The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:

“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”

This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:

“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”

In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”

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Rethinking Conceptual Universes

Rethinking Culture and Metaphysical Schemes, etc.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro in his Cannibal Metaphysics argues the case that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours—in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own—he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such “other” metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences.

For me the writing of dark fantastic fiction is just such an exploration. It allows one to investigate the delusions within one’s own culture, to trace down the deliriums and phobias, the nightmares and aberrations that have guided our collective madness for centuries. The notion of insects seems to be a prime example of a nightmare scenario that one finds hidden in the lair of the monstrous within Western Civilization and Culture. One can harken back to ancient myths, dreams, fears, terrors of rats, insects, serpents, etc.; deep seated worlds of disgust that have shaped our religious and secular views of life, medicine, politics, and moral views.

As Peter Skafish asks: “Can anthropology be philosophy, and if so, how?” For philosophers, the matter has been and often remains quite simple: anthropology’s concern with socio-cultural and historical differences might yield analyses that philosophy can put to use (provided that it condescends to examine them), but only rarely does anthropology conceive its material at a level of generality or in relation to metaphysical issues in their positivity that would allow it to really do philosophy, especially of an ontological kind. Anthropologists, on the other hand, tend not to disagree, whether out of a preference for local problems or from the more canny recognition that even the best philosophers prove quite adept at mistaking modern ideological values for transcendental concepts. Such perspectives, however, are proving outmoded in the face of a now sizable group of thinkers, ranging from Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers to Marilyn Strathern to François Jullien, whose questions, concepts, objects and methods belong in different ways to both anthropology and philosophy, and who moreover propose that certain aspects of anthropology – analyses of scientific practices, knowledge of cultural variation, and an old thing called structuralism – are key to a new metaphysics as empirical, pluralistic and comparative as transcendental, unifying and general.

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Outline of my non-fiction work in progress…

Thought I’d share the outline of my work in progress…


 The Posthuman Imagination:
Accelerating Capital, Society, and Technology

Abstract Coming…

INTRODUCTION

Theory-Fictions:
Memetic Theory, Viral Agents, and Hyperstitional Entities

 

PART ONE

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse:
A Short History of the Future

      1. Communication and Control Societies
      2. Technology and Desire – Sex, Crime, and Psychopathy
      3. Postmodern Gnosis and the Apocalyptic Imagination
      4. Geotrauma and the End of Man in the Anthropcene
      5. Crossing the Rubicon of Alternative Futures

Interlude: The Posthuman Blues

PART TWO

Modernity, Violence and the Myth of Progress:
How the West was Lost?

      1. Abstract Aesthetics: Abject Horrorism and Hauntologies of Excess
      2. Time, Motion, and Control: Mantra of Efficiency, Calculation, and AI
      3. Assemblages and Networks: Social and Technological Accelerationism – Diagnosing Capitalism at the Edge of Singularity
      4. Sovereignty, War, and Exclusion: Exceptionalism, Austerity, and Slavery in an Age of Diminishing Returns

PART THREE

Discipline and Control:
Surveillance Capitalism, Code/Space, and the Inhuman Future

      1. Beyond the Subject: Subjectivation, the Dividual, and the Network Society
      2. The World is a Prison: Refugees, Prisons, and the Post-Digital Divide
      3. The Rise of the Machines: Automation, Work, and the Post-Democratic Future
      4. The Extinction Hypothesis: Catastrophism and the Genealogy of Collapse

Interlude: Genesis Redux – After Nature, After History?

