Although the adventure of inexistence only begins in Hell there is no fear, only awe and burning werewolf thirst for the voyage.
—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation
I believe that the secret of literature lies here, and that a book isn’t beautiful except when skillfully ornamented by the indifference of ruins.
Bataille and Literature
“The only means of compensating for the offence of writing is the annihilation of what is written.” (Bataille) If this is so, and if Western metaphysics based as it is on the myth of the Absolute (God) supposes a universe of discourse, a cosmos at once written and bound to its representational Being then this must be undone, unmade and brought to an end in the unravelling threads of its own secret designs and complicity toward ruins and ruination. The universal ruins of reality is the death of God and all those who seek to stay that doom.
Nick Land’s greatest enemy has and remains the progressive utilitarian culture, politics, and ideology. So, in this sense his early thought underpins his later in that he programmatically seeks to undermine Idealism and its political/social utility from within, to unmake its strange relations with representationalism and ultimately destroy any conceptuality based on the One and Being. Bataille will help him in this process of unmaking representational discourse along with its theoretical socio-cultural and political utilitarian discourse:
“Bataille names writing discourse insofar as it conforms to the order of utility. When it betrays, corrodes, and liquidates utility— regressing to the burning lava-flow of its base materiality— he names it literature. …
Unless literature is the termination of sense, the reef at the end of words, it is a mere ornamentation of discourse. The radical inutility of literary language is not to be excused by epistemic, ideological, or moral apologetics (such as those that dominate current critical debate) but exacerbated to the point of collapse…
Being (conservation) is the essence of utility and the highest principle of reason. Fiction, on the contrary, is loss. If literature has a value it can only be interpreted as prestige, such as that emerging from the potlatch of aboriginal economies; a glory that is the same as horror. Having broken with all fidelity to existence, fiction belongs amongst what is toxic and accursed upon the earth.”
—Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation
This is where his early investment in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as pessimists comes in with its passive (Will-to-life) and active (Will-to-power) nihilisms. Schopenhauer’s thought would end in the termination of the ‘Will-to-live’, while Nietzsche’s would push this same ‘Will’ within to acerbate the logics of Western thought from Plato to Leibniz undermining the whole tradition of metaphysics ending in Kant and his followers, the Idealists. Bataille would inherit this thread and bring the whole tradition crashing down into the impossible and catastrophic annihilation it deserved. As Land puts it: “Fiction is initiated in an annihilation of the world, but one that is at first isolated. Such writing is a darkness that is itself germinated in the dark; emerging fungally in a blackness that normally extinguishes it. In its contempt for the security of things, literature is sullied by a sacred character, and is nothing beyond the possibility of deeper contact than that offered in profanity.”
In this sense both Land and Bataille’s writings supervene onto that dissolution of metaphysical man by the slow and methodical undermining of its discourse and representationalism. “There is no redemption through literature, but only a deepening horror and delight, which at some indiscernible mazing of the labyrinth crosses over…” (Land) This crossing over into darkness in Bataille leads to what he’ll term the ‘collapse of being into the night’ [IV 23]. In Land’s words “[t]here is no great literature that is not simultaneously a degradation and a burning futility.” In this sense my own investment in E.M. Cioran and Thomas Ligotti arrives as this endarkening undoing of Being, the slow erosion of this universal degradation and corruption we find ourselves within along with our complicity in its ruination.
In his great work on American Literature Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel would trace the contours of this fascination with evil, with the literature of erotic despair. Camille Paglia in her Sexual Personae would trace the history of such thoughts. Land would calibrate its dark designs: “Every production and articulate word, every morsel of nourishment, every second of sleep, is an atrocity against love and a provocation to despair. Erotic passion has no tolerance for health, not even for bare survival. It is for this reason that love is the ultimate illness and crime.” Bataille would add this to such thought: ‘Evil is love’ [III 37], ‘the need to deny an order with which one is unable to live’ [III 37]. Against the metaphysics of presence and Being is to undo the collusion of thought from being, to not only dismiss its erroneous authority but to destroy and annihilate it’s hold over the human.
