31). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)

The Brain Electric: Merger of Mind and Machine

“We may actually for the first time be able to interact with the world in a nonmuscular manner,” Leuthardt said. “I’ve always needed muscle to communicate with you by moving my vocal cords or giving a hand expression or writing a note or painting a painting— anything. But that may not be the case anymore. So how does that change us? You unlock the mind and make it accessible to science and technology, and suddenly all this other stuff becomes possible. Everything changes. It’s a whole new palette for the human imagination.”
…….– Eric Leuthardt in Conversation with Malcom Gay

Reading The Brain Electric: The Dramatic High-Tech Race to Merge Minds and Machines tonight which explores the current research and experimental convergence of human and machine using BCI (Brain Computer Interfaces). A quick quote as Eric Leuthardt, a scientist studies a patient with Alzheimer’s disease at Barnes-Jewish Hospital Complex in St. Louis: 

He was after the electric current of thought itself: the millions of electrical impulses, known as action potentials, that continuously volley between the brain’s estimated 100 billion neurons. Those neurons are connected by an estimated 100 trillion synapses, the slender electrochemical bridges that enable the cranium’s minute universe of cells to communicate with one another. Like an exponentially complicated form of Morse code, the cells of the brain exchange millions of action potentials at any moment, an electric language that physically underlies our every movement, thought, and sensation. These are not sentient thoughts, per se, but in sum this mysterious and crackling neural language is what makes consciousness possible— a sort of quantum programming code that remains all but unrecognizable to the consciousness it creates.

Leuthardt’s hope was to understand that language. Using electrodes to ferry Brookman’s neural signals into a nearby computer, he would forge what’s known as a brain-computer interface— a wildly intricate union of synapses and silicon that would grant his patient mental control over computers and machines. As this pulsing language streamed from Brookman’s brain, the machine’s algorithms would work to find repeated patterns of cellular activity. Each time Brookman would think, say, of lifting his left index finger, the neurons associated with that action would crackle to life in a consistent configuration. Working in real time, the computer would analyze those patterns, correlating them with specific commands— anything from re-creating the lifted finger in a robot hand to moving a cursor across a monitor or playing a video game. The end command hardly mattered: once Leuthardt’s computers had adequately decoded Brookman’s neural patterns— his thoughts— Leuthardt could conceivably link them to countless digital environments, granting Brookman mental control over everything from robotic appendages to Internet browsers.

It’s a union whose potential beggars the imagination: an unprecedented evolutionary step— effectively digitizing the body’s nervous system— that conjures images of not only mental access to everyday objects like computer networks, appliances, or the so-called Internet of things but also telekinetic communication between people and cyborg networks connected by the fundamental language of neural code.

Just as the body’s nervous system comprises both sensory and motor neurons, the wired brain offers an analogous two-way means of communication. Brookman’s brain-computer interface may give him control over computers, but it would also grant Leuthardt’s computers access to Brookman’s brain— a powerful research tool to study the behavior of individual neurons as well as deliver new forms of sensory information.1

Reading the book one discovers just how primitive our research and discovery is. This is one of those reporter journalist books, a report on the nitty-gritty in your face butcher shop of open brain surgery, installation of experimental electrodes, computer graphs and read-backs punching the two-way communication of listening in on the buzz of hundreds of millions of neurons, seeking patterns in the noise of the brain’s own vat. Yet, it is a beginning. Shows the competitive spirit among the many researchers: Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and others. They all are in cutthroat competition for the next big DARPA grant and, of course, for the brass ring—the Nobel Prize that is almost certain to be awarded to the best of the lot.

A few success stories, but most of it just the brick-and-mortar work of pioneers: a paraplegic woman thinks a robot arm to feed herself; a monkey whose arms and hands are restrained plays a video game; the brains of two rats are linked in a way that gets the actions of one to affect the actions of the other. We discover just how little we yet know. The conditions and tools almost worthless: the brain has 100 billion neurons, but even the most sophisticated implants can monitor only a few hundred. Weeks or months after installation the immune system invariably attacks the implanted electrodes, rendering many of them useless, and the brain changes so rapidly that connections often have to be recalibrated daily to keep them working properly.

What’s exciting is to see that its being done, that science is doing what it does, seeking ways to overcome problems, generate data, discover new empirical functions, explore the boundary zone between the mind and possible interface with external systems; as well as the two-way manipulation and communication of these external systems with the brain. All this by-passing the old mainstay, consciousness, working directly on the brain through electrodes, and indirectly through the feed-back loops and algorithms, code, and de-coding that build the representations on the computer screen of the actual translation of success between live transaction of brain and computer.

What we see is like many other things from the history of the sciences, the first steps to something strange, bizarre, and potentially useful for future medical – or, more ominously, military forms of BCI. Like many other R&D projects going on this is just one piece in an ongoing puzzle to transform the human/machine interaction in our future. The questions surrounding this turn on the ethical dimension such systems present to us going forward. Is this the first step toward migration of the organic into machinic? The expansion of mind into machine, the development of distributive share or collective mindscapes of individuals across the ICT frontiers, the governance and military uses of such knowledge, all open us to an endless set of problems and questions. The sciences are a two-edged sword that can be used for good or ill. Hopefully the new technologies emerging out of this will be used for the benefit of humans, but as we know from past history such technologies can be turned to more militaristic and nefarious purposes. There’s always a fine line…


 

  1. Gay, Malcolm (2015-10-20). The Brain Electric: The Dramatic High-Tech Race to Merge Minds and Machines (Kindle Locations 38-58). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Gateway to the Real: Lovecraft, Ligotti, and the Inhuman

Perhaps this gives us a minimal definition of materialism: the irreducible distance between the two vacuums.
……– Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing

In Michael W. Clune’s excellent essay Loving the Alien: Thomas Ligotti and the Psychology of Cosmic Horror (LA Review of Books: Jan 26 2016) I find what many would affirm a non-human reading of these two masters of Horror. As Clune will remark, “perhaps Lovecraft’s most ardent recent lovers have been philosophers like Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, and Eugene Thacker, who approach his work with a new kind of intellectual intensity. These philosophers see Lovecraft as effecting a kind of Copernican revolution. In story after story, he depicts the invasion of the human world by a monstrous perspective, embodied in hideous forms of alien life. But what makes Lovecraftian horror genuinely cosmic is the capacity of the monstrous perspective to put humans in their place.”

In a recent book The Nonhuman Turn (Richard Grusin, Series Editor) Grusin will delimit this field of thought telling us the “nonhuman turn more generally, is engaged in decentering the human in favor of a turn toward and concern for the nonhuman, understood variously in terms of animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality, or technologies”.1  Clune for his part speaks to the monstrousness of things, saying of Lovecraft: the monstrous perspective of Lovecraft’s invention presents the ultimate challenge to anthropomorphism, which these thinkers argue became endemic to philosophy with the work of Immanuel Kant. It’s this decentering of the humanist and Judeo-Christian heritage locked in its fantasy of Man as the exception in the grand scheme of things, as the being created by God – a “little lower than the angels, only to ultimately rule over them” (KJB). In Kant’s time Enlightenment Reason was the central motif of the human, the light that guided thought and politics, that brought emancipation and the sciences, gave us the truth of the universe of things, etc. Some call this era the “great disenchantment”. Nietzsche’s “Death of God” or the nihilist liberation of the universe from its significations and meanings. An age when the universe lost its human meaning and regained its own truth: the truth of meaninglessness, impersonalism, and indifference to human wants or needs. The universe was devoid of human meaning or gods and would hence forth be ruled by the mastery and power of Reason alone. Yet, the bourgeoisie would take this as meaning the universe could be stripped bare of its resources for the utilization of men for profit and gain: the capitalist credo.

So as Clune tells us these “philosophers imitate Lovecraft by resolutely pushing to the margins our own interest in the world, our own desire for the world, our own experience of the world. They tell us that we should strive to see ourselves as the puny and fundamentally insignificant beings we are. We need to abandon our comforting illusions of a human-centered world and orient our thought to the vast cold universe of things. We must inquire how things look from the perspective of the things themselves; we must attend to the world without us.”

Yet, I wonder sometimes about this nonhuman turn and whether it is just another academic bandwagon pop-philosophy of the moment that seeks to corner some niche in the scholarly grist-mill. What I mean by this is the simple fact that we may talk of perceiving things from their own perspective – the nonhuman perceiving on its own autonomously, but isn’t this, too, just a fantasy; a way of speaking, rhetoric and nothing more. After reading for several years in Speculative Realism from Quentin Meillassoux through Harman, Bogost, Morton, Bryant; as well as DeLanda and the vitalist materialists or any number of new Media-Theorists of nonhuman or other decenterments of the human I have yet to see how this is more than a linguistic trick, a game of poetry and words rather than something we could actually know by way of experience or intellect (intuition or understanding), etc. Who exactly is it that would “look from the perspective of things themselves”? Not you or I, and certainly not those nonhuman philosophers. So would those things-in-themselves suddenly rise up and speak, tell us just what they perceive? Isn’t this change of perspective just a way of “speaking,” a trope, a turn of phrase, a mere piece of sophistry; pure rhetoric and spin on a conceptual notion that is actually a non-concept, since only humans that we know of have epistemic or ontological capacities and powers to reflect or even self-reflect upon third or first person singular actions and activities?

As much as I’ve enjoyed all this fantasy of nonhuman objects, hyperobjects, and the dance of sentient perspective form panpsychist to polypsychist notions that things have perceptions, there is as yet no way to prove this – at least scientifically. But this is the stickler for most of these nonhumanists, science is reductionary and based on an outmoded methodology of Objectivity and description that they see as just wrongheaded and out of joint. I keep asking myself: if that is so, then why do the sciences work? How did the atom bomb ever split on that infamous day? How has a an AI recently beat a GO champion at his own best game. How did a scientist and entrepreneur recently implant himself with electrodes and manipulate wirelessly a computer? Science works. What about philosophy?

Most of philosophy has returned to metaphysics in search of sustenance and a new path forward. Yet, even Clune wonders out loud: “Can it be that this strict avoidance of anthropomorphism is itself a mystification? Are we afraid to peer too deeply into our experience of the Lovecraftian abyss? Do we fear learning the nature of our desire for what Lovecraft offers?”

Exactly! Maybe instead of peering into that abyss we are so busy filling it up with dreams and fantasies of speaking objects, and nonhuman things with lives and perceptions of their own that we forget just what it is that drove us away from the human center to begin with. What if what we fear is the abyss in ourselves? That we seek to cover up this wild mistake, this accident of the human, consciousness, this strange and disquieting guest and “vanishing mediator” between all those nonhuman Things-in-themselves and the fantasy worlds of our cultural and symbolic realms of the human. What if what we seek to escape is not the human, but its lies, its fictions, its fantasies? To reenter the gap of self-reflecting nothingness – the abyss of our own being, our freedom – free of the rhetorical garbage heap of culture that has overdetermined our worlds for far too long.

Maybe what we’re afraid of is looking into that Lovecraftian abyss and discovering the rude truth: that the abyss is empty, a Void, a great vastation of nothingness in which the monstrous quantum flux of immaterial sparks flash in and out of existence. That underneath the mask of appearances lies nothingness, a great empty Void:

What if we posit that “Things-in-themselves” emerge against the background of the Void of Nothingness, the way this Void is conceived in quantum physics, as not just a negative void, but the portent of all possible reality? This is the only true consistent “transcendental materialism” which is possible after the Kantian transcendental idealism. For a true dialectician, the ultimate mystery is not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but “Why is there nothing rather than something?” (Zizek, Less Than Nothing: p. 239).

In fact as Clune tells it this is the central vision of Thomas Ligotti, inheritor of the crown from Lovecraft: “Ligotti gives this wild impulse to surrender our human way of seeing things its proper name: vice. His protagonists voluptuously give themselves over to it. They seek disciplines and practices that will give them the capacity to see the human world as a deceptive veil, “an ornamented void.” ” He’ll further quote Ligotti, of those who wish to live “…in unwavering acceptance of the spectral nature of things.” Organic and inorganic matter pushes through the familiar shapes of the human world and warps them. Our world dissolves in fantastic shapes and unreal colors, “appearances cast out of emptiness.” Zizek will speak of the two vacuums or voids and the Higgs field, saying,

“…introduc[ing] a distinction between two vacuums”: first, there is the “false” vacuum in which the Higgs field is switched off, i.e., there is pure symmetry with no differentiated particles or forces; this vacuum is “false” because it can only be sustained by a certain amount of energy expenditure. Then, there is the “true” vacuum in which, although the Higgs field is switched on and the symmetry is broken, i.e. there is a certain differentiation of particles and forces, the amount of energy spent is zero. In other words, energetically, the Higgs field is in a state of inactivity, of absolute repose. At the beginning, there is the false vacuum; this vacuum is disturbed and the symmetry is broken because, as with every energetic system, the Higgs field tends towards the minimization of its energy expenditure. This is why “there is something and not nothing”: because, energetically, something is cheaper than nothing. (LTN, p. 240)

The realms of quantum pre-ontological vacuums out of which the phenomenological baryonic worlds of matter all around us arises. What is crucial to note with the Higgs field is that the two vacuums whose existence it posits are not by any means equal: rather than encountering a mere polarity, a two-sided principle that brings together a delicate dance of opposites like light and day, life and death, fullness and lack, into equilibrium, we see a constitutive imbalance. 2 As Carew relates it:

Once we apply this principle cosmologically as a metaphysical principle, instead of having an eternal repetition of creation (breaking of the symmetries) and its destruction (return to the void), reality and its disappearance into the abyss, we come across a “displaced One, a One which is, as it were, retarded with regard to itself, always already ‘fallen,’ its symmetry always already broken.” (Carew, p. 240)

Almost as if in contradistinction to the Christian creationists who see the universe as fallen in sin, lost within the sorrows of ancient chaos and time. Or the Gnostics who saw the universe as the catastrophic creation of a demon god, the Demiurge, fallen son of Sophia, a blind god bound immanently with the particles of the churning ocean of time, the very embodiment of pain and suffering, the infernal desires of the death drive in all its endless “rotary” of drives in the ocean of Being. A nod to the later Spinozistic God of substance and blind determinism. Yet, against these two readings above Zizekian metaphysics relates us to the two voids: out of this blind universe of determinism and Ananke, or Necessity, something strange and uncanny arises: a gap is opened in the darkness of being and time, a self-reflecting nothingness born out of a traumatic event: an antagonistic freedom: the ‘false vacuum’ cannot simply be dismissed as a mere illusion, leaving only the ‘true’ vacuum, so that the only true peace is that of incessant activity, of balanced circular motion—the ‘true’ vacuum itself remains forever a traumatic disturbance.” (Carews, p. 241) Zizek says, But why? –

For the precise reason that without this primordial antagonism we could not explain the minimal distinction between the void and its vibrations, between the nothing and the ontologically incomplete realities barely distinguishable from it—in short, how the symmetries between particles and forces could have been broken in the first place. (C, p. 241)

So here we are in the gap between the Real and the Symbolic bound between the two like an engine of fright, terrified of the one, comforted by the illusory worlds of fantasy of the other, restless and full of that melancholy light of freedom that keeps us striving to know and understand. The reason Žižek can say that if “[t]he answer to ‘Why is there Something rather than Nothing?’ is thus that there is only Nothing, and all processes take place ‘from Nothing through Nothing to Nothing,’” then “this nothing is not the Oriental or mystical Void of peace, but the nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, ‘contradiction’), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content,” thus radically changing our very notion of nothingness itself. (C, p. 241)

Clune in his essay will mention the critic Rei Terada tells us about Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Romantic, proto-Ligottian practice of certain optical illusions that lift the burden of reality slightly: a squint in the eyes in which things are seen in the right way, the streetlamp outside looks like it is submerged beneath flowing water. He’ll say: What happened? – “A little gap opened between appearance and reality. For a moment, the streetlamp looked different. It looked as if it belonged to another world than the one I know. At such moments I am like the protagonist of Ligotti’s greatest story, “Vastarien”: “a votary of that wretched sect of souls who believe that the only value of this world lies in its power — at certain times — to suggest another.””

What is this other world? The very void of which we’ve been speaking, the nothingness out of which all pre-ontological things become part of our universe of ontologically real entities. What Ligotti more than even Lovecraft tries to reveal is the visible darkness of this Void of the Real. As Clune mentions, in Ligotti’s the “The Dreaming in Nortown” the antagonist will say: “All that was needed to shatter this acceptance waited outside — something of total unacceptability atop a rickety scaffold of estrangement.” What is needed Zizek tells us is to “traverse the fantasy,” to allow ourselves to work through the symbolic codes and illusions of the Symbolic Order that has pulled its ideological blinkers over our minds, its defense mechanisms against the truth, and then to wander free of this human(ist) world into the inhuman world of the Real around us. Yet, do not wonder too closely, for it might just burn you beyond recall. Insofar as this gap or crack in things cannot be mediated with the absolute, it presents itself as “the non-dialectical ground of negativity,” so that “[t]he old metaphysical problem of how to name the nameless abyss pops up here in the context of how to name the primordial gap: contradiction, antagonism, symbolic castration, parallax, diffraction, complementarity, up to difference.” But the name that is perhaps best suited to this is the subject. (C, p. 242)

As Clune reminds us Ligotti’s tales are “allegories of a style of writing that carries out guerilla warfare against the familiar world”. To free ourselves of the Symbolic Order of illusions, the ideological constructs of political, the socio-cultural systems of signification and meaning is to join the war for the Real. What we need is a politics of the Real. Not one that would lead us into it, but one that would allow us to know it for what it is, to unbind our minds from the illusions that have been imposed on us from childhood by our authoritarian worlds of education, and national or global systems. To as Zizek has said repeatedly “tarry with the negative”. Not to transcend it in some rapture of the Real which would only destroy us, but to situate ourselves in the gap of freedom without grasping after some fantasy of safety, truth, myth to fill that gap up again and fall back into the illusions of comfort and the sleep of reason.

In fact as Clune asks: “Who is it that feels liberation when the weight of life is lifted? Who is it that feels infinity flower as the appearances of the human world drift free of the things?” His answer:

If in Ligotti’s cosmic horror “unreal” names the desired object of perception, then “unborn” names the desired subject of perception. The one who opens himself to the uncanny experience of the disintegration of the human world, discovers in himself a trace of someone or something that is not human.

Is this not the Subject as self-reflecting nothingness, free of the Symbolic Order of humanism, all the fantasies and illusory comforts of those apotropaic charms of society and civilization, literature, philosophy, science, poetry, etc. shorn from our being, left with the bare minimum the “homo sacer” where at last we discover that abyss within ourselves of the inhuman core. As Zizek says in Less Than Nothing:

This, perhaps, is how one can imagine the zero-level of creation: a red diving line cuts through the thick darkness of the void, and on this line, a fuzzy something appears, the object-cause of desire—perhaps, for some, a woman’s naked body (as on the cover of this book). Does this image not supply the minimal coordinates of the subject-object axis, the truly primordial axis of evil: the red line which cuts through the darkness is the subject, and the body its object? (C, p. 243)

This is the empty place between the void and the void, a slight perturbation and fluctuation between two realms: the brokenness of Being and Void in which the Subject arises in freedom.


  1. The Nonhuman Turn (Richard Grusin, Series Editor)  Center for 21st Century Studies. (21st century studies) 2015 (Page iv).
  2. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)

 

Neoliberal Aesthetics: Alien Organizations and the Non-Human Turn

Capital is not a pimp but a seething vat of biomachinic mutagens…
………– Iain Hamilton Grant, Swarm 2

Isn’t global capitalism, the neoliberal paradigm itself the absolute thing-in-itself? Its pervasiveness is everywhere, yet no one can quite make it visible, or think about it; instead, we live within its ruins like alien crime lords who have lost their home to an even more Alien Organization: a Symbolic Order of virtual and actual systems that have become so immersive, so ubiquitous within our perceptual and ideological fold that we no longer perceive anything else. How did this come about? How did we become encased in an invisible nexus of networks and social relations that have trapped us in a maze of thought, feeling, and fantasy to the point that we cannot invent alternatives? Is neoliberalism a machine of some advanced future replicant system that has invaded our time luring us onward with dreams of posthuman and transhuman immortality? Offering us new lives in the machinic civilization of a postbiological order if only we will sell ourselves to the demons of machinic desire? Caught between the Symbolic and the Real we weave tales of fantasy to fill the gap of our fears, our terrors, our ignorance of ourselves and our non-human others in our midst. Tales of Terminators, terrorists, global chaos, climatological and biological catastrophism all offered as talking points to guide us to one conclusion: you must submit to the neoliberal order, else die in the isolated house of being, alone and trembling at the hands of unknown forces.

Our leaders encase us in debt, force us to become dependent on them for our livelihoods, our security, our very source of human freedom. Yet, instead of any of these they give us the chains of taxation, 24/7 work days, fear of religious terrorism, eternal war, and the likelihood of endless misery and pain. Yet, we seem to accept this as if there were no other way, as if this was all natural, just the way things are rather than the embellishments of an aesthetic order of calculated planning and ingenuity that has reconfigured the very foundations of democracy over the past sixty years. A fantasy world of neoliberal fiction and ideology that has subtly worked its propaganda systems shaping Hollywood, major news networks, news papers, journals, think-tanks, academic systems through the pressure of economic power and the nomos of legal and ethical systematic coercion. A system so subtly built over time gradually remaking the Industrial enclaves of the Fordist era, destroying it, decentralizing labor, shifting the old factory systems to the periphery of the globe, while dismantling the unions and their security, the family farm systems, and isolating the workers through divisive politics, multicultural racism, difference, and monetary refinancialization and immaterial subterfuge. Capitalism knows very well what it is about, it is built on the notion of reinventing itself, auto-reconfiguring its systems of power and control even in the midst of breakdowns between crises. It thrives on crisis at the expense of dialecticians of the Left who still sit there spellbound as to why it continues. Reactionaries like Nick Land call this present system of neoliberalism the “Cathedral”: a system of governmental, corporate, and academic intellectual and ideological, political and economic power, coercion, and narratives that work through the ICT’s to manipulate and communicate, reinforce repetitively their system of false hope and democracy. I’m not a reactionary, but this does give a nice fictional summation to the global capitalist system we see around us and yet seem unwilling and unable to emancipate ourselves from. The Left is like a broken child’s toy, a Humpty-Dumpty that no one can put back together.

Even as Badiou and Zizek dream of the Idea of Communism as something to return too: a failed idea and lost cause that must be continually tried again and again, even amidst failure. Fail, and try better! – Is such a revitalization possible? When one watched Greece and Syriza recently crack under the pressure of isolation and economic servitude, its Leftist government caving before the EU gods, unable to provide its people even the hint of freedom much less economic salvation. Much rather generations of taxation and monetary austerity. What is left? How did the neoliberals capture the desires of the world and trap them in a cage of austerity from which only eternal war, taxation, and unfreedom reign?

Happened on a paper this morning on a journal devoted to Organizational Aesthetics dealing with Speculative Realism and Non-human agents such as Artificial Intelligence within Alien Organizations of the virtual and actual that have already become a staple of the current network society. A society in which  the world is flattened out across a grid of electronic circuits providing a platform for both non-human and human agents a 24/7 Onlife system of exchanges and transactional arbitration. Technologies and technics based on the emerging ICT technologies (Information and Communications), outsourcing and global networking. These Virtual organizations are “open and temporary coalitions of independent and usually geographically dispersed economic entities, whose structure is being constantly reorganized, whereas the scope and aim of the performed activities depends on the emerging market opportunities”.1 What is interesting is how the neoliberal world of capital is co-opting a value-neutral philosophy of speculative aesthetics and marshalling its concepts for use within the global marketplace as a design-engineering and organizational ploy for a future non-human system that flattens economics and productivity of knowledge workers within the emerging network economy and society.

Adam Dzidowski will develop a thesis in which these virtual organizations cannot operate  without systems like MRP (Material Requirements Planning), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), DSS (Decision Support Systems) or BI (Business Intelligence). Concurrently data mining, expert systems, neural networks and genetic algorithms are commonly incorporated into the daily activities of many corporations. Because of this he begins to question whether human perception is still central to organizational aesthetics. In the newer world of Onlife, when both human and non-human agents interoperate and the stakeholder position is more and more taken over by artificial systems rather than human actors/agents: a networked realm algorithmically driven by autonomous organisational agents like high-frequency trading (HFT), in which statistical arbitrage or trend following software already exist and act within the timeframes (milliseconds) and space (global market) that are unreachable for human perception, whether the most interesting question right now is how we should consider the sensitivity of non-human agents in
organizations.

James Brindle in a blog post entitled The New Aesthetic (Bridle, 2011),  followed by a Tumblr feed (see: new-aesthetic.tumblr.com). He would describe the project as one undertaken within its own medium: an attempt to “write” critically about the network in the vernacular of the network itself: in a tumblr, in blog posts, in YouTube videos of lectures, tweeted reports and messages, reblogs, likes, and comments. Examples of this “new aesthetic of the future” would entail glitches, pixelations, render ghosts, GPS anomalies and other digital artefacts serve to introduce alien and synthetic visual forms, created by non-human actors, but also by humans incorporating “new” forms of perception.

The important motif here is the flattening out of human and non-human players on an equal footing in which both incorporate new forms of perception. One might as well say, “intentionality”: the directedness of the agency, human or non-human toward its objects, goals, or self-reflected operations. The point is that within the network human and non-human work or play in ways that are bound to a virtual environment to real time global participation and infoenactivism (i.e., the notion that inforgs or informational organisms – both human and non-human – collaborate in dynamic environmental interaction through elaborated channels of both representational and diagrammatic dataflows that rather than passively receiving information from their environments they then translate it into the idioms of exchange appropriate to the perceptive powers and capacities of their respective aesthetic organization).

As Dzidowski describes it the debate around the New Aesthetic “has spanned everything from feminist critique of the machine gaze to electric anthropology to alien toaster pastry to cats” (Dzidowski, p. 4). What we’re seeing here is a reorientation of the aesthetic paradigm toward the non-human actor’s viewpoint, a decentering of the human or displacement, that takes the new non-human objects of advanced modes of neoliberal industry, science, and business seriously. The stakeholders within these virtual enclaves more and more is being seen as a non-human actor with its own set of aesthetic perceptions and dynamic forms of interactive judgements and decisions. He’ll quote Karl Marx’s The Fragment on Machines along with Michael Betancourt comments:

What the “new aesthetic” documents is the shift from earlier considerations of machine labor as an amplifier and extension of human action  – as an augmentation of human labor  – to its replacement by models where the machine does not augment but supplant, in the process apparently removing the human intermediary that is the labor that historically lies between the work of human designer-engineers and fabrication following their plans. (Dzidowski, p. 5)

In this scenario the non-human agents “supplant” the human agents or “intermediary” as the active participants of value in this new virtual organization of corporate Onlife initiatives. As Ursula Huws in  Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age  will tell us neoliberal global capitalism’s extraordinary ability to survive the crises that periodically threaten to destroy it by generating new commodities.2 Even as non-human agents supplant or replace humans at various jobs over the next century there will still be a need for corporations and governments to maintain a balance between economic viability and the migration to new forms of machinic civilization. This means that it is still “humans” not the “non-human” agent that supports the economic base, which means along with new forms of commodification comes the need to invent new types of jobs for humans who actually invest and buy these commodities. After all non-human actors have yet to become fully autonomous economic agents in their own right, whether they are beginning to supplant humans in many of the repetitive tasks across the mundane world of real production or not.