PART FOUR

The Infrastructure:
The Stack, Logistics, and the Flow of Things

      1. The Engine of Creation: Neuroscience, Politics, and Creativity
      2. The Day the World Stopped: Energy, Resources, and Alternative Visions
      3. The Infosphere: Information, Technology, and Economics in the 21st Century
      4. Mutant Visions: Comics, Cinema, and Media Sociopathy

Postlude: Intelligence, Climate Politics, and Communication in the 21st Century

Last Thoughts – Utopia and Dystopia: The Shape of Hope and Fear


 

© Steven Craig Hickman 2016 (May not be reproduced without permission)

 

 

Kurt Gödel, Number Theory, Nick Land and our Programmatic Future

Read an interesting experiment in programing using Kurt Gödel’s number theories: (Norman H. Cohen. Gödel numbers: A new approach to structured programming. SIGPLAN Notices 15, No. 4 (April 1980), pp. 70-74; download pdf at bottom part of page):

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My reason for researching this had to do with another investigation into Nick Land’s use of Gödel. As Mackay and Brassier note,

One of the tasks of schizoanalysis has now become the decrypting of the ‘tics’ bequeathed to the human frame by the geotraumatic catastrophe, and ‘KataςoniX’ treats vestigial semantic content as a mere vehicle for code ‘from the outside’: the ‘tic’ symptoms of geotraumatism manifested in the shape of sub-linguistic clickings and hissings. Already disintegrated into the number-names of a hyperpagan pantheon, syncretically drawing on the occult, nursery rhyme, anthropology, SF and Lovecraft, among other sources, the ‘subterranean current of impressions, correspondences, and analogies’(Artaud) beneath language is now allowed uninhibited (but rigorously-prepared) development, in an effort to corporeally de-engineer the organicity of logos.

The element of these explorations remains the transformed conception of space vividly exhibited in Gibsonian cyberpunk and which is a crucial component in Land’s writings, a powerful bulwark against Kant’s architectonic ambition to subsume all space under unity. Coding and sequencing mechanisms alone now construct intensive space, and this lies at the core of Land’s typology of number, since dimensionality is a consequence of stratification. Naming and numbering converge in counting, understood as immanent fusion of nomination and sequencing. No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric. From the perspective of Land’s ‘transcendental arithmetic’, the Occidental mathematisation of number is denounced as a repressive mega-machine of knowledge – an excrescent outgrowth of the numbering practices native to exploratory intelligence – and the great discoveries of mathematics are interpreted as misconstrued discoveries about the planomenon (or plane of consistency), as exemplified by Gödel’s ‘arithmetical counterattack against axiomatisation’.Land eschews the orthodox philosophical reception of Gödel as the mathematician who put an end to Hilbert’s dream of absolute formal consistency, thus opening up a space for meta-mathematical speculation. More important, for Land, are the implications of Gödel’s ‘decoded’ approach to number, which builds on the Richard Paradox, generated by the insight that numbers are, at once, indices and data. [my italics]

The Gödel episode also gives Land occasion to expand upon the theme of the ‘stratification’ of number: according to the model of stratification, as the ‘lower strata’ of numbers become ever more consolidated and metrically rigidified, their problematic component reappears at a ‘higher’ strata in the form of ‘angelic’ mathematical entities as-yet resistant to rigorous coding. A sort of apotheosis is reached in this tendency with Gödel’s flattening of arithmetic through the cryptographic employment of prime numbers as numerical ‘particles’, and Cantor’s discovery of ‘absolute cardinality’ in the sequence of transfinites.

Thus for Land the interest of Gödel’s achievement is not primarily ‘mathematical’ but rather belongs to a lineage of the operationalisation of number in coding systems that will pass through Turing and into the technological mega-complex of contemporary techno-capital.

By using arithmetic to code meta-mathematical statements and hypothesising an arithmetical relation between the statements – an essentially qabbalistic procedure – Gödel also indicates the ‘reciprocity between the logicisation of number and the numerical decoding of language’, highlighting a possible revolutionary role for other non-mathematical numerical practices. As well as reappraising numerology in the light of such ‘lexicographic’ insights, the mapping of stratographic space opens up new avenues of investigation – limned in texts such as ‘Introduction to Qwernomics’ – into the effective, empirical effects of culture – chapters of a ‘universal history of contingency’ radicalising Nietzsche’s insight that ‘our writing equipment contributes its part to our thinking’. The varieties of ‘abstract culture’ present in games, rhythms, calendrical systems, etc., become the subject of an attempt at deliberate, micro-cultural insurrection through number, exemplified in the CCRU’s ‘hyperstitional’ spirals and the ‘qwertypological’ diagrams that in the end merge with the qabbalistic tracking of pure coding ‘coincidences’. Ultimately, it is not just a question of conceiving, but of practicing new ways of thinking the naming and numbering of things. Importantly, this allows Land to diagnose the ills of ‘postmodernism’ – the inflation of hermeneutics into a generalised historicist relativism – in a manner that differs from his contemporaries’ predominantly semantic interpretations of the phenomenon, and to propose a rigorous intellectual alternative that does not involve reverting to dogmatic modernism.1

