Secular Ecstasy: Kant and the Capitalist Violence of Reason

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.
……– Friedrich Nietzsche

There is in divine things a transparency so great that one slips into illuminated depths of laughter…
……– Georges Bataille

Bataille in Inner Experience brings us to the edge of the impossible: “to face the impossible – exorbitant, indubitable – when nothing is possible any longer is in my eyes to have an experience of the divine; it is analogous to a torment.1 At the heart of Bataille’s secular mysticism is the notion of sacrificial negativity, whether in the form of mysticism, eroticism, art, poetry, gambling, or any other – “deficit operations,” that he discovers the key to “sovereign” existence; an “existence free of all limitations of interest”. Following Durkheim he would divide the world into Sacred / Profane, and against the profane world of work and utilitarian, goal oriented, purposeful behavior, thought, and instrumental reason, and its concern for the discontinuous individual self he would transgress through a counter-operation of sheer sacrifice, excess, and utter destruction of the festival of capitalist accumulation and experience. For Bataille sacrifice broke the barriers, shunted the taboos and constraints and regulations of the Bourgeoisie that atomized and constricted the individual to a hermetic ego whose only concern was self-protection defined by pecuniary interest, individual concern, and fear of death.2

Nick Land in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007  will quote E.M. Cioran’s essay ‘Thinking Against Oneself’ in which he says: ”

There is no work that does not return against its author: the poem crushes the poet, the system the philosopher, the event the man of action. Some form of self-destruction, responding to his vocation and accomplishing it, is at work in the core of history; only he saves himself who sacrifices gifts and talents in order that, disengaged from his quality as a man, he is able to strut into being.

Could we apply this to civilizations? This sense that at the core of capitalist civilization there is a process of self-destructive annihilation, and in the end be the only possible salvation left for Western Civilization is to sacrifice its gifts and talents, disengage from its humanist heritage, its religious and secular commitments, and the very foundations of history itself, and thereby allow the future to emerge from its deathly ashes like the Phoenix flaming toward the undying Sun?

As Nick Land surmises on the medieval mindset, in a age when the Church erected cathedrals in a disfigured celebration of the death of God, the nobility built fortresses to glorify and to accentuate the economy of war. Their fortresses were tumours of aggressive autonomy; hard membranes correlative with an acute disequilibrium of force. Within the fortress, social excess is concentrated to its maximum tension, before being siphoned off into the furious wastage of the battlefield.(FN, KL 3452) In the end this aggressive force would turn not outward toward the Other, the Enemy, but rather inward toward its own people, targeting the very heart of the human project itself, the children. Speaking of the monstrous world of Gilles de Rais’ and his compatriots:

The children of the surrounding areas disappeared into these fortresses, in the same way that the surplus production of the local peasantry had always done, except now the focus of consumption had ceased to be the exterior social spectacle of colliding armies, involuting instead into a sequence of secret killings. Rather than a staging post for excess, the heart of the fortress became its terminus; the site of a hidden and unholy participation in the nihilating voracity which Bataille calls ‘the solar anus’, or the black sun. (FN, KL 3456)

Are we even now staging the Age of Blood, the Black Sun? A time when the children of men, the young women and men, boys and girls will be sacrificed to the gods of Capital? When the elite aristoi (aristocratic .01%) fold in the world’s youth in a pyre of civil-war to depopulate the earth and make room for the future of these top-tiered Goths and their secular pyramid of sacrificial excess? Is civilization in process of immolation and apocalypse? Or, is this just the transitional nightmare of abstract reason emerging from the chrysalis of flesh into machinic dreams, a transcendent sacrifice of animality at the hands of a more sublime mathematical and dynamic Gothicism? Was Kant the father of Gothic Sublime and Capital Reason?

Immanuel Kant: The Sublime and Gothic Violence of Reason

Kant, Land remarks, was the first to recognize the modern sublime in its two variations of ‘mathematical’ and ‘dynamic’: the mathematical sublime is the pleasure taken by reason in the collapse of the imagination induced by the intuition of magnitude, and the dynamic sublime is the equivalent pleasure corresponding to the intuition of power. In other words, the mathematical sublime is associated with the insignificance of the human animal, and the dynamic sublime with its vulnerability. (FN, KL 1890-1892). This sense of being at risk and insignificant against the backdrop of the cosmos and natural process forces us back on our solitude, our finitude. As Land continues,

Sublimity has three elements; on the one hand the two elements of the subject: its sensibility or animality and its reason or pure intelligence, and on the other an object that overwhelms the imagination, and which is driven between the two parts of the subject like a wedge. (FN, 1893-1895). Between affect and intellect a wedge or gap is driven within which the nullity of the Subject emerges as from chaos and the void.

At the heart of the Kantian enterprise was the ultimate escape plan, an exit plan from sensibility (i.e., affect and animality) into pure instrumental reason and intelligence. As Land comments that Kant was the first grand horror story author, a Gothicism of violence “in which the enlightenment reached its crescendo; philosophers feast in the palaces of reason, and luxuriate in the screams that reach them from the dungeons of sublimity” (FN, KL 1922). Yet, for all that Kant had something else, as Land tells it, “he has actually taught us something quite different, if our stomachs are strong enough for it” (FN, 1927).

Kant would teach us new path, a path of violence and demolition, of annihilation of imagination as natural intelligence or animal cunning. (FN, KL 1929) At the heart of the Kantian project is the negation and contempt for the body and base matter, a repugnance, disgust, and ultimate horror of sensibility and animality that would drive modernity forward and institute within the capitalist project a death-drive for mastery and accumulation without sacrifice that is in our own time culminating in the Human Security Regime: transhumanism, posthumanism, etc., all those systems of transcending the human order into the machinic and inorganic sublime had their beginnings in Kant’s veritable crucifixion of natural intelligence in which the human animal comes to prostrate itself before universal law. (FN, KL 1930) Kant would destroy man’s natural reason or cunning animality and replace it with an artificial construct, an unnatural and sublime instrumental reason, instead. As Land wryly says,

The Kantian moral good is the total monopoly of power in the hands of reason, and reason finds its principal definition as the supersensible element of the subject, and thus as fundamentally negative. In other words, morality is precisely the powerlessness of animality.  (FN, KL 1934)

Kant’s moralism aligns itself with the inhuman power of instrumental reason against the body and animality of humanity, and as Land with glee relates “Kant’s anti-utilitarianism is a mark of his integrity as a moralist in the Western tradition” (KL 1944). “For reason has programmatically deafened itself to the howls of the body, and it is only by means of the aesthetic detour of the sublime that the devastating effects of its sovereignty can come to be enjoyed.” (FN, 1949) Ultimately Kant discovers what Freud and others would only catalogue later on that the “pathological lunge towards death rediscovers itself in the process of its own rigorous extirpation; sublimated into the thanatropic frenzy of reason” (FN, 1953). Norman O. Brown, Ernst Becker, and Herbert Marcuse would term this the Quest for Immortality: the great escape or exit from the physical limits of organicsm against the animality of our fleshly existence. A secular mythology brewing under the hood of the Sublime repression of the death-drive as the immortal complex. This is the heart of transhuman, posthuman, and inhuman forms of escape…


  1. Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience (SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory) Stuart Kendall, trans. State University of New York Press (September 1, 2014).
  2. Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP))  Kindle Edition. Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent Brintnall (Editor). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2015).
  3. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1734-1736). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.




2 thoughts on “Secular Ecstasy: Kant and the Capitalist Violence of Reason

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s