Dzidowski will rely on Ian Bogost’s orientation in Alien Phenomenology for a new orientation in corporate organizational aesthetics:

Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally – plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. I contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves. (Bogost, 2009)

Is OOO becoming the aesthetic of choice for the Neoliberal agenda? Does it offer these design engineers of the virtual enclaves or other real-world design a form that flattens everything out on a plane of immanence that equalizes the human and non-human agents? Quoting from Levi R. Bryant’s book Democracy of Objects he’ll remark, saying, “flat ontology is not necessarily about the destruction of all hierarchies, but rather acknowledging the other ones. As Levi R. Bryant explains “the point is not to stop thinking about humans (…) but rather to start thinking about the role nonhumans play in organizing our social relations in particular ways” (Bryant, 2012). (Dzidowski , p. 5)

I know Levi leans toward anarchic and leftist forms in his politics, but can OOO itself be value neutral, open to reactionary as well as leftist politics within the neoliberal globalist system? As Dzidowski comments “when taking into account the digital, synthetic and artificial organizational  systems, some authors argue that the OOO and modern philosophy are hugely influenced by ICT itself” (Dzidowski, p. 5). So that OOO can be co-opted into either neoliberal or leftward agendas at the level of flat ontology. There being no ethical or epistemic dimension to counter or organize its philosophical presuppositions: it being concerned solely with displacing and decentering our authoritative and cultural imperialism of the human onto a level plane in which both human and non-human players, objects, agents work, live, and perceive.

He’ll quote from the Speculative Aesthetics Research Project at University for the Creative Arts describing their efforts in the following manner:

Our research emphasizes the requirement for novel modes of thinking aesthetics that refuse to hypostatize human experience as the master category through which the world is to be interpreted. To this end, the speculative dimension regarding aesthetic thought, as well as art and design practice, may well involve a productive tension between the levels of phenomenal experience, metaphysical speculation and scientific description, whilst, nonetheless, refusing a return to naïve realism, reified subjectivity, or (new) materialisms. (Dzidowski , p. 6)

The moment you displace the human from the center, with its sense of moral or socio-cultural legal or political motivations, and at the same time undermine the notion of the Subject as a form of naïve realism what then? What guides the use of such a philosophical or speculative aesthetic? The Neoliberal organizations can co-opt such a value-neutral non-human aesthetic to its own economic and political goals. What might that entail? Will our distinction between public and private be re-conceptualized as well? Will non-human agents gain political and social status? Does OOO allow for the emergence of new political actors to emerge at the moment, non-human agents gaining legal and social rights on an equal footing with humans? Will the emerging Artificial Intelligences take priority in class labor disputes, or legal battles over Security or any of a number of other issues? As the neoliberal organizations incorporate such philosophical underpinnings in their approach to law, aesthetics, economics, human and non-human relations what effect will this entail for society as a whole? Could we see an Artificial Agent of Intelligence gain a foothold in politics, become a governing agent in national or global affairs, rule over humans in any number of ways?

Steven Shaviro would have us accept panpsychism as a central aspect of this emerging paradigm: that everything is mindful, or has a mind; but this does not necessarily entail that everything is “given” or “manifested” to a mind. (…) If we are to reject correlationism, and undo the Kantian knot of thought and being, no middle way is possible. We must say either (along with Harman and Grant) that all entities are in their own right at least to some degree active, intentional, vital, and possessed of powers; or else (along with Meillassoux and Brassier) that being is radically disjunct from thought, in which case things or objects must be entirely divested of their allegedly anthropomorphic qualities. (Shaviro, The Universe of Things: 2011)

This dualism that decenters the human as the agent of mind, and allows the mental within objects of every type and stripe, while rewiring our framework of humanistic systems through a nihilistic wiping of the anthropomorphic traces in things is central to this orientation and aesthetic. The point of new speculative aesthetic is not to get rid of the human, but rather to undermine the heritage of humanistic learning and education. To develop a new education, aesthetic, and perceptive relation to the non-human as equal to ourselves. In this sense it is to move from a hierarchical ranking system to a non-hierarchical networking system in which objects both interact and withdraw from action, all bound by a space of equalization in which a non-elitist or democratic playing field is enabled.

One wonders how this would work in the real world? I’ve only recently purchased Harman’s Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political which is about Latour’s specific relational theory and its uses for politics. I’ve read a couple of reviews where he is leery of mixing ontology and politics. This seems right to me, yet even if he is cautious one realizes that others will not be and will co-opt such ontologies to other purposes than originally intended. That’s one of the problems with the “intentional” perspective: intentions are prone to abuse and error if directed toward objects outside the ontological domain. One of the weaknesses of the OOO perspective is the ethical and political aspects that will need to be addressed. I’ll need to see what Harman might have to say to this after I read his work on Latour.

As Dzidowski summarizes organizational aesthetics or how organizations organize themselves both in the virtual and actual world through their relations within and outside is taking on a more non-human and alien feel and style: speculative design concept spans across futurism and foresight methods,  incorporating tools like concept art, design fiction, culture-jamming, futurescaping, scenarios, horizon-scanning, science fiction, or even gonzo and new journalism (Dzidowski, p. 9) He’ll suggest that future organisational designs would either let us gracefully withdraw from organisational areas where our perception is simply unnecessary or insufficient, or they would ultimately motivate us to defend the remnants of human agency in a more and more artificial world. (Dzidowski, p. 10) Admonishing us that autonomous manufacturing plants are already here, but the intuitive fear of autonomous organisations seems to be well justified. Our open, but watchful imagination of the things to come is especially needed today. Eventually “it is the business of the future to be dangerous, and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties” (Dzidowski, p. 10).

So will the sciences reengineer our ethics, provide us goals, initiatives, duties? Is the future some speculative system of non-human agents slowly displacing the human from center to periphery in an accelerating world out of joint, a world of objects that interact among themselves without human knowledge or benefit. Objects that take on the role of legal, political, and social mediators that once fell to humans alone. A world of artificial intelligence, robotics, nano-tech, rogue biotech viruses and retroviruses, plastic environments of an infosphere in which the virtual and actual mesh to the point that the lines between them that once seemed so well defined by our human interfaces blur and disappear as non-human players begin to migrate into the human, and the human into the non-human? Will anything human remain? That ominous marker from Land’s Meltdown (read here) ringing in my ears: “Nothing human gets out alive.”

Maybe our passion to escape the human along with its entrapments in the anthropomorphic cage of correlationism is actually leading not to some new freedom and aesthetic openness and equalization of human and non-human, but rather is in a strange and uncanny reversal allowing the Real to invade the Symbolic Order of humanistic narratives, cannibalize the scripts that have underwritten the human project for millennia, that have guided its politics, education, literature, ethics, religion, philosophy, etc. for several hundred years from the Renaissance to Enlightenment into Modernism? And, yet, under the light of advance nihilism begin to see itself deconstructed, dismantled, brought into the margins of a defunct ideology and unsound and pathological system that pit humanity against the non-human as mythologized in Nature. Even now the speculative aesthetics of undoing the category of the human and natural is well under way. The older forms of Culture/Nature divide falling apart. Nature seen as a fantasy of the Enlightenment and instrumental reasoning of men seeking mastery and control of the resources of the natural world. Instead the new aesthetic would relinquish our hold on the natural, allow the non-human an autonomy the likes of which have never been seen before. Allow as well those other systems, the machinic to emerge from their human bondage and become autonomous: AI’s, robots, all slowly rising out of human collapse as the new agents of freedom and non-human aesthetic, philosophy, science. Allowing the non-human to suddenly stand in the sun on its own, autonomous and free of the human encroachment, allowing it to take on even the sacrosanct powers and capacities of human thought and creativity, to become intelligent and perceptive. With the human stripped of its emperor’s new clothing what will remain of this bare homo sacre? If civilization and society were once seen as apotropaic defense systems against the crude violence of nature, what of those newly crowned powers of the virtual, the machinic progeny of our posthuman future?

Of course the other side is those posthumanists, and transhumanists who seek just this: to merge with our machinic cousins, become more or less immortal; with fixable plastic bodies of portable parts, replaceable and impervious to the natural elements of erosion. Systems that will allow the human to migrate into alternate forms of artificial life. Allow a world of possibility undreamed by organic life-forms. The opening of space to forms and modes of existence and space exploration unimaginable before, due to the limits and finitude of man. A world where pain will be a thing of the past, where problems in the physical substratum of the robotic bodies we will inhabit will just inform nanotech operators and self-replicating robots to fix us on the fly. Metamorphic systems of advanced intelligence working alongside the posthuman enclaves as if Ovid’s poem of Metamorphosis was not about gods from above, but about the human children of time emerging from their cocoon of organic flesh into the anorganic and plastic encasement of titanium and other metal alloys as the new immortals of a new earth. A utopian dream of neoliberal power?

Where does the truth lie in such dreams of reason?


 

  1. Dzidowski, Adam (2015) “New and Speculative Organisational Aesthetics,” Organizational Aesthetics: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, 19-31.
    Available at: http://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/oa/vol4/iss1/5
  2. Huws, Ursula (2014-12-05). Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age (Kindle Locations 34-35). Monthly Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Chasing the Void: Modernity, Abstraction, and Aesthetics

“Art is a matter of taste rather than of thinking, and taste must always struggle to refine and improve itself in contact with the art object.”
…….– Clement Greenberg

One might describe 1911 as the year the world began chasing the Void. Across the course of the next year, a series of artists including Vasily Kandinsky, Fernard Léger, Robert Delaunay, František Kupka, and Francis Picabia exhibited works that marked the beginning of something radically new: they dispensed with recognizable subject matter.1 The Age of Abstraction might best describe the artistic quest for a new vocabulary for the arts: artists and composers, dancers and poets, all began establishing a new modern language that would allow them to decompose the phenomenal world into the pure madness of the void where the real object devoid of its accidents and profiles could allure and fascinate.

Charles Baudelaire in an earlier era broached a new sense of abstraction as a language separate from nature, humanly created and therefore essentially artificial: “In nature there is neither line nor color. Line and color have been created by man. They are abstractions. . . .The pleasures we derive in them are of a different sort, yet they are perfectly equal to and absolutely independent of the subject of the picture.” This sense of something subtracted from the phenomenal, some thing that could not be named or seen directly that seemed to evoke a sense of horrors just below the cut of things and give a certain “jouissance” a pleasure/pain alluring one into the depths of appearance as if in pursuit of some self-lacerating thing hiding in the void. Wilhelm Worringer in his early Abstraction and empathy (1908) would describe a “will to abstraction” in both primitive and modern societies, a common expression of anxiety and vulnerability in relation to an external world not confidently mastered. The “aim of abstraction”—here Worringer picked up on the meaning of the word as an isolating operation—was “to wrest the object of the external world out of its natural context, out of the unending flux of being, to purify it of all its dependence upon life (i.e. of everything about it that was arbitrary, to render it necessary and irrefragable, to approximate it to its absolute value).” (ibid., p. 12)

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Sacred Violence: The Hyperstitional Order of Capitalism

How do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?
…….– Matteo Pasquinelli

There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence.
…….– Nick Land

Delphi Carstens under the Rim Dweller section of Maggie Robert’s site gives a nice history of the notion of Hyperstition which emerged out of that strange and uncanny entity CCRU. Carstens describes this most uncanny guest as a engine for the creation of abstract machines: “Functioning as magical sigils or engineering diagrams hyperstitions are ideas that, once ‘downloaded’ into the cultural mainframe, engender apocalyptic positive feedback cycles. Whether couched as religious mystery teaching, or as secular credo, hyperstitions act as catalysts, engendering further (and faster) change and subversion. Describing the effect of very real cultural anxieties about the future, hyperstitions refer to exponentially accelerating social transformations.”

“Hyperstitions by their very existence as ideas function causally to bring about their own reality,” explains the CCRUs Nick Land. “The hyperstitional object is no mere figment or ‘social construction’ but it is in a very real way ‘conjured’ into being by the approach taken to it” (ibid).

This sense that hyperstitional interventions give rise to the future is at the core of this (non-) concept. She’ll quote Nick Land from an email interview as saying: ““capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mundane economic ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force”. Recently Nick would elaborate on this in his essay The Teleological Identity of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence”. It is in this speech he’d argue that for twenty years his major thematic has been the notion of “the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence”.  For many this may sound lunatic, but hold on to your hats, don’t switch the secular mind-fuck button off just yet.

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Replicant Futures: Nick Land and Alien Capitalism

I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,
But that before all my arrogant poems the real
Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.
…….– Walt Whitman, “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

“I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,” says the Gray Bard of America. The nihilist undertones ringing out in that last dark hinterland of “ironical laughter” of the unknown “real Me” who outside our thinking, our intentional directedness stands in the unconscious libidinal matrix of the impossible Real, the indelible stamp of the withdrawn and “mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,” pointing in silence to old Walt’s “songs, and then to the sand beneath”. A dark vision indeed. Most think of Walt as the happy camper, the wild and free poet of optimism, democracy, and sunshine. But under it all is this moody and terrible being of pessimism and nihilistic despair who believed that all his vein striving, all the metaphoric display, the grand gesture of the Leaves of Grass were but the spume and spray of rolling sand flecks on the edge of the Mother, the Ocean. Necessity, Ananke, Fate: the triune power of the ebb and flow of life bound within the circular motion of the death drives that move among the impersonal and indifferent stars and galaxies like a blind god, mindless and alone. But there is no mind in the universe of death, only the endless entropic madness of the Real.

Nick Land in his essay Machinic Desire remarks “In the near future the replicants — having escaped from the off-planet exile of private madness – emerge from their camouflage to overthrow the human security system. Deadly orphans from beyond reproduction, they are intelligent weaponry of machinic desire virally infiltrated into the final-phase organic order; invaders from an artificial death.”

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The Neurocognitive Revolution: Triumph or Agony?

Philosophy, in its longing to rationalize, formalize, define, delimit, to terminate enigma and uncertainty, to co-operate wholeheartedly with the police, is nihilistic in the ultimate sense that it strives for the immobile perfection of death.
…….– Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Donald Merlin in his Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (1993: see a Precise) once argued the australopithecines were limited to concrete/episodic minds: bipedal creatures able to benefit from pair-bonding, cooperative hunting, etc., but essentially of a seize-the-day mentality: the immediacy of the moment. The first transition away from the instant, the present, and toward a more temporal system of knowledge acquisition and transmission was to a “mimetic” culture: the era of Homo erectus in which mankind absorbed and refashioned events to create rituals, crafts, rhythms, dance, and other pre-linguistic traditions. This was followed by the evolution to mythic cultures: the result of the acquisition of speech and the invention of symbols. The third transition carried oral speech to reading, writing, and an extended external memory-store seen today in computer and advanced machine or artificial Intelligence and extrinsic data-memory technologies. The next stage might entail the ubiquitous and autonomous rise of external agencies, intelligent machines, or AI’s that live alongside humans as partners in some new as yet unforeseen cultural matrix or Symbolic Order yet to be envisioned or described.

At the same time that our external systems of culture and transmission were transforming themselves we gained new heuristic systems, adapting to local invariant conditions. Our sciences came to the forefront as external environmental, exploratory and experimental methods of analysis and data-gathering techniques. More and more humans off-loaded memory, intelligence, and analytical capacity and powers to these externalized systems through several transitions over the past few thousand years as both abstract mathematical and sensuous empirical forms of knowledge acquisition were reorganized into a transition from natural to artificial forms. In fact consciousness itself can be seen as the first anti-natural and artificial system within nature.

We still do not know what the conditions were that allowed the forms of consciousness humans attained to arise, whether it was a gradual form of evolution over hundreds of thousands of years; or whether there was some disjunctive great leap, or punctuated equilibria ( a theory developed by Eldredge and Gould’s (1972) own research on trilobites and snails, a macroevolutionary theory, which lead to a greater appreciation of the hierarchical structure of nature and its implications for understanding evolutionary patterns and processes). Today there are three approaches to the emergence of consciousness: evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, duel-inheritance theory.

The neurosciences take a more interdisciplinary approach to science of the brain/consciousness and its evolution that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine (including neurology), genetics, and allied disciplines including philosophy, physics, and psychology. Of late there have been heated debates between Computational neuroscience (the study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system), and a Modular functional approach. Much of computational neuroscience focuses on properties of single neurons and small circuits. However, computational approaches to cognitive neuroscience (e.g., the interaction of perception, action and language) must deal with diverse functions distributed across multiple brain regions. It is argued that a modular approach to modeling is needed to build cognitive models and to compare them as the basis for further model development.

Also new Non-invasive brain function measurement technologies, such as functional nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, near-infrared spectroscopy, electroencephalograph and magnetoencephalograph (MEG), which are used in neuroscience, have been contributing to the development of medical care and neuroscience. At the same time they are making brain function measurement safer and accelerating decipherment of the brain and mind, sense and behavior, and mental activities.

As Slavoj Žižek speaking of the neurosciences and the brain, this three-pound gray mass, we get a sense of this all-devouring, all-consuming force when we look inside the body and specifically the skull—“the realization that, when we look behind the face into the skull, we find nothing; ‘there’s no one at home’ there, just piles of grey matter—it is difficult to tarry with this gap between meaning and the pure Real.” This raw flow of biochemical and electrical energy is so “terrifying” for two reasons. First, it is faceless, personless—it has absolutely nothing to do with either the orbit of phenomenal experience or the human universe of meaning. There is no indication of any genuine human quality: we are only confronted with anonymous, dull palpitations, which resemble the industrial buzzing of automatic machinery, a machinery that may amaze us with its complexity and dynamism (the plasticity of the neuronal network) but that nevertheless exists as a matrix of closed circuitry locked within its own self enclosed, self sustaining movement, a movement that is not only greater than us but also thereby appears to “threaten” our very existence as free subjects at every step. Second, the passage from the pure, senseless Real of nature in its mechanism to the absolute spontaneity of the I—the rupturing advent of a dialectical leap—is stricto sensu inexplicable, for given our inability to locate the full-fledged human subject in nature, there is always a moment of arbitrariness and fiat.5 The latter is the hard question of consciousness which is two-fold: 1) what were the conditions needed to give rise to consciousness to begin with; and 2) is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences—how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colors and tastes.

In Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, Chalmers wrote:

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.6

For Žižek time and time again it comes down to this, “there are two options here: either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality itself (not only epistemologically) is not-All (incomplete and open).” In fact for him the question is how a parallax gap could emerge from within the self-regulated biochemical and electrical activity inside the skull, how “the ‘mental’ itself explodes within the neuronal through a kind of ‘ontological explosion.’” Of course, like Chalmers, and other neuroscientists, Žižek has more questions than answers concerning this ‘ontological explosion’ of the ‘mental’ out of the biochemical mass of the brain.

Beyond the question of the emergence of consciousness is the more pragmatic and worldly concern of corporate and governmental funding and utilitarian projects for the neurosciences in war, medicine, economics, ethics, governance and any one of a number of other initiatives from the Brain Mapping initiatives in the EU and America that like the Manhattan project, and the Gene Mapping projects before them have spawned great sums of pressure both economic and political, as well as the large funds necessary for such tasks and undertakings.

Delgado dreamed of using his electrodes to tap directly into human thoughts: to read them, edit them, improve them. “The human race is at an evolutionary turning point. We’re very close to having the power to construct our own mental functions,” he told The New York Times in 1970, after trying out his implants on mentally ill human subjects. “The question is, what sort of humans would we like, ideally, to construct?”
……The Neurologist Who Hacked his Brain

Neuroscience is Big Business

The convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit or enslavement of society (CKTS) is the core aspect of 21st century science initiatives across the global system, which is based on five principles: (1) the interdependence of all components of nature and society (the so called network society, etc.), (2) enhancement of creativity and innovation through evolutionary processes of convergence that combine existing principles, and divergence that generates new ones (control of creativity and innovation by corporate power), (3) decision analysis for research and development based on system-logic deduction (data-analysis, machine learning, AI, etc.), (4) higher-level cross-domain languages to generate new solutions and support transfer of new knowledge (new forms of non-representational systems and mappings, topological, etc.). As civilization and societal challenges become more and more dependent on external and internalized artificial mechanisms and technological systems we are faced with the convergence of “NBIC” technological reorganization of corporate and socio-cultural fields of business, inquiry, and research into: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive and neruosciences. But it is the neuroscientific breakthroughs and initiatives that will underpin the forms of global governance: political and economic systems of rules, negotiations, and navigation systems of impersonal and indifferent regulatory and reason-based imperialism of the future capitalist regimes as they begin to marshal every aspect of life into a data-centric vision of command and control.

Larger initiatives like the Human Brain Project (EU) and the U.S. led Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The European Union’s €1-billion (US$1.3-billion) Human Brain Project (HBP) and the United States’ $1-billion Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative are collaborating in their investigation and mapping of the brain’s functions.

These hard sciences have given birth to a plethora of new interdisciplinary business fields with neuroprefix such as neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, neuroaccounting, neurogovernance, neuroethics, and neuroleadership. Such an exotic union of science and the arts may provide better understanding of human nature and behaviour change. Yet, they are already providing us a future where massive surveillance, data-analysis, manipulation, and exploitation of the Human Security Regime under both governmental and private corporate consumerist societies will be enslaved by their desires.   Imaging technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) reveal unseen neural connections in the living human brain along with brain wave analysis technologies such as quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG). All these various systems will be used in peace and war, and this is only the beginning. Welcome to the NeuroEmpire 101:

Neuroeconomics as an emerging discipline combines neuroscience, economics, and psychology; and uses research methods from cognitive neuroscience and experimental economics. It is “the application of neuroscientific methods to analyse and understand economically relevant behaviour” . such as evaluating decisions, categorising risks and rewards, and interactions among economic agents. Neuroeconomics research draws on the convergence of three major trends. First, using fMRI we can measure brain activity associated with discrete cognitive events and study higher cognitive processes like decision making and reward evaluation. Second, by incorporating economic variables into electrophysiological experiments, we can encode motivationally relevant information through novel recognition of neurons at multiple levels of processing pathways. Third, neuroeconomics draws on behavioural economics to consider psychological variables into economic and decision-making models.

Neuroaccounting is a new way to scientifically view accounting and the brain’s central role in building economic institutions. The measure of brain activity during economic decision-making using neuroscientific methods can prove useful for evaluating the desirability of implementing new policies that run contrary to long-established accounting principles. Dickhaut et al. reviewed neuroscientific evidence that suggest the emergence of modern accounting principles based on the mapping of brain function to the principles of modern accounting.

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscientific methods to analyse and understand human behaviour in relation to markets and marketing exchanges. Applying neuroscience to marketing may form a basis for understanding how human beings create, store, recall, and relate to information such as brands in everyday life. Neuromarketers now use cognitive neuroscience in marketing research that bears implications for understanding organisational behaviour in a social context , for example whether certain aspects of advertisements and marketing activities trigger negative effects such as overconsumption. Going beyond focus groups in traditional advertising methods, we can now use EEG to detect putative “branding moments” within TV commercials and apply brain imaging to discover the “buy button”. In notable research emerging from Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists are using fMRI to identify parts of the brain that influence buying decisions.

Neuroethics is the investigation of altruism in neuroeconomic research, which suggests that cooperation is linked to activation of reward areas. Investigations into such problems could in fact be among the most compelling within neuromarketing. As a new field, it has triggered heated debate and questioned the ethics behind neuromarketing in a 2004 editorial of Nature Neuroscience. Now that we have identified certain key regions of the brain that would be implicated in consumer preferences, it may be possible for marketers to “manipulate” their advertisements and target the brain areas that mediate reward processing. Think of how recently the trends in political persuasion have used polling indicators more and more to sway public opinion and make or break a candidate through neuromarketing positivation – is this an outgrowth of neuroethical strategy gaming techniques adapting the dynamics of politics to marketing through neural feedback-loops based on new notions of ideology and propaganda applied to a pseudo-neuroscientific use of the sciences?

Neurogoverance is the promise of the modification of neuro-mnemonic practices on a population scale, a global neurogovernance, becomes imaginable on the population level as world actors, increasingly fearing “traumatized societies” and the intergenerational transmission of trauma, push toward pre-emptive measures. In this form of governance, the experience of the trigger becomes a threat which must be pre-emptively eradicated. Temporally, it is positioned as a fragmented repetition that keeps societies in the past. Happiness is moving forward; traumatized societies are thus “backwards” (Ahmed, 2010)4. In following the pre-emptive logic of inoculating the population against future trauma, now imaginable as brains’ neural networks become understood as interconnected in a kind of vast, global web, the trigger, a painful experience that is fragmented, becomes positioned as a block slowing down time and threatening the future life of the population. This new paradigm, now spreading to non-Western countries like an export, serves to re-interpret the trigger as a true break with the continuity of time. (see Should We Be Triggered? NeuroGovernance in the Future, Kim Cunningham)

Could we see trauma cultures arise in which our memories are erased, wiped out by neural pre-emptive logics after the dark and nefarious imposition of some world-wide civil-war in which billions suffer loss and death; or, after some climatological, ecological, viral, or cosmological catastrophe occurs; else as part of some global campaign and initiative as part of some neurogoverance task force’s imposition? Would we be absorbed into a reorganization and realignment to a false Symbolic Order all in the name of some false or real emergency: plague, civil-war, climate catastrophe etc.? One almost thinks this is all paranoid conspiracy if one had not all realized that indeed large corporate and government institutions world-wide are heavily invested in backing and funding such problematique investigations in the neurosciences and the other NBIC technologies. As Cunningham suggests among its unexpected gifts, the trigger traumas is that it offers an affective, embodied critique of the normative uses of objects, and a critique of Euclidean notions of space and time as chronological. The trigger’s connective ontology also makes it a creative force for critiquing the social. In my own view we might displace this as a retroactive enactment, a test-run of modeling process, a future forecasting in philo-fictional or hyperstitional scenarios that allow us to push the extremes of these various scenarios to their (not-so) logical conclusions and see what takes effect? What we need to accept or reject in such extrapolations, to counter the nefarious uses of such future situations in a pre-emptive strike against their misuse and abuse against the greater multiplicity.

“Your brain will be infinitely more powerful than the brains we have now,” Kennedy continues, as his brain pulsates onscreen. “We’re going to extract our brains and connect them to small computers that will do everything for us, and the brains will live on.”

“You’re excited for that to happen?” I ask.

“Pshaw, yeah, oh my God,” he says. “This is how we’re evolving.”