Against Badiou and his followers of Platonic materialist measure, Land’s insight is to follow Deleuze and Guattari: “No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric. From the perspective of Land’s ‘transcendental arithmetic’, the Occidental mathematisation of number is denounced as a repressive mega-machine of knowledge – an excrescent outgrowth of the numbering practices native to exploratory intelligence – and the great discoveries of mathematics are interpreted as misconstrued discoveries about the planomenon (or plane of consistency), as exemplified by Gödel’s ‘arithmetical counterattack against axiomatisation’.

Diagrams

This leads to a notion of a-signifying systems as opposed to signifying, which brings us back to Land’s “No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric.” We learn from Deleuze’s and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature that the minor writer engages ‘a machine of expression capable of disorganizing its own forms, and of disorganizing the forms of content, in order to liberate pure contents which mingle with expression in a single intense matter’ (K 51).

Exactly how this revolutionary practice works is not clearly delineated in Kafka, for Deleuze and Guattari offer no satisfactory examples of the process of transformation which leads from deterritorialized sound to a dissolution and reconstruction of content. Some clarification of this process may be gained, however, from a consideration of Deleuze’s analysis of Francis Bacon’s approach to painting in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981). Deleuze notes that for modern artists, the blank canvas is not a tabula rasa, but the space of unconscious visual preconceptions and received conventions of representation, which the artist brings to the canvas and which he struggles against and tries to vanquish, escape, or subvert. For Francis Bacon, the moment of subversion comes during the process of painting when a chance stroke of the brush introduces a small locus of chaos, a limited catastrophe that Bacon calls a ‘diagram’.

‘The diagram’, says Deleuze, ‘is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but also a seed of order or of rhythm’ (FB 67). Bacon follows the suggested form, colour or line of this diagram and uses it as a generative device for constructing an intensive set of relations within the painting itself, which simultaneously deform the figure he started to paint and form a new figure of that deformed figure. Deleuze contrasts Bacon’s practice with that of abstract formalists, such as Mondrian and Kandinsky, and abstract expressionists, such as Pollock. The danger of abstract formalism is that the constraints of representation may simply be replaced with those of an abstract code, in which case the diagrammatic possibilities of chaos or catastrophe are banished from the canvas. The danger of abstract expressionism is that the diagram may cover the whole canvas and result in nothing but an undifferentiated mess. Bacon’s strategy is to paint portraits and studies of human figures, and hence to remain in a certain sense within the confines of representation, but to allow the diagram in each painting to deterritorialize the human subject, to introduce ‘a zone of Sahara into the head’, to split ‘the head into two parts with an ocean’ (FB 65), to make a leg melt into a puddle of purple or a body start to turn into a piece of meat. One finds resemblances between the configurations of paint and human figures, deserts, oceans, puddles, and rolled roasts, yet such resemblances are no longer productive, but simply produced. A resemblance may be said to be produced rather than productive ‘when it appears suddenly as the result of entirely different relations than those which it is charged with representing: resemblance then surges forth as the brutal product of non-resembling means’ (FB 75).1

