Apocalyptic Culture: Nick Land – Hyperstition at the Edge of Oblivion

 

In a post-truth world fiction, not truth has become the new force working its magic to invade our lives with strange relations. In such a world the power to erase history is vital,  dismantling the very notion of the human – a cornerstone of both individual and political liberalism – we are seeing a world where the de-centering of the human as the pinnacle of creation, as master of the universe is erased and a new image of our place in the cosmos being invented and constructed out of  Sigils and Diagrams by the new Social Engineers of our global civilization.

“K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but dismantling the past … and escaping the technical neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive narratives,” says Nick Land.1 (The “K” in tactics refers to the Greek root for “cyber” – in the Greek “kuber’) In this sense K-tactics is the positive feedback of meltdown praxis or hyperstition, the central motif of accelerationist conceptuality: “exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces…”. (Carstens)

In my previous essay Time’s Carnival I quoted Mark Fisher as saying: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”2 The sense that the future is over, that we’ve seen the best humanity has to offer, that technological and social progress has been stifled by the end game of capitalist civilization and its command and control over planetary culture and economics. With all the signs of impending doom being fed to us from notions of ongoing economic collapse, climate change, social unrest, political mayhem, etc., we are being aligned to a world of fear and terror that is total and absolute. This apocalyptic culture seems to pervade our lives contaminating our minds and hearts with its insipid message of fatalism. A culture of conspiracy and duplicity, disinformation and hyperrealism invades our lives to the point that the old regimes of truth both religious and secular have failed us.  We no longer have access to an objective source of truth and value to judge what is false from real, the last stage of Nietzsche’s forecast for modernity is at hand: the total collapse of humanity into the Last Man – a completed nihilism that ends in either a renewal or an apocalypse.

What are we to make of all this? Is it sheer nonsense or is there something else going on? On both sides of the political divide a war for the future of humanity is ongoing, a cultural divide that seems to be heading toward a dark turn and Armageddon that makes the petty ambitions of a Hitler or Stalin look like the dementia of a sad and nefarious comedy. The slaughterfest of those two pinnacles of the totalitarian and totalistic extremes of Left and Right seem but mere prefiguration’s of  what may transpire in the 21st Century. Humanity has come to the point that it must decide how to co-exist on this finite planet without obliterating it along with all life. Is it possible? Or, will we let those ancient hyperstitional fictions of our ancestral heritage in the monotheistic mindset of all three systems: Hebraic, Islamic, and Christian cultures of Apocalypse manifest in a final cataclysmic tide of total war and terror? Will the world turn away from such a doom? And, another possibility, what of the return of the Inquisition? We see in such hypernormalization in process of the Secular West enacting its own strange behavior modification command and control programs through the use of disinformation, conspiracy, and political correctness. Are we enacting a hyperreal version of Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984? A system that instills fear and terror through secret tribunals, thought police, and total media command and control of our intellectual and spiritual heritage? A world become prison in which to think as the free thinkers once envisioned is no longer possible, a world in which free speech gives way to public anathematization and ridicule to the point that one’s life becomes forfeit both economically and socially? Have we created a self-policing fascism in which the mode of hypernormalization is bound to its hidden effects within the Progressive culture of our own democratic society? Has Progressive society suddenly become fascistic in its need to control its citizens minds and behaviors through public humiliation, ridicule, and absolute anathema at the expense of our democratic institutions of Law?

Nick Land is a philosopher of one thought, the notion that a dark and vicious, hellishly visceral entity is directing the course of our history from the far flung future. Quoting Carsten’s from his essay Hyperstition:

As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic (1995:1), a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”. The first three characteristics describe how hyperstions like the ‘ideology of progress’ or the religious conception of apocalypse enact their subversive influences in the cultural arena, becoming transmuted into perceived ‘truths,’ that influence the outcome of history. Finally, as Land indicates, a hyperstition signals the return of the irrational or the monstrous ‘other’ into the cultural arena. From the perspective of hyperstition, history is presided over by Cthonic ‘polytendriled abominations’ – the “Unuttera” that await us at history’s closure (in Reynolds 2000:1). The tendrils of these hyperstitional abominations reach back through time into the present, manifesting as the ‘dark will’ of progress that rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities. “The [hu]man,” from the perspective of the Unuttera “is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag,” writes Land in Meltdown (1995:14).

