On Dark Realism: Part One

On Dark Realism

The question for speculative realism then becomes: of what does speculation consist? The answers to this are as diverse as the field of speculative realism itself. What they have in common, however, is a desire to break with the recollective model of knowledge as well as the authority of phenomena, and to engage problems that are, roughly speaking, metaphysical in nature.

 —Tom Sparrow, The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism 

For me there is no natural or supernatural, we’ve been imposing human categories on the Real for so long that the these categories of thought have become reality rather than Real. Now that the actual Real is resisting our categories of thought we are left pondering all our idiotic axioms. The Real is what resists our explanatory explanandum; that is the only viable realism. It’s so dark and unknown that we must start from the beginning, erase the human categories of thought and begin negotiating and communicating with the resisting forces of the Real. This is not a War but an admission of absolute alterity in all relations. The non-human other is speaking to us, but we are not listening. Time to enter the dark…

Reading a recent essay by Eugene Thacker on Mark Fisher’s last book before his untimely death The Weird and the Eerie, he reminds us of a statement by H.P. Lovecraft from that horror writer’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu”:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

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Slavoj Žižek: Catastrophe Creation and Spectral Materialism

Having entered into the empty territory of fears, he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the vastation, the great emptiness and apophatic kenoma, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction in the negation of negation.
………– Valentinus, 2nd Century Gnostic

The frustrating nature of our human existence, the very fact that our lives are forever out of joint, marked by a traumatic imbalance, is what propels us towards permanent creativity.
………– Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing

The Gnostics provide innovative and oftentimes disturbing interpretations of the creation stories they read in the Hebrew scrolls of Genesis. Unlike their Christian rivals they read this unique work in reverse, providing an exegesis that enabled the universe of process and change we see around us as the handiwork not of some supreme Being (God), but rather as the botched and catastrophic bungling and error of an inferior