An abstract machine is characterized by its matter – its hecceities, or relations of speeds and affects – but also by its function. The abstract machine of panopticism, for example, consists of a ‘pure matter’, a human multiplicity, and a ‘pure function’, that of seeing without being seen. What is important to note is that this function is neither semiotic nor physical, neither expression nor content, but an abstract function that informs both the expression-form of the discourse on delinquency and the content-form of the prison. Such an abstract function, characteristic of every abstract machine, Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘diagram’. Semioticians generally classify diagrams as simplified images, or icons, of things. But as Guattari points out, the image represents both more and less than a diagram; the image reproduces numerous aspects which a diagram does not retain in its representation, whereas the diagram brings together the functional articulations of a system with much greater exactitude and efficacy than the image. (Bogue, p. 135)

Visual graphs and charts are diagrams, but so are mathematical formulae, musical scores, and models in particle physics; and the more abstract the diagram is, the less it represents any particular thing, and the less it can be conceived of in terms of expression and content.  Mathematical equations articulate a self-referential system of relations which may be embodied in diverse contexts. Musical scores, although heavily ‘coded’ in traditional music (specific designations of instruments, tempi, and so on), in much electronic music function as abstract diagrams of differential speeds and intensities which a synthesizer embodies in various sounds. Models in particle physics fuse mathematical theories and experimental particles (theories isolating particles and particles generating theories) to such an extent that one may speak no longer of particles or signs, but of ‘particle-signs’, units in a self-referential experimental-theoretical complex. The function of an abstract machine is a diagram of this sort, a function ‘which has only “traits”, of content and expression, whose connection it assumes: one can no longer even say whether a trait is a particle or a sign’ (MP 176). Thus, in an abstract machine, content and expression yield to ‘a content-matter which presents only degrees of intensity, resistance, conductibility, heatability, stretchability, speed or slowness; an expression-function which presents only “tensors”, as in a mathematical or musical notation’ (MP 176-7). (Bogue, p. 135)

Indices and Data

So in the above when Bogue speaks of deterritorializeingthe human subject we should thinkg ‘decoding’ which is at the heart of Landian non-dialectical materialism. Land eschews the orthodox philosophical reception of Gödel as the mathematician who put an end to Hilbert’s dream of absolute formal consistency, thus opening up a space for meta-mathematical speculation. More important, for Land, are the implications of Gödel’s ‘decoded’ approach to number, which builds on the Richard Paradox, generated by the insight that numbers are, at once, indices and data. (Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007, ed. Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier).

This notion of numbers as ‘indices and data’ underlies the diagrammatic a-signifying theories of information of our digital age, and go to the heart of Deleuze’s conceptions of Societies of Control that modulate both individual and dividual by way of both the older form of discipline (Foucault) and newer forms of control (Deleuze). Such works as Ronald E. Day’s ‘Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data’ and others support as shift in the production of subjectivity showing the transition as indexes went from being explicit professional structures that mediated users and documents to being implicit infrastructural devices used in everyday information and communication acts. Doing so, he also traces three epistemic eras in the representation of individuals and groups, first in the forms of documents, then information, then data. Day investigates five cases from the modern tradition of documentation. He considers the socio-technical instrumentalism of Paul Otlet, “the father of European documentation” (contrasting it to the hermeneutic perspective of Martin Heidegger); the shift from documentation to information science and the accompanying transformation of persons and texts into users and information; social media’s use of algorithms, further subsuming persons and texts; attempts to build android robots — to embody human agency within an information system that resembles a human being; and social “big data” as a technique of neoliberal governance that employs indexing and analytics for purposes of surveillance. Finally, Day considers the status of critique and judgment at a time when people and their rights of judgment are increasingly mediated, displaced, and replaced by modern documentary techniques.

  1. Bogue, Ronald (2008-03-07). Deleuze and Guattari (Critics of the Twentieth Century) (p. 120-122). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

 

  1. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 620-627). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

A Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

Decided to move this from my last post on my work-in-progress Savage Nights.

Thinking of Capitalism as a necropunk invasion from the future, driven by death-drives, cannibalizing through crisis, collapse, catastrophe is at the core of what Bataille and Nick Land after him would term “base materialism” converging on the closure of history into a posthuman future. Or, what my friend Scott Bakker would term the ‘crash space’ of the Semantic Apocalypse.