……
The Neurologist Who Hacked his Brain – Conversations with Phil Kennedy

Onlife 24/7 and the Intelligent World of the Future?

As we begin to interface with our machinic cousins on a more permanent based (i.e., already the iPod, iPad, tablet universal connectivity culture of Onlife 24/7 is apparent), will we begin to accept the slow inclusive absorption into the neurosphere of information, marketing, and consumerist info-glut as just part of the Order of things? In the  onlife-world, artefacts have ceased to be mere machines simply operating according to human instructions. They can change states in autonomous ways and can do so by digging into the exponentially growing wealth of data, made increasingly available, accessible and processable by fast-developing and ever more pervasive ICTs. Data are recorded, stored, computed and fed back in all forms of machines, applications, and devices in novel ways, creating endless opportunities for adaptive and personalised environments. A sort of solipsistic or infernal paradise for full-blown psychopaths and nerds, where filters of many kinds continue to erode the illusion of an objective, unbiased perception of reality, while at the same time they open new spaces for human interactions and new knowledge practices. (Floridi)

Will such a world become so ubiquitous and naturalized to our children and their children that the age without machines, the age when men and women thought on their own without external systems of artificial intelligence and memory will be a thing of history? An age in which we will have already crossed the Rubicon of the artificial divide and entered the post-human world without even an acknowledgement or nod or recognition? Will the moment of dreaded Singularity that so many fear become at that moment in the future just one more ubiquitous and invisible, even transparent underpinning of the new Symbolic Order of Governance and business as usual?  Will we already be so cyborgized that this unique and ubiquitous AI in our midst will become an acceptable risk, allowing it to take over more and more of our decisions, our governmental and corporate, political and economic tasks without ever questioning why this must be? Will we be phased out over time, allowing our more intelligent heirs and machinic children to inherit our place in the Sun? Will we at some point face the situation of the last human, Oligarchs include being excluded from the inevitable world of machinic civilization, existing in zoos or some form of commons enclosure, farmed out into the ancient and tributary worlds of non-machinic life as quaint but organic artifacts of pre-machinic life?

As J.G. Ballard reminded us: “We are all living in fictions at the moment, one need not write about it; instead the task of the writer, or any astute inquirer is to uncover what is left of reality.” Like insomniacs in some nightmare land out of joint we wander the new world of ubiquitous computing, AI, informational organisms as if in a science fiction novel that has taken over reality. Insomnia corresponds to the necessity of vigilance, to a refusal to overlook the horror and injustice that pervades the world. It is the disquiet of the effort to avoid inattention to the torment of the other. But its disquiet is also the frustrating inefficacy of an ethic of watchfulness; the act of witnessing and its monotony can become a mere enduring of the night, of the disaster . As John Crary tells us history has shown, war-related innovations are inevitably assimilated into a broader social sphere, and the sleepless soldier would be the forerunner of the sleepless worker or consumer. Non-sleep products, when aggressively promoted by pharmaceutical companies, would become first a lifestyle option, and eventually, for many, a necessity. …24/ 7 markets and a global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption have been in place for some time, but now a human subject is in the making to coincide with these more intensively.2

Yet, once the organic worker can no longer keep up the pace, and is outstripped by his machinic cousins, will he not be made obsolete? Already the functions and computational relations of the brain are being mapped to external systems, wired and wireless devices used in experimental laboratories to interface with laptops. Tomorrow the human will become a mere appendage to the 24/7 universe of data, a cog in the wireless mill of electronic heaven. As nanotech and pharmatech strive to revise the human, extending life, health, pleasure the other convergence technologies will incorporate humans into the new machinic environments of the future. A mutation and transformation is well underway, and while many are skeptical of such a transition the corporate, governmental, and global initiatives are hedging their bets and funding the nerds who will offer this posthuman future on a performative platter.

“All the groups working on BCIs are working toward wireless solutions. They are very superior,” said Frank Guenther. Using a neurological model constructed by Guenther, Ramsey’s brain activity is mapped to corresponding mouth and jaw movements. Another program decodes the signals, and synthesizes them in the sound of a tinny, but human-like voice.
……..On Brain to Computer Interfaces

Neurohyperstitional Enactment: Performance Art Invents the Future

Welcome to the neocameral global world vision where humans are machines in a sleepless universe of illuminated unending work. Maybe the parody corporation of ByoLogc is the template for all future syntech dominators: “The modern world expects more from the people who claim to take care of them, and at ByoLogyc, we think they deserve it.” And, although this is a parody, dreamed up by a Toronto art ensemble (Zed.To) to portray the dangers of this future world one can imagine that this is the future that will be portrayed to us down the pipe: beauty, health, happiness, immortality… the dream of perfectibility. ZED.TO was an 8-month narrative told in real-time through an integrated combination of interactive theatrical events and online content. It told the story of the beginning of the end of the world, from a viral pandemic created by ByoLogyc, a fictional Toronto-based biotech company. As one commentator reported: “ByoLogyc’s CEO Chet Getram is a ruthless and manipulative fictional character — a living experiment designed to explore how the language of human-centred design, sustainable business, and social innovation could be used to obscure a nefarious and short-sighted vision of profit as generated by a new biological economy.” 3 This is a parody… but eerily hyperstitional and strangely uncanny of trends we see emerging all around us.

Like a model for the future this parody took on a life of its own, a hyperstitional enactment:

Rather than engaging stakeholders through written scenarios, inaccessible white papers, and policy recommendation PowerPoints, ByoLogyc’s rise and fall was designed as a warning that would surface across media platforms, and come to life all around the people engaged in it. By the time the BRX Pandemic hit full stride in November of 2012, more than 3,500 members of the public, the academic community, and the private sector had engaged with the ByoLogyc story through live-action experiences, with another 40,000 engaging online through the consumption and active creation of content that brought the dystopian scenario to life. Many of these audiences paid premium ticket prices for their participation in the beginning of the end of the world, birthing a new business model for this kind of futures work, though we also managed to make half of our live performances and most online content available free of charge. … The Mission Business is tackling a new audience altogether — the visionaries, entrepreneurs, and engineers who spend their days (and often nights) working at the intersection of scientific and technological advancement and social change. We believe that by creating living and breathing scenarios that spill across media and seem like another element of the real world, we can provide a tremendously useful backdrop for rehearsing crisis response, encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, and understanding the social impacts of the singularity at a personal and communal level. When we share an experience of the future that is believable enough to be real, we internalize and remember what happened in powerful new ways. Things get powerful when teams can refer to a memory of a scenario’s implications, rather than just a memo.

Culture of Death or The Death of Culture?

As we can see from the above the economic and political powers of techno-capitalism are investing heavily in these new sciences seeking to further enable command and control techniques and technologies for purposes of economic, political, social, media, medical, military, and governance knowledge and power. In our time we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the neurosphere within the neurosciences are subordinated to economic and political, corporate goals and initiatives of socio-cultural command and control governance. As a result, humans will become more and more dependent on pharmaceutical, transhumanist, and posthuman technologies as inforgs – informational organisms tied to both neural-tech and drug induced therapies and political forms of coercion and heuristics.

Among other (possibly artificial) neuro-inforgs and agents operating in an external/virtual environment that is neither friendly nor built specifically for human beings, but rather more and more for the artificial informational creatures which will begin to supplant humans for the non-human civilizations of the future. As digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between Neurosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction (Floridi). When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the Neurosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an neuro-inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information, communication, and intrinsic/extrinsic messaging and flows will make us sick.1

As we banally battle over outmoded forms of speculative philosophy, Left or Right politics and its depleted traditions of meditainment and dramatized sovereignty collapse of national and economic entities a new world is rising in our midst, out of the ruins of a two-thousand year old farce: Western Civilization and its Judeo-Christian worldview. Without even a whimper our lives are about to change forever and we sit idly by as if all these modern marvels of science were being developed for our benefit, when in fact they are as always being developed for the smaller initiatives of petty Bankers, Oligarchs, and the elite minions that form both private and governmental authority, ideology, and utopian/fantasy.

Caught up within the daily grind of mere survival the masses of the uneducated, the excluded, the neglected workers of the world that are forced into menial labor and no jobs at all situate their lives within the prison house of a circular madhouse of street-drugs, alcohol,  or mindless mediatainment systems of escape and fantasy without every thinking past their daily non-lives. Too tired to belabor the point these beings are trapped within a system that if they even understood a glimmer of its power over their lives would die of sheer horror or enter the asylums of psychotic and schizophrenic inmates.

Am I being a little hyperbolic? Sure I am. This is no laughing matter. But how else approach the madhouse of civilization? Laughter or tears? Maybe Zizek is right, we need our jokes to awaken us out of our stupor, our mundane numb indifference. Dark humor or the older forms of violent farce and comic nihilism were meant to shock and awaken rather than to put you asleep like the canned laughter of your TV. We seem to relish our oblivion, our decadent body-games of mental masturbation, hiding in video games of violence and disaster as if this collective fantasy of catastrophe might keep at bay the real one ticking like a bomb in our environment. While those on the Right deny climatological apocalypse as a Left-wing conspiracy, and the Left belabors the Right-wing conspiracies of religious and a terrorist ingrown warriors and gunmongers the real world just beyond both ideological constructs moves forward with its own impervious and impersonal death drives. We move in a circle of pleasure and pain, driven by those biological forces of violence and death that have for millennia served our competitive and conflict ridden need for master over the natural order. But what served our kind well for hundreds of thousands of years in our emergence from the slime is not turning on us, imploding and bringing the house down around us in one fell swoop of self-lacerating judgment as if we were in this generation moving in two directions at once: Janus faced we wonder from ourselves in amazement, not knowing what we are doing or what we are seeking. Mindless we grasp for external authority and ethical footholds when every last one of the old religious and ethical myths has fallen into silence and disrepute. Now we stand alone or together like fish out of water expecting some grand savior to return and redeem us before it is too late. It is too late. We are responsible for the mess, children afraid to grow up and face the truth of our ignorance and failures to adapt.

Is there a silver lining in there somewhere? Hope? A second chance? Yes, for the very death drive that keeps us restlessly churning for the systems of death, is also the very force of creativity and inventiveness we need to get ourselves out of this mess if we would just act, take a stand, face the truth of things as they are not as we would like them to be. The Real is the great horror vacui of our age, the antagonistic calamity that forced us into the crack of consciousness to begin with. The wound opened up by the poison of existence can only be healed by the instrument of that poison: a conscious decision. Decisions have repercussions, they need commitment and education, pain and memory, an ethical stance not of some external god-infested power but of the very real truth of our semantic depletion and knowledge of our limitations and ignorance, our finitude. Philosophers think we can move past such outmoded notions of limit and finitude when in deed and fact we have and will remain in the circle of consciousness unknowing of the very ground of real physical powers that intervene and create the very freedom and determinations of our being-in-the-world.

Caught between external networks of knowledge and power, and internal drives of biological evolution we act as “vanishing mediators” (Zizek) between these intrinsic/extrinsic forces. The sciences are neither good or evil (non-ethical), but are suborned at the moment to economic and political pressures of a global system that seeks to serve the dictates of larger corporate and governmental institutions (as are academic and think-tanks, Trusts, Funds, NCO’s, R&D’s, Shadow Corps. etc.). We live in a time when these forces of global and corporate governance seek to suborn the great knowledge and power of technology and the sciences to their own agendas. It is men not there knowledge systems that remain as always bound to the determinate forces of good or ill. As we learned from WWII knowledge is power (an old cliché) in which the discovery of atom smashing initiated processes that could lead to either new energy sources or to war mongering systems of annihilation. We know what happened then. Will we repeat the same mistakes with the new NBIC technologies and sciences?

It is only the courage of our acts, our decisions that sets us apart from the impersonal and indifferent forces of the natural without and within us. It is the unnatural in us, the artificial gap of consciousness irreducible to internal or external natural forces of determinism that is both our glory and continuing sorrow; this crack between environment and brain, our conscious mind is the only apotropaic charm we have against being absorbed back into the pre-critical Spinozoism continuum of the Absolute energetic Real. We must forever desuture thought from being, allow this oscillation between the internal/external powers of the natural to play out in the gap of our subjectivity and subjectivation otherwise we will be reorganized into the impersonal and indifferent universe of power out of which our ancestors by some unforeseen leap entered the freedom of conscious awareness millennia ago. The future remains open and incomplete as does the Real and reality, what we do is up to our acts and decisions, our commitments and collective determinations. Will we remain passive victims of indecisiveness and apathy letting our false leaders in government and corporate enclaves dictate their own economic and political agendas, or will we come together in solidarity and cooperation across the globe and say NO to these minions of command and control? It’s truly up to us to act*, no one else will do it for us; in fact, the powers that be are betting on it.


What is an act in the strict Lacanian sense of the term?

“In a way, everything is here: the decision is purely formal, ultimately a decision to decide, without a clear awareness of WHAT the subject decides about; it is non-psychological act, unemotional, with no motives, desires or fears; it is incalculable, not the outcome of strategic argumentation; it is a totally free act, although one couldn’t do it otherwise. It is only AFTERWARDS that this pure act is “subjectivized,” translated into a (rather unpleasant) psychological experience. …[T]he subject reaches the level of a true ethical stance only when he moves beyond this duality of the public rules (Laws, Religion, Ethical authority externalized, etc.) as well as their superego shadow (big Other, Police, all authority figures of governmental and corporate power)… First, we get the straight morality (the set of explicit rules we choose to obey…); then, we experience its obscene underside (the literal and figurative intermedia enactments of crime, revolution, terror, etc.); finally, when, based on this experience, we acknowledges the necessity to BREAK the explicit moral rules of the accepted Culture and Civilization (our Culture of Death), we begin to reach the level of ethics proper.” (from The Act and its Vicissitudes)

Ultimately we enter the no-man’s land of the excluded, the outcast, the non-human realms beyond the current “culture of death”: creating interzones between-the-times, outlaw cultures of the traumatized community and its secret rules, where we begin to subtract ourselves at first through de-education and re-organized cognitive and ethical forms, and then toward a re-organization of the very Symbolic Order itself. Inventing the possibility of the future out of the impossible ruins of global capitalist degradation and collapse. A future open and incomplete, worthy of hope and life, a place where human and non-human alike can begin to cooperate in a world based not of some malformed fantasy of peace, but on the hard-nosed truth of our incomplete and open universe of real and catastrophic existence. Accepting that conflict and antagonism will not go away, that there can be no ultimate closure between thought and being, some total enclosure of imagination and reason in some Utopian Civilization, but rather that the tensions between intrinsic and extrinsic forces, capacities, and powers of the natural Real will remain in excess of all our conceptual and heuristic tools. Born in time we are partners in the labors of temporal change, not its victims. Act like it. Yet, this too is a hyperstitional fantasy, part science, part imaginative science fiction: one that seeks a way out of the overdetermined global fantasy regimes of techno-capitalist command and control. Is this possible? Which path forward: triumph or agony?


 

  1. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  2. Crary, Jonathan (2013-06-04). 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition
  3. Trevor Haldenby April Fools: The Truth about ByoLogyc (Singularity)
  4. Ahmed, Sara. (2010) The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press; Durham, NC.
  5. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)
  6. David Chalmers (1995). “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness””. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219.

Slavoj Žižek: Catastrophe Creation and Spectral Materialism

Having entered into the empty territory of fears, he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the vastation, the great emptiness and apophatic kenoma, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction in the negation of negation.
………– Valentinus, 2nd Century Gnostic

The frustrating nature of our human existence, the very fact that our lives are forever out of joint, marked by a traumatic imbalance, is what propels us towards permanent creativity.
………– Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing

The Gnostics provide innovative and oftentimes disturbing interpretations of the creation stories they read in the Hebrew scrolls of Genesis. Unlike their Christian rivals they read this unique work in reverse, providing an exegesis that enabled the universe of process and change we see around us as the handiwork not of some supreme Being (God), but rather as the botched and catastrophic bungling and error of an inferior Demiurge.  They concluded that a distinction, often a dualistic distinction, must be made between the acosmic, spiritual deity, who is surrounded by aeons and is all wisdom and light, and the creator of the world, who is at best incompetent and at worst malevolent. Yet through everything, they maintained, a spark of transcendent knowledge, wisdom, and light persists within people who are in the know. The acosmic deity is the source of that enlightened life and light. The meaning of the creation drama, when properly understood, is that human beings—gnostics in particular—derive their knowledge and light not from the transcendent acosmic god, but through the mean-spirited actions of the demiurge, the creator of this world, wherein they have been confined and imprisoned. (The platonic aspects of this imagery are apparent.) Humans in this world are imprisoned, asleep, drunken, fallen, ignorant. They need to subtract themselves from the catastrophic trauma and consequences of the Real—to be freed, awakened, made sober, raised, and enlightened. In other words, they need to return to the gnosis of the spectral materialism of the gap just beyond the self-lacerating “night of the world”.1

The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here—pure self—in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head—there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye—into a night that becomes awful.
…….– Hegel, The Night of the World

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Michael James: On Lunatic Philosophy?

Michael James on Synthetic Zero wrote a post Lunatic Philosophy? where he asks I wonder, though, in the kind of ecosystems we exist if we are all just lunatics put randomly in-charge of the asylum that is hyper-modern capitalism? And, in a comment to a query says: “Philosophy as “productive” experiments in lunacy for hallucinatory coping as a form of life? Tool for bridging, tool.. supplement.. like a pharmakon!”

Of course there are works that explicate this heritage of the pharmakon: Pharmakon: Plato, Drug Culture, and Identity in Ancient Athens, which examines the emerging concern for controlling states of psychological ecstasy in the history of western thought, focusing on ancient Greece (c. 750-146 BCE), particularly the Classical Period (c. 500-336 BCE) and especially the dialogues of the Athenian philosopher Plato (427-347 BCE). Employing a diverse array of materials ranging from literature, philosophy, medicine, botany, pharmacology, religion, magic, and law, Pharmakon fundamentally reframes the conceptual context of how we read and interpret Plato’s dialogues. Michael A. Rinella demonstrates how the power and truth claims of philosophy, repeatedly likened to a pharmakon, opposes itself to the cultural authority of a host of other occupations in ancient Greek society who derived their powers from, or likened their authority to, some pharmakon. These included Dionysian and Eleusinian religion, physicians and other healers, magicians and other magic workers, poets, sophists, rhetoricians, as well as others.

Or, works by Bernard Stiegler who expands on Derrida in What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology where he says our modern madness and malaise can be cured through what he calls a ‘pharmacology of the spirit’. Here, pharmacology has nothing to do with the chemical supplements developed by the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmakon, defined as both cure and poison, refers to the technical objects through which we open ourselves to new futures, and thereby create the spirit that makes us human. By reference to a range of figures, from Socrates, Simondon and Derrida to the child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Stiegler shows that technics are both the cause of our suffering and also what makes life worth living.

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The Object Smasher; or, the Philosophy of Rubble

“Literature is about turning the pre-verbal — if not pre-linguistic — objects into verbal objects with symbolic meanings attached to them. Literature constructs a world in which the objects gain new significance.”
…..– Cengiz Erdem on May 26, 2010

For though in nature nothing really exists besides individual bodies, performing pure individual acts according to a fixed law, yet in philosophy this very law, and the investigation, discovery, and explanation of it, is the foundation as well of knowledge as of operation. And it is this law with its clauses that I mean when I speak of forms, a name which I the rather adopt because it has grown into use and become familiar.”
……– Francis Bacon, Novum Organum: Book Two, II

This is a republish and revised edition of an earlier post on Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology. Descriptions of materialism below are of those physicalists and reductionsists, rather than of the irreductionist dialectical materialisms of Badiou or Zizek, etc. Harman’s sense of vacuous actuality and Zizek’s notion of Democritean “den” as unsutured void of the sealed atom not as solid sphere, but rather as vacuous actuality: in my estimation the two are equivalent. Both remain undetected in the Real except indirectly through their effects on the sensual phenomenon of our perceptive existence or object-object relations. The distance between Harman and Zizek is over the notion of Subject or Object as having priority rather than any notion of relation or non-relation.

At the beginning of Tool-Being Graham Harman, in a style reminiscent of some of the greatest antithetical contrarians of the past two hundred years, says: “A philosophy is not some sort of private introspective diary to which the philosopher would have unique access. It is more fruitful to regard it as an experiment, a careful process of smashing fragments of reality together so as to see what emerges from the rubble.” Let’s call this rubble philosophy The Object Smasher, and let us not forget to smash all those dead philosophers and their vainglorious diaries too, because all “of us will be truer to what was admirable”  in them “if we take responsibility for our own thoughts instead of trembling deferentially” before their statues (TB: iv). [1]

One can imagine Harman, the Philosopher As Carpenter-Engineer, a sort of super-hero of objects with the hammer of Thor in his hands, crushing, smashing, pulverizing objects into rubble; and then, raising the protective goggles onto his forehead, the whisps of his greying hair falling down in his eyes, he begins to study the rubble of his latest experiment in object smashing, burrowing through the smashed excess of objects, watching, waiting patiently, for the emergence of something new – some indelible footprint in the sand of the Real that might mark the foundation of objects in the universe and thereby shake the very foundations of the real object itself out of the rubble and ruins of smashed tool-being.

Like one of those scientists in Geneva in search of that mythical entity – the Higg’s boson, which some have called the God particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe, Harman excavates the rubble of philosophical thought seeking a description of the illusive real object that is based upon substantive form rather than any search for foundational particles of any kind. This real object hiding behind the façade of sensual profiles lives in vacuous actuality, a void of self-reflecting nothingness, much like that misrecognized negativity that Slavoj Zizek terms “den” after that famed materialist of Being, Democritus.

Democritus is the progenitor arrives at den (subtraction) by leaving out only me from meh’den (“not-one”) and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). The later reception of Democritus, of course, immediately “renormalized” den by way of ontologizing it: den becomes a positive One, atoms are now entities in the empty space, no longer spectral “othings”( less-than-nothings). (LTN, KL 1522-1527) Instead of the positive atoms of historical materialisms false history we should realign the ancient atomistic philosophy with its updated form of dialectical materialism’s spectral nothings, those vacuous actualities of withdrawn objects lost within the dormancy of their volcanic cores, split and violent powers at the heart of the Real. Zizek describes the Subject, saying,

“Substance is Subject” means that the split which separates Subject from Substance, from the inaccessible In-itself beyond phenomenal reality, is inherent to the Substance itself. […] The point is not that Substance (the ultimate foundation of all entities, the Absolute) is not a pre-subjective Ground but a subject, an agent of self-differentiation, which posits its otherness and then reappropriates it, and so on: “Subject” stands for the non-substantial agency of phenomenalization, appearance, “illusion,” split, finitude, Understanding, and so on, and to conceive Substance as Subject means precisely that split, phenomenalization, and so forth, are inherent to the life of the Absolute itself.3

Harman will shift this into the thing itself, describing a “Substance is Object” in which the split object separates the vacuous actuality of the voidic and volcanic real object from its sensual appendages in phenomenality. So that Harman’s real object stands for the non-substantial agency of phenomenalization, appearance, “illusion,” split, finitude, Understanding, and so on, and to conceive Substance as Object means precisely that split, phenomenalization, and so forth, are inherent to the life of the hidden world of real objects itself.

What we discover in Harman’s Object rubble is not the reduction of part to whole, no synecdoche of some totalistic complete universe of relations, but the composite non-relational system of objects themselves. And, do not say, “Oh, I’ve got you now! What of atoms?” Harman retorts that even if a time comes when we must discuss these, so to speak precious “atoms” that you hold so highly as a sign of your materialist foundation, I tell you that “these molecules are not inert specks of present-at-hand matter – they too are machines, grand totalities concocted out of sub-mechanisms perhaps still unknown” (TB: 285). Yet, if we follow Zizek, these atoms are not positive solid substance, but rather the vacuum filled nothings (“othings”) of Den. Or, as Harman might say: vacuous actualities.

What does it mean to say that physical things exist? George Berkeley one of those idealist few would remember – except as the butt of Samuel Johnson’s joke about rocks being real – pointed out that our immediate experience provides only two meanings of “to be”: to perceive (percipere) and to be perceived (percipi).  Simply to be perceived, however, is not to be actual but to be merely an idea in the mind of some perceiver.  Only “being a perceiver” (which for Berkeley included the notion of being an active agent) gives us a meaningful notion of what it is to be an actuality.

So how can something that we have not direct access too, that is withdrawn and away, hidden behind the surface texture of sensual profiles and qualia to be perceived? This is the central truth of Harman’s real objects: they exist in a vacuum, sealed away and withdrawn into their own solipsistic world; some even dormant awaiting their moment to be lured out of their volcanic cores, allured by some glamour from the realms of sensuous objects where it can reveal indirectly the powers of its active existence.

Returning to Berkeley who, of course, used this argument for his idealist view, according to which the physical world exists only as perceived (by divine and finite minds); but Leibniz, by positing “petite perceptions” in nature’s elementary units, showed Berkeley’s point to be compatible with realism.  As Whitehead (1967a, p. 132) says, Leibniz “explained what it must be like to be an atom”. Of course neither would have thought of atoms quite like Democritus (revised by Zizek) as vacuous actualities. Yet, reading Whitehead again in Process and Reality we discover just what this object in the void is:

…the notion of vacuous actuality, which haunts realistic philosophy. The term ‘vacuous actuality’ here means the notion of a res vera devoid of subjective immediacy. This repudiation is fundamental for the organic philosophy (cf. Part II, Ch. VII, ‘The Subjectivist Principle’). The notion of ‘vacuous actuality’ is very closely allied to the notion of the ‘inherence of quality in substance.’ Both notions— in their misapplication as fundamental metaphysical categories— find their chief support in a misunderstanding of the true analysis of ‘presentational immediacy’ (cf. Part II, Ch. II, Sects. I and V).2

As we can see for Whitehead such a concept had no place in organic process philosophy. So why does Harman (and Democritus if Zizek is correct!) take this up to describe his real objects? Let us add a further clarification from Whitehead before returning the Harman’s answer:

The difficulties of all schools of modern philosophy lie in the fact that, having accepted the subjectivist principle, they continue to use philosophical categories derived from another point of view. These categories are not wrong, but they deal with abstractions unsuitable for metaphysical use. It is for this reason that the notions of the ‘extensive continuum’ and of ‘presentational immediacy’ require such careful discussion from every point of view. The notions of the ‘green leaf’ and of the ‘round ball’ are at the base of traditional metaphysics. They have generated two misconceptions: one is the concept of vacuous actuality, void of subjective experience; and the other is the concept of quality inherent in substance. In their proper character, as high abstractions, both of these notions are of the utmost pragmatic use. In fact, language has been formed chiefly to express such concepts. It is for this reason that language, in its ordinary usages, penetrates but a short distance into the principles of metaphysics. Finally, the reformed subjectivist principle must be repeated: that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness. (PR, p. 167)

Of course like Badiou, Whitehead preferred mathematics as ontology over language (poetry, rhetoric). And as is apparent in that last statement for Whitehead only subjects have perceptions and experiences, everything else is “bare nothingness”. Yet, one of Harman’s central insights is that real objects, these bare nothings or vacuous actualities devoid of subjectivity do have perceptions. We gain a hint when Harman tells us “conscious awareness can no longer serve as one of the basic orienting poles of reality” (TB, p. 225). Instead of direct access we have access to real objects indirectly as “actuality and relation” rather than “causation and perception”. So that for Harman it is important that we not understand “vacuous” according to the terms in a thesaurus, where we might read: “ignorant, nonexistent, stupid, thoughtless, trivial, vacant.” Instead, I take “vacuous” literally, as referring to the reality of tool-beings in vacuo, apart from any accidental collision with other objects. This is not as strange as it may sound; indeed, it is not even unprecedented. (TB, p. 228) Which aligns with Zizek’s revision of Democritus’s notion of “den” as the vacuum sealed atoms which is a concept developed to counter Parmenides notion of “thought and being” as the One. For Democritus like Harman the universe of things is made of a myriad and multiplicity of objects, real objects withdraw from all relation situated in the void of their own interior packages.

