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.

Me? I was just lost. Mom had rid herself of one cheating husband (my dad: a sort of self-made disaster), and found another – a man who looked the part of the congeal southern gentleman, but was in fact an alcoholic whose only ambition in life was the next job and slick fix scheme. And he was full of them all. The man was a liar from the get-go – a sort of Joe Friday staid in the wool, well-dressed shyster and con-man who floated through life looking for the easy way, and usually finding nothing but the hard way to go. Oh, sure, I exaggerated, he wasn’t all bad, in fact, honestly, he tried, but it just wasn’t to be. No. He’d become adept at mechanical engineering and mathematics as a young man, knew how to draw and construct intricate commercial toys for the rich and powerful. He made money alright, when he actually worked for a living. He was intelligent. He just discovered he was better at being lazy, “fuck the Protestant Ethic, it can go to hell, I’m not a slave to work – so they can kiss my ass good bye” – he would often say after leaving a perfectly good job for no real reason other than he wanted to sit back, watch TV, clean his .357 Smith and Wesson, complain, holler at my mom, holler at me – slug me once in a while – and, generally just sit on his ass till the money ran out again. Then he’d start the process all over again. Get a good job, make more money, accumulate and save till he had the perfect number, then quit again and beleaguer my Mom, Sister, and I once more with his endless boring stories. Yep, he told stories. An endless stream of wild and strange adventures he’d had growing up in an Irish clan on the Mississippi delta regions around Biloxi; or moving to Chicago, working for DuPont-Alcoa, becoming a gopher for some Mob Boss as a carrier and gunman – oh, yea, forgot to mention that one!; and, then he’d reroute and mix in his own sordid history and Tall Tales, and confuse them all with the mythical times of a Lost America. He was like that.  But I’m bored of talking about him…

Where was I? Oh, yea, my own bewildering life… Well like a lot of isolated boys growing up in the utopian West I lived in a Hardy Boys fantasy world. Growing up in West Texas during the 50’s of the Oil Boom among rousta-bouts, schooners, mud-men, crackers, etc., uncles and cousins who worked the desert wastes where that strange substance, black and slimy, oil hid its mystery. Men and boys who spent off-time wandering dirt roads chasing jack-rabbits, or quail and doves, white-tail or mule deer, etc. in old beat up chevy trucks at night. Or spent their Sundays in the garage under an classic, or on the dirt tracks just beyond the city limits racing or in demolishen derbies blowing steam. Chasing women on the other side of the tracks (yea, it was a racist world back then) where there truly was a ‘red light’ district and illegal road-houses with bourbon and whiskey to silence the grumbling voices in one’s head. If there was an infernal paradise it was growing up in Odessa, Texas during the 1950’s.

But of course that was the nightside of life, there was the other side of Church and Patriotism. Where one’s Mom and Grandmother dressed you up for Sunday School, paraded you down the church isle, or led you to some class where you’d be educated in the mysteries of Jesus. This other world seemed almost unreal to me growing up, with all its hush hush, its dream-like unreality, where people you saw cussing and sawing on Friday night all seemed subdued and childlike, almost bored to death – as if the womenfolk had cursed them and put some spell on their minds making them sing or whimper to the hymnals and repeat the gestures of “Amen, brother!” or “You tell ’em Preacher!”. Yep, this other world was fake, but everyone seemed to agree to play its game because if you didn’t you were going straight to hell in a handbasket. And, no one wanted to go to hell. The Preacher most of all.

So why did I bring all this up? Well it was that last sentence by Mackay: “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.”

Growing up of course I had little knowledge of such things. Hell, I was a loser, a jock, an athlete who could care less about school and learning, and was more interested in kissing Betsy xxx down under the bleachers, than in figuring some philosophical or mathematical theorem. I was more interested in auto mechanics and how to fix a broken piston, change the rings, or a dozen other things that would keep my old beater running. Books, those were for sissies and eggheads. Poetry – one word, yuck! Yea, I was an ignoramus and uncouth minion of southern hospitality and stupidity. But hey, as you know, something happened along the way to change that. What? Maybe that’s the point: I didn’t like Robin Mackay have to “think of life as an open wound” – I lived it. Viet Nam, a stint in the Navy, friends, cousins, and uncles dead along the way… a world gone topsy-turvy, assassination, Nixon impeached, war-protest, growing up, leaving the zoo of childhood and the innocence of one fantasy for another one… waking up one day out of a drunk stupor and thinking to myself: “There’s got to be more to it than this…”. That was it, and unlike Mackay, it was not amusing, not amusing at all. And, philosophy? Hell I was already making trouble a long time before I’d even heard the name, philosophy, Socrates, Plato, Land, or a number of other historical characters in this long parade of words we discover in the Library of Books. Education. Turned back to religion, then obscurity, and having failed both New Age wonder, witchcraft, magic, and Jesus I took the nosedive into atheism, curved below the belt of the old Bible haunts of my former childhood… discovering in poets, philosophers, and the strangeness of literature another way, another path…

More than anything it was the Draft, and how it hung over our heads like a guillotine that opened a wound in me, a lack that left me in a wasteland of doubt and suspicion. Mainly it was the death of people I knew who’d already gone to Viet Nam. It was watching the nightly news with Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley and seeing the war in live-time – oh yea, they showed footage of bombings, slaughter, and all that fun stuff (Not!) every night back then. Of course people no longer see such things, or hear about the endless lists of body counts, or listen to reports and see wounded soldiers in the battle field looking grimy and terror stricken – No. Now we get this polished piece of footage, or the reports hyped up from Left or Right to embellish their ideological sport games for cinematic effect and political subterfuge – but, back then when TV was still young, and I was a teen, watching real time footage of battles in the field was scary business indeed, and knowing that people like my uncles and cousins had died there in some foreign country that was being flashed across the screen was like dying all over again. It haunted me. If anything by the time I was sixteen it made me wish I were dead. I’d come to – what would Sartre say: “An existential crisis…” yes, one of those. (Of course I give it to you like I was then, knowing nothing about books or philosophers.)