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Chronicles of the High Inquest by S.P. Somtow

Working a new near future Grunge or Necropunk Noir Science Fiction I began collecting information regarding past uses of this notion. For me the master stylist of this genre remains Richard Calder with his Dead Girls/Dead Boys/Dead Things trilogy. (see review) He lived in Thailand 1990-1996 and later in the Philippines until returning to London in the first years of this century – who began publishing sf with “Toxine” in Interzone. Yet, there is also S.P. Somtow whose works may or may not have influenced Calder’s fusion of decodence, decadence, and necrotical politics and socio-cultural inflections, yet have at their bases the necropunk style and philosophy that seems to infect, contaminate, and corrupt this genre through its hyperstitional, memetic, and egregore enactments and disclosures of the was in which the future infects and bleeds into the past through slippage.

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Out of the Evening Land

evening

We always knew ours as the twilight land,
       The sheets of sun splayed across the sky’s emblazon,
The inflamed crimson peaks dashing upward against night’s victory;
       A world indifferent to our loves or hates,
Spurred fire springing like mustangs galloping across the dark horizon.

He said we should not look back, seek out the wisdom
       Of ancient sages and poets, but strike out
Toward the setting sun, our evening land of outer calm;
       Discover among the silences and deserts a new way forward,
A glimpse of things to come, of futurity without end; an openness.

The poor and poverty stricken will inherit the earth, her songs
       The grass tongued anthems of a new world;
A place where the human face is at once itself and other:
       A cause for celebration and murder, a violence that brings peace;
That turns armaments to cherished plowshares feeding all.

Paradise is but a thought of home, a place where friends gather,
       Break bread and listen to the stories of the day;
Where each man, woman, and child live in harmony with this chaos,
       Learn to accept death with an equanimity without redress;
Know with the knowing of things known: to question and be free.

Time is a river without beginning or end, a way into and out of things,
       A coursing through the light and dark alike;
We who have come lately into this darkness seek more than we can know;
       But this too is as it should be, a path sounding its way,
Swerving with and against the tide: the flow, the breaks and confusion.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Roughneck’s Labors

roughneck

He remembered the years of oil:
running pipe and chain, clasp and spin
across ice-bound derrick slicks;
hooked galleons of stained oblivion,
great lengths of steel heaved
out of a dark pit of silted earth;
men who wore grease like a badge,
suffered sleepless nights, rhythmically
pushing or pulling the hole, seeking
under the dead sea-bed below a sign –
the pitch and blend, salty exuberance;
long soaked, sweat tanged bodies;
up and down, slipping mud, sipping
salted taps of ancient oceans;
waiting for the call, a merciless flood:
rising, expanding, blowing the roof-
stench jacket to kingdom-come
and back till the primed loafer crawls
the jet-lined tube to extreme fire;
those jetted plumes, plants and dinosaurs,
resurrections pyre – fluid to flame:
out of their invisible lairs, carbon junkies
reading the tapes, moment accosting,
tampering against the cold and deeds
of steeled awareness, pain resolvers,
prided interlopers of the hell-bound heart.
Such men as these dug deep down clean,
brought forth good earth riches, black gold;
blend and mold, rigged accomplices
quick to fight, yet lovers all; whiskey
men flotilla bound, gifted with sublime
disgust only an explosion calms:
pop the cork, blast the cap; spew and gush
old glory till she shines all night, flamed and tapped.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Many may or may not know I grew up on Odessa in West Texas during the heyday of the Oil boom era of the 50’s. I worked alongside my Great-Grandpa, Grandpa, Uncles, cousins, etc. for years in the various aspects of the oil business. Knew it first hand. Men who worked hard and played hard. A forgotten era… yet, the same kind of men that worked the derricks then still do it around the world. To these working men I dedicate this one.

