“Bataille’s text does not anticipate death; it fractures seismically under the impact of oblivion. Each of its waves are broken recollections of the taste of death. Each beginning again— as such and irrespective of its inherent signification— moves under the influence of an unanticipated dying.”
—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation
“The wild beasts of the impersonal are known by their fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.”1 Land is the philosopher of the impersonal will, a dark vitalistic force below the quantum vectors of our all too humanistic worldview. When Nick Land uses the notion of “coldness be my god” it’s about the impersonal will, the “purposeless purposiveness” – “Nietzsche is perhaps the greatest of all anti-humanist writers. At the very least, his writings attest to the most powerful eruption of impersonality in the Occidental world since it was rotted by the blight of the Nazarene. It is possible that Herakleitus was more effortlessly inhuman, and that— beneath the shadow of the cross— Spinoza and Sade occasionally reach a comparable pitch of anegoic coldness, but nowhere outside Nietzsche’s texts is there an antipersonalistic war-machine of equivalent ferocity.”
As Nick Land suggests, Nietzsche’s critique of Schopenhauer goes against the grain of the whole tradition of would-be philosophers of the Idealist malaise:
1. Nietzsche assumed the unconsciousness and impersonality of will or desire, and never indicates a regression to a Kantian/ humanist understanding of this matter.
2. the intrinsic connection between the will and the transcendental problematic of time, inherited from Schopenhauer.
3. Nietzsche’s notion of ‘will to power’: the Schopenhauerian germ for the thought of ‘rank-order’ in that of ‘grades of objectification’.
The point being for Land: “Nietzsche’s break with Schopenhauer is of extreme profundity, but it remains a break with Schopenhauer, rather than some kind of ahistorical existential inspiration.” For Land most thinker’s misprision and reverse Nietzsche’s reading of Schopenhauer:
The crucial issue is not that reading Nietzsche without reference to Schopenhauer gets Nietzsche wrong, but that it makes him more humane. Schopenhauer is the great well-spring of the impersonal in post-Kantian thought; the sole member of the immediately succeeding generation to begin vomiting monotheism out of their cosmology in order to attack the superstition of self.
For Land the modern and post-modern reception of Nietzsche has been a disastrous consequence of revisionism, or a re-humanistic desire to domesticate the anti-humanist stance in both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In Nietzsche the scrutiny of the Enlightenment faith in Reason comes to the fore, the whole notion of the progressive stance, the perfectibility of man, the notion of the Idea as the end-all be-all of our telos as the perfection of Reason. All this will be questioned in the thought of Nitzsche and found wanting. “In order not to inhibit the development of the sciences Kant denaturalizes teleology, lodging its redoubt in his practical philosophy, and therefore in reason,” Land tells us, going on to say: “The realization of the human perfection that is embryonically presupposed by reason is the endless task of morality, wherein process approximates to the timeless form of its utter accomplishment. It is thus that, like Plato, Aristotle, and the church, Kant thinks of goodness as perfectly instituted in advance, as a supersensibly derived potential.”
Against the concept of ‘potential’ Land’s critique of Schopenhauer undermines its incessant reliance of Plato’s forms: “Schopenhauer seeks to extricate the thought of finality from this theological framework, but his success is strictly limited. Although he eradicates the theological dogma of originary intellect from his philosophy he continues to rely on the notion of Platonic Ideas to interpret natural processes, and thus succumbs in turn to the finalist doctrine of potential, in the form of a Kantian transcendental perfectionism. Schopenhauer, too, deprives desire of creativity, by conceiving all its possible consequences as eternal potentialities of the noumenal will. Desire as the will to life is merely the perpetual re-instantiation of pre-given forms.”