“That the root of love is a thirst for disaster…” Land surmises, one that leads us toward the “final breakage of health, ruinous poverty, madness, and suicide.” Let us be clear erotic love is an unrestrained violence against everything which stands against communion, and thus against everything that stands; a sacrificial spasm that violates God, cosmos, one’s fellows and one’s self, in a movement of donation without reserve. (Land) We’ve become the Last Men of Nietzsche, we still believe in politics as redemption, as if the great atrocities of the 20th Century were mere memory rather than a judgment on our lives. As for Land,
Politics is the last great sentimental indulgence of mankind, and it has never achieved anything except a deepened idiocy, more work, more repression, more pompous ass-holes demanding obedience. Quite naturally we are bored of it to the point of acute sickness. I have no interest at all in groping at power in the blister. What matters is burning a hole through the wall.
That wall being Being itself, the metaphysical prison within which our utilitarian culture and civilization has meandered as in a labyrinth, an interminable maze of lies against time and death. Bataille regretting his own flirtation with the fascist impulse in his early writings would see in capitalism this tendency as well: “What decides social destiny today is the organic creation of a vast composition of forces, disciplined, fanatical, capable of exercising an implacable authority in the day to come. Such a composition of forces must group together all those who do not accept the course to the abyss— to ruin and to war— of a capitalist society without head and without eyes…[ I 380].” Land commenting on this passage would suggest that capital is a “headless lurch into the abyss, an acephalic catastrophe”. What Bataille recoils from at this moment is not the claustrophobic managerial profanity of capital, but its psychotic flow into ruin. In many ways the end of metaphysics came in that poetry that ended poetry, in the anti-poetry of the the rhetoric of the poète maudit – Arthur Rimbaud who in a letter to Georges Izambard stressed the necessity of intoxication, suffering, and exile:
The poet makes himself a visionary by a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness: he searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, in order to preserve only their quintessences. Unspeakable torture where he has need of all faith, all superhuman strength, where he becomes among everyone the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed one— and the supreme scholar!— Because he arrives at the unknown, since he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anybody! He arrives at the unknown, and when, bewildered, he ends by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has seen them! Let him die as he leaps through unheard of and unnamable things: other horrible workers.1
Only our denial of death keeps us hooked to the treadmill of existence, as Ernst Becker tells us: “The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.” We survive only as zombies in a cocoon, a society based on the denial of time, rot, and death. As Land hyperbolizes:
Particles decay, molecules disintegrate, cells die, organisms perish, species become extinct, planets are destroyed and stars burn-out, galaxies explode… until the unfathomable thirst of the entire universe collapses into darkness and ruin. Death, glorious and harsh, sprawls vast beyond all suns, sheltered by the sharp flickerlip of flame and silence, cold mother of all gods, hers is the deep surrender. If we are to resent nothing— not even nothing— it is necessary that all resistance to death cease. We are made sick by our avidity to survive, and in our sickness is the thread that leads back and nowhere, because we belong to the end of the universe. The convulsion of dying stars is our syphilitic inheritance.2
Humanism (capitalist patriarchy) is the same thing as our imprisonment. Trapped in the maze, treading the same weary round. Round and round in the garbage. Round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round (God is a scratched record), even when we think we are progressing, knowing more. Round and round, missing the sacred, until it drives you completely into your mind. But at least we die. Personalism is a trap because to believe that some of what one was holding onto will be taken care of by another being is irreligion. It is not our devotion that matters, but surrender. (Land)
I write now in the attic of insanity, smeared across words by unimagined desperations of beatitude. These soft terrestrial nights are unable to soothe the Hellish embers which blaze in my delirium. Horror and obsession scrawl their leprosy across my skin. My delight is unfathomable in its harshness. Shadow embalms me. (Land)
“Humanism (capitalist patriarchy) is the same thing as our imprisonment. Trapped in the maze, treading the same weary round.”
– Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation
This equation of humanism = androcratic civilization (i.e., capitalist patriarchy) has been in Land’s critique from the beginning. Even as he would switch to an echoing cyberpunk aesthetic with its AI = Capitalism, his alignment with its accelerationist thought was not to continue the charade but to dissolve it in delirium and annihilating flames. Land was no fascist, not even a neo-fascist as his friends and enemies alike construed him. He was always aligned with anti-philosophy, with the degradation and corruption of Western metaphysics, economics, and socio-cultural fictions that had trapped late civilization in a utilitarian culture of ineptitude and idiocy. Like Nietzsche his reaction against the utilitarian civilization was not a backward step into Traditionalism or any form of modernity whatsoever. If anything, Land sided with the impersonal forces that sought to destroy this whole shebang in the flames of something new… call it the posthuman age of the Outside.
It’s the wayward disciples of Land from Mark Fisher to Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, and others who are defenders of the current factions of Idealism, Capitalism, and Western Metaphysics under new guises and concepts and masks. But it’s still under the regime of idiocy and Reason whether they admit it or not. They are trapped in the loop of their own decaying systems unable to break through the Wall that Land spoke of as this post-Kantian prison and Human security system.
On Land’s Accelerationist Feminism
A friend Lovász Ádám suggests this about Nick Land in my recent post:
“Its interesting that Land’s diagnosis here ironically coincides with ecofeminism (Val Plumwood and so on), probably one of the most decelerationist movements out there.”
My own conclusion:
Actually no, he was still affirming the need to destroy capitalism, push it and accelerate its demise rather than slow it down or decelerate it. Not sure where you see this at all. But not he was not decelerationist at any time. As he’d say at the end of Thirst: “Monotheism cannot be reformed, and must be washed away, but it is also the horizon of sanity. Abandonment. … Each day that I remain trapped in the garbage I forget a little more of what it is to cross the line, but even forgetting is dying, and dying is crossing the line. Death is truth because error cannot adhere to it, all dreams are soluble within it, but death is not the word ‘death’, or any other word. The zero of words is not the word ‘zero’, nor are words about words.” Even here it was always the crossing across this horizon, zero, etc. (Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation)
As he’d say in one of his later essays: “It is because women are the historical realization of the potentially euphoric synthetic or communicative function which patriarchy both exploits and inhibits that they are invested with a revolutionary destiny, and it is only through their struggle that politics will be able to escape from all fatherlands. In her meticulous studies of patriarchy Luce Irigaray has amply demonstrated the peculiar urgency of the feminist question, although the political solutions she suggests are often feebly nostalgic, sentimental, and pacifistic. Perhaps only Monique Wittig has adequately grasped the inescapably military task faced by any serious revolutionary feminism, and it is difficult not to be dispirited by the enormous reluctance women have shown historically to prosecute their struggle with sufficient ruthlessness and aggression.”3
So yeah, Land’s aggressive turn to accelerationist thought as the wiping away of Western metaphysics, patriarchal civilization, Enlightenment man, modernity, capitalism under the current regimes of progressive utilitarian socio-cultural praxis… all this he saw as something that must end. As you’d see above, he attacks Irigaray’s nostalgic, sentimental, and pacifistic feminist thought for the more aggressive vision of Monique Wittig. He would shift from feminist designs and rhetoric into his later AI and machinic driven posthuman turn by incorporating the elements of his aggressive feminism not by ousting it. Land’s later formulations are inherent in all his previous writings, and even if he would supposedly denounce all his former writing it is the kernel of all his later thought.
“No, we do not love humanity; but on the other hand we are not nearly ‘German’ enough, in the sense in which the word ‘German’ is constantly being used nowadays, to advocate nationalism and race hatred and to be able to take pleasure in the national scabies of the heart and blood-poisoning that now leads the nations of Europe to delimit and barricade themselves against each other as if it were a matter of quarantine.”
“But the only conceivable end of Kantianism is the end of modernity, and to reach this we must foster new Amazons in our midst.”