Georges Bataille’s Refutation of Hegel

MaxErnst-L'AngedufoyerouletriompheduSurrealisme1937

from a letter to Alexandre Kojève by Bataille:

If action (‘doing’) is – as Hegel says – negativity, the question arises as to whether the negativity of one who has ‘nothing more to do’ disappears or remains in a state of ‘unemployed negativity’. Personally, I can only decide in one way, being myself precisely this ‘unemployed negativity’… I imagine that my life – or, better yet, its aborting, the open wound that is my life – constitutes all by itself the refutation of Hegel’s closed system.

Giordano Bruno: The Lucretian Revival and Epicurean Materialism

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Slowly but surely gathering pieces of a puzzle together stretching from the early rise of scientific culture and the different threads of an energetic materialism that would inform such later thinkers as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Deleuze, Land and others. More and more the Renaissance revival of learning and translation of ancient Greek and Roman texts would form the basis of what we would come to know as Modernity. This is all fairly well scoped out through many histories, science studies, biographies, philosophical studies of the various eras. Yet, it does seem that certain individuals became catalysts within this emergence of science. Giordano Bruno beyond Copernicus and the other usual suspects seems a part of this inner thread of influence.

Stephen Greenblatt in his study of the emergence of Lucretius into scientific culture would attest to Bruno’s importance, saying:

One answer in the sixteenth century was a diminutive Dominican monk, Giordano Bruno. In the mid-1580s, the thirty-six-year-old Bruno, who had fled from his monastery in Naples and had wandered restlessly through Italy and France, found himself in London. Brilliant, reckless, at once charmingly charismatic and insufferably argumentative, he survived by cobbling together support from patrons, teaching the art of memory, and lecturing on various aspects of what he called the Nolan philosophy, named after the small town near Naples where he was born. That philosophy had several roots, tangled together in an exuberant and often baffling mix, but one of them was Epicureanism. Indeed, there are many indications that De rerum natura had unsettled and transformed Bruno’s whole world.1

He go on to report of Bruno in England telling us that during his stay in England, Bruno wrote and published a flood of strange works. The extraordinary daring of these works may be gauged by taking in the implications of a single passage from one of them, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, printed in 1584. (p. 41) This work which would be informed by hermeticism, magic, early science, religious dialogue, parody, etc. would conjure up in hallucinatory detail the hamlet where he was born, and Bruno would stage a philosophical farce, designed to show that divine providence, at least as popularly understood, is rubbish. (p. 44) This strange series of dialogues would show forth Bruno’s indebtedness to the Lucretian view. In Bruno’s view Nature is not an abstract capacity, but a generative mother, bringing forth everything that exists. We have, in other words, entered the Lucretian universe. (p. 45) As Greenblatt would say:

That universe was not for Bruno a place of melancholy disenchantment. On the contrary, he found it thrilling to realize that the world has no limits in either space or time, that the grandest things are made of the smallest, that atoms, the building blocks of all that exists, link the one and the infinite. “The world is fine as it is,” he wrote, sweeping away as if they were so many cobwebs innumerable sermons on anguish, guilt, and repentance. It was pointless to search for divinity in the bruised and battered body of the Son and pointless to dream of finding the Father in some far-off heaven. “We have the knowledge,” he wrote, “not to search for divinity removed from us if we have it near; it is within us more than we ourselves are.” And his philosophical cheerfulness extended to his everyday life. He was, a Florentine contemporary observed, “a delightful companion at the table, much given to the Epicurean life.” (p. 45)

Outspoken and obstinate, Bruno hated the bigoted and superficial culture of the church and would ultimately pay the price for his open and unwavering search for the truth. On February 17, 1600, the defrocked Dominican, his head shaved, was mounted on a donkey and led out to the stake that had been erected in the Campo dei Fiori. He had steadfastly refused to repent during the innumerable hours in which he had been harangued by teams of friars, and he refused to repent or simply to fall silent now at the end. His words are unrecorded, but they must have unnerved the authorities, since they ordered that his tongue be bridled. They meant it literally: according to one account, a pin was driven into his cheek, through his tongue, and out the other side; another pin sealed his lips, forming a cross. When a crucifix was held up to his face, he turned his head away. The fire was lit and did its work. After he was burned alive, his remaining bones were broken into pieces and his ashes— the tiny particles that would, he believed, reenter the great, joyous, eternal circulation of matter— were scattered. (pp. 48-49)