So looking back over that time of youth… thinking about how I one day woke up, and with no plan or real knowledge of what the hell I was doing, packed a small bag of clothes, put some food and water in the pack, and wandered around the house afraid to do or say anything, yet wanting to kiss my Mom goodbye… yet, not doing it, hugging my little sister instead (her thinking I was crazy!), I left and like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road began my own trek across America in search, not so much of my self, as seeking answers to this open wound at the center of my being.

I’m still looking and seeking. Yet, along the way I’ve at least discovered one thing: I’m not alone, the open wound is all around us and it cannot be filled in with any ideological or fantasia of heart or mind. As Zizek says it one will have to ‘traverse the fantasy’ … and, use the weapon that opened the wound to heal it. There can be no closure, reality isn’t like that, it’s full of antagonisms, fissures, cracks, and dark holes where one can wander and get lost for years – some never return from the labyrinth – trying to discover rime or reason to the puzzle of existence, realizing that in the end the wound and spear are part of the same infinite contradiction; that reality is not whole, but full of deadly drives, death-drives that drive us mercilessly forward to our doom – there being no salvation: existence is that loop from which there is no exit, only the deep return of dust into its uncanny but familiar homely territories. That only by keeping that wound open, letting the darkness around us seep in and replace one’s life blood or perspective will one begin that long trek back towards home and health. We are the mystery and the puzzle, the event and act; and, only in the moment we begin to totter toward the Real do we realize that the wound is our only and ever destiny, our amor fati. Our abyss.  Until we and the abyss become indifferent to death and life, then and only then One can do no better than sit on the steps of being like some forlorn tramp – a Charlie Chaplin puppet in tune with the sorrows of Time, one’s dog at one’s side, knowing that it’s enough to just exist, to be in the strangeness of this instant, alive and full of wonder.

We live on the cusp of things, an age when the human Anthroposcene is giving way to the inhuman. Nature no longer exists. We’re all artificial now. The engine of inhumanism is eating reality alive so that nothing human will as Land once said “get out alive”. We’re seeing the human vanish before our eyes, the last remnants of the humanist traditions are imploding, the worlds of metaphysical bric-a-brac are giving way to the triumph of sciences which are far stranger than philosophy which is actually quite conservative and conserving. I know I talk of Zizek, Badiou, Land, et. al… but in truth I’m a post-nihilist who has already crossed the post-human divide, the zone of no return where whatever we’re doing is part of some hyperstitional collective madness of constructing the future out of the ruins of a failed and failing world of humans into the inhuman worlds which seem to be imploding toward us out of the future.

As in Marx: ” The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. (Fragments on Machines, 1858)” What we’re living through is the notion that the ‘alien power’ or death-drive driving us forward into this inhuman framework is itself ‘the power of the machine itself’. Machinic civilization is replacing human civilization, a world based on what Land termed the ‘angular momentum’ of Capital:

Once the commodity system is established there is no longer a need for an autonomous cultural impetus into the order of the abstract object. Capital attains its own ‘angular momentum’, perpetuating a run-away whirlwind of dissolution, whose hub is the virtual zero of impersonal metropolitan accumulation. At the peak of its productive prowess the human animal is hurled into a new nakedness, as everything stable is progressively liquidated in the storm. (see Nick Land and Accelerationism: Base Materialism, War, and Death)

We have just created a system of brakes and absorptions to defend ourselves from that truth. But as usual the truth(s) will win out in the end. So the philosopher in our time must like Pound’s poet become the antennae not of history, but of the future: a future that is looking more and more like a realm without humans. Many will fight this, some will fall back into voluntarist notions of salvation and secret interventions of the ‘absolute’ (i.e., God, Divine, etc.), but in deed and fact our species has made a complete botch of things. And, yet, through us something else is coming…

Land will say we are in transition, moving into a moment of unbinding from the metaphysical, cultural, political, and economic constraints that have held the future at bay for some time now: “The process of unbinding that is misleadingly named production takes place within a general field of expenditure, of which it is a specification.” As he once stated “Matter as difference is never stable, and can never remain trapped within the closure of philosophy. The paradoxical result is that we cannot produce a base materialism, we cannot be base materialists, or exist in or as base matter, and the more we specify base materialism the more we cancel it out.” Instead we are the movement, the velocity, the acceleration unbound in the instability of transition and flux giving rise to the emergent future.

One might say that thought itself is accelerating and untethered (unbound), driven by dark energy from the Outside in, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again. The future is possible again.

As Robin Mackay reminds us Land’s move is simple: We’re on a planet piloted from the future by something that comes from outside personal or collective human intention, and which we can no longer pretend has anything to do with reason or progress. Another notion of Land’s is the notion if “we could clearly envision the calamity that awaited us, it would be an object of terror. Instead, it is a shapeless threat, ‘Outside’ only in the abstract sense (encompassing the negative immensity of everything that we cannot grasp).” Call it the death-drive (Freud), hyperchaos (Meillassoux), the Real (Zizek/Lacan), the force from the other end of time – Time itself as the Enemy Thing, or whatever trope you find or invent as most fitting: it is that which cannot be named, but is masked by our terms and tropes like a poetry of madness revealing a truth against the Human-Security System.

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