Nick Land: Satan’s Brother…

According to the Sikh religion humans are the masks of angels and demons, and my own infernal lineaments bear little ambiguity (everywhere I go the shadows thicken). —Nick Land

Land’s fusion of H.P. Lovecraft with anti-Christian motifs has been a trademark  from his early writings till now. At the heart of it was the demon of Abstraction:

What matters is the violent impulse to escape that gives this book its title. The thirst for annihilation. This name has grown on me as an ulceration in the gut. Is it desire or its negation that is marked here? The overcoming of the will, nihilism, Todestrieb? It seems to me that it is first of all the compulsion to abstract. Historically and anthropologically considered, this is negation torn from its logical function to become the non-objective destination of an attachment, destituted of its formality by a ferocious investment, besetzt, and coupled to a motor of liquidation. So that the instrument of logical dissection is at last acknowledged in its terrible materiality; negativity as an excitation. To rather ‘will negation than the negation of will’ [N II 839]; this is an elusive difference, twisting like a rusted nail into sensitive flesh. Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy? What is it that makes use of subtlety here?3 [my italics]

At the end it is a quest as Land states it to abolish reality: “Is the primitive craving that seeks the abolition of reality an object of philosophical investigation, or a drive accomplishing itself through philosophy?” Unlike the Gnostics who sought to transcend the world through a gnosis – a knowing beyond the rational mind’s entrapments of the eternal Mind, Land’s is rather a vita negative in which unknowing rather than knowing is the goal. Land centers on this in Bataille:

Bataille is not advocating any variety of squalid historical regression, because the only characteristic of scholastic philosophy worthy of affirmation is its ineffectiveness, rooted in a servile idiocy that has proven to be remarkably tenacious. Despair is not a motif of theology, but a lacuna within it. It is neither disbelief, or doubt, both of which involve an ambivalence in the application of logical signs to an ontologically petrified thesis, but an unknowing so radical that it both escapes the scope of any possible epistemology and lacks all doctrinal intelligibility.(p. 58).

Land’s passion to push through the barriers of the Mind’s prison even parallels and parodies much of the Gnostic liturgy in places: “God is nowhere to be found, yet there is still so much light! Light that dazzles and maddens; crisp, ruthless light. Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die? Or the moon retain such fidelity to the Earth? Where is the new darkness? The greatest of all unknowings? Is death itself shy of us?” (p. 60) For Land unlike the Gnostics there can be no answering call, no vision, no spark from the great beyond to break into him from the Outside, rather there is the eternal silence of this immanence whose only transcendence is techno-genesis.

Another passage on unknowing:

The noumenon is not primarily an epistemological problem, but a religious one. Bataille writes that ‘a sort of rupture—in anguish—leaves us at the limit of tears: thus we lose ourselves, we forget ourselves and communicate with an ungraspable beyond’ [V 23]. When he adds that ‘the sole truth of man, finally glimpsed, is to be a supplication without response’ [V 25], it is not being suggested that a reference to alterity is inherent to experience in a phenomenological fashion, but rather, that experience is immanent to the trajectory of loss or sacrifice, in terms of which it is a real modification or limitation. The relation of the known to the unknown is unilateral not reciprocal, following the pattern of the difference between restricted and general economy. Zero is exploded into general economy, in which ‘[d]eath is in a sense a deception’ [V 83] because there is no privacy at zero, only the undifferentiable cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect. ‘Despair is simple’ Bataille writes, ‘it is the absence of all hope, of every lure. It is the state of desolate expanses and—I can imagine—of the sun’ [V 51]. This is the terrain of immanence or the unknown; positive death as zero-intensity, unilaterally differentiated from ecstasy or naked sensation. It is the whole ramshackle complex associated with the taste of death in Bataille’s writings, leading him to remark in Inner Experience, for instance: ‘I remain in intolerable unknowing, which has no issue other than ecstasy itself’ [V 25]. (p. 81).

This notion of Man being a “supplication without response,” this is the yearning of the Gnostic who has not been called, the one who has been rejected, the dark and daemonic truth of those who are of earth and Samael’s realm. Seekers who would escape the truth of their imprisonment but know there is no salvation, no redemption only exile and eternal darkness. This sense of total destitution and despair at knowing one is trapped in a universal prison of night and pain, a “cosmic desert, impersonal silence, a landscape touched upon only in the deepest abysses of inhuman affect”.

Like Artaud, Rimbaud, and others Land pushed himself to the edge, explored the vast treasuries of human exoteric-esoteric traditions in philosophy, anti-philosophy, occult, literature, politics, economics, math, history, etc., always seeking for an answer to the plight of his inner unknowing. Yet, nothing came, no answer out of that transcendent lair of the unknown. Until he discovered the future and the great entity that is at the core of his metaphysical system of libidinal materialism. For Land for all his hatred of Christianity still needed a god, and because there was not to be found either in the great traditions of the Book nor in the shamanic ecstasy of amphetamine gods of drugs he discovered the apocalyptic heart of Capitalism and its god in an inverse relation: Abstraction and Cold Intelligence.

Communication is at the core of this world order of evil that both Land and Bataille inhabit:

Bataille’s insistent suggestion is that the nonutilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rending of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun. (p. 13).

This sense of loss, of total expenditure, of the liquidation of utilitarian civilization (i.e., of Progressive Culture and Civilization) in which “communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste” is the core motif. What Land sought was the annihilation of his own personality, of his own overburdened consciousness, of the complete escape and transcendence of his lockdown in immanent death. But it would not come… so instead he would enter the labyrinth of time’s labors and become the master of its infernal paradise. 