Some of the better works on Bruno available in English:


  1. Greenblatt, Stephen (2012-09-04). The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (p. 41). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Georges Bataille: The Excremental Vision as Solar Ecstasy

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Max Ernst: Birdhead

Waking up I associate the horror of rats with the memory of my father correcting me… this has the effect of reminding me that my father being young would have wanted to do something atrocious to me with pleasure.
………– Georges Bataille, The Dream

Parody and wit are central to Bataille’s vision of the world: “It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.”1 This sense that nothing is what it seems, that appearances are deceptive, that the world is – as Vladimir Nabokov once observed: “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” A world lost in the game of time, bound within an endless labyrinth of signs: a floating sea of inference and parodic display where vision and language are tied together in a false totality, connected and connecting word to word  in an endless stream of linguistic copulas to Ariadne’s thread moving further and further into the darkness of a receding abyss. Yet, it was against this false semblance of Idealism that Bataille would lop the head of reason in favor of an interior journey into the labyrinths of the physical body itself, down into the sacred precincts of cruelty, sex, and violence. A voyage into the Solar Anus where love and life are conjugated with “continuous circular movement,” and the “surface of the earth is the image of a continuous metamorphosis”. (Bataille, p. 7)

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The Occult Revival – Literature, Hermeticism, Magic and Philosophy

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In the night, in solitude, tears,
On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck’d in by the sand,
Tears, not a star shining, all dark and desolate…
………. – Walt Whitman, Sea-Drift

ISIDORE DUCASSE, who wrote the Chants de Maldoror under the pseudonym ‘Comte de Lautréamont’, considered by many the progenitor of Surrealism – a connoisseur of evil and death, a decadent with a penchant for vitriol and numbers; a flamboyant self-indulgent and excessive delight in the necrophilic and erotic affiliation of late romantic death and decadence, the bizarre, and the black comedy of revolt and disgust. Writing under the guise of a “sublime literature that sings of despair” he strove only to awaken in the dead reader a remembrance of the Good is itself a part of the gallows humor he was prone too, a devilish mixture of rage and despair brought to a high pitch of fierce and virulent nihilism: one that brokered the complete annihilation of progressive enlightenment values and politics.

I hail you, old ocean!
……– Comte de Lautréamont, Maldoror

Lautréamont’s great Hymn to the Ocean is still a strange and disquieting paean to the power of Nature over man, to his subservience; a late romantic motif and parodic satire of Romantic Nature and the Sublime. He sought to convey a counter-sublime and a religious inversion of the Romantic poets into perverse decadence, whose dark measure of sex and violence would conclude in the pages of Maldoror. Against the implacable majesty of the Ocean as Romantic Nature he offered us a beautiful and deadly Vampire Queen, a cannibal mistress of deserts and the abyss, against the fetid progeny of a landlocked hollow ape whose demented civilizations were mediocre and deliquescent at best: “The great universal family of men is a utopia worthy of the most mediocre logic”.1

Like those decadent Satanists from Baudelaire to Huysmans (convert to Catholicism) Lautréamont’s dabbling in this downward mythos would be more titillation and symbolic than real. A master of the parodic sublime he would offer a perverse entry into an aesthetic appreciation of the gothic and its dark cousin, the macabre: “Tell me, then, if you are the abode of the Prince of Darkness. Tell me… tell me, ocean (only me, so as to cause no grief to those who till now have known only illusions), tell me if it is the breath of Satan that creates the tempests which whip your salt-water cloud-high. You must tell me, for I would rejoice to know that hell is so near to man.” (KL 629-631). He would like many follow the song of opiates: “The magic poppies of an ineffable drowsiness envelop, like a veil filtering the light of day, the active power of my senses and the tenacious strength of my imagination.” (KL 1124-1125). What Lautréamont’s work sought above all was a Lucretian cosmos, an atheistic return of the pregnant cosmos of vital matter where the natural in man would once again be attuned to the immanent powers of the universe in all its monstrous glory.