For Land’s impersonalism relies of desire as a creative action and thought rather than as potential and eternal forms being bound to some metaphysical absolute such as the ‘Will-to-Life’. Yet, despite these reservations and criticisms of Schopenhauer, Land will make note of his contributions against the Idealists: 1) initiating a war against the intellectualist interpretation of will, 2) beginning the rigorous separation of affective intensity from phenomenality, and 3) germinating a philosophy of scalar or stratal difference. Against the Scholastic battles between the realists and nominalists Land will side with those thinkers of the Will as central over Intellect. The beneficiaries of the voluntaristic condemnation of Aquinas’ Aristotelianism were nominalists such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. From these battles Schopenhauer’s thought would arise, along with Nietzsche’s, Bataille’s, and even Land’s. Of course, these earlier voluntarists were still bound to the theological treadmill. For the nominalists, the omnipotent will of God was beyond human comprehension, and so reason must give way to revelation. However, a radically secular version of such a voluntaristic anti-Platonic, anti-Aristotelian view was to appear in the seventeenth century in the thought of Hobbes.2 Out of such would arise the voluntaristic and secular impersonalism of these later thinkers.
For Schopenhauer the reception of such thought would spawn three basic premises: 1) ‘the will always appears as the primary and fundamental thing, and throughout asserts its preeminence over the intellect’ [Sch III 231], 2) that ‘[ p] henomenon means representation and nothing more’ [Sch I 154] whilst 3) ‘we are quite wrong in calling pain and pleasure representations’ [Sch I 144], and continually refers to ‘the ascending series of animal organizations’, ‘the scale of animals’ [Sch III 327], and more generally to ‘grades of the will’s objectivity’ [Sch I 179], or degrees of ‘stimulation or excitement’ [III 240]. As Land puts it:
In Schopenhauer’s philosophy such thinking remains uncomfortably wedded to a series of bilateral disjunctions between the transcendental and the empirical, subject and object, thing in itself and appearance, etc., and is thus martialled under the metaphysical dignity of man, whose nervous-system he describes as ‘nature’s final product’ [Sch III 320]. It nevertheless marks the departure of a voyage in intensity, one that Nietzsche exacerbates beyond the threshold of the irreparable.
Land like Nietzsche before him is an anti-Platonist, seeing in the fusion of the Idea and its Christian inheritors a civilization based on a systematic domestication of the human species:
Intensive spiritualization is fixed as consummate spirit, thus levelling out desire onto the stagnant plateau of theological idealism dominated by Christendom. Upon this plateau progress in extension remains possible— scientific, technical, and industrial growth for instance— but such development is rigidly constrained by its infrastructural libidinal petrification; imprisoned in the humanity whose first instance was Socrates, and whose horizonal limit is Christ.
Libidinal man or the base materialist of Bataillean thought seeks to unmake this decadent hybridity hooked as it is to a eugenics program of passivity, domesticity, and the ideology of the Last Man (i.e., nihilism in extremis). As Nietzsche himself would say,
I count life itself as an instinct for growth, for duration, for amassing of force, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline. My assertion is that this will is lacking for all the highest values of humanity— that decline-values, nihilistic values, pursue dominion under the most hallowed names [N II 1167– 8].
Land commenting on the passage above will reiterate the obvious: “It is the devaluation of the highest values, the convulsion at the zenith of nihilism, that aborts the human race.” Against all those techno-humanists of the transhumanist worldview that seek a new man or in Nietzsche’s term the Übermensch Land laughs in a derisive manner stating: “Humanity cannot be exacerbated, but only aborted. It is first necessary to excavate the embryonic anthropoid beast at the root of man, in order to re-open the intensive series in which it is embedded. If overman is an ascent beyond humanity, it is only in the sense of being a redirection of its intensive foetus. This is why overman is predominantly regressive; a step back from extension in order to leap in intensity, like the drawing-back of a bow-string.”
Against the passive nihilism of the Kantian and post-Kantian systems of Idealism in culture, religion, and economics Land derives from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille the active nihilism of dissolution: “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.”
- Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1st edition (July 2, 1992)
- Redding, Paul. Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche. Routledge, 2009.