Base Materialism and the Philosophy of Hazard

“The human animal is the one through which terrestrial excess is haemorrhaged to zero, the animal destined to obliterate itself in history, and sacrifice its nature utterly to the solar storm.”

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Clement Rosset in his Logic of the Worst suggests that at the origin of the appalling character of the thought of chance, or of the materialism of chance, can be alleged two major orders of (un) reasons: 1) the idea of chance dissolves the idea of nature and calls into question the notion of being; 2) It precisely joins the definition that following Freud’s Psychoanalysis which proposed the terror of the uncanny: the loss of familiarity or, more exactly, the discovery that the familiar is, in an unexpected way, an unknown area par excellence, the High place of strangeness.”

The notion that Nature does not exist, that Being is not what we think it is; and, that, the uncanny strangeness of this fact instills in us the terror and fear of the Unknown. This is the core of Cosmic Horror and a Materialism without reason or justification, an absolute contingency of immanence and spontaneity. As Rosset puts it: “More generally, terrorist thinking declares: there is chance, so there is no nature (neither of man, nor any kind of things). And even more generally: there is chance, so there is no being – “what exists” is nothing. Nothing, that is to say nothing with regard to what can be defined as being: nothing that “is” enough to offer itself to delimitation, denomination, fixing at the conceptual level as at the existential level. Nothing, in the movement of “what exists”, which can give to thought only emptied of any being.”1

Returning to the thought of Nick Land in Thirst for Annihilation we might suggest that ‘base materialism’ is this vastation of absolute zero as the insatiable realm of inhuman desire (Nietzsche):

“It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide Nietzsche with a philosophical tap-root, but rather Schopenhauer. With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive.” (5).

Land would turn Schopenhauer’s Will-to-life into an impersonal death drive immanent and spontaneous to the movement of the universe. Land tells us that “the noumenon is the absence of the subject, and is thus inaccessible in principle to experience. If there is still a so-called ‘noumenal subject’ in the opening phase of the critical enterprise it is only because a residue of theological reasoning conceives a stratum of the self which is invulnerable to transition, or synonymous with time as such. This is the ‘real’ or ‘deep’ subject, the self or soul, a subject that sloughs-off its empirical instantiation without impairment, the immortal subject of mortality. It only remains for Hegel to rigorously identify this subject with death, with the death necessitated by the allergy of Geist to its finitude, to attain a conception of deaths for itself. But this is all still the absence of the subject, even when ‘of’ is translated into the subjective genitive, and at zero none of it makes any difference.” (78) Kant as Land surmises “nowhere seems to suspect the obvious fact that zero is the primary repressed of monotheistic cultures, so that its intensive impact is historically saturated. Bataille digs demolitionally into the fault-lines of all these evasions in a single comment: ‘the extreme is at the end, is nowhere except at the end, like death’ [V 57].” (83)

“When my eye flees from the present to the past, it always finds the same thing: fragments, limbs and appalling hazards! Everything I compose and imagine tends only to gather and unite in one thing which is the fragment, enigma, and cruel coincidence!”

—Nietzsche’s Zarathustra

What is this absolute Zero that is repressed at the core of all monotheistic cultures? “Zero is the vortex of a becoming inhuman that lures desire out from the cage of man onto the open expanses of death. Not that death as utter digression is the same as the becoming inert of the body. It is first of all the anegoic psychosis of communicative fusion; floating on the far side of all effort.” (89) This poetry of death leads to what understanding? “Upon zero or utter continuity everything flows without resistance. There is no possibility of becoming settled, rooted, or established, of instituting stable communities or codes. Names and labels regress to the magmic-pulse of language, sliding in useless digression. According to Freud kissing is included amongst the perversions because it digresses from procreative sexuality, wandering erratically across the cosmic desolation of the unconscious.” (89). The noumenon resists linguistic torture, poetry, trope. It is that which cannot enter the fabric of our imaginal where human meaning revolves in the dark corridors of its own meaningless fabrications. To reach out toward the noumenon is to look into the abyss of one’s own darkness where death drives and we are its vehicles and accomplices much like those vodoun dancers who invite the daemonic forces of their gods into their flesh as the energetic vibrancy of death itself. As this sense of the Deleuzian darkness reaches into the abyss of zero Land resolves the eternal return of Nietzsche into the immanent cut where transcendence cannot reach:

“Recurrence is not a configuration of energy or cosmic economy, but the very impact of undifferentiable zero; the abortion of transcendence. To think of the real simultaneity of unsurpassable chaotic zero with the triumph of reactivity, such that the only repressed is the unrepressible, is to think of recurrence, and any suggestion that eternal recurrence is a cosmology describable according to a principle of non-contradiction is to entirely lose the matter of Nietzsche’s excitement, i.e. the unilateral, materialist, or genealogical interpretation of difference. The sole philosophical rigour of recurrence splashes out of the pulverizing inundation of bilateral distinctions by indifferent matter. Spirit is different from matter and matter once again, culture is different from nature and nature once again, order is different from chaos and chaos once again, just as life is unilaterally different from death, plenitude from zero, reactive from active forces, etc. Transcendence is both real and impossible, as is the human race.”(102).

Nihilism devalues the human as such lurching as it does toward “a regression driven by zero, a violent spasm of relapse whose motor is the cavity of an extinct telos; the death of God. Zero religion.” (103)

Between active or passive nihilism, we are driven toward the “Platonic divorce between nature and culture. Zero is undifferentiable without being a unity, and everything is re-engaged through zero. Eternal recurrence—the most nihilistic thought—begins everything again, as history is re-energized through the nihilistic indifferentiation between zero enthusiasm and enthusiasm for zero. Passive nihilism is the zero of religion, whilst active nihilism is the religion of the zero. On the one hand is Schopenhauer’s metaphysical pessimism as ‘a European Buddhism’ [N II 767], on the other Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism as the exultation of dissolution.” (103) In the end zero is the end game of human desire – the death knell of humanity, its apocalyptic cry in the wilderness of absolute death and war: “History is industrial history, and it only has one goal, which is God. Nihilism is the loss of this goal, the nullification of man’s end, the reversion of all work to waste. It is in this sense that history is aborted by zero. There are those who in their eagerness for the continuation of effort take Nietzsche’s overman to be a new goal, a restoration of teleology, a task commensurable with the nihilation of history. Perhaps Nietzsche himself succumbs to such a temptation at times, after all, German Protestantism had poisoned his blood. It must nevertheless be insisted that the world of work perishes with the One, and that zero is an engine of war.” (105).

Ultimately Land will equate Schopenhauer’s Will-to-life with Nietzsche’s desire for war, destruction, and nihilism – the restlessness of this uncanny force: “It is not that there is merely a desire for war, variously named by Nietzsche the ‘thirst for destruction’ [N III 821], ‘the drive to destroy, anarchism, nihilism’ [N III 708], and ‘will to nothingness’ [N II 900, III 738], rather that war in its intensive sense is desire itself, convulsive recurrence, unilateral zero.”(106).

This sense of desolation permeates the cosmos, a great vastation and emptiness, a kenoma (voidness) in which what tugs at us is the darkness of zero and silence: “Matter signals to its lost voyagers, telling them that their quest is vain, and that their homeland already lies in ashes behind them. If there is a conclusion it is zero. Silence. Words continue as something else, as something in any case, or at most; the edge of something (of all things). Yet there is nothing but chaos, even if chaos (alone) is the repressed. Unilateral difference. That is why a revolution must be a zenith of competence nucleated upon burning insanity, since anarchy and utter surrender only connect in a religion of death. Thanocracy, anarchy is undifferentiable at zero, and a human being without desperation escapes my comprehension. Being created in the image of God, we mean nothing to ourselves, and want only the inhuman.”(146). If we are created in the image of Being and God then our only exit is the way of hazard, chance – to enter absolute zero, the impersonal zone of unbeing and difference where Death reigns supreme like a thought of anarchy unbound. 