As Harman will relate by divorcing real objects from any actual causal relation, he may be defining it only as a center of potentiality for other relations that might someday exist but do not yet exist. As sensible as this might sound, real objects have no potentiality at all, but rather are sheer actuality.

Yet, for Harman philosophy is in no way a positive materialism but is closer to a “new sort of ‘formalism’ with Francis Bacon its unlikely predecessor” (TB: 286). As Harman states it: “I refer not to the vulgarized Bacon of the textbooks (“Do as many experiments as possible, and use the results to try to dominate nature .. .’), but to the forgotten Bacon of Novum Organum Book II, who, incredibly, lampoons efficient causation as ridiculous. Perhaps no great philosopher of the Western tradition has been so grievously misread, and with such self-serving aims in mind” (TB: 286). Yet, the materialism Harman rejects is the schoolbook history of Democritus as the father of positive atomistic science, not the new Zizekian philosopher of the Void and vacuous actuality.

Whitehead expresses things more directly than Heidegger, telling us that an actual entity  is not a durable unit that “undergoes adventures” in space and time. The reality of a being is confined to the thorough particularity of a transient moment. To give especial emphasis to this point, he often calls actual entities “actual occasions,” so as to erode any lingering connotations of a long-lasting substance. For Whitehead, what endures through time is not singular concrete things, but a community of closely related Thing-events strung along throughout the span of what appears to be a coherent individual life. (TB, p. 231) Process philosophy is based on these actual occasions of a community of events related through temporal activation.

Instead of entities such as atoms that materialists wish to reduce into their final constituent parts, who wish to discover some ultimate terminus, some end point or substantive entity, exempt from all internal composition, which would “amount to defining that entity as a sheer present-at-hand building block,” Harman explains that instead “by taking the tool-analysis to its logical extreme, we discover that no entity is irreducible, since each is a formal machinic effect of its elemental components” (TB: 286).  “But”, the materialist philosopher responds, “what of those larger structures in the universe?” Harman with a twinkle in his eye shakes his head, upturning his chin and laughing in mock display of such idiocy and says, “My friend, just as we exposed the smallest of objects as machinic, diving down into that tiniest of worlds, we must also pursue objects in the opposite direction.” As Harman states it: “Not only is each thing a galaxy of parts-each thing is also a part of the galaxy known as ‘world.’ Against Heidegger’s most vehement assertions, ‘world’ and ‘being’ really are just the set of all beings! The world is indeed a colossal referential machine, just as Heidegger suggests” (TB: 286).

Again, the materialist (read: physicalist) philosopher tries a new tact, “What of this relation of objects you tout so much? Just where is it in all this dipping and ascending into the machinic details of the micro and macro structure of this universe of objects?” Harman takes a moment, pausing to reflect upon the “troubling disappearance of relationality from the rough model of the world he’s developed” then responds, saying,

“I have already contended that every object can be viewed as the effect of a composite relational system (of many pieces, many atoms). Unless we want to have recourse to physical durability as an arbitrary criterion, it follows that a causal relation between two rocks is a system that forms an entity, and that hammer plus me is also a system forming an entity (“hammer-encounter,” we might call it). As a result of all this, is there anything now missing from the world that used to be at our disposal? Yet, and it is obvious what it is: any sense of a wide-open “clearing” is now abolished.

There is no longer a brute realm of effects destined to be transcended by some starry, windy space of explicit vision. For even a perception is now a new kind of entity, so that [our] face is always pressed up against subterranean reality as against a plate-glass window; there is no longer any ontological breathing room. We never manage to rise above the massive clamor of entities, but can perhaps only burrow around within it. For the moment, the mechanisms of this process remain obscure. But we at least know what is missing. The sanctuary of the human as-structure, with its free transcendence and partly liberated vision, has been jettisoned in favor of a dense and viscous universe stuffed absolutely full with entities. In this sense there is no vacuum, although in another sense every segment of this universe is nothing if not vacuous, in the literal sense of this term” (TB: 287).

Then the process-relational materialist thinks to himself, “Ah, Harman admits it, there is a process involved, a mechanism of process between objects, and that these processes are obscure. And, yes, we both agree that this anthropocentric vision of humanism that has locked philosophy in its correlationist anti-realist realm cut off from the real has got to go. But if there is no vacuum, no space for emergence of something new, then how is change possible in this vacuousness?” Then with a puzzling lear he jibes at Harman, “Okay, explain yourself, you object smasher, you master of the vacuous and of rubble…”

Harman delighted continues telling the materialist that there is a central distinction between objects in a system and objects in a vacuum. Genuine objects withdraw even behind causal contact. But now we discover that all systems are objects, and that there “is no system which is not also an entity,” so that even one’s perception of an object is in itself an object. And, he continues, here is the crux of the matter, the “perception is a tool-being, and as such, it resides in a vacuum uncontaminated by all relation, irreducible to all later introspection.

As we have already seen, the vacuum is threatened on both sides: a) by the systematic combination of the elements that allow it to exist (in this case, the hammer and myself as components of the hammer-encounter), and b) by the experience that objectifies it in some specific way (in this case, by the later introspection). Despite this dual threat, the entity (in this case, the full hammer-encounter) manages to be just what it is, undisturbed by the storms of relation that rage both to the west and the east of it” (TB: 288).

“Ah, hah,” says the materialist, “I have you, now: if the world contains no relations, as you suggest, and is nothing but entities from the tiniest levels of existence to the largest structures in the universe then how does anything ever get done in such a world? If everything is so densely packed as you suggest, then what you are telling me is that this universe would seem to be packed with non-communicative vacuous zones, none of them able to transmit energy or influence to the others? In such a realm there would be no windows, no doors into the great outdoors, and any contact between…” the materialist utters the impossible word, “objects, and more importantly any sort of alteration in the universe would seem impossible.” (TB: 288)

Harman reflects on this a moment, thinking to himself, “Is there any way to avoid these consequences by pointing to a medium through which tool-beings might genuinely interact? How can one vacuum impart its secrets to another? And what happens, ontologically speaking, when one entity perceives another, or lightly grazes it, or outright crushes it?” He admits to himself that there can be no definitive resolutions to these questions at the moment, but only a series of provisional analyses. (TB: 288).

Studying the impetuous materialist for a moment, he continues thinking to himself, if perception and the object form a unified object in its own right, and if we try to observe myself perceiving instead of the thing I’m perceiving, the object, a gulf opens up between the two: it is only one element of the experience that emerges into perception. It is no more possible to observe ourselves exhaustively than it is to observe the object exhaustively. Instead we must admit that what is going on here if “the terminology is stripped down to the bone, is that the perceptive entity (the system of thing and me) perceives not itself, but rather the elements of which it is composed.

This would remain the case even if I attempted to perceive in mystical fashion “the oneness of all things,” since the oneness thus focused upon and the meditative act that envisions it also cannot be one and the same thing. Perception is already a descent into its own particles. The system that includes myself and the hammer burrows down into itself, decomposing itself before our eyes in spite of its necessary status as a single entity” (TB: 289).

Watching the materialist begin to fidget, he asks himself a further question: “is this odd descent of perception into its own depths something that characterizes realities other than explicit human perception? For example, let’s say that instead of openly noticing [a] hammer, a specific human is related to it in the way of merely being tacitly affected by it. In the case of this miniature system of objects as well, is it true that the entire system is in contact with its parts? … The same question ought to be posed in the case of inanimate couplings of rocks and leaves and clouds. Even in these cases, is there a sense in which every systematic unity descends into itself and makes contact with its own interior elements? To express this once more, in something resembling layman’s terms: if [objects] are by definition non-relational, how can they ever touch one another? ” (TB: 289).

At this point the materialist philosopher looks him straight in the eyes, saying, “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Harman smiles, and in an expository manner, recapitulates his arguments so far, saying, “the first difficulty lies in identifying the medium through which tool-beings can truly interact. If two rocks collide, then they must collide as these rocks themselves, not as loose surface-effects. And yet rock-in-itself is defined precisely by its impenetrability to any relation. We have also seen that any such relation as that between two rocks immediately generates a new hybrid entity: say, collision-system” (TB: 290). Harman also repeats that he suggested in previous arguments, saying to this proud materialist, “there may be a way in which every system is also a descent into its own elements in spite of the fact that it ought to be every bit as hermetically sealed from its component parts as it is from external entities” (TB: 290).

The materialist claps his hands, saying: “Bravo, bravo, you open a hole in being and let all the parts vanish within the darkness of its own irresolvable materiality;  bravo…”

Harman interrupts him, instigating a new set of questions, saying: “if the tool-being of each individual rock inherently lies beyond all possibility of contact with the other, is there a strange sense in which they can inflict blows on each other as parts of the collision-system rather than as individuals? Or is this only a sort of corrupt back door through which the same difficulties reenter the picture as before?”

The materialist, intrigued, urges him with a comic gesture of complicity to explicate just what he means by this. Harman delighted that the materialist is listening rather than opposing him, continues:

“In any case, we are left with the following scenario-the world as a duel of tightly interlaced objects that both aggrandize and corrode one another. As Bacon expressed… “For since every body contains in itself many forms of natures united together in a concrete state, the result is that they severally crush, depress, break, and enthrall one another, and thus the individual forms are obscured.” The movement of philosophy is less one of unveiling (which would rely on a sort of as-structure that I have argued does not really exist) than of a sort of reverse engineering.

Often, teams of industrial pirates will lock themselves in a motel room, working backward from a competitor’s finished product in an effort to unlock and replicate the code that generates it. In the case of the philosopher, the finished product that must be reverse-engineered is the world as we know it; the motel room is perhaps replaced by a lecture hall or a desert. Behind every apparently simple object or concept is an infinite legion of further objects crushing, depressing, breaking, and enthralling one another. It is these violent underground currents that one should attempt to counter, so as to unlock the infrastructure of any entity or of the world as a whole” (TB: 290).

The materialist dissatisfied with this explication retorts, “But is this not just a piece of rhetoric in the end? What have you really uncovered, unveiled within this so-to-speak ontology of objects you so highly espouse? Isn’t what your telling me that these objects demonstrate nothing more than that your prized concept of relation lies somewhere between the status of a substance and a universal network of significations? And,” he sneers, “what of that set of ambivalent currents running equally through all entities? What of this crushing, depressing, breaking, and enthralling action of things?” (TB: 290)

Harman in a quick comeback, says, “Yes, yes,” laughing uncontrollably, ” you are right of course, the isolation of entities suspended in their vacuums must be bridged, and the various facets of each of these objects must be concretely charted. The motivating force for shifting to a method of this kind lies in a resolve to end the discrepancy between our lives as professional thinkers and our lives as humans immersed in the system of objects. Rather than following still further the methodological suppositions of some currently dominant school of thought, rather than taking up some available ready-made problem and mulling it over for a decade, we ought to let the innocent fascination of the early morning hours spread over into the remainder of our mental lives. I refer to that half-awake and passive state that is dominated by the sounds of faint alarm bells, the smell of fruit outside the window, the needle-like rays of sun that begin to bore through the darkness of our rooms. (TB: 291)

The materialist confounded by this strangely evocative discourse from Harman throws up his hands in exasperation, mystified by this poetic entrancement of alarm bells, fruit, and sun rays exploding into dark rooms. Wandering toward the door, he turns back one more time to study this philosopher of rubble, this object smasher, quizzically he sees that Harman has one last thought on the tip of his meditative mind: “Okay, out with it… you, you, object smasher!

Harman in agreement says, “To a large extent we can thank Husserl and many of his French admirers for defining these transitory moments as a worthy philosophical subject matter. And yet, what we are really immersed in, in these situations and all others, is not a web of phenomena, but a world of objects. Quite apart from my indolent pleasure while lying in bed, steam genuinely scorches the air as it eddies from the stove, electrons from the sunlight pierce my skull like bullets, floorboards buckle under compulsive mutual pressure, heavy stone walls hold out the cold but poise themselves to destroy me in the event of an earthquake.

This sort of material reality, too quickly ceded by philosophers to the natural sciences, is what awaits any successful theory of objects. And if there emerges a philosophical method to unlock the secrets of hammers, steam, paper, citrus fruit, and salt-grains, who can rule out the rapid reappearance of souls and angels in the midst of philosophic debate?” (TB: 291)

The materialist atheist looks at Harman not only with disgust, but with a certain horror in his face as he turns and runs from the room screeching like a madman who has just been told of the death of all things, god and human alike, yet who still clings to the great substrate of process and reality he calls the material world.

Harman on the other hand returns to the glass of wine he is holding in his hand, sparkling in the sun’s rays, delighted by the richness of its ambient red light, the dark contours of its liquid presence sparking in the crystal glass, reminding him of the power of objects and their strange relations. Of the transparency of crystal, and the deep textures of the wine that seem to float within their own hidden life, yet behind the contours of glass and liquid are the deeper, hidden away, real objects whose power lies folded in a void of energetic delight never making contact with the human eye that might lure it out of its vacuum. Instead like some master magician the object relates to human perception indirectly through the sensuous profiles and qualia of its active appendages and representatives, the sensuous colors and textures the eye sees. Only the effects of these moving particles of light and sparkle reveal the truth hidden deep within these two objects now forming a third, the intentional object of wine, glass, and perceptive being.

(Note: revised and republished from 2013)


 

  1.  Tool-Being: Elements in a Theory of Objects by Graham Harman (TB) ( 1999 UMI Company)
  2. Whitehead, Alfred North (2010-05-11). Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) (p. 29). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Zizek, Slavoj. The Ticklish Subject. (Verso, 2009)

 

J.G. Ballard: The Carnival of Time

Who will ever forget the opening lines of that early story by J.G. Ballard Prima Belladonna that introduces almost as if by slight-of-hand the notion of an economic slump, a moment when civilization forgave itself of its excesses: its capitalist puritanism and work ethic, and decided to take a vacation for ten years between two regimes of the Symbolic Order? Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World (1965) likens the carnivalesque in literature to the type of activity that often takes place in the carnivals of popular culture. In the carnival, as we have seen, social hierarchies of everyday life—their solemnities and pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths—are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies. Thus, fools become wise, kings become beggars; opposites are mingled (fact and fantasy, heaven and hell). It is not to be construed that the liberation from all authority and sacred symbols is an ideology to be believed and held as a creed. Carnival extracts all individuals from noncarnival life, noncarnival states, because there are no hierarchical positions during carnival there cannot be ideologies for the mind of individuals to manifest.

J.G. Ballard in his early stories will mention the Great Recess as a sort of carnivalesque time-between-times, when the age of one Symbolic Order has come to a close, decayed and shriven of its ideological and religious/secular trappings, as well as its economic capacities and powers of domination and control, and opened a hole in the chrontopian landscape of historical time: a sort of infinite present wherein the world no longer bound to the time of work is set adrift in a timeless realm of lazy days of beach-comber vacancy and playfulness.

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Slavoj Žižek: The Vanishing Mediator Between the Symbolic and the Real

Why did human awareness or consciousness ever emerge to begin with, what were the evolutionary conditions that gave rise to it, what problems or obstacles, antagonisms did we as a species face that forced us into such a niche in the evolutionary scheme to evolve such a seemingly anti-natural and uncharacteristic mode of being-in-the-world? By this I mean unlike most of the other non-humans we share this planet with we have a certain ability to know: a self-reflecting system of second-order awareness that structures and  functions the modalities and capabilities of our brain, etc. that allow us to store and retrieve information, sense-data, memories and reflect upon these, make decisions based on past, present, or future modes of judgement, etc. How and why did all this come about? (And, in this post, I’ll not even begin to answer the question if all these non-human entities around us share such functionality or not. That would take me far outside the scope of this short post.)

Where to begin? The search for origins in the natural context is always a blend of science, fiction, and interpretation. Interpretation is implicitly hierarchical, and cannot proceed without a usurpation of authority. As one critic suggested contra Foucault that humans cannot conceive of interpretive power without the King. Meaning gets started by a catastrophe that is also a ruining and breaking creation; or else meaning gets started by a transference of a purely fictive earlier authority to a later representative; or else meaning gets started by an act of violence, textual or physical, in a family grouping.1 According to Bloom Freud would blend these three modes of meaning making, incorporating the theoretical formulations he’d discovered in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Hegel. For Bloom Freud was the inescapable speculative thinker of our age, and for him meaning gets started by catastrophes at our origins, by family passion and strife in our development; by transferring repressed earlier ambivalences onto later authority figures in our maturer educations, loves, and therapies. (Bloom, p. 44) But even more than Freud would be those who as Slavoj Žižek would have it “tarry with the Negative,” by which such philosophers as Hegel displaced the “god term” into the Negative of language, where the Negative rather than God performs the work in language as the pre-ontological demiurge of Plato, a malformed god who is not so much an inventor and creator as a tinkerer and craftsman, a carpenter of the universal degradation of our cosmic catastrophe.

Whether one accepts any of these rational mythologies or not, we are stuck with the notion that all interpretations of origins are part fact, part fiction, and that the models of origins we follow whether those of science like Thomas Khun’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, or those found in Max Black’s Models and Metaphors, or any of the previous examples one is stuck with the notion that all origins are artificial and retroactive interpretations that do violence to the lost object of anteriority. Even evolutionary theory is caught up in such games of origins, caught between a theory of deep time and gradualism; and the notions put forward by Niles Eldredge and Stephan Gould termed “punctuated equilibrium,” which in contrast to gradualisms generally smooth and continuous sense of evolution is seen as more rapid and punctuated by sudden catastrophic change and abrupt morphological transitions during evolution. I’ll not go into the arguments for or against such issues in evolutionary theory only to point out how it has influenced the thinking of Žižek’s thought on origins. In conversation with Daly  would say:

Žižek. What I am currently engaged with is the paradoxical idea that, from a strict evolutionary standpoint, consciousness is a kind of mistake—a malfunction of evolution—and that out of this mistake a miracle emerged. That is to say, consciousness developed as an unintended by-product that acquired a kind of second degree survivalist function. Basically, consciousness is not something which enables us to function better. On the contrary, I am more and more convinced that consciousness originates with something going terribly wrong—even at the most personal level. For example, when do we become aware of something, fully aware? Precisely at the point where something no longer functions properly or not in the expected way.

Daly. Consciousness comes about as a result of some Real encounter?

Žižek. Yes, consciousness is originally linked to this moment when “something is wrong,” or, to put it in Lacanian terms, an experience of the Real, of an impossible limit. Original awareness is impelled by a certain experience of failure and mortality—a kind of snag in the biological weave. And all the metaphysical dimensions concerning humanity, philosophical self-reflection, progress and so on emerge ultimately because of this basic traumatic fissure.2

In other words this is Žižek’s grand myth, a catastrophe creation in which consciousness emerges out of the natural due to some unforeseen event, a miracle (strangely religious hyperbole?), out of some catastrophic traumatic fissure in the natural order that force the human species to rapidly adapt and produce this new survival mechanism. Is there actually any scientific support for such an event? What do scientists have to say about the emergence of consciousness during the long course of evolutionary history, gradual or punctuated?

Years ago I remember reading Julian Jaynes book (now dated) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind where he surmised that about 3000 years ago, all of humankind basically heard voices. The voices were actually coming from the other side of the brain, but because the two hemispheres were not in communication the way they are now for most of us, the voices seemed to be coming from outside. The seemed, in fact, to be coming from God or the gods. Such a notion seems like pure science fictional fantasy today, when our more advanced theories presented in neurosciences. Yet, Jaynes’s notion of a cultural rather than a physiological development of consciousness, and that this cultural acquisition either led to, or was prompted by, a deterioration in the previously prevailing human mental configuration which, in a nutshell, involved hallucinating gods out of the effigies of fallen leaders and was, more or less, schizophrenic in nature seems strangely uncanny set against such philosophical works as Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia and A Thousand Plateaus, along with Žižek’s on speculations throughout his exploratory researches scattered across his entire oeuvre.

Others such as Merlin Donald in his work Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (dated now) proposed there were three radical transitions in the emergence of consciousness. During the first, our bipedal but still apelike ancestors acquired “mimetic” skill – the ability to represent knowledge through voluntary motor acts – which made Homo erectus successful for over a million years. The second transition – to “mythic” culture – coincided with the development of spoken language. This cognitive advance allowed the large-brained Homo sapiens to evolve a complex preliterate culture that survives in many parts of the world today. In the third transition, when humans constructed elaborate symbolic systems ranging from cuneiforms, hieroglyphics, and ideograms to alphabetic languages and mathematics, human biological memory became an inadequate vehicle for storing and processing our collective knowledge. The modern mind is thus a hybrid structure built from vestiges of earlier biological stages as well as new external symbolic memory devices that have radically altered its organization. According to Donald, we are symbol-using creatures, more complex than any that went before us, and we may not yet have witnessed the final modular arrangement of the human mind. There have been other attempts to create an evolutionary history of human cognition, but they have usually emphasized either cultural artifacts or functional anatomy (such as the vocal tract or the enlarged brain). In contrast, Donald’s theory emphasizes cognition as the mediator between brain and culture. “Origins of the Modern Mind” suggest new areas of inquiry to specialists in cognitive fields from neurobiology to linguistics.

What Donald presents is the not just the history of the emergence of consciousness, but another more subtle history of representation and the externalization of culture, information, and meaning into the external systems of our Symbolic Culture. All the external memory systems from the early clay bricks for taxation, to our architectural, and sculptured artifacts, temples, icons of religious and social signification and cultural memory; our rituals, mimetic and tribal dances, religious and social practices were all ways of carrying forward the external knowledge systems of the tribal mind through time. Carriers of meaning in which the shaman, priest, and now secular scientists become the experts or specialized mediators with between culture and nature, devising, exploring, interpreting, and formulating the worldviews upon which we stabilize cultural and civilization.

When Donald observed the notion of the cogito as mediator I remembered the reference in Žižek of the cogito as the “vanishing mediator” between the Symbolic and the Real:

We cannot pass directly from nature to culture. Something goes terribly wrong in nature: nature produces an unnatural monstrosity and I claim that it is in order to cope with, to domesticate, this monstrosity that we symbolize. Taking Freud’s fort/da as a model: something is primordially broken (the absence of the mother and so on) and symbolization functions as a way of living with that kind of trauma. In short, the ontological necessity of “madness” resides in the fact that it is not possible to pass directly from the “animal soul” immersed in its natural life-world to “normal” subjectivity dwelling in its symbolic universe—the vanishing mediator between the two is the “mad” gesture of radical withdrawal from reality that opens up the space for its symbolic reconstitution.3

I mean for Slavoj Žižek we are caught and absorbed into the Symbolic Order early on in childhood, a solipsistic withdrawal into an interior world of madness. All those socio-cultural signs and meaning, linguistic traces, symbols, icons, language act invade us like word viruses (Burroughs) infesting our brain and physical systems, bringing about that strange and lethal separation and “vanishing mediator” between the brain and the Real – the Subject as Substance: the impasses obstructing the self-grounding  idealization of the world demonstrate that, although we are forever stuck within ideality, we are not simply prisoners of the completely solipsistic sphere of the self-referential, masturbatory play of thought within thought and that a metaphysics of the Real, an account of the noumenal, appears to be theoretically possible. (OC, p. 81) In which as Carew’s remarks:

The inassimilable kernel of the Real within our notional, symbolic code points to the paradoxical negative coinciding of inside with outside, the Real and the Ideal, within thinking: the cracks of ideality cast an abyssal shadow that opens up onto the materiality of being, albeit only as refracted through the impossibilities of the Ideal, in such a way that tarrying with the latter offers a way to develop idealism into a science of the Real. (OC, p. 81)2 So that the question in dialectical terms becomes for Zizek: “What is the Symbolic’s relation to the pre-symbolic  Real?” As Carew will state it:

The Real sans fissure and the noumenon represent a compensation for the impossibility of an intimate experience of the Real within the Symbolic by claiming that, outside the reach of this synthetic (re)constitution of reality, it can still be said to persist in a state lacking contradiction and antagonism. It safeguards us from the realization that the Real itself is morcelé: it does not merely get itself into traps, producing monsters that disrupt the flow of knowledge in the Real by making the latter howl under ontological pain… (OC, p. 93)

In a previous essay Hyper-Chaos, Thermospasm and Aion: On the Temporal Philosophies of Meillassoux, Land and Deleuze we come to know the Real as Time’s Kingdom, the pre-ontological time of hyper-Chaos (Meillassoux), Thermospasm (Land), and Aion (Deleuze):

“Time is not governed by physical laws because it is the laws itself that are governed by mad Time.”.– Quentin Meillassoux

“The thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all
came from.”
– Nick Land

“Aion is the eternal truth of time: pure empty form of time, which has freed itself of its present corporeal content and has thereby unwound its own circle, stretching itself out into a straight line.” – Gilles Deleuze

As Zizek will say it: “The Real – the over-abundant obscene-morbid vitality of the primordial…,” the Virtual as against the Actual: So, to conclude, if we return from the second to the first part of Parmenides, i.e., to the status of Ideas, then the result should be that Ideas do not exist, do not have ontological reality of their own: they persist as purely virtual points of reference. That is to say, the only appropriate conclusion is that eternal Ideas are Ones and Others which do not participate in (spatio-temporal) Being (which is the only actual being there is): their status is purely virtual. This virtual status was made clear by Deleuze, one of the great anti-Platonists. Deleuze’s notion of the Virtual is to be opposed to the all-pervasive topic of virtual reality: what matters to Deleuze is not virtual reality, but the reality of the virtual (which, in Lacanian terms, is the Real). Virtual Reality in itself is a rather miserable idea: that of imitating reality, of reproducing experience in an artificial medium. The reality of the Virtual, on the other hand, stands for the reality of the Virtual as such, for its real effects and consequences. ( Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 1738-1746). Norton. Kindle Edition.)