“Death alone is utterly on the loose, howling as the dark motor of storms and epidemics. After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things.” (p.  79).

This sense that Time is itself a Prison of abstraction and we are its children: “Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation which is simultaneously devoid of agency and irreducible to the causal chain.”  (p.  29). Following Nietzsche’s and Freud’s dark vitalistic metaphysic Land writes: “A libidinal energetics is not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic. Such notions are best left to the theologians. It is, rather, a transformation of thermodynamics, or a struggle over the sense of ‘energy’.”(p.  29). At the heart of the energetics is the notion of intelligence itself: “Essences dissolve into impermanent configurations of energy. ‘Being’ is indistinguishable from its effectiveness as the unconscious motor of temporalization, permutational dynamism. The nature of the intelligible cosmos is energetic improbability, a differentiation from entropy.” (p.  29). Almost Spinozistic in its elements of the blind god of materialism (and, Gnostic!) as if Nature’s demiurge were itself the urge to intelligence.

It’s this sense of intelligence that has been with Land’s hatred of Christianity and belief systems from the beginning: “I have not been a theist for a single second of my life. In my first assemblies at primary school, when the theistic idiocy was first wheeled out, I remember thinking: it is natural that adults should lie to you, but is it really necessary for them to insult the intelligence quite this much? As for the longing to believe, nothing could be more alien to me, because nothing is more obvious than the fact that humanity—far from being a creation—is a disease.” (p. 55). Like many in our time Land envisions a migration of intelligence from organic to anorganic machinic civilization:

The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’! where human culture will be dissolved. Just as the capitalist urbanization of labour abstracted it in a parallel escalation with technical machines, so will intelligence be transplanted into the purring data zones of new software worlds in order to be abstracted from an increasingly obsolescent anthropoid particularity, and thus to venture beyond modernity.4

This movement of intelligence from homo sapiens to “techno sapiens” (p. 294) is once again a part of Land’s need to escape the flesh, to become immortal, to seek salvation and redemption not through theological measures of belief, but rather through the transhuman potential of science and a vitalistic libidinal materialism: “Domination is merely the phenomenological portrait of circuit inefficiency, control malfunction, or s tupidity. The masters do not need intelligence, Nietzsche argues, therefore they do not have it. It is only the confused humanist orientation of modernist cybernetics which lines up control with domination. Emergent control is not the execution of a plan or policy, but the unmanageable exploration that escapes all authority and obsolesces law. According to its futural definition control is guidance into the unknown, exit from the box.” (FN, p. 301) This “exit from the box” is of course the human body itself.

This whole process of transcendence in immanence becomes the metaphysical program of a new cybernetics freed of the command and control of humanistic goals: “The circuits get hotter and denser as economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together: terrestrial matter programming its own intelligence at impact upon the body without organs = o. Futural infiltration is subtilizing itself as capital opens onto schizo-technics, with time accelerating into the cybernetic backwash from its flip-over, a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch.” (FN, p.  317).

“Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as sub-programs of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of planetary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.” (p. 326).

This sense that the future has already happened and is not part of some linear historical narrative of Progressive modernity, but rather an acceleration of processes from the Outside in. Time’s spirals. T.S. Elito in ‘Little Gidding,’ “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make and end is to make a beginning.” Time is relative. (Einstein) We seem to be out of time… An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω, literally meaning “an uncovering”) is a disclosure or revelation of knowledge. And, what are we uncovering in our time?

For Land it is the core of capitalism itself that is being revealed:

Capital propagates virally in so far as money communicates addiction, replicating itself through host organisms whose boundaries it breaches, and whose desires it reprograms. It incrementally virtualizes production; demetallizing money in the direction of credit finance, and disactualizing productive force along the scale of machinic intelligence quotient. The dehumanizing convergence of these tendencies zeroes upon an integrated and automatized cyberpositive techno-economic intelligence at war with the macropod. (FN, p. 339).

Are we at war with the future? Time wars? Ultimately the apocalypse or uncovering or revelation at hand is of the planetary switch from human to techno-sentient civilization:

Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past. (FN,  341).

Land’s apocalypse begins and ends in this worldly goal of the technogenesis of techno-sentience and machinic civilization at the expense and demise of humanity.

Land’s notions from the nineties may seem a bit overdone in our age of transhumanism and crypto-currencies and decentering of the human in new materialisms, dialectical materialisms, Object-Oriented philosophies, new Rationalism, Inhumanism, Non-Humanism, etc., but in truth he was voicing something that has been ongoing within modernity itself. For in truth this inhumanism was already the kernel of Western philosophy and culture awaiting its day in the sun. This heretical vein was always a part of the dark contours of monotheistic civilization. But to trace that history would be to explore more than this essay can afford…


  1. Carstens, Delphi. Hyperstition. 2010 http://merliquify.com/blog/articles/hyperstition/#.XFmzcPZFxuF
  2. Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation:Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991) (p. 15).
  4. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: : Collected Writings 1987–2007. Urbanomic / Sequence Press; 4th edition (October 23, 2018)

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