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The Excess of Matter: Bataille, Immanence, and Death

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But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others we know not of.
– from Hamlet, Shakespeare

How do we face the inevitable? Death, the “undiscovered country” of which Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks? As a poet of the will Shakespeare’s naturalism aligns well with that Epicurean Titus Lucretius Carus. Shakespeare whose “erotics of being” would ensconce what R. Allen Shoaf in Lucretius and Shakespeare on the Nature of Things would term the naturalism of “great creating nature,” (The Winter’s Tale). For Shakespeare death was not of essence since the fecundity of Nature is endless. Death is but a fragmentary entombing, a little sleep and silence. What matters is the mattering of productive and energetic nature from womb to tomb and back again. The eternal round and return from beginnings to endings, cycles upon cycles a sounding out of the depths of time as time’s return through its own mattering formlessness; a continuous play of life in the shadows of oblivion.

Lucretius would tell us in his stark and poetic response that “death is nothing to us“: “Nil igitur mors est ad nos. . .”. We should not fear it, it is the natural in us fulfilling its destiny; nothing more. There is no unique meaning, no need for constructing fabulous paradises or hells to plunge ourselves beyond the truth of animal death. Death is non-meaning: meaningless in itself, a final terminus of life lived out in a natural universe. Then why do people fear and dread death?

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Nick Land: On Schopenhauer

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Kant’s critical philosophy is the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth!

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land unlike Badiou or Zizek will tell us that it is to Schopenhauer that we should return, not Kant or Hegel. “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.”1

This sense of a diagnostic philosophy rather than a speculative, phenomenological, or meditative steers us into that other materialist tradition that has for the most part seamlessly vanished from site in the past few years, while luminaries of the left will follow such dematerialist materialisms under the sign of the Lacanian ‘Gap’ or ‘Lack’ as Alain Badiou (Mathematization of Being) and Slavoj Zizek (Self-Relating Nothingness) uphold. Land admonishes us to know that before such speculative materialists as Quentin Meillassoux with his notion of the contingency of things and his anarchic obliteration of the principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer had already laid the groundwork. Schopenhauer considers “the principle of sufficient reason or logicality of being to have a merely superficial validity” (Land, p. 9). In other words for Schopenhauer the principle of sufficient reason is not so much an objective truth, as it is a heuristic device – an exploratory mind-tool that serves a particular function in the philosopher’s tool-bag.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism reverses the typical hierarchy of intellect and will, and opts for will as the primary relation and volitional act of a representing subject, and redefines this notion as the ‘desire’ that shapes our actions from a pre-representational movement of blind reckoning and pulsation. Against any form of speculative thought which for Schopenhauer and Land is seen under the sign of optimism and the ‘logic of social progress’, both seek a pessimism of unconditional revolt instead. (ibid., p. 12) Against history and historicism Schopenhauer will enunciate an inhuman discourse that obliterates the semantic concerns of a humanistic world as typified in the Kantian notion of finitude and limits. Rather than a speculative mode that seeks to sustain or take-over and master the world, politically motivated to spawn terror and revolutions; pessimism seeks to escape the exploitative and confined constraints that the State and Church impose; and that of all authoritarian systems based in external forms of normativity. Yet, as Land will describe it Schopenhauer was not political per se, he had no real plan or political programme, and was in tendency closer to a reactionary than a progressive in our modern sense. As Land will tell us Schopenhauer’s plan was an exit plan, a mode of “departure in the mode of renunciation, which is to say, he lacked a nomadology, or failed to explore the delirial antilogic that leads out of the maze.” (Land, p. 13) In the end Schopenhauer will serve for Land as enunciating a full blown pessimism which became among other things the “first truly transcendental critique, operated against being, and in particular against the highest being, by the impersonal negativity of time or denial.” (Land, p. 14) In other words a truly atheistic materialism.

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)