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,
– 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.