Further Notes

The Philosophy of Non-Being: How the Sophists returned with a Vengeance

“The thought of chance, which also calls into question the idea of ​​chance and the idea of ​​being, necessarily leads to a philosophy of non-being-that is to say a tragic philosophy. One of the first tragic philosophers who have bequeathed to posterity the history of philosophy is a sophist, Gorgias, who wrote a treaty of non-being whose substance has reached contemporary libraries thanks to Sextus Empiricus (against Dogmatic) and to the unknown author (pseudo-aristote) of Melissos, Xenophane and Gorgias. Significant title to read it in full: “Treaty of non-being or nature. “And title which could be reversed without damage:” Treaty of nature, or non-being. Nature is: which does not exist. The somewhat sophisticated aspect of the argumentation in the treaty, the arrangement of which seems more to have the usual skeptical methodology, of which Sextus Empiricus is here the heir, than to the thought of Gorgias himself, However, let the essential of the sophistic message filter: nature is non-being; Nothing that may have been conceived as nature participates in existence. And, consequently, man, whose own is to conceive of natures, imaginary beings, is himself deprived of all participation in being: because the “nature” of thought is imaginary order , as Montaigne will later support.”

—Clement Rosset, The Logic of the Worst

Chance in French is “hazard”: c. 1300, name of a game at dice, from Old French hasard, hasart “game of chance played with dice,” also “a throw of six in dice” (12c.), of uncertain origin. Possibly from Spanish azar “an unfortunate card or throw at dice,” which is said to be from Arabic az-zahr (for al-zahr) “the die.” But this is doubtful because of the absence of zahr in classical Arabic dictionaries. Klein suggests Arabic yasara “he played at dice;” Arabic -s- regularly becomes Spanish -z-. The -d was added in French through confusion with the native suffix -ard. Sense evolved in French to “chances in gambling,” then “chances in life.” In English, sense of “chance of loss or harm, risk” first recorded 1540s.

Jaques Monod, a biologist, would write of Chance and Necessity in a book that would later be questioned by another work entitled ‘Anti-Chance’ by E. Schoffeniels and T. Swain. Both seek to get a handle on this ‘hazard’ which is nothingness or non-being.

We are all sophist’s now… the absolute divorce between thing and name is done. Parmenides dies a terrible death at the hands of language. Is this a form of linguistic suicide, a voluntary death of “as if…”? Parmenides’ much- discussed proposition that “thinking and being are the same” (DK28 B3) is forever lost among its own supreme fictions, a casualty of sophisticated self-deception. Plato is turning in his grave in horror… Socrates laughs, and Parmenides wanders off into the Abyss without name… lost among his own thoughts of Being. As Clement Rosset suggests: “”To define is to assign a nature; However, no nature is. Neither man, nor the plant, nor the stone, nor the white, nor the smell, are. But what else is left to furnish the being, once excluded from existence all the beings designated by words? There is “something”, but this something is nothing, without any exception, of what appears in all the dictionaries present, past and to come. “What exists” is therefore, very precisely, nothing. Nothing, that is to say: none of the designed and conceivable beings; None of the beings listed to date appears in the register of what the thought of chance admits as existence. It is therefore to exclude from existence the very notion of being. Exclusion which relates, not of a prohibition of principle, but of an empirical observation: what is excluded from existence is not, strictly speaking, the notion of being, but rather the complete collection (and necessarily provisional) of all beings thought so far.”

  1. Rosset, Clément. Logique du pire : éléments pour une philosophie tragique, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France. (1971) (English: Logic of the Worst: Elements in the Philosophy of the Tragic) [my translation]