—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
Nick Land was well aware of the mulit-cultural discourse of his day, and would in his essay ‘Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity’ gathered in Fanged Noumena address it. If one were to seek out its representative today one should turn to Sloterdijk’s Immunological philosophy rather than Land’s. For like Nietzsche’s quote above the whole of the EU is bound to the shadow of fascist ideology in its current quarantine, both economic and viral. Brexit is nothing else if not the battle in our own era for/against the fascist principle in governance. But back to Land…
In the era in which Land wrote this particular essay back in 1987 it would be South Africa to which he’d turn his gaze:
“For the purposes of understanding the complex network of race, gender, and class oppressions that constitute our global modernity it is very rewarding to attend to the evolution of the apartheid policies of the South African regime, since apartheid is directed towards the construction of a microcosm of the neo-colonial order; a recapitulation of the world in miniature.”1
Land will term the disenfranchisement of black Africans from the economic layer through exclusion and oppression as a form of ‘bantustan’ policy:
“The most basic aspiration of the Boer state is the dissociation of politics from economic relations, so that by means of ‘bantustans’ or ‘homelands’ the black African population can be suspended in a condition of simultaneous political distance and economic proximity vis-à-vis the white metropolis.”
The point here is the various blocks of South Africa are segmented into political entities divorced from the economic control system of the South African white supremacists. These separate political blocs have not power to change their desperate economic conditions through exit or voice.
Yet, Land goes further, suggesting that this policy in miniature is now the globalist methodology at large, and is being enforced in the EU as a standardization in which each nation is isolated in its own political malaise and completely beholden in economics to its Belgium masters. Of course, Land was writing this well before the 9/11 era and its aftermath with the rise of Chinese hegemony in the East with its AI driven Social Credit system and Surveillance Police State policies of enforce algorithmic governance and marginalization of the Islamic populace in the western reaches of its empire.
As Land stipulates “the displacement of the political consequences of wage labour relations away from the metropolis is not an incidental feature of capital accumulation, as the economic purists aligned to both the bourgeoisie and the workerist left assert. “It is rather the fundamental condition of capital as nothing other than an explicit aggression against the masses.” The point here is that capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure. After all, the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace. (Land: FN) This is neoliberalism in a nutshell. War and its circle of despair, capital as a cycle in which Third-World labor is imported into the First World, while war and destabilization are exported back into the Third World. A hellish cycle of a bad infinity.
It’s just here that Kant and his heirs come to the fore. Land argues that with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. (FN) But against the Marxian reading of this as a dialectic of ‘society and production’, Land will read it as patriarchal androcratic social relations and identarian politics that come to the fore under neoliberalism. (I admit he never uses the term ‘neoliberal’ but most of his diagnosis is of that whole economic agenda!) He’ll see the endogamic/exogamic relations at the core of patrilineal androcratic societies as the heart of the fascist tendency toward ‘identarian’ politics we find in Italy and Germany during and in-between the two Great Wars:
A capitalist trading empire is a developed form of exogamic patriarchy, and inherits its tensions. Domination of the other is inhibited in principle from developing into full absorption, because it is the residual alterity of the other that conditions the generation of surplus. (FN)
The disaster of capitalism was its male dominated androcratic kinship and trade were systematically isolated from each other, so that the internationalization of the economy was coupled with an entrenchment of xenophobic (nationalistic) kinship practices, maintaining a concentration of political and economic power within an isolated and geographically sedentary ethnic stock. (FN) Ultimately modernity can be described as “patriarchal neo-colonial capital accumulation, but which I shall come to name ‘inhibited synthesis’ – not as a historian or a political theorist, but as a philosopher.” (FN)
For Land Western civilization and economies have since the Enlightenment lived in a precarious state of affirmation and negation, of a culture that seeks novelty and yet to remain the Same. “Its ultimate dream is to grow whilst remaining identical to what it was, to touch the other without vulnerability.” (FN) Our relation to the Outside, to the Other, to Alterity is at issue, and yet it is the Enlightenments program that absolved in in Kant through absolute denial of the issue in the first place:
This aggressive logical absurdity (the absurdity of logic itself) reaches its zenith in the philosophy of Kant, whose basic problem was to find an account for the possibility of what he termed ‘synthetic a prior knowledge’, which is knowledge that is both given in advance by ourselves, and yet adds to what we know. (FN)
Kant would take Hume (empiricist) and Leibniz (rationalist) and formulate a new system based on his supposed ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy as a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilization confronting an ambiguous dependence upon novelty. (FN) Almost a sleight of hand magician, Kant would throw both the empirical and rational philosophers into a twisted and convoluted moebius strip of thought mangled to produce modernity as the search for the new. ‘Because a developed knowledge of the conditions of experience presupposes a relation to the outside it is synthetic and not analytic, but because it concerns the pure form of the relation as such and not the sensory material involved in the relation it is a priori and not a posteriori.’ (FN)
The dual ‘synthetic’ and ‘analytic’ knowledge formulated by Kant would enter into the capitalist system of relations in binary encoded forms of oppositional praxis and trade relations: “Oppositional terms are no longer accepted as descriptions capturing reality, but are interpreted as pure forms of reason that can only be meaningfully deployed theoretically when applied to objects of possible appearance, which fall within the legislative domain of the ‘faculty’ which Kant calls ‘the understanding’ [Verstand].” (FN)
That the very existence of materiality is problematic for enlightenment thought is symptomatic of the colonial trading systems that correspond to it. Alterity cannot be registered, unless it can be inscribed within the system, according to the interconnected axes of exchange value (price) and the patronymic, or, in other words, as a commodity with an owner. (FN)
The androcratic regimes of capital are all inherently fascist, a militant activism rooted in the inhibitory and exclusive dimensions of a metropolitanism. Racism, as a regulated, automatic, and indefinitely suspended process of genocide (as opposed to the hysterical and unsustainable genocide of the Nazis) is the real condition of persistence for a global economic system that is dependent upon an aggregate price of labour approximating to the cost of its bare subsistence, and therefore upon an expanding pool of labour power which must be constantly ‘stimulated’ into this market by an annihilating poverty. (FN)
For Land the androcratic civilization based on capitalism and the exclusion of woman and the matrilineal regimes are at the heart of this fascistic world we live in. The only way out as he’ll suggest certain possibilities of feminist politics, since the erasure of matrilineal genealogy within the patriarchal machine means that fascisizing valorizations of ancestry have no final purchase on the feminine ‘subject’. The only resolutely revolutionary politics is feminist in orientation, but only if the synthetic forces mobilized under patriarchy are extrapolated beyond the possibility of assimilation, rather than being criticized from the perspective of mutilated genealogies. (FN) He puts it succinctly,
That is why the proto-fascism of nationality laws and immigration controls tends to have a sexist character as well as a racist one. It is because women are the historical realization of the potentially euphoric synthetic or communicative function which patriarchy both exploits and inhibits that they are invested with a revolutionary destiny, and it is only through their struggle that politics will be able to escape from all fatherlands. (FN)
Such a feat seems almost impossible in our era of nostalgia and economic chaos, along with the dark politics of reactionary forces and the progressive strain that seeks to demonize them. As Land suggests: If feminist struggles have been constantly deprioritized in theory and practice it is surely because of their idealistic recoil from the currency of violence, which is to say, from the only definitive ‘matter’ of politics. The state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limit. It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell. It is this harsh truth that has deflected Western politics into an increasingly servile reformism, whilst transforming nationalist struggles into the sole arena of vigorous contention against particular configurations of capital. (FN) The point here is that things have gone too far for us to absolve this by way of reformism, or some supposed political maneuverings.
For as long as the dynamic of guerilla war just leads to new men at the top – with all that this entails in terms of the communication between individuated sovereignties – history will continue to look bleak. For it is only when the pervasive historical bond between masculinity and war is broken by effective feminist violence that it will become possible to envisage the uprooting of the patriarchal endogamies that orchestrate the contemporary world order. (FN)
- Schmidt, Paul ed.. Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. HarperCollins; 1st edition (February 28, 1975)
- Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge. (1992)
- Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 . Urbanomic/Sequence Press.