So why mention all this? For the simple reason that our brains are the complex physical system within us that over the course of evolutionary time, by way of empirical trial and error developed filters and defenses against the Real Virtuality of this pre-ontological soup within which we live. All these forms/Ideas/objects/things/entities, etc. we take to real or reality or actually the transforms or translated representations from within the Symbolic Order or artificial systems of signification by which we navigate the sea of hyper-chaos, thermospasm, or Aion around us. The long road to reason or consciousness – the two seemingly bound to each other as figure/ground, is this struggle within the virtuality of the ‘Night of the World’ (Hegel). Yet, we take this Symbolic Order of signs, meaning, and the actuality at face value to be everything – the end-all, be-all of our world, and assume wrongly that through philosophy and the sciences we can reduce this phenomenal realm of sense-data and translated information we receive from the brain as complete, when in fact it is but the tip of the ice-berg. What we think we know is but a miniscule representation, an abstraction out of and into the reductions of our translated neural filters. Or, as Scott Bakker (see here) irreverently tells us we are “blind to the fact of our being blind,” and what we think we know is but the ignorance of our lack of real knowledge. Cut off in a false world of semblances we live like children in Plato’s Cave, but with a difference: the Virtual is not some separate realm outside our ontological catastrophe, but the very Real of our immediate ontological world in which we live and die. As Scott would tell it our consciousness is based more on information loss and depletion, medial neglect than on real knowledge. As Scott will suggest is that we need a “theory of the appearance of consciousness”:

If consciousness as it appears is fundamentally deceptive, we are faced with the troubling possibility that we quite simply will not recognize the consciousness that science explains. It could be the case that the ‘facts of our deception’ will simply fall out of any correct theory of consciousness. But it could also be the case that a supplementary theory is required— a theory of the appearance of consciousness.3

According to Merlin Donald our evolutionary cousins, the apes, have brains which enable them to represent to themselves and remember “episodes” or events, something which their evolutionary predecessors either do not have or have only in a limited form. Homo erectus, the evolutionary link between us and the apes, extended this ability to perceive events, into “mimesis”, a capacity to reproduce events they have perceived by use of their own body. Donald shows how this ability, which involves no modifications of the body and relatively modest changes in the brain, allows for the voluntary representation and communication of events of the past and emotions not actually felt concerning things not actually present, a foundation for the later development of symbolic action. Homo erectus dominated the hominid world for a million years, adapting themselves to this “mimetic” culture. According to Donald, mimetic representation remains with us as a vestige of our homo erectus ancestry, as a fully functioning, underlying mode of representation and intelligence. Homo sapiens in turn developed this ability into speech, with a radical adaption which occurred about 500,000 years ago. According to Donald, homo sapiens had a “mythic” culture hinged around the ability to tell stories, and this ability provided a means to make sense of the world and create a shared understanding of the world. This mythic culture survives to this day, constituting a crucial mode of understanding the world.

Yet, beyond this is the encyclopedia of culture, our Symbolic Order of externalized data that captures, absorbs, and transform endlessly the information gathered by the various knowledge workers around the world and filters it into the collective intelligence system of the web. Are we seeing in our time a new evolutionary punctuation, the rapid evolution of a new form of consciousness, one that will no longer be bound strictly to the human system and computational/functional nexus of organic relations? Are humans in other words going to be displaced as the carriers of consciousness and awareness, the mediators of knowledge and data? As philosophy struggles to attain its place in the sun, and the sciences more and more displace the remaining enclaves of the older humanities what awaits us in the next few hundred years? With the rise of machinic intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and biotech genetics are humans even relevant in the equation? Is consciousness and the cogito about to abandon ship and become externalized into the very systems of data glut of our Symbolic Order? Will a new life-form emerge more adept at memory and retrieval, intelligence, and knowledge acquisition than the human, an artificial life-form or intelligence capable of far surpassing human mentation and thereby attain a more refined and elegant solution to certain evolutionary dilemmas? Are humans themselves becoming the vanishing mediator between the natural and artificial divide, gap, and crack in time, hyper-Chaos, thermospasm in which machinic life-forms begin to take over and bootstrap themselves into evolution and consciousness?


  1. Bloom, Harold. Agon. (Oxford, 1982)
  2. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 59. (Polity, 2013)
  3. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)
  4. R. Scott Bakker. The Last Magic Show: A Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness.

R. Scott Bakker: Medial Neglect and Black Boxes

In some ways Scott Bakker’s short post Intentional Philosophy as the Neuroscientific Explananda Problem succinctly shows us the central problem of our time: medial neglect. But what is medial neglect? The simplest explanation is that we are blind to the very internal processes that condition our very awareness of ourselves, our conscious mind. Scott’s point is that no one, not philosophers, not neuroscientists, no one can agree as to why this should be? No one can explain what consciousness is – much less how it emerges from the physical substratum of our brain. Philosophers of Mind have battled over the extremes of pure reductive physicalism (Davidson, etc.) and its opposite the irreductive world of the mind/body dualism of a Descartes. Yet, for all our advances in neuroscience and the technological breakthroughs in brain scan imaging, etc. we still cannot explain this indefinite terrain between brain and consciousness. Not that many have not tried. Opening my library or my e-book reader I have hundreds of books, journals, and publications devoted to just this one subject alone. (Yes, I’m a bibliomaniac, an endless, restless reader of anything and everything… madness? perhaps…)

Of course over time some explanations have through sheer numbers and probabilistic accuracy or clarity taken on a more positive – or negative – ability to narrow our margins onto this difficult problem. There have been for some time in the contemporary intellectual scene two options for understanding the relationship of consciousness and world—their dynamic interconnectivity and unity in phenomenological accounts of the lived body or the outright rejection of the importance of lived first-person experience as a mere epiphenomenal effect due to the mechanical movement of nature or the structures guiding discourse, both of which comprise a disavowal of the primordial self-reflexive ipseity of the subject. The notion of the Cartesian cogito (Subject) opened up a basic metaphysical truth of subjectivity by presenting a world where “the mind and body are, so to speak, negatively related—oppositional discord is, obviously, a form of relation.” (Zizek) But the sciences look for hard evidence to support such metaphysical claims, and when they cannot be found then everything sits there in limbo where it has remained for a few hundred years.

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Slavoj Žižek: The Anxiety of Retroactive Trauma

The essence of Slavoj Žižek’s vision is that philosophy is the result of a critical act of buggery, by which another, earlier philosopher is deliberately misread, and hence re-written, retroactively absorbed and incorporated into the ongoing project of the making of a Subject. In one of those impromptu interviews he has had over the years, Žižek once related the notion that “Hegel didn’t know what he was doing”. He went on to say,

You have to interpret him. Let me give you a metaphoric formula. You know
the term Deleuze uses for reading philosophers—anal interpretation, buggering them. Deleuze says that, in contrast to other interpreters, he anally penetrates the philosopher, because it’s immaculate conception. You produce a monster. I’m trying to do what Deleuze forgot to do—to bugger Hegel, with Lacan [chuckles] so that you get monstrous Hegel, which is, for me, precisely the underlying radical dimension of subjectivity which then, I think, was missed by Heidegger. But again, the basic idea being this mutual reading, this mutual buggering [chuckles] of this focal point, radical negativity and so on, of German Idealism with the very fundamental (Germans have this nice term, grundeswig) insight of psychoanalysis.1

Maybe we should apply this to Žižek: “Žižek doesn’t know what he is doing, but he knows that; and, this knowledge is the open wound that enforces a retroactive trauma and violence onto Žižek’s buggering of Lacan/Hegel texts. In a sense he like Peter Sloterdijk’s Cynics knows very well what he is doing, but he is doing it anyway: mis-reading former traumas as the cause of his own open wounds by which he is ‘traversing the fantasy’ of modern philosophical and political struggles. What Žižek describes as “mutual reading” and “mutual buggering” might be more of a mutual rending, a violence that tears asunder the very fabric of thought between both philosophers and intensifies the negativity in their mutual exchange to the point that nothing remains of the original text underlying either of their works. In this sense Žižek’s work is what Carew surmises as the “generative activity of concept-creation” which can bring forth something “unexpected, unsettling, even traumatic—we may produce monsters” (Carew, p. 41).

One might see in this a form of retroactive intervention, too. The retroactive trauma is the black hole in rhetoric through which the Real breaks through, the invisible made visible not as discursive display, but rather as the non-relation around which the text hovers like a lost object that can never be found but is always there in the very violence of this darkness in the text leading us to the Real. The philosopher must mis-interpret his philosophical father, by the crucial act of misprision, which is the active negation of the Orthodox vision most philosophers literalize into submission; and instead he must intervene in the dialectical re-writing of his philosophical father’s text into the colours (tropes) of a metaleptic reversal that give birth to his own traumatic truths. (Of course metalepsis  is a figure of speech in which a stance, word, phrase from figurative speech or act is used in a new context.) What we’re getting at here is the notion that the philosopher is not a man speaking to other men, but rather a man as Nietzsche once said “rebelling against being spoken to by a dead man outrageously more alive than himself” ( I need the source of the quote? – came from memory). What makes a philosopher stand out, become so strong that others seem to fall away into shadows? Why is a Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, etc. figures of strength around which philosophers like moths seem to alight and circle like the scorched denizens of some black sun? Why do certain philosophers achieve such strength that their thought seems almost self-begotten and free of all earlier pre-cursors influence, as if they themselves were ancients themselves and like Plato had put to rest all earlier pre-Socratic forms? Of course I’m transmogrifying the thought of Harold Bloom whose work on the anxiety of influence and poets is already so well known there need not be a rehash of his basic concepts. I’ve only displaced it into philosophical speculation.

But in this sense why has Žižek returned to German Idealism if not to find some far removed pre-cursor to overcome his debt to Lacan. For Žižek Idealism is the gateway to materialism, a radicalized form that revolves around certain contradictions, antagonisms, and sheer black holes that it in itself cannot resolve within idealism. This radicalized Idealism seeks out those very impossible gaps, cracks, and holes and finds in the obstructions and contradictions a path to the Real. It was the linguistic idealism of Lacan that led him back to the German Idealists. As Carew will say of him:

By zoning in on the limitations of idealization, the experiences of internal
resistance within its own self-enclosed phenomenal space (experiences that
reveal a difficult truth concerning the impotence of self-positing idealist
freedom), Žižek tries to construct his own metaphysics. Only able to
sustain itself from within the cracks of transcendental synthesis, his parallax
ontology functions within the impossible in-between of spectral materialism
and full-blown subjective idealism. (Carew, p. 63)

One could find as much in Johnston’s books on  Žižek as well, but I’ve covered his work in other posts: here, here, and here. Žižek has yet to step out from under the shadow of influence of Lacan and invent himself whole cloth. His work is an almost complete repetition of Lacan, Hegel, and other pre-cursors to the point that one can literally confuse Žižek for these others. In the process a monstrous creature emerges which is an amalgam of several pre-cursors visions, concepts, and thought all brought together in a series of texts that repeat over and over the key conceptual enframing and redoubling of a retroactive trauma. In his essay A Plea for a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua) Žižek will describe it this way: 

The frame is always-already redoubled: the frame within “reality” is always linked to another frame enframing “reality” itself.  Once introduced, the gap between reality and appearance is thus immediately complicated, reflected-into-itself: once we get a glimpse, through the Frame, of the Other Dimension, reality itself turns into appearance. In other words, things do not simply appear, they appear to appear. This is why the negation of a negation does not bring us to a simple flat affirmation: once things (start to) appear, they not only appear as what they are not, creating an illusion; they can also appear to just appear, concealing the fact that they ARE what they appear.

In Less Than Nothing he’ll explain it this way, saying, that what counts is that one part of ordinary reality is separated from the rest by a frame which designates it as a magical space of illusion. We have one and the same reality, separated from itself (or, rather, redoubled) by a screen. This inversion-into-itself by way of which reality encounters itself on a fantasmatic stage is what compels us to abandon the univocity of being: the field of (what we experience as) reality is always traversed by a cut which inscribes appearance into appearance itself. In other words, if there is a field of reality, then it is not enough to claim that reality is inherently fantasmatic, that it is always constituted by a transcendental frame; this frame has to inscribe itself into the field of reality, in the guise of a difference between “ordinary” reality and the ethereal reality: within our experience of reality (structured by fantasy), a part of reality has to appear to us as “fantasmatic,” as not “real reality.” (LTN, KL 5634)

Think of the philosopher within the frame that Žižek is linking to this series of misreadings, what we discover in the reading of his giant book on Hegel (as an example) Less Than Nothing is this very process in which the “gap between reality and appearance, literal and figurative, are buggered, complicated, reflected-into-itself, thereby producing this monstrous reversal in which retroactively Žižek appears to have given birth to the thought of Hegel and Lacan presenting a transumptive display and reversal in which Žižek seems to appear earlier than the philosophers he is absorbing and interpreting: the framer enframing the Frame. As if Žižek were himself the pre-cursor and father of Hegel/Lacan instead of the other way round. As if Hegel, then Lacan had read the ancient works of Žižek, and were both deeply influenced by his dialectical thought. This grand fantasy or retroactive trauma in which it is Žižek, rather than Hegel/Lacan who had given birth to the whole tradition of dialectical materialism. As if Hegel and Lacan were mere ephebic inheritors of the great philosopher, and had all along been influenced by his conceptual originality. A retroactive trauma and violence of the first order in which the roles are reversed and transumptively Žižek comes first, and Hegel/Lacan second or after the fact in this time lapse sequence of retroactive inversion. So that in this scenario Žižek becomes retroactively the Father of Hegel and Lacan, the buggering trauma having been a violent and painful male-birth; a sort of Athena from the skull of Zeus thematic, but this time out of the very loins of Žižek’s retroactive trauma or intervention in German Idealism, discovering that “our experience of freedom is properly traumatic.”

“Freedom” is thus inherently retroactive: at its most elementary, it is not simply a free act which, out of nowhere, starts a new causal link, but a retroactive act of determining which link or sequence of necessities will determine us. Here, one should add a Hegelian twist to Spinoza: freedom is not simply “recognized / known necessity,” but recognized / assumed necessity, the necessity constituted / actualized through this recognition.
– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Žižek is the midwife who gives birth to that which could not give birth to itself: the monstrous truth around which the earlier philosopher hovered like an analysand upon a couch but could never quite put into words. Žižek brings out retroactively the very concept deformations that seemed so hidden in the traumatic event of the earlier philosophers discourse, as if what the philosopher were trying to say were impossible: it is this very impossible thought that Žižek through his ‘traversal of the fantasy’ of the former philosopher’s thought discovers and reveals as the Real of the philosopher’s anxiety thereby releasing it into the open wound of our own mis-readings of Žižek himself. One never reads Žižek directly but is always reading Lacan/Hegel through the open wound of Žižek’s retroactive trauma. Like victims of a rapist we become the partners in a crime after the fact, our buggery of Žižek enables in us the very violence of the trauma that emerges as the truth of Lacan/Hegel in Žižek. A violent act from which there is no redemption, only the awakening to our own wounds, an interminable determination without recourse or redress. The repetitions of difference we repeat are always already those of the retroactive trauma’s violence upon our own interventions, our buggeries and rapes.

If we take another quote from that same essay previously described above, we discover an illustration in this notion of interventionism (buggery) into the past retroactive text that does a violence to it even as it is rewritten in the current philosphers own colours (tropes, concepts):

“If /the Kantian moral view/ presents itself as the narrative successor to the revolution, this is not because it logically fulfils or supersedes it: Kant’s critical venture phenomenologically succeeds the revolution that it chronologically, of course, anticipates only insofar as his text becomes legible only retroactively through the event that in institutionalizing the incessant short circuit of freedom and cruelty puts the project of modernity to its most extreme trial. /…/ the revolution itself inflicts on Kant’s own text a kind of retroactive trauma.”

This notion that the French revolution “inflicts on Kant’s own text a kind of retroactive trauma” could be applied to Žižek’s own work-in-progress (for is there any beginning or ending?). What we observe in Žižek’s writings is a continuous churning of concepts in which the thought of Lacan and German Idealism acts as a revolutionary violence that inflicts on his texts a “kind of retroactive trauma”. And the so called “traversing the fantasy” is the very body of his struggles, his multitudinous works that seem to revolve around the missing object of desire situated in the wound of the Real:

In a case of constituted anxiety, the object dwells within the confines of a fantasy, while we only get the constituent anxiety when the subject “traverses the fantasy” and confronts the void, the gap, filled up by the fantasmatic object—as Mallarmé put it in the famous bracketed last two lines of his “Sonnet en-yx,” objet a is ce seul objet dont le Néant s’honore /” this sole object with which Nothing is honoured/.”

Is not this constituted anxiety none other than that anxiety of influence of which to follow Bloom, Žižek has internalized and formalized the structure of influence in his work. The knowledge that behind every philosopher’s anxiety about his originality stands a Primal Scene of Instruction in which the Great Original sleeps with the Dead while the young philosopher or ephebe looks on belatedly, powerless except to repeat, revise, memorialize and recognize the circumstances of his secondariness. Is Žižek after all anxious that his work will ultimately fail the test of primariness? That he will be and remain a repetition of all those he has fought and struggled with so long, like Jacob wrestling the Angel on Mount Horeb, seeking the wound that will earn him a place in the philosophical sun as one of the greats. Has he not almost ironically and in tribute of Badiou called him the “Plato of our Age”, as both an epithet of praise but also a distancing and anxious appraisal and judgement upon his own work?

Will Žižek ever step out from under the burden of influence of Lacan and Hegel and produce original work of his own, discover his own stance against the tide of secondariness? We ponder and wait… I sometimes think Žižek would like to be considered the ‘Hegel of his Age’, a revised, updated, refined and more industrious inverted materialist version of Žižek himself, part hip cultural icon, part Lacanian anti-philosopher; yet not completely of the substantialist Marxian form, but rather of the new dialectical (im)materialism that Žižek is already so adept at, investing in his immediate retroactive traumas of the Void, giving us the interminable open wound that knows nothing is completed and everything is open to the future: militant, revolutionary, and politically savvy.


 

  1. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)

 

 

Wassily Kandinsky & Michel Henry’s Seeing the Invisible

Abstraction is nothing, rigorously pursued. Arithmetical zero is its sign. To perceive, think, and do nothing. To be nothing. Zero alone – in its infinite formulations – attains such exemption from indignity.
…….– Nick Land, Abstract Manifesto

Kandinsky is the inventor of abstract painting, the one who sought to overturn the traditional conceptions of aesthetic representation and to define a new era in this domain—the era of modernity.
……..– Michel Henry, Seeing the Invisible

Wassily Kandinsky was born on December, 16th (4), 1866 in Moscow, in a well-to-do family of a businessman in a good cultural environment. In 1871 the family moved to Odessa where his father ran his tea factory. There, alongside with attending a classical gymnasium (grammar school), the boy learned to play the piano and the cello and took to drawing with a coach. “I remember that drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality”, he wrote later. In Kandinsky’s works of his childhood period we can find rather specific color combinations, which he explained by the fact that “each color lives by its mysterious life”.

In Seeing the Invisible, we discover an admirer of Kandinsky in the philosopher Michel Henry, whose central thesis is that Kandinsky’s abstraction is more than just a particular movement in painting; instead, it reveals the deep truth of all art. All art is really ‘abstract’, which is to say that it is freed from any adherence to the external, visible world.1 As Davidson remarks in the preface to Henry’s work on Kandinsky, abstract art overturns our conceptions about painting and art in general, because it seeks to express the internal aspect of phenomena, in other words, to paint the invisible. Freed from all mimetic activities, its central preoccupation is the question of how to paint the invisible, instead. That is, how can the visible artistic means of painting—graphic forms and colours—be used to depict a wholly different, invisible reality? (SI, p. x)

This sense of “painting the invisible” of seeking to make visible the invisible non-being within the folds of the phenomenal object as if to reveal the secret life or energetic chaos just below the surface qualia of the sensual profiles that flit across our eyes like so many dust particles on a bright morning is to realize that abstract art as Land remarks “knows nothing, it can turn blindness to a vision of the abyss. It evokes an apprehension of non-apprehension, or a perception of the imperceptible as such”.2

Kandinsky Henry tells us provided an explicit theory of abstract painting, exposing its principles with the utmost precision and clarity. So, the painted work is accompanied with a group of texts that at the same time clarify his work and make Kandinsky one of the main theorists of art. (SI, p. 2) He’ll remark on such minds as Kandinsky’s that like others he sought from art is knowledge, a true or ‘metaphysical’ knowledge, capable of reaching beyond the external appearance of phenomena in order to lead us to their intimate essence.” (SI, p. 3) He’ll ask: How can painting bring about this ultimate revelation? What… is the nature of Being implied by painting and to which painting gives us access, making us contemporary with the Absolute and, in a certain sense, staking a claim to it?

For Kandinsky in his theoretical writings the terms Internal/External take on the basic elements of two modes of appearing that operate across all aspects of existence. As Henry will describe it the External rather than referring explicitly to something that is external tells us instead the way in which this something manifests itself to us. He’ll explicate it this way:

This manner consists in the fact of being placed in the exterior and being positioned before our regard, such that it is the fact of being placed before and in the exterior. Here exteriority as such constitutes manifestation and visibility. The exteriority in which every thing and every content becomes visible, becomes a phenomenon in terms of an external phenomenon, is the exteriority of the world. The world is the visible world, because the world means exteriority and because exteriority constitutes visibility. An external phenomenon is never seen or known in virtue of its particular properties—because it is big or small, structured or formless, etc.—but because it is external and for this reason alone. Since belonging to the ‘world’ signifies exteriority, it is manifested in exteriority and exteriority is equivalent to manifestation. Kandinsky says that the ‘way’ is not bound up with the phenomenon at random, because it is in this way—exteriority—that it can become a phenomenon and can be shown. (SI, p. 6)

On the other hand is the Internal mode of appearing which is, in some sense, a “more ancient and more radical way of being given. Like the External, the Internal does not refer to some particular thing that would be revealed inwardly; instead, interiority refers to the very fact of being revealed in this way. What does this most original ‘way’ of being given and ‘being lived’ consist of? This is an inescapable question, even though ‘being lived internally’—the ‘way’ on which Kandinsky will construct his aesthetics—cannot be stated simplistically. It would then fall prey to a critique seeking to deny its existence—‘Nothing
of this sort exists!’, ‘Interiority is a myth!’ In other words, the External provided proof of itself and this proof, it seems, is itself. … The Internal will never be shown in this way, as something which can be seen because it is right there in front of us. It is the invisible—that which can never be seen in a world or in the manner of a world. There is no ‘inner world’. The Internal is not the fold turned inward of a first Outside. In the Internal, there is no putting at a distance and no putting into a world—there is nothing external, because there is no exteriority in it. (SI, pp. 6-7)

The important part here is the statement that the Internal is “invisible—that which can never be seen in a world or in the manner of a world,” there “is no putting at a distance and no putting into a world—there is nothing external, because there is no exteriority in it”.  Henry will then puzzle out the question:  In what way, then, can the Internal be revealed, if it is not in or as a world? Explicating it this way:

It is revealed in the way of life. Life feels and experiences itself immediately such that it coincides with itself at each point of its being. Wholly immersed in itself and drawn from this feeling of itself, it is carried out as a pathos. Prior to and independently from every regard, affectivity is the ‘way’ in which the Internal is revealed to itself, in which life lives itself, in which the impression immediately imprints itself and in which feeling affects itself. (SI, p. 7)

So for Henry this inner Internal revealing of appearance is not based on sight or seeing, but rather comes by way of the affective relations internal to the object-object relations as unfolded and carried across the breach of things by “pathos”.

I’ll not say more on this specific theme, and cut this meditation short. Yet, will leave on remaining quote from this interesting work by Michel Henry:

Being is thus not a univocal concept. Two dimensions traverse it and tear
apart its primal unity (to the extent that it would ever have one):

1. The dimension of the visible where things are given to us in the light
of the world and are lived by us as external phenomena, and
2. The dimension of the invisible where, without the light of this world,
even before the emergence of this horizon of exteriority that puts
every thing at a distance from ourselves and offers it as an object to us
(object means ‘what is placed before us’), life has already taken hold
of its own being and has embraced itself in the pathos of this interior
and immediate experience of itself that makes it alive. (SI, p. 7)

This sense of an antagonistic and contradictory universe ripped and torn by catastrophic forces of two dimensions of Being is striking. The realm of light and seeing, the External of the phenomenal realm of sensuous apprehension; and, the other, the Internal, the invisible, unseen and vanishing or withdrawing of things from the “light of the world,” where life embraces “itself in the pathos” of an interior and immediate volatility seems to align well with many current speculative philosophies.

I’ll come back to this in the future…


 

  1. Michel, Henry. Seeing the Invisible. Trans. Scott Davidson (Continuum, 2005)
  2. Land, Nick (2015-12-16). Chasm (Kindle Location 8). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Postnihilistic Speculations: The Ontology of Non-Being

For speculation which founded itself on the radical falsity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason would describe an absolute which would not constrain things to being thus rather than otherwise, but which would constrain them to being able not to be how they are.
….Quentin Meillassoux

Is this what we’ve been waiting for all along? The movement beyond the troubled circle of Being and becoming, of Time and its figural and literal tropes of disquieting lapses into finitude? The fragments of this lie all around us in such thinkers as Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, and so many others within this metamorphic thought of a non-thought, this disquisition of an anathema.

My friend Cengiz Erdem in his essay Postnihilistic Speculations on That Which Is Not: A Thought-World According to an Ontology of Non-Being charts such a history:

A speculative move in the way of mapping the cartography of an ontology of non-being, of that which yet to come, post-nihilism clears or excavates the old ground, thereby suspending the dominant presumptions, therefore rendering the void, non being, or the Real itself as the new ground on and out of which a new subject can emerge and present the paradoxical and contingent natures of ‪Truth and Necessity, as well as the ‎non-correlation of Being and Thought…

(addendum: Cengiz added a new post in concert with this… here.)

As I was reading this post of his I felt a deep underlying, almost religious tone in his voice; the power of the absolute filtering its banal surprise (maybe a non-God, non-All, rather than the mundane gods or God religion or the philosophers). Whatever the absolute may be, it seems to ride the edges, or borderlands of between thought and non-being rather than the metaphysical realms of Being. Though secular through and through the incorporation of the themes of eternity, time, mortality, immortality, etc. like those others who have influenced our thinking: Nietzsche, Badiou, Zizek, Laruelle, Henry, Deleuze, etc. – and, lest we forget, Freud (Lacan: lack?) with his mythology of drives, that endless war of eros and thanatos, life and death, love and war – comes through Erdem’s essay. What struck me above all is the underlying mythos and movement toward transcension, toward elsewhere, immortality, transcendence. Of course as he says, this is nothing new, and it is everywhere in our present transcendental field of speculation, as if between a totalistic closure upon metaphysics had brought with it – not a rational kernel, but rather an irrational kernel of ancient thought. For do we not hear that oldest of songsters, Orpheus, the Greek singer, theologian, poet, philosophical forbear out of whose roots Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle and their ancient antagonists Leucippas, Democritus, and Lucretius down to our day still wage a war over the body of a dead thought (God?).

Shall we follow Badiou or Zizek? Or Both?

Continue reading

Nick Land: Philo-Fiction, Chasm, and the Abstract Manifesto

 

Abstract literature writes in clues, with clue words, but without hope.
…….– Nick Land, Abstract Manifesto

“Nothing was to have taken place. Less, even, than usual, or than standard procedure recommended. That was clear.”1 So begins Nick Land’s new philo-fiction, Chasm. True to this statement this strange amalgam of – can we call it philosophy, hyperstition, abstraction to the nth degree, an non-movement around absolute Zero; or, like those fabulations of Borges, Calvino, Ballard, Lem, or any number of anti-metaphysical metaphysicians of recent repute call this a dip in the labyrinth of a-literature?  Land_

Reading Chasm is like entering a fog, a realm where the known and unknown cross each other in the night, their knives honed sharp and clean readied for the event that will never happen. Nothing can happen in this world. Yet, this is not some static world of timeless instants, but rather a world whose clarity and resilience shift among the paranoid dreams of a crew of misfits all heading toward their own private dooms. Before the tale is over everyone, but Zodh – the Caliban of this tale, and the protagonist of this death-march, Tom Symns, will succumb to their own merciless minds. Zodh and Symns will each in his own way benefit from a form of absolute impersonalism and indifference that will keep them above the melee of horror.

Symns, an agent of Chasm, a secret military contractor, with an almost mission impossible appeal, is the operative par excellence – a dead man walking, an emotionally cool psychopathic and affectless creature whose traumas in previous missions has left him in a cold and lonely place of pure terror – not his, but toward those who get in his way. He’s sent on a mission to discard a product of this secret corporation. He asks no questions, and gets no answers about his assignment. In fact after reading through his control data he enters it into a carry-on autodestruct compartment that shreds it like a Tom Cruise sequencer. The only thing he’s curious about is the amalgam of warped and paranoid creatures he will have to share this voyage over the sea with.

A motley crew of religious and irreligious fear mongers and low-life scum will, along with the captain – a hyper-active, endless idiot questioner, Captain James Frazer,  become a part of the crew of the Pythoness, and due to its own automatic and AI controlled systems leave the crew with nothing, absolutely nothing on the voyage to do but get into trouble through a long and convoluted series of paranoid adventures. The ship, The Pythoness, they will sail on has only recently been designed to specification by the Chasm Corporation to carry the artifact they seek to dispose. We are never sure of just what it is they are transporting, and it is just this vagueness of the missions actual mission that will haunt us throughout the tale. Along the way we begin discovering that maybe just maybe this strange object whose origin and work are as obscure and mysterious as everything else might be the cause of certain effects that happen to the crew: sleeplessness, insomnia, hallucinations, lucid dreams, and ultimately singular manifestations of voices, whispers, and madness for each of the crew.

Even before they set out on their long voyage Symns will feel a “subtle tremor of resignation passed through him. Loss of control was something he already knew about, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.” (C: KL 129) He’ll visit a local pub which was nestled “into the cliff, close to the dock, was a small, atmospheric bar, called The Crab Pot. The name made it sound like a restaurant, but the little food that was served there looked inedible. It had settled itself confidently upon the sharp cusp between authenticity and simulation.” (C: KL 131)

Symns boarding the ship for the first time will be confronted by the captain. Suspicious and almost unsure if he will accept or reject this rep from Chasm, Frazer who has already researched the web and discovered that Chasm seems to be a front for some nefarious organization or governmental agency, but tells Symns: “I’ve no idea what ‘QASM’ stands for, what it is, or what it does. It’s strangely difficult to find out. I’m assuming it’s a business, with customers, but if so, it’s not exactly broadcasting the fact. Say I wanted to buy something from them …” “You don’t.” “On the web, the company says it’s selling ‘deep technology solutions’,” he persisted. “Okay, that sounds like a business – like marketing spin – but it isn’t really telling me anything at all.” “This is coming up now?” It wasn’t at all where I wanted our conversation to be. I’d somehow imagined he would know that. (C: KL 143)

Things will go back and forth like that across the months and weeks of the voyage. Without giving away the storyline I’ll only mention the artifact itself, the “thing” that is to be lowered into the deep abyss of the trench, the Mariana:

The cargo had been pre-installed within a technologically-sophisticated closed unit, whose design had followed a smooth, asymptotic curve to the edge of the absolute. It was like the Pythoness herself, but to a higher power. Upon arrival at the destination – as confirmed by the inbuilt satellite navigation system – my responsibility was to enter the activation code and initiate the release sequence. Three weeks on a boat, for nine key-strokes. After a ninety-second delay, the thing we were transporting would then be dropped into the earth’s deepest submarine abyss. Execution of this simple task would be the culmination of the mission, completely exhausting whatever meaning it might have. In any case, by the end, we’d probably still have learnt next to nothing about it. (C: 168-173)

What the crew enacts and  suffers has more to do with the unknown both inside and outside themselves… a seeping of darkness from elsewhere that shapes their thoughts even as it delivers them one by one to the corrosion and corruption of mutual degradation. Madness for each teeters on the borderlands wavering between the known and unknown, and Death like a lost lover follows us and haunts us even as we seek to remedy our own fates within the Human Security Regime. Only those who have pushed through the mask of madness and into the impersonal inhumanism at the core of their being come through if not unscathed at least immortal in the knowledge that death is all, and eternal; even for the living dead.

I admit the execution was not perfect for Land, yet the story compared to his previous dream-quest or virtual excursion was tighter and more concrete in setting and dialogue, while allowing the abstract philosophical underpinnings to unload their clues slowly and assuredly. It enacted the principles set forth in his Abstract Manifesto with an interesting twist, revealing the experimental nature of the work as a philo-fiction. This notion of an almost atheistic allogoreises or typology of the constitution of horror that leads the mind to thought, a horror thought somewhat in the tradition of Eugene Thacker’s trilogy on horror philosophy, yet with the Landian touch – quirky, skeptical, lucid, eloquent and refined to the point of an almost mundane consistency. The clues are there not in some hidden place, but in the very immediate grasp of the truth: that nothing happens, and nothing can happen. The story recites its own repetitions not in difference or sameness, but under the sign of a Bataillean heterogeneity that leads into inner-experience that only the solitary reader can appreciate.

Abstract Manifesto

In his notes at the end of his short disquieting philo-horror we discover Land’s Manifesto for an Abstract Literature.

§ 101 – Disintegration inspires a thousand manifestoes, as our age confirms. Here is another. It would be a manifesto in defense of nothing, if nothing needed – or even tolerated – defending. With its solicitude mocked by alien voids, it can only attack something – anything (everything).

Reading a recent essay by my friend Cengiz Erdem Postnihilistic Speculations on That Which Is Not: A Thought-World According to an Ontology of Non-Being we come across this:

A thought thinking itself is thinking nothing other than nothing. It thinks itself as its own object, which means that it thinks nothing as something. This circular thought we designate as the thought of nihilism. It is this thought thinking itself as the thought of nihilism which we name post-nihilism. Primarily driven by the thoughts of Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, François Laruelle and Michel Henry respectively, the post-nihilistic thought attempts to  theorize the unilateral duality of the dialectical conceptions of immanence/transcendence and affirmation/negation.

Shall we always be caught in the circle of this dialectical flux, shifting back and forth between extreme limits, unable to find a stable place to of foundation, ground, place, situation, act upon which to rest our weary thoughts? No. We who are most restless are condemned to the dispersal of repetition and difference, wanderers of the Abyss.

A few years back I began reading once again several of those children of Kant who in one form or another develop a view onto our sensual dispersal. Such men whose flirtations with Idealism, Objects, Being, Phenomenon etc. would lead them to waver among the appearances lost amid the battles between Humeaen skepticism and empiricism, and the pre-critical reflections of the Rationalists seeking a way out of the traps and errors of the German Idealist traditions. Of recent vintage is the work of Graham Harman whose strange and weird realism beckons us into a vacuous actuality, a world of events in which everything that is exists in as inscrutable substances that lie in some sort of still-undetermined vacuum or void. Yet, in their weirdness these singular things, entities, objects that exist in vacuity manage to communicate with one another.

But if things exist in non-relation, how do they ever breach the gap between voids to communicate or interact with anything else? What is the causal mechanism that allows such vacuous objects to awaken out of their dormancy and enter into relation with other things? Land for his part in Section 101 will begin with a simple but devastating conclusion:

§ 101 – Abstraction is nothing, rigorously pursued. Arithmetical zero is its sign. To perceive, think, and do nothing. To be nothing. Zero alone – in its infinite formulations – attains such exemption from indignity. (And it is time.)

We all remember reading that evil book of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy who saw in the figure of Zero the “empty centre, the place where everything is supposed to be visible and intelligible, the place of knowledge” (p. 12).2 That same Lyotard would explicate:

We do not even have to say: this is great Zero, what crap! After all, it is a figure of desire, and from what position could we assume to deny it this quality? In what other, no less terrorist Zero? One cannot assume a position on the twisted, shock-ridden, electrified labyrinth band. One’s got to get this into one’s head: the instantiation of intensities on an original Nothing, on an Equilibrium, and the folding back of complete parts onto the libidinal Moebian band, in the form of a theatrical volume, does not proceed from an error, from an illusion, from malice, from a counter-principle, but again from desire. One must realize that representing is desire, putting on stage, in a cage, in prison, into a factory, into a family, being boxed in are desired, that domination and exclusion are desired; that extreme intensities are instantiable in these assemblages too. (pp. 11-12)

To be Zero, doubled, split, folded back in the infinite loop of a derisive libidinal economy of vacuity, a self-reflecting nothingness cut off from all externality, intensity boxed, caged, imprisoned in the theatricality of its own solipsistic desire, dominated by nothing more nor less than the Zero Degree of thought: this alone is abstraction, and abstraction’s horror.

§ 102 — Abstraction in itself is the sovereign of the negative determination, and can never fall under a formal relation. It does not oppose itself to the concrete, except in terms whose keys are encrypted within itself. Apophatic method (the via negativa) is its discipline.

Here it is cut off from any “formal relation,” neither opposing the concrete phenomenon or itself, except as it under the powers and dispotifs of its own internal volcanic pact decides by way of denial to speak in terms of what cannot be said or named, this unknowing or negative way into non-being at the heart of Zero and the Abyss.

§ 103 — Abstract negation, as Hegel perhaps understood, in deriding it, is the only kind that escapes. He recoils from a negativity that does no work or even (precisely) the opposite, and which redoubles without self-cancelation while still turning endlessly into itself. Abstract negation is already a doubling, of such redundancy that it sheds the pretense to generic negativity like Ouroboros skin – and in fact like nothing at all.

Eugene will offer us a way into such horrors of the abstract, this most vita negative:

Whatever abstract horror has happened, it cannot be explained by the narrator. And yet, it must be explained, there must be an explanation. The narrator is so committed to this notion that he is willing to question his own sanity so that the “Horror” can be explained. And, the narrator continues, if I can’t explain it then there must be someone else who can. In lieu of this, he can only hope that someone else (doubtless we, the “dear readers”) will come along and provide an explanation, some explanation, any explanation.3

Is this not true of Land’s fable, this non-story of the Absolute Zero, the Abstract non-movement of thought turning and turning in its own void, the vacuous actuality of the withdrawn object bound in the cage of its on mad thinking seeking to install itself in the only thing it can – those others, those organic meat infested crustaceans of the earthly sphere who live in such minimal and bare unthought? Is this not the truth of Land’s little parable or anabasis, this death-march into the interior country of death itself, the slow methodical movement of thought returning to the Abyss?

The outlying language and characters of Land’s philo-fiction are unimportant, they are stage-craft, non-entities who actually believe they are living beings, humans in fact. But we know better, these are zombies awaiting the completion of an experiment in thought. Is this not what thought is: madness itself, the beginning, the moment of creation, the genealogy of gods and men, an terrible accident? Have we not known this all along? Known that our lives, our experiences, our universe is a catastrophe, a non-places: a realm of pure abstraction? We who sleep walk through existence believe we are alive, that this is life, without known that we are in the empty place, the kenoma of a vacant thought, the place of a silent disaster in process.

§ 104 — The elusiveness of the abstract can be rigorously illustrated. Division by zero exemplifies it, in the perfect extinction of illumination. It can only be forbidden because, once understood, it makes no sense. To divide by zero is to initiate an explosion without limit, of demonstrable irreversibility. The result returned is undefined (sufficiently so to crash computers). Though a gate to the tracts of the transfinite, there can be no retreat back through it. It allows nothing to be retrieved.

In an interview Land once remarked that “what is concealed (the Occult) is an alien order of time, which betrays itself through ‘coincidences’, ‘synchronicities’ and similar indications of an intelligent arrangement of fate. An example is the cabbalistic pattern occulted in ordinary languages – a pattern that cannot emerge without eroding itself, since the generalized (human) understanding and deliberated usage of letter-clusters as numerical units would shut down the channel of ‘coincidence’ (alien information). It is only because people use words without numerizing them, that they remain open as conduits for something else. To dissolve the screen that hides such things (and by hiding them, enables them to continue), is to fuse with the source of the signal and liquidate the world.” This is the core of Land’s project, this secret complicity between the future, capitalism, and intelligence: a journey from the future to the past, a force driving every aspect of our civilization, the interminable movement of abstraction in its endless labyrinthine divagations among the logic of worlds.  This irreversible juggernaut of time and nothing moving along a plane of inconsistency fading in and out, wandering the flux lanes of a million plateaus, a rhizomatic peek-a-boo adventure of the life and death drives in endless agon.

§ 105 — Abstract writing and aesthetic abstraction are each easily found in abundance. Logico-mathematical formalism provides the former, high modernism in the visual arts (especially) the latter. Yet literary high modernism has made a hash of its involvement with abstraction.

Fail, and fail better. Drifting between art and math abstraction seeks to discover itself under the guise of a formless form.

§ 106 — “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.” – John Cage.

Stop and go. Back and forth. Movement, but not progression. The circle of contradiction that can never be resolved or reconciled. Death-drive as the movement of time… life as its break, its rupture, exit. Between them the abyss, the gap, the crack in time; the split of tension and tensors, the topology of non-being and being at play in the wilderness of abstractions.

§ 107 — The term ‘blank verse’ amuses us.

Blank verse is distinguished by two interlaced features: the first being that the poems, for the most part, convey freethinking, i.e., the “independence of thought; specifically, the free exercise of reason in matters of religious belief, unconstrained by deference to authority” (Oxford English Dictionary qtd. on 2); and the second, that this freethinking is in part enabled by the hallmarks of the blank-verse form. As Weinfield writes, “all of these poets, at least in their finest work, are spiritual wanderers and freethinkers; they are all grappling with the religious crisis, or crisis of modernity. . . . Blank verse gives them the license to wander and allows their freethinking tendencies to come to the fore” (3).5

One should rather say it allows what is invisible to become visible in the abstraction. This is thought in the purity of its quest to make visible non-being in being. The impossible become possible. Zero as negation of negation… Zizek roaming in his own negations will surmise:

The death of Christ is also the death/ end of human mortality, the “death of death,” the negation of negation: the death of God is the rise of the undead drive (the undead partial object). Here, however, Hegel is not radical enough: since he is not able to think objet a, he also ignores bodily immortality (“ undeadness”)— both Spinoza and Hegel share this blindness for the proper dimension of the objet a. How can a Christian believer come to terms with this obscene excess of immortality? Is the answer, once again, love? Can one love this excess?6

And, what of hate? Is their a nasty cruelty in excess? Isn’t the very form of time itself hateful, this continuous charade of decomposition, corruption, disintegration, catastrophe? Isn’t Zizek a little to idealistic for us, with all his talk of redemption? As if this zombiefied immortality, this excess that returns upon itself without end, this negentropic calculator of some impossible machinic intelligence were love?

§ 108 — The object of abstract literature is integral obscurity. It seeks only to make an object of the unknown, as the unknown. Cryptropic nature captivates it (Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ). Whatever might imaginably be shown is something else, but then so – if not exactly equally – is anything that remains simply apart. Those who dedicate themselves to this dubious cause can be nothing but a surface effect of The Thing.

Are we all daemonic minions in a factory of blind process, things integral to the obscure thoughts of some blind god whose purposeless messages seem to communicate with us from some arcane region outside time and space; or, the truth of that secret guest who lives and the inhuman core of our own being, whispering to us from the abyss?

An “object of the unknown, as the unknown”? What would this be, how attest to this nothing that is, this void, this vacuous actuality? We remember Harman saying of objects, things, and entities:

…never do any two real things make contact. Even inanimate reality is an asymmetrical world of real entities making contact with phenomenal ones. Direct contact is no more found at the outset than in the result. Translation is no psychological quirk of unlucky humans whose mentality cannot probe the depths of things; rather, it belongs to the very stuff of relation. For causation to be vicarious means by the same stroke that it must be asymmetrical as well.7

This asymmetrical divide in Kant would be of the noumenal/phenomenal split: that which cannot be named, thought or seen directly; and that which is seen, thinkable, and directly apprehended by intuition, etc. “The genius of occasionalism was to cut things off from one another to such an extent that only God could link them. The solution was clearly outlandish, its vagueness protected from scrutiny only by the shield of piety, since the mechanisms of direct Divine contact were never explained. But at least this model grasped that things have a certain rigorous independence from one another. (p. 48)” says Harman. Of course today we live with a humanist form of this that SR terms the correlationist circle of cause and effect, that it is the Mind/World that are split, and the causal nexus is this reduction to concept between to indeterminate levels of being, this asymmetrical relation between the mental and stuff, etc. Yet, as Harman surmises all this modeling is more about disconnection and withdrawal, rather than relation and connection: its about the vacuous actuality of thing in their on Zero, cut off from each other yet being able to somehow cause effects with others indirectly. Fictions of processes little understood, which the sciences translate into long and tedious mathematical theorems, and philosophers translate into descriptive natural language or folk psychology. Is there and end?

§ 109 — Abstract literature writes in clues, with clue words, but without hope. It is the detective fiction of the insoluble crime, the science fiction of an inconceivable future, the mystery fiction of the impregnable unknown, proceeding through cryptic names of evocation, and rigid designators without significance. The weirdness it explores does not pass, unless to withdraw more completely into itself. There is no answer, or even – for long – the place for an answer. Where the solution might have been found waits something else. Description is damage.

Maybe that is it, a need to discover the clues left in being by non-being. A cosmic detective show seeking the answer to an “insoluble crime”? An Land as if echoing Harman describes alluringly that the “weirdness it explores does not pass, unless to withdraw more completely into itself”. This truth of things, the non-being of vacuous actuality of things sealed off in their vacuums, churning in the Zero degree of their own private infernal paradises.

§ 110 — John (18: 20) quotes the Nazarene: “in secret have I said nothing” (ἐν κρυπτῷ ἐλάλησα οὐδέν).

Is this not the ultimate truth, that we can say nothing? That everything we might say as Nietzsche once described it “That for which we find words is something already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.”

§ 111 — Sexual repression, pushed to an extreme, advances the mechanics of abstract literature. Puritanism is here set to dark work. Lovecraft (once again) exhibits the pattern. Whatever hides can be latched onto other hidden things.

There is a secret history of the world to be written which will describe the ambiguous adventures of non-being in being, of the hetereological indices of a sublime degradation.

§ 112 — Fiction is bound, from the beginning, to what is not. Non-occurrences are its special preoccupation. It trafficks with things that never happened, and lies on the path to Old Night.

Thomas Ligotti will offer little solace, but a beneficent collapse into that dark abyss from which we may never escape: our lives in this infernal paradise of time, saying,

The world of non-human bodies is activated directly in accord with the commands of that terrible force underlying all existence which issues only a few simple desires, none of which have to do with anything as nonsensical and dreamlike as creating works of art or of being an artist, of doing or being anything like these profoundly false and unreal things. Thus the world of non-human bodies never need suffer the pains of pursuing false and unreal desires, because such feelings have no relevance for those bodies and never arise within them.’8

This is the impersonal realm of vacuous actuality, of things cut off in the void of their own impossible non-being. Flyting between idealism and materialism we ponder the navel of existence like insects tweaking our chemical register seeking after the clues to our next cannibal feast. The universal feeding machine of organic composition and decomposition churns on continuously revolving in the soup bin of cosmic decay and entropy. Yet, under the eye of our parent, the sun we rise and fall in the dust of secret assassinations, unknowing of our blindness and our ignorance. Believing we have a destiny, a fate, we stage the endless agons of our daily competitions driven by the very death-drive that so willingly seeks to slay us.

§ 113 — No one has yet done anything with unnonfiction (the word). Now is the time to unearth still less with it.

There is nothing to be done. There is no where to go. There is no one to see. There is nothing to know. Nothing to remember. Nothing.

§ 114 — Because literature knows nothing, it can turn blindness to a vision of the abyss. It evokes an apprehension of non-apprehension, or a perception of the imperceptible as such. Milton explores the abyss, in order to say nothing, positively, with unsurpassed eloquence. He makes Paradise Lost the Bible of abstract literature where “darkness visible” (I: 63), “the palpable obscure” (II: 406), shadow the ultimate unilluminousness of “Old Night” (I: 543). Horror is structurally Miltonic. What cannot be seen, or in any other way shown, can still be said.

At once, as far as Angel’s ken,
he views The dismal situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.4

§ 115 — Lovecraft: “I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best – one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or ‘outsideness’ without laying stress on the emotion of fear.”

For the anti-realist the author’s creation of both form and content, meant that there was no access to a “given and naked reality” outside the text. Reference becomes a circular movement within the text itself, which now contains the signifier and the signified wholly within it.9 The speculative realist against such enclosed prisons would tell us that contemporary philosophers have lost the “great outdoors, the absolute outside of pre-critical thinkers: that outside which was not relative to us, and which was given as indifferent to its own givenness to be what it is, existing in itself regardless of whether we are thinking of it or not; that outside which thought could explore with the legitimate feeling of being on foreign territory – of being entirely elsewhere.”10

Could it be that this life we live is in exile from elsewhere? Are we in the mirror-land among the ruins of being, Alice’s children, mad-hatters one and all? “To extract ourselves from this communitarian or intersubjective solipsism is to access a great outdoors that would perform the same function for the mathematics contained in ancestral statements as the veracious God performed for extended substance. (Meillassoux, KL 747)”

§ 116 — Except, it is not fear that guides us. Abstract literature complies with a rigorous critique of fear, conducted in the name of horror. Fear nothing, until fear sheds its concreteness, and nothing switches its sign.

Let us not be deceived by fear and illusion, rather let us like non-metaphysical habitants of some abstract sphere conduct our inquiry into the terminal truth of non-being. “Hermetically Promethean in orientation, driven by a will to sustain a unilateral duality of Prometheus and Hermes as modes of being and thinking, Speculative Realism as a form of post-nihilism which thinks and lives according to nothing as something, is a venture into the Noumenal world…,” says Cengiz: (see here). But why transcendence? Why some elsewhere beyond? Why not seek the circle for the circles sake? The amor fati of Nietzsche’s eternal return?

What would the Nothingness involved in a non-nihilist configuration figuration be…?11 Contingency? This is why amor fati, love of fate or love of necessity, is already, and in an immanent way, love of contingency. Or, as Nietzsche suggests, it is love tout court. (Zupancic, KL 1846) Or, Meillassoux (it must be abstract):

Our absolute, in effect, is nothing other than an extreme form of chaos, a hyper-Chaos, for which nothing is or would seem to be, impossible, not even the unthinkable. This absolute lies at the furthest remove from the absolutization we sought: the one that would allow mathematical science to describe the in-itself. (AF: KL 944)

Yet, Land admonishes us in 104: “Though a gate to the tracts of the transfinite, there can be no retreat back through it. It allows nothing to be retrieved.” If our universe is pure informational complexity, a data-gram from elsewhere whose holographic insistence is that nothing is real, everything unreal and illusionary cinematic jouissance, then exactly where are the negatives upon which the light blinks its blank testament across the flickering dust of this imploding thought? Are we living forward or backward, is time not an explosion but rather a big crunch into that annihilating thought that sparked all beginnings? That bindu point of the ultimate abstract point of points where Zero hits a wall and discovers the black hole out of which it can enter the Great Outdoors of being?

§ 117 — The Thing horror pursues – and from which it flees – cannot be an object (if life is to continue). Its nonexistence is a presupposition of mental equilibrium. At the virtual horizon where thought encounters it, absolute madness reigns. This coincidence is fundamental. At the end of horror lies that which – if there is merely to be sanity – cannot conceivably or imaginably exist. The image of the monster, then, is more than an error of method. It is a radical misapprehension. Anything that can be captured cannot be what horror seeks. Pictures are mistakes.

The Deleuze Dictionary tells us:

Nietzsche’s speculations on metaphor show that there is no ‘truth’ behind the mask of appearances, but rather only more masks, more metaphors. Deleuze elevates this insight into something like a general metaphysical principle. For him, the world is composed of simulacra: it is a ‘swarm’ of appearances. … All life perceives and is necessarily open to the ‘outside’ and distinctions between automatism and voluntary acts are only differences of degree, rather than differences in kind. This alternative, non-psychological metaphysics, according to which the world is ‘luminous in itself ’, rather than being illuminated by a beam of consciousness, is at the heart of Deleuze’s non-representational project… Following Bergson’s materialist ontology, according to which our body is merely an image among images, Deleuze opens the self to the outside, the pure form of time. The self comes into contact with a virtual, non-psychological memory, a domain of diversity, difference, and with potentially anarchic associations, that jeopardise the sense selfhood.12

The great outdoors of being and non-being as the “pure form of time”? Land on the concept “templexity”: Templexity is indistinguishable from unbounded real recursion, so it cannot be lucidly anticipated independently of a historical completion – or ‘closure’ (apprehended in the multitudinous sense noted in the text to follow). …‘Templexity’ – as a sign – marks the suspicion that, if we are waiting for this to happen, we still understand nothing.( p. 4).13 Our universe a closed time-loop? As Land quotesSeth Lloyd et al. (2011) “… closed timelike curves are a generic feature of highly curved, rotating spacetimes …”(Templexity, p. 25). Wheels within wheels, a chariot of looping fiery particles churning in the dark matter/energy of the mudder/mattering void?

§ 118 — There is no difference between abstract literature and horror, conceived in profundity (in the abyss). An encounter with the absolutely cognitively intolerable cannot conclude in a positive presentation. The makers of horror have long been expected to understand that – even if they still typically submit to the sins of exhibition, the lust to show, and tell. Within the image, horror is interred. Thus, abstract literature is committed to a definite iconoclasm, which is also a vow of silence – though a hidden silence.

One of those simple but powerful insights Harman discovered in his study of Heidegger was the observation that we only ever come to notice things when they break down, when they rear their ugly heads up out of the background of being and surprise us by their eruption into our lives. These things, these lumps of stuff surrounding us were the moment before just silent guests hidden in the background of the cosmic parade of phenomenality, mere appearances in an otherwise mundane world of boring dullness. In the moment that this broken thing awakened us from our stupor, this accident of timespace intruded its thusness  into our lives we begin to feel a disturbance, a challenge, a knowledge of something unknown but real. And what is real anyway? For Harman realism “does not mean that we are able to state correct propositions about the real world” (whatever that might be?), but rather “it means that reality is too real to be translated without remainder into any sentence, perception, practical action, or anything else” (WR, p. 16).14

Translation in Harman’s terms is the distortion of the reality any intention addresses. This intention is not specific to human logic or language, but to all object-object relations. Levi R. Bryant in a post once suggested: a translation is an interaction that produces a difference in what is translated. The thesis that objects only relate by translating one another is, under my reading, the thesis that there will always be more in the effect than was there in the cause by virtue of how an entity translates the interactions it receives from another entity. So what does this entail? It entails perspectivism. Perspectivism isn’t the thesis that beings are nothing but perspectives– after all, beings are real –but is rather the thesis that we must attend to how entities other than ourselves encounter interactions with other entities in the world around us.

As Cengiz Erdem relates it this brings us to the issue of the “split nature of reality itself. The melancholic Cartesian subject cannot access the reality in-itself precisely because the reality is always already split in-itself. Strange though as it may sound the in-itself is itself split. And stranger still, that split is not within something, but rather between something and nothing. We can say that the gap between the real and the symbolic is included within reality itself. Perhaps that’s why Zizek insists on the need to affirm the mediation of illusion, the necessity of fantasy in accessing reality as it is in-itself.” (see here)

§ 119 — Horror anticipates philosophy, spawns it automatically, and provides its ultimate object – abstraction (in itself). It comes from the same non-place to which philosophy tends. If skepticism teaches philosophy what it need not think, horror persuades it that it cannot. In this way, the pact between abstraction and horror – the thing – surpasses anything philosophy could ever be, or know.

Zizek falling back on Lacan will remark, so far so good, we may say: by way of transposing what appears as an epistemological limit into the Thing itself, Hegel shows how the problem is its own solution— but in what precise sense? To avoid a fatal misunderstanding: this crucial dialectical move from epistemological obstacle to ontological impossibility in no way implies that all we can do is reconcile ourselves to this impossibility, i.e., accept reality itself as imperfect. The premise of psychoanalysis is that one can intervene with the symbolic into the Real, because the Real is not external reality-in-itself, but a crack in the symbolic, so one can intervene with an act which re-configures the field and thus transforms its immanent point of impossibility. “Traversing the fantasy” does not mean accepting the misery of our lives— on the contrary, it means that only after we “traverse” the fantasies obfuscating this misery can we effectively change it. (LTN, KL 10949-56)

Isn’t horror literature, art, cinema, etc. the enactment of this very process of “traversing the fantasy,” of intervening with the symbolic into the Real, seeking through a vita negative act a way to re-configure the entire field immanently at just that point of impossibility?

§ 120 — Abstract literature borrows its guides from horror, which are monsters. ‘Invisible’ monsters we are tempted to say, over-hastily. No monster can be more, or less, than partially – horribly – seen (as etymology reliable attests). The monster is liminal, or diagonal. It discloses a lurid obscurity.

Are not these monstrous entities the doorway to abstraction? The mask of its insidious appeal, the allurement of its degrading magnificence? Are we not mesmerized by the powers of infectious glamours, lured into the labyrinth of unknown and unknowable disclosures that are neither given nor directly known, but hold open to us the indirect access to a secret and ruinous knowledge that cannot be had any other way?

§ 121 — The initial stage of monstrosity is ‘simple’ beyondness. A monster has as its leading characteristic the nature of an excessive being. It is first of all a counter- humanoid, eluding anthropomorphic recognition. Since ‘inhumanity’ remains captured within a dialectical relation, it is preferable to invoke a ‘non-’ or ‘un-humanity’ determined abstractly – in the way of the wholly unknown aliens from James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) – only as “something not us”. A minimal condition for monstrosity is radical unhumanity.

What we see below is the Thing (whatever it is) indirectly rather than directly, since how we take notice is through the ‘things’ manipulation of the liquid element of water, manipulating it to translate itself into an apparent human-like facial expression; and, yet we very well know that underneath this façade and apparently the appearance of appearance is the very inhuman power or energetic force of the alien thing itself. So that we are never in touch with the thing itself, but on as it reveals itself for-us as a phenomenon to be evaluated, interpreted, suffered…

002_abyss_theredlist

§ 122 — Even as it consumes all attention, monstrosity does not look like anything. At the crudest level of perceptual disorganization, it dismantles morphology into the seething complexity of tentacle-monsters and bug-creatures – plasticized, metamorphic, and poly-segmentary beings – for which (China Miéville) “Squidity” is the supreme archetype. At a more advanced level of abstraction, they slough off even these residual forms as larval constrictions, becoming shape-shifting horrors, adopting the body-plans of their prey, as they evolve fluidly into the way hunt. At their intensive zenith, they sublime to sheer system, syndrome – reproduction cycles, patterns of parasitization, epidemiological profiles, and convergent waves – conceivable only through what they do.

In the deeper dreams everything was likewise more distinct, and Gilman felt that the twilight abysses around him were those of the fourth dimension. Those organic entities whose motions seemed least flagrantly irrelevant and unmotivated were probably projections of life-forms from our own planet, including human beings. What the others were in their own dimensional sphere or spheres he dared not try to think. Two of the less irrelevantly moving things— a rather large congeries of iridescent, prolately spheroidal bubbles and a very much smaller polyhedron of unknown colours and rapidly shifting surface angles— seemed to take notice of him and follow him about or float ahead as he changed position among the titan prisms, labyrinths, cube-and-plane clusters, and quasi-buildings; and all the while the vague shrieking and roaring waxed louder and louder, as if approaching some monstrous climax of utterly unendurable intensity.
……….– H.P. Lovecraft – The Dreams in the Witch House

This sense of monstrous abstract entities from other dimensions of impossibility, the mathematical and diagrammatic anti-representational purity of something barely registered on the screen of a neuroencephalitically shocked specimen of this irreality – named, the human, Gilman. This movement from the mundane into a purely geometrical monstrous realm inhabited by a strange order of being within Riemannian poly-dimensional space opens us to that cosmic terror where abstraction becomes in deep and fact “darkness visible”. (also see Harman WR: p. 199-200)

Sustained by a rhetoric of figural translations that shift us from register to register across the streams of mathematic precision and poetic anti-Platonism this materialist movement that neither objectifies nor reduces to the subjectivation of some inner ‘night of the world’ brings with it that intensive science of pleasure we know as horror.

§ 123 — Fundamental ontology tells us that whatever happens (in time) is not time, and being is no thing. “The nothing nothings nothingishly,” or whatever Heidegger said, or didn’t say, it matters not, until unnonfiction seizes upon it (as it will). There can never be enough negative ontology, because what being is not exceeds it.

Land in another era would remind us of Kant, saying,

Perhaps nothing was clearer to Kant than the radical untenability of the Leibnizian paradigm of metaphysics, still dominant in the (Wolfian) philosophy of the Prussian state. Logicism had been exposed, by the sceptical and empirical thought of a more advanced social system, as a sterile tautological stammering that belonged to the Middle Ages when positivity had been given in advance. It was with extraordinary resolve that Kant jettisoned the deductive systematization that had characterized the philosophies of immobilist societies – philosophies deeply and deliberately rooted in stagnant theism – and replaced it with the metaphysics of excess.15

He will continue, saying,

In the third critique there is a far more aggressive conception of excess, which generates a feeling of delight, because it is essentially extortionate. This excess is not a surplus of certainty stemming from dimensions of objectivity possessed in advance of intuition, and thus by right, but rather a surplus of purchase upon the object. … Kant’s advice to the imperial war-machine in his third critique can be summarized as: ‘treat all resistance as if it were less than you might justifiably fear’. The Critique of Judgment thus projects the global victory of capitalized reason as pure and exuberant ambition. (FN: KL 997-992)

Already we see that equivalence and suggestion that Capital and Intelligence, the force from the far flung futurity of our earth that drives us forward retroactively intervening in the time of our time at work and play in the very real material processes of our socio-cultural systems. The Symbolic Order driven forward by the very processes of that death-drive that emerges within the excessive violence of what is and will remain unnameable.

§ 124 — Much has to be conceded to our hypothetical interlocutor, who asks: “Is it not, then the intrinsic mission of abstract literature to visit infinite ontological devastation upon its readers?” For how could that be avoided? Our task cannot be other than to supplant intolerable nightmares with yet worse ones. Mercifully, this is no easy thing (from a certain regard), even if it is an ineluctable destiny (from others).

Would it not be true that the greatest fiction if our current civilization as enacted in Global Capitalism? Land will admit a tentative definition of this process of horror:

Hyperstition is a positive feedback circuit including culture as a component. It can be defined as the experimental (techno-)science of self-fulfilling prophecies. Superstitions are merely false beliefs, but hyperstitions – by their very existence as ideas – function causally to bring about their own reality. Capitalist economics is extremely sensitive to hyperstition, where confidence acts as an effective tonic, and inversely. The (fictional) idea of Cyberspace contributed to the influx of investment that rapidly converted it into a technosocial reality. (see here)

And, finally, we come to the end of the Abstract Manifesto:

§ 125 — From whence comes this grim pact with the abyss? We can only respond, with confidence – from the abyss. If another answer were plausible, then abstract literature would be expression, when it is only – or at least overwhelmingly – exploration, and to explore, from the other side, is to let something in.

Walter Pater in that dilapidated era of aesthetes and symbolists admonished his followers that “we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into that given time…” (The Renaissance). Freud in that sublime passage from Beyond the Pleasure Principle:

Our views have from the very first been dualistic, and today they are even more definitely dualistic than before – now that we describe the opposition as being, not between ego-instincts and sexual instincts but between life instincts and death instincts. Jung’s libido theory is on the contrary monistic; the fact that he has called his one instinctual force ‘libido’ is bound to cause confusion, but need not affect us otherwise.16

This age-old battle between Sophists and Philosophers much touted between the modern divide between Continental (Philosophers) and Analytical (Sophists) comes down to an preference between two ontologies: math and poetry. Both offering their version of “surplus of purchase upon the object,” that realm of non-being and being entwined in the difference between figural and literal meaning. Those who would reduced the excess to the known and conceptual harbor the annihilation of the world, secretly in alliance with the death-drives. While those who see it as impossible to confine things to the irreducible markers and traces of some descriptive science or metaphysic are aligned with Eros, or the life-drives that follow the metamorphic power of the figural, the open and incomplete. Between them the practitioners of horror play the dialectical game of insight and blindness, neither in or out of the game, but oscillating between being and non-being like troubadours of an impossible dream of thought. One discovers that desire is itself the outer form of the death-drive that has for so long driven us into this accelerating void of the Abyss.

Like Zodh, the Court Jester and native shaman, once said to his mates:

Here’s the thing. What you think is behind, and beneath, isn’t so. That’s an image. You spun it for the sense of protection it brings. It disguises a hole, because if you saw what was missing, you’d never sleep. You don’t know what’s there, at all. You can be shown that you don’t know what’s there. It isn’t hard, to show that. A simple trick is enough to do it. There’s a gap in you – a massive missingness – the back and underside torn away. Lots of other encroachments of unbeing, but that’s the main one. You’re a flimsy mask pasted onto a sucking wound in the world. That’s the starting point. It’s the way to turn, and go, if you want to learn. Look behind you. Into the real backspace you’re pretending isn’t there.


 

  1. Land, Nick (2015-12-16). Chasm (Kindle Location 8). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Libidinal Economy. Trans. Iain Hamilton Grant. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993 [Économie libidinale. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1974]
  3. Thacker, Eugene (2015-04-24). Tentacles Longer Than Night: Horror of Philosophy: Vol 3 (Kindle Locations 76-80). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Milton, John (2010-09-16). Paradise Lost and Regained (Kindle Locations 47-50).  . Kindle Edition.
  5. The Blank-Verse Tradition from Milton to Stevens: Freethinking and the Crisis of Modernity by Henry Weinfield (Natalie Gerber From:  Wallace Stevens Journal Volume 37, Number 2, Fall 2013  pp. 249-251)
  6. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 2460-2464). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  7. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Circus Philosophicus (p. 50). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
  8. Ligotti, Thomas (2009-11-24). Teatro Grottesco (Kindle Locations 4229-4232). Random House UK. Kindle Edition.
  9. Breckman, Warren (2013-05-28). Adventures of the Symbolic: Postmarxism and Democratic Theory (p. 44). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.
  10. After Finitude: An Easy on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 130-132). Kindle Edition.
  11. Alenka Zupancic. The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two (Kindle Locations 1682-1683). Kindle Edition.
  12.   (2010-09-01). The Deleuze Dictionary Revised Edition (pp. 229-230). Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.
  13. Land, Nick. Templexity Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time. (Urbananatomy Electronic, 2014)
  14. Harman, Graham. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. (Zero Books, 2012)
  15. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 2005-2009). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  16. Sigmund Freud. Freud – Complete Works (Kindle Locations 89098-89101). Ivan Smith.

Cengiz Erdem: Ethics of the Anthroposcene?

 …the “ancient wound” that, never healed, “lets . . . the stars / Into the animal-stinking ghost-ridden darkness”…
……– Robinson Jeffers

This morning I got a pleasant surprise. My friend Cengiz Erdem, of Senselogi©, a Cyprian who lives in Kyrenia and teaches social psychology, literature, philosophy and critical theory, who received his doctoral degree in Cultural and Critical Theory from The University of East Anglia in May 2009 with The Life Death Drives, his PhD thesis quoted me and provided a wonderful reflection and opening onto his own philosophical stance: Altering the Supposedly Predestined Future. Cengiz in a previous post outlined his basic philosophical stance this way, saying,

To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of ones own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: how can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

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The Madness of Youth and Philosophy

I was reading Robin Mackay’s little intro to Nick Land’s life and work this morning, thinking not about Land himself so much as listening to Mackay himself and his transition into academia:

When I arrived, in 1992, at Warwick University – a dour, concrete campus set in the UK’s grey and drizzling Midlands – I was a callow and nervous teenager, also filled with the hope that philosophy would afford me access to some kind of ‘outside’ – or at the very least, some intellectual adventure. Almost entirely overcome with disappointment and horror at the reality of academic life within weeks, it was a relief to meet one lecturer who would, at last, say things that really made sense: Think of life as an open wound, which you poke with a stick to amuse yourself. Or: Philosophy is only about one thing: making trouble.

It actually evoked my own memories of another era: 1968 – 1972. I was sixteen. I hated my step-dad. I, like many of my 60’s compatriots left home, hit the streets, stuck out my thumb and wandered the asphalt jungle of America from one end to another. I called it my ‘great adventure’. Like many teenagers of the era I was an idiot, a dream full of hot-headed ideas: dreams of drugs, girls, rock & roll, California, buses painted like Clockwork Orange, a gang of long-haired freaks to name as friends, a world of freedom, a realm of pure contingency, excitement, anger, anti-war demonstrations, acid: orange sunshine, purple-doubledomes, blue microdot, music man, blotters – mary jane: Thai sticks and a dozen flavors of South American fare – crank, horse, peyote, uppers/downers… a sort of smorgasbord world of accident, timing, and utter chaos. We lived in a dream world trying to forget our parents utopian dream of riches and capitalism. Viet Nam hung over our heads like a stain, a piece of shit that no one wanted to drop. The age of the Draft, when numbers seemed like a Wheel of Fortune based on one’s birth: we were all suckers, and we knew it. Life seemed to follow Death rather than the other way round. And we seemed to follow annihilation like a home brewed apocalypse waiting for its chance to emerge somewhere around the nuclear waste-dumps of some New Mexico test laboratory.

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Karl Marx: Letter to his Father

young_karl_marx

Young Karl Marx

I’ve read here and there in the collected works of Marx and Engels across the years (let’s face it, who could read through all 49 volumes straight through?). This morning I reread the first letter to his father in 1937 from Berlin where he describes his first love, poetry:

All  the  poems of  the  first  three  volumes  I  sent  to  Jenny  are  marked  by  attacks  on  our  times,  diffuse  and  inchoate  expressions  of  feeling, nothing  natural,  everything  built  out  of  moonshine,  complete opposition  between  what  is  and  what  ought  to  be,  rhetorical reflections  instead  of  poetic  thoughts,  but  perhaps  also  a  certain warmth  of  feeling  and  striving  for  poetic  fire. (Page 43)1

Yet, as in all things Marx was bound in his studies with Law and Philosophy, telling his father that “poetry … could be and had to be only an accompaniment”; that he had to “study law and above all felt the urge to wrestle with philosophy” (vol 1, 43). Already the battle between the is and ought of German Idealism was beginning to wear thin on this young scholar. He would doubt the approach many of these philosophers took with their “unscientific form of mathematical dogmatism” (vol 1, 43). Even in this early letter we begin to see Marx developing his concept of contradiction at the heart of things, telling his father that the “concrete expression of a living world of ideas, as exemplified by law, the state, nature, and philosophy as a whole, the object itself must be studied in its development; arbitrary division must not be introduced, the rational character of the object itself must develop as something imbued with contradictions in itself and find its unity in itself” (vol 1, 44).

Although still heavily influenced by Idealism we can see him struggling slowly toward his materialist stance. Especially as he studied Roman Law he began to understand and discover a conflict with the formalism in many of the idealists, saying that he “understood by form the necessary architectonics of conceptual formulations, and by matter the necessary quality of these formulations” (vol 1, 47). He’d go on to tell his father that the mistake lay in his belief that “matter and form can and must be developed separately from each other, and so I obtained not a real form, but something like a desk with drawers into which I then poured sand” (vol 1, 47). Of course such musings harken back to the whole tradition of substantial formalism and its materialist critics. It would be here that he’d develop the notion that the “concept” was the mediating link “between form and content” (vol 1, 48).

Because of this problem faced in Law he returned to philosophy seeking to “draft a new system of metaphysical principles,” but even this ended in failure. To find solace he returned to poetry, but realized this too was a doomed affair, saying: “I caught sight of the glittering realm of true poetry like a distant fairy palace, and all my creations crumbled into nothing” (vol 1, 49). Face with insomnia, despair, endless nights wandering among the worlds of Law and Philosophy he finally came to a realization. Nourished as he was by Kant and Fichte he arrived at the “point of seeking the idea in reality itself” (vol 1, 50). Concluding that if “previously the gods had dwelt above the earth, now they became its centre” (vol 1, 50).

At this point he mentions Hegel for the first time, saying,

I had read fragments of Hegel’s philosophy, the grotesque craggy melody of which did not appeal to me. Once more I wanted to dive into the sea, but with the definite intention of establishing that the nature of the mind is just necessary, concrete and firmly based as the nature of the body. My aim was no longer to practice tricks of swordsmanship, but to bring genuine pearls into the light of day. (vol 1, 50)

He would write a dramatic philosophical-dialectical account of divinity, as it “manifests itself as the idea-in-itself (Kant), as religion, as nature, and as history” (vol 1, 50). At the end of it he began reading science, Schelling, and history and began “racking my brains” realizing once again he’d followed “false sirens” (vol 1, 51). It was during this time that he fell ill and “got  to  know  Hegel  from  beginning  to  end,  together  with  most  of  his disciples” (vol 1, 51). He mentions collaboration with the “aesthetic celebrities of the Hegelian school,” who promised help by way of a university lecturer name Bauer (vol 1, 52).  He even speaks of a career in cameralistics, taking a “third law examination” and transferring as a justiciary, which he tells us would be “more to my taste, since I really prefer jurisprudence to all administrative science” (vol 1, 52).

The rest of the letter is personal family business.

I could embellish this from biographical accounts, etc., but one can find out those details on one’s own. What’s of interest is to seek the young Marx struggling with and against the German Idealist world view during these early years of schooling. Beginning to formulate his own materialist leanings, which would culminate in his essay on the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.


 

  1. Karl Marx / Fredrick Engels Collected Works: Volume 1: 1835-1843 Translator for Letters: Clemens Dutt

Thomas Ligotti: The Vignettes of Horror

There really is no way to escape being pulled into the machine of human existence.
……– Thomas Ligotti

Julia Kristeva would once describe abject horror as that strange power in which “the twisted braid of affects and thoughts I call by such a name does not have, properly speaking, a definable object“:

There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful—a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an elsewhere as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.1

In his short story collection Noctuary Thomas Ligotti explores in a series of vignettes certain of his well known themes, in a literary form that one would almost be tempted to call prose poems of abjectness – if it were not their seeming mixture and blend of the mundane and fantastic which brings shock rather than aesthetic distance and repulsion; rather, these vignettes bring one closer to that realm of  jouissance wherein the delights of some infernal paradise, alluring us deeper into its contorted and twisted environs rather than frightening us into some stupor of pure abjectness. These short fragments seem to float out of some infernal region of mind or the Real where we begin to glimpse unfathomable adventures in daemonic delight and jouissance calibrated to twist our being beyond recognition and deliver us to the demons of our own darker nature. In one of his interviews he’ll remind us that Lovecraft’s fiction can be attributed to a certain “adventurous expectancy” that ultimately has its “origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction”.2 Lovecraft himself, expanding on this very notion in his  Notes on Writing Weird Fiction says:

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

This sense of needing to create “nature-defying illusions” out of one’s deepest cosmic fears as an apotropaic charm against the shattered worlds of natural law and cosmic alienage loom deep within both Ligotti and Lovecraft. As Ligotti will tell it in that same interview: “My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception.” For Ligotti our everyday lives are built of illusions that hide or defend us from the truth of that darker lair of corruption so vividly emerging during out nighttime visitations. We’ve built up a screen against the truth of this infernal paradise. For most of us it only appears when things go wrong, when the everyday semblance of reality breaks down, and we seem to see flashes of the irrational realms surrounding us flare up in ordinary objects that seem to take on a life of their own.

In the short vignette The Spectral Estate he’ll describe an ordinary home in delicate tones that shatter us into this infernal paradise:

Every object and surface of the house seems darkly vibrant, a medium for distant agitations which are felt but not always seen or heard: dusty chandeliers send a stirring through the air above, walls ripple within patterns of raised filigree, grimy portraits shudder inside their gilded frames. And even if the light throughout much of the house has grown stale and become a sepia haze, it nevertheless remains a haze in ferment, a fidgeting aura that envelops this museum of tremulous antiquities.3

This “fidgeting aura” seems to explode with hidden powers seeping out of some gap in reality. What’s always fascinating in both writers is that they try desperately to make the invisible visible, to let what seems dark and foreboding within each particular object surface and reveal itself in all its negative energy. I remember Graham Harman deriding the empiricists whose reliance on sense would as he says lead them to “hold that we encounter individual qualities and then link them together through the gullible myth of an underlying thing”. 3 Instead he’d opt for the phenomenological idealism of Husserl and his heirs, saying they “more on the mark in saying that we first confront the calliope as a whole, so that the eerie underlying style of the object imbues all of the isolated songs and notes that emanate from it” (CP, 35).

So when I read those sentences by Ligotti telling us that one “may not believe there is an exchange of influence between the house and the world around it. And still there is a presence that pervades each as though there were no walls to divide them” (ibid., KL 2220), I feel the uncanny suddenly jut up in such descriptions. As Freud in his famous essay on The Uncanny iterates, the “uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”.4 In fact he’d see in this concept a “compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character”: the compulsion to repeat (ibid. KL 87590).

Do we not sense this compulsion as the force or presence that appears hidden, yet influencing things in and between the house and the world? As Ligotti describes it:

From the moment one arrives at such a house there seems to be something moving in the background of its scenes, a hidden company whose nature is unknown. No true peace can establish itself in these rooms, however long they have remained alone with their own emptiness, abandoned to lie dormant and dreamless. Throughout the most innocent mornings and unclouded afternoons there endures a kind of restless pulling at appearances, an awkward or expert fussing with the facade of objects. In the night a tide of shadows invades the house, submerging its rooms in a darkness which allows a greater freedom to these fitful maneuverings. (ibid. KL 2222)

This is a world unknown and antagonistic, a realm of the void where things exist in dormancy, lying fallow in a dreamless world just beyond the senses, yet effecting things nonetheless. “The gap that separates beauty from ugliness,” Zizek writes in The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime , “is the very gap that separates reality from the Real: what constitutes reality is the minimum of idealization the subject needs in order to sustain the horror of the Real.” Ligotti will admit in the interview: “I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis.” How many writers of the decadent movement that influenced much of Ligotti’s work were either Catholics (Huysmans), or atheists who’d been raised Catholic (Baudelaire). I think of  many of those French Intellectuals who would influence our postmodernist world who were also scarred by their childhood horror of Catholicism. Some would later return to some form of the Sacred even in parody and contortion. Ligotti even admits in another essay that he was influenced by the Gnostics, saying, “The tenets of Gnosticism were a perfect fit with my view of the universe. Woody Allen famously said, “If it turns out there is a God […] the worst you can say about him is that he’s an underachiever.” I’d say that’s the best you could say about him. And so did the Gnostics, who regarded the Old Testament creator entity as a false and self-deluded deity. However, they also believed there was a real God, and I couldn’t go there with them.”5

So like Borges who would dabble in a skeptical and playful incorporation of gnostic motifs, Ligotti will follow that subtle master who “described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience” (1). Many of Ligotti’s tales hinge on just that “immanence of a revelation that never occurs”. How many of his anonymous personas wander various unknown cities and streets, seeking secret wisdom and knowledge in theatres, book shops, unusual pubs, unexpected meetings; wandering alone, slightly paranoid, yet fully awakened to the slippery worlds of shadowed ambience that seems to guide them slowly and steadily toward some ultimate revelation, but in the end revealing certain mental or physical horrors that seem to open up more questions than answers. These are stories that haunt us even as we put down his books, that seem to follow us like certain dreams; or, like K and Kafka’s tales or the Castle seem to lead to new strange worlds that forever elude us.

As in this tale of Ligotti’s Spectral Estate when we are left not even with a human, not even the usual anonymous person who usually wanders through his stories:

For in this constricted setting, echoes emerge which only a void of supernatural dimensions could create. Yet at first they may sound like the reverberant groaning of those clouds in which a storm slumbers. And then they may seem to mimic the hissing of the ocean as it swirls about the broken land below. Slowly, however, the echoes distinguish themselves from these natural sounds and attain their own voice—a voice that carries across incredible distances, a voice whose words come to lose their stratum of sense, a voice that is dissolving into sighs and sobs and chattering insanity. Every niche, every pattern, every shadow of the room is eloquent with this voice. And one’s attention may be distracted by this strange soliloquy, this uncanny music. Thus, one may not notice, as afternoon approaches nightfall, that something else is present in the room, something which has been secreted out of sight and waits to rise up in the shape of a revelation, to rise up like a cry in one’s own throat. (N, p. 2236)

In the above the sense of an immanent revelation about to be revealed, that nonetheless never will be pervades the ominous atmospheric movement or dance of the underlying rhetoric and its objects. The compulsion to repeat is the story itself, the story drives Ligotti to repeat under a 1001 variations the gestures of the fantastic, to reveal by not revealing, by conveying and alluring this hidden presence or void out of its lair as if in the next paragraph or sentence the very real material Thing that exists just this side of paradise will open its infernal wings and finally give us the solace of total absolution in pain and cruelty.

But instead “we are like the man who, by some legacy of fate, has come to stay in another old house, one very much like our own. After passing a short time within the cavernous and elaborate solitude of the place, he becomes a spectator to strange sights and sounds.”(N, KL 2251)  And after years and years he begins to go crazy in this solitude. Then one day his faith is restored, a faith in his “mental soundness has been triumphantly restored: it is the house itself which is mad.(N, KL 2263)”

There is a sense in our time that we are coming to know that objects have a life of their own without us, an inhuman or non-human world of things that act, react, and influence, allure, and carrying an existence just beyond the reach of our illusions. Harman in his Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy will remind us that deprived “of the real objects that lurk just beneath perception and all other contexts, we produce our own real objects in the midst of them…”.6 The conservative wisdom would tell us do not go too far, do not try to penetrate the horror that lurks behind the fragile order in which we live, since you will burn your fingers and the price you will pay will be much higher than you think… (Zizek). But the truth is much closer to those who push into the boundaries without return, and like the dreamer is awakened when the Real of the horror encountered in the dream is more horrible than the awakened reality itself, so that the dreamer escapes into reality in order to escape the Real encountered in the dream. (Zizek, 21)

This reversal in which reality becomes our escape route seems to pervade Ligotti’s fiction, which over and over follows this dialectic of the real/unreal from story to story. Ultimately we discover it is the dream that is luring us in, seeking to entrap us in its illusory world of strange and uncanny powers and objects. As Ligotti’s story teller will remark:

…If the spectral drama could be traced to definite origins, and others have been audience to it, this is not to prove that all testimony regarding the house is unmarked by madness. Rather, it suggests a greater derangement, a conspiracy of unreason implicating a plurality of lunatics, a delirium that encompasses past and present, houses and minds, the claustrophobic cellars of the soul and the endless spaces outside it. For we are the specters of a madness that surpasses ourselves and hides in mystery. And though we search for sense throughout endless rooms, all we may find is a voice whispering from a mirror in a house that belongs to no one. (N, KL 2257)

And, one might add, that the voice itself is no one but the empty presence of the Void. Or, as Zizek will state it: “What we get are strangely de-realized or, rather, de-psychologized subjects, as if we were dealing  with robotic puppets that obey a strange, blind mechanism…” (Zizek, 35) Ligotti speaking of puppets and determinism in another interview will tell it his way:

I have impulses to do things, but I don’t know how those impulses formed or why they make me do a particular thing and not some other thing. Whether we’re puppets or real human beings, whatever the latter may be, we go on thinking and acting in certain ways because we’re moved to do by certain forces we’re not aware of. You could argue with this perception, but it’s my perception and the whole thing would come down to I say, you say. To me, determinism just seems common sense, but I couldn’t tell you why it does. (The Hat Rack)

 In another interview he reminds us of another influence, Peter Wessel Zappfe whose essay “The Last Messiah” he first read in the March/April 2004 issue of the British journal Philosophy Now. It was here that Zapffe “beat the stuffing out of the theory on which Arthur Schopenhauer expatiated for thousands of pages — that everything in the universe is activated by a “Will-to-live,” a transcendental force that works the world like a cosmic puppet show.” Ligotti goes on to say:

 Schopenhauer’s Will does have its appeal, because if you accept it, then everything that once seemed mysterious makes perfect sense. If you ever wondered why things are the way they are or why people do the things the things they do, it all goes back to the Will, which is pulling all the strings. Intellectually and emotionally, it’s very satisfying. The problem is that Schopenhauer’s system only works on paper and can’t be detected as being part of existence any more than a creator-God.

Yet, as we’ve seen previously in the recent Negarestani post this notion of Will (hidden God/Force) is subsumed within a long discourse on voluntarism. We can even see in Ligotti’s admission that such a resolution to his dilemmas is aesthetically appealing (i.e., “Intellectually and emotionally, it’s very satisfying.) Yet, even this is handled as untrue for Ligotti, because it cannot be “detected as being part of existence any more than a creator-God”.

Ligotti will remark that Zappfe’s philosophy leads us to the conclusion that the “whole endeavor of being human is reduced to trying not to be human, which is very messed up. This allows Zapffe to go all the way and make the pessimist’s signature pronouncement — that instead of continuing to carry on, we should be getting down to giving up on life”. During this phase of his life he kept waiting for something terrible to happen, and what ultimately happened to him was that he fell into a deep depression:

Aside from its other effects, depression has a philosophical effect to it that other kinds of pain do not, and its implications very much changed my sense of what it was like to be alive in the world. In depression, everything is just what it seems to be: a tree is just a tree and not something that arouses symbolic meanings or affective associations. Life itself becomes very transparent in all its aspects to a depressive. There aren’t any mysteries left, since all mysteries come from within us. We’re mystery-making machines, and we project a sense of mystery onto a world that has no such thing behind or within it. Certain questions remain that may one day be answered or may not be answered. Either way it doesn’t matter to a depressive.

One of those anti-utopian moments that haunts him is this deep need within humans to end suffering and pain. As he says it if we were to invent a cure for human suffering, either by way of some transhuman or posthuman transcendence of the meat machine into an impervious body of steel etc., what would transpire? As he relates it,

Paradoxically, should the efforts of those who want to annihilate suffering succeed, it could be the end of us as a species. We would be returned to paradise. And reproduction would be irrelevant in a paradisal landscape where all dreams have been satisfied and all fears quashed.

A neutered race of angelic beings of steel and liquid quantum energy that feel nothing, and yet incarnate pure Intellect and intelligence. Is this our dream or nightmare? For Ligotti the answer was simple if complex: “the whole point of Conspiracy is that pessimism as a resolute life-stance is not welcome to the minds of very many people, even when it’s laid out as entertainingly as possible, which I’ve tried to do. But pessimistic works have never been well received as a rule. And I’m not naïve enough to think that it could ever be any other way”.7

If as in the quote that begins this essay we realize that human existence is something we were all lured into, a machinic existence both determinate and without end, an eternal round of pure death-drive, an interminable realm of utter madness in which we were duped to participate in the Demiurgic madness of suffering and jouissance: What options of escape or exit do we have; or, do we? The illusive illusions of Religion has always been offered up as one alternative, the madness of pure transcendence: Buddhism of the self-transparent emptiness of Mind and Things; or, the monotheistic realms of Sheol, Paradise, or Hellish delights; else the polytheistic realms of dominion and chaos; or, finally, the gnostic acceptance of fatalism, of Archons who rule the dungeon of Time under the tutelage of a Blind God. Else one chooses atheism and seeks solace among tributary thoughts of men and things, follows the path of Parmenides and his progeny into the realms where “thought is being” (Idealism), or Leucippus/Democritus and their progeny – after Lucretius; and, enter into the wars of Time and Mattering (Science, Materialism). Or, as in our time when things begin to go topsy-turvy and the worlds of ancient thought give way to inexistence and the realms of speculative madness of either anti-realist or realist views onto that which is. Or, finally, one can always ride the infernal joys of Ligotti’s pessimism that posits an aseptic, drab, everyday reality alongside the “fantasmatic Real of a nightmarish jouissance” (Zizek), where the infernal paradise of the Unreal breaks through in sparks of wonder and trepidation:

For we are the specters of a madness that surpasses ourselves and hides in mystery. And though we search for sense throughout endless rooms, all we may find is a voice whispering from a mirror in a house that belongs to no one. (Noctuary)

 


 

  1. Julia Kristeva. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. (Columbia, 1982)
  2. Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares. Weird Fiction Review. Oct 15, 2015 (see here)
  3. Ligotti, Thomas (2012-06-25). Noctuary (Kindle Locations 2211-2215). Subterranean Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Circus Philosophicus (pp. 34-35). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
  5. Sigmund Freud. Freud – Complete Works (Kindle Locations 87181-87182). Ivan Smith.
  6. Interview: Thomas Roueché / Portrait: Jennifer Gariepy. Tank Magazine. (See here)
  7. Graham Harman. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. (Zero Books, 2012)
  8. A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti by Geoffrey H. Goodwin (07 October 2007). (See here)

Reza Negarestani: Prometheanism, Intelligence, Self-Determination

Decided to revisit Reza Negarestani’s two-part essay on e-flux concerning What is Philosophy? here and here. Since his project implies a form of Left Prometheanism which I take to be – along with Ray Brassier’s Promethean and Posthuman Freedom (analysed succinctly by David Roden on Enemy Industry) – can be associated with the earlier Accelerationist Manifesto, Accelerationist Reader, etc.. In this post I will revisit both Negarestani’s and Brassier’s Prometheanism, which implies a critique of all those philosophies that have been based on forms of Will and Voluntarism.

Voluntarism: A Short History and its Critics

Our notions of voluntarism would arise out of the nominalist traditions of the late Middle Ages theology of such thinkers as John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308) and William of Ockham (c. 1288-1349) who inaugurated the modern secular separation of nature from the supernatural and the concomitant divorce of philosophy, physics, and ethics from theology that was reinforced by influential early modern figures such as Francisco Suarez (1548-1616).1

St. Thomas Aquinas was a defender of Intellect as a guide to the Good, over the voluntarist notions of Will and the arbitrary interventions of God into human affairs by way of his absolute power. As Pope Benedict XVI would remark “Duns Scotus developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of liberty and its relation with the will and with the intellect. Our author stresses liberty as a fundamental quality of the will, initiating an approach of a voluntaristic tendency, which developed in contrast with the so-called Augustinian and Thomistic intellectualism. For St. Thomas Aquinas, who follows St. Augustine, liberty cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but the fruit of the collaboration of the will and of the intellect.”

William of Ockham would affirm the supremacy of the divine will over the divine intellect, and in doing so would encounter a problem: if universals are real (i.e. natures and essences exist in things as Aquinas said they did following Aristotle) then voluntarism cannot be true. Ockham’s solution was unique: he simply denied of the reality of universals. Ockham adopts a conceptualist position on universals: while the universal (or concept) exists in the mind beholding a certain particular, it does not exist in the particular itself. Because there are no universals or common natures, there can only be a collection of unrelated individuals (and arguably the rise of modern individualism). With universals removed from the picture, God is free to will as he chooses.

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Thomas Ligotti: The Order of Illusion

It seemed to him that the old mysteries had been made for another universe, and not the one he came to know. Yet there was no doubt that they had once deeply impressed him.
………– Thomas Ligotti, Noctuary

Most of Thomas Ligotti’s characters are forgettable, anonymous and seem to wander through the haze of things like jack rabbits that have just been caught out by the high amp lights of some devilish crew bent on mayhem and annihilation. The Order of Illusion like many of his other tales ambles from contortion to utter degradation in less time than it takes to blink one’s eye. “Intoxicated by their wonder, by raw wonder itself, he might never have turned away from the golden blade held aloft by crimson hands, from the mask with seven eyes, the idol of moons, from the ceremony called the Night of the Night, along with other rites of illumination and all the ageless doctrines which derived from their frenzies.”1

So it goes. Our celebrant celebrates the “night of the world” as Hegel once called it. The gnosis of some dark knowledge so secretive that even the cult members themselves must never speak of it. Instead they in orgiastic jouissance, in excess wring the last dregs of pain beyond pleasure, steeped as they are in the heritage of illusions. Like members of some last pittance of the human corruption they seek not a god beyond things, but rather the truth within the realm of daemonic energy that is matter itself. There is no beyond, only the testament of blood and flesh, the scorched delights of cruelty and pain, the sacred dance of entropy the rides the swirling abyss like a tiger after its prey. No. These are the monks not of some abstention or ascesis, but rather the cenobites of pleasures so difficult that few would dare to enter the path much less realize its dark turn into being’s final event. This is no apocalypse, there is no escape; only the endless night of chaos and temporal distortion and contortion. The twisted fated loops of a derision that has sought for far too long a consummation in an immortal death without end. The (in)existence of that which has no name but is everywhere worshiped under the guise of rebellion and emancipation of evil.

Life as the endless formlessness of death.

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Reza Negarestani: What Is Philosophy?

…a basic roadmap for the artificial realization of thought.
……..– Reza Negarestani

Part Two of  Reza Negarestani What Is Philosophy? –  Programs and Realizabilities is out on e-flux. I’ll not go into detail but only quote the summation in which he offers us a vision of the Good as the “ultimate form of intelligence”. Like Plato before him Negarestani seems to have swung from his early radical thought into a more totalitarian and normative vision of elite AI’s and machinic civilization that unlike us will finally be able to build Utopia. What struck me quickly is this statement and affirmation: “It is by rendering intelligible what it is and where it has come from that intelligence can repurpose and reshape itself. A form of intelligence that wills the good must emancipate itself from whatever or whoever has given rise to it.” The notion of our progeny, our machinic children and AI’s emancipating themselves “from whatever or whoever has given rise to it” bodes no Good for the progenitors (read: humans), who will become bit players in this artificial paradise of intelligences. As he suggests “the good is in the recognition of its own history and sources, but only as a means for determinately bringing about its possible realizabilities that may in every aspect differ from it”. For machines, Utopia; for humans, a dystopian vision of transition, replacement, and enslavement.

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Franco Berardi: The Coming Civil War of the Planet

 

Mental illness is not the rare malady of an isolated dropout, but the widespread consequence of panic, depression, precariousness, and humiliation: these are the sources of the contemporary global fragmentary war, and they are spreading everywhere, rooted in the legacy of colonialism and in the frenzy of daily competition.
…….– Franco Berardi on the coming Global Civil War

For Berardi in his latest essay on e-flux – The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out?  is a planetary wide civil war founded on a “necro-economy”, one in which the “all-encompassing law of competition has canceled out moral prescriptions and legal regulations”.

War has become big business for the great Crime Cartels across the planet: “Like neoliberal corporations investing money in the ultimate business, the Iraqi-Syrian caliphate and the Mexican narco army pay salaries to their soldiers, who are necro-proletarians.”

They even utilize capitalist media to promote and recruit: “In a video released by Dubiq, the advertising agency of the Islamic State, the rhetoric is the same as any other type of advertising: buy this product and you’ll be happy.”

Berardi blames the interventionist policies of the U.S. and NATO for much of the current state of civil war in East European nations over the past twenty years: “1990, the United States cut off all forms of credit to Yugoslavia… March of 1991, fascist organizations in Croatia called for the overthrow of the Socialist government … Ethnic-religious wars caused around 170,000 casualties, as ethnic cleansing was practiced in every area of the federation… Twenty years after the Nazi-neoliberal wars of Yugoslavia, in all those small nation-states (except perhaps Slovenia) unemployment is rampant, people are impoverished, schools are privatized, and public infrastructure is in disrepair.”

Berardi will ask if the current refugee crisis across Europe will be a harbinger of terror or holocaust? – “From the Balkans to Greece, from Libya to Morocco, are the ten million people amassing at these borders going to be the perpetrators of the next terrorist wave? Or will they be the victims of the next Holocaust?”

With nothing but “perpetual economic stagnation, emerging markets are crumbling, the European Union is paralyzed”: “The only imaginable way out of this hell is to end financial capitalism, but this does not seem to be at hand.”

Yet, Berardi, a believer that the neo-intellectuals of the hyperlanes can move the ball forward tells us that in this “obscurantist time” all we can do is “create solidarity among the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide, and to build a techno-poetic platform for the collaboration of cognitive workers for the liberation of knowledge from both religious and economic dogma.”

The cognitariat is part of the problem, not its fix. Look at the state of the Left. All the books published, journals written, academics spreading their usual claptrap, students occupying little and less among the meaningless margins. Berardi seems to live pre 1968 as if the old 60’s Culture could be reignited in a new world of electronic hippiedom, flower children and communist propaganda alive and well in the broadcast lanes of our network marginal drift. Knowledge liberated or not is not going to change a thing. One could speak of change of consciousness all day, all night, but it is the same old tale that has yet to change anything. If raising consciousness could really effect change then one could stop writing tomorrow, for the best and greatest literature for that has already been written. Art, music, protest? All these old forms are defunct, passé, and have become parody or parodies in our age. In an age of Reality TV people support the fantasy of fantasies their parents only dreamed of. People no longer want Truth or truths, instead we live in the age of loss and forgetting. People want to forget the problems of the world, hide away in their virtual worlds of hyperplay, raves, travels…

Berardi speaks truth when he says “the future of Europe is held captive by the opposition between financial violence and national violence”. Ethnic, religious, political violence is and will remain an emerging aspect of the next centuries civil war for the planet’s resources. The empires battle for land, resources, and power while their people are kept in ignorance or ideological hell with mediatainment systems that promise freedom and give nothing but the complete degradation of fatalism.

As Berardi says in his closing statement: “Globalization has brought about the obliteration of modern universalism: capital flows freely everywhere and the labor market is globally unified, but this has not led to the free circulation of women and men, nor to the affirmation of universal reason in the world.” While the general intellect is absorbed into the “corporate kingdom of abstraction is depriving the living community of intelligence, understanding, and emotion”.

Ultimately Berardi sees no light at the end of the tunnel, only more “mental suffering, and on the other side, the much-advertised cure for depression: fanaticism, fascism, and war. And at the end, suicide.” In an age when the fragmented mass suicide act is itself just one more Reality TV spectacle for the 15 min fame lists what is to be done? No one is secure, safe, protected from the others in their midst. One’s own family might be the most violent terror one confronts in one’s daily life. The truth is two hundred years of predatory capitalism has brought us the state of art nihilism around the globe. Now we pay the maker… the cannibals, zombies, spectral apparitions of former worlds are returning and they are pissed.

Read essay on e-flux The Coming Global Civil War: Is There Any Way Out? © 2016 e-flux and the author

Object Lessons

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Just discovered a new series of books and essays (Atlantic) which is sponsored by many of those in the current OOO (Object-Oriented Ontology) world.

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As they state on the site:

Each Object Lessons project will start from a specific inspiration: an anthropological query, ecological matter, archeological discovery, historical event, literary passage, personal narrative, philosophical speculation, technological innovation—and from there develop original insights around and novel lessons about the object in question.

Object Lessons invites contributions from scholars, writers, scientists, artists, journalists, and others. Potential topics include: rubber band, plastic bag, tornado, turpentine, wind, wall, Glock, drone, Lamborghini, flak jacket, steamboat, shoehorn, laughter, hatred, air, Google Glass, catnip, platinum, money, rebar, polyester, microchip, marriage, time machine, celebrity, Blowpop, cornbread, combine, honey, Velcro, copper wire, cruise ship, cilium, hot wing—the possibilities are quite literally endless.

SERIES EDITORS

Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology
Christopher Schaberg, Loyola University New Orleans

Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic
Haaris Naqvi, Bloomsbury Publishing

 

Today’s Notes

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches…

– William Butler Yeats, from The Second Coming

Have to admit being a little quiet in my writing of late. Today was shifting back and forth between Badiou’s Being and Event and Zizek’s early The Ticklish Subject. It’s like wandering out of a Mercedes showroom where everything is on display in perfect form, each automobile set alight to show forth the rich and intricate craftsmanship; and, then, walking next door to a local chop shop, where one sees a smorgasbord of antiques, contemporary sports cars, family cars: each stripped down for parts, the parts scattered across the garage, men hammering, cutting, tapping, screwing, molding, shaping, building some classic out of the daily quota.

Badiou and Zizek are like day and night; yet, put the two together and you get the state of the art in philosophy today. Oh sure, some prefer the aesthetics of Objects; others the speculative dreams of contingency; still others the analytical clarity of the bare (almost) Aristotelian stodginess of the linguistic purveyors; and, even those who still follow the contextual contours of the anti-realist gang; or, the naturalists, who want philosophy to enter the era of some great new Promethean “space of reasons”, build new worlds of give and take, normative junkets that bind the world into a new domain of epistemic resilience; or, those who seek in the virulent abyss the horrors of the Real, the imagination turned gothic and sure of its own annihilation. Yes, today, is a banquet of vitalist, idealist, materialist, and nihilist discourses each vying to absorb the others in some strange immanent transcendence without the big Other (Lacan), the non-All (Badiou), the Big Nobadaddy (Blake), or Master Signifier to shut it all down. Heiddegger turned to the poets, Badiou turned to the mathematicians, Zizek to Lacan, Deleuze to Bergson, Land to Nietzsche-Bataille. Yet, no one today has of yet moved the ball forward, stepped out of the shadows and imposed by fiat of imaginative need a new framework to grapple with the extremes of naturalism and sciences on one hand, and the realms of Mind and philosophical, aesthetic, political, etc., speculation on the other. I read a great deal of busy work. Writers that seem to repeat these greater ones in small sound bytes. Painters, novelists, short story fabulists, poets, etc. plunge ahead, roaming into the hinterlands of this great beastly world of thought and madness. Yet, nothing sticks; or, sticks out. Nothing – as Zizek would say it: fills the gap, crack, or cut in the fabric of our imaginal worlds In-between. And, even the notion of trying to suture, or close down this gap is itself the problem, not the solution.

Badiou and Zizek are transitional figures at best, both are the best of a transformation of the materialist heritage; yet, they will have to await others to finish the transformation. Some say we are entering a post-intentional age, an age when our beliefs in mental events, our long poetic heritage, our religious notions, will vanish and the worlds of the new genetic, robotic, neuro, AI, nano, etc., etc. will turn the Mind inside out and reveal the impersonal and inhuman core of our machinic brain. Some say we will always be unknowing of certain notions that determine our lives and fates, that this accidental self-reflecting mirror or lamp of consciousness is but a puppet in a field of forces it little knows and understands less. Yet, others say it is this very ignorance that has spawned within us the very poverty of imagination that spurs us to invent and know, to strive to master these very forces that seek to control us both within and without. The future of schooling will be to those who can distill out of the vast accumulation of knowledge that seems to lie in the dustbins of already out-of-date books, and data-bins of large storage facilities. No one human has the power to master the past anymore; our age is a time of forgetting and insurgent thought. One almost begins to admit that the future belongs to the machines, to the artificial intelligences who in the next few generations will surpass the combined intelligence of all living humans. In that moment we will become quaint artifacts of a species whose time was the epic age that gave birth to new machinic species of immortals.

We will live on only in the memory systems of our progeny who will inherit all that was great about humanity, as well as – hopefully, learn the errors of our destructive ways before it is too late. More and more I’m convinced that humanity truly has no permanent future; that this, too, is alright. Thinking of all the species that have gone extinct (i.e., 99% of all species since earth arose are now extinct), why should we think of ourselves as something special? An exception to the rule of time? We, too, have seen our best days, and are even now giving birth to beings that will surpass us. Is this not what the ancient prophets and poets dreamed of so long ago? Are we not just now in actuality gaining a foothold on that precipice of time wherein we are about to pass the baton to a new species, a type of being that will carry forward what we’ve failed too? Is this not what we long ago perceived in our endeavors to understand the ‘thisness‘ of things? Haven’t we lived in our fantasy worlds for far too long? Time to accept the truth below the surface texture of our illusions? There is no exit, no transcendence, no getting Outside: there is only this-that-is… the inhuman core of our own lives.

Humanity is the Blind Prince of Time, haunted by spectral parts floating on the edge of our apotropaic defense fantasies. Caught between daemonic and gothic imagination, and the purity of enlightened Reason we seem to float upon a dream world of social and cultural malaise acknowledging the terrors surrounding us, but building our daily utopias to keep such fears at bay. We’re blind to our own inability to know just how blind we are: the knowledge we have leads us not out of the labyrinth, but deeper into the quagmire of its superfluous darkness. The brain tempts us with massively filtered fantasias to give us the illusion of freedom, when the truth is we are and have always been puppets on a cosmic string run not by some mad god, but rather by impersonal and machinic processes that do not even know we exist. We are the beast we fear so much. The evil we project on others is the very truth of our own corrupt mechanics. The sciences give hint of this realm of impersonal apocalypse. Our philosophies dream of mastering the contingency of such impossible realms of chaos and night. We who survive the daily antagonisms of life itself try best we can not to know, but rather turn away from such dark enchantments into the forgetfulness of our trivial lives. Who can say which path is best?

Yet, creatures of words and flesh that we are we will keep on explaining to ourselves what is open and unexplainable till the dim tide of that final hour allotted our kind collapses upon itself. Watching the galaxies colliding that NASA discovered of late reminded me of how our own Milky Way galaxy will one day fall prey to Andromeda. Of course by that time even the memory of humanity will probably be lost in the dust of ancient stars.

A Short Note on Zizek

Been rereading The Ticklish Subject by Slavoj Zizek of late and realize I like the early works better than the later. Later Zizek is bloated, untidy, full of long repetitions, along with copy and paste jokes and assays from his earlier works. He’s sloppy and needs an editor. His arguments with himself have become habit rather than a staging for some new concept. Why do philosophers think they need to repeat what they’ve done better in earlier works? Why repeat yourself over and over and over again?

One of the great differences between Zizek and his friend Badiou is this sense of total command on the part of the Frenchman, a fastidiousness; even a certain fussiness over each sentence: structure, word, meaning. Badiou’s works never overstep or overreach, every word has its place in the systematic format of his books. It’s as if he’d read and reread certain passages, honing them down to perfection; to the point that one could not replace, excise, or change the wording without losing the conceptual thought altogether. With Zizek it’s just the opposite, one is given page after page of repetitious monologue, as if the philosopher we’re happily engaged in argument with himself at the total expense of any future reader.  As if it would be too much bother to go back and revise, edit, or change anything…. anything at all.

Does he ever allow someone to read his works early on? Are his editors disciples afraid to say the truth: ah, Zizek maybe you could tidy up this or that passage; your locutions seem to go on and on without really giving us clarity, but rather confusion. To read later Zizek is to know in advanced that one is condemned to reread certain passages over and over because his affectation for dialectical materialism is in the scale of rhetoric lacking that polish and precision one expects from such a touted pop icon. No if one wants a philosopher’s philosopher, one reads Deleuze and Badiou, not Zizek. Zizek is a street philosopher, a speaker who can reach the mass mind but rarely reaches the pitch one expects from such a giant intellect.

But one says just the opposite of his early works. Here the mind of the philosopher is sharp, witty, controlled; he speaks what he measures, nothing more, nothing less; he offers apt examples, and displays an acumen and reserve that one expects and demands of such writing. His style is still verbose, but it seems compact and to the point, rather than obtuse and sprawling like his Less Than Nothing is. The several works of The Essential Zizek Series I would recommend without reserve. Here one listens in on a mind inquisitive, challenging, probing; tracing a concept into its dialectical interplays among various philosophers without getting bogged down in details. Maybe he had better editors in the early days? Either way these works and essays – and, above all, Zizek is an essayist of the first order – have that refined eloquence of the obvious, yet reach into an abyss that few have traveled to develop and explicate concepts that instruct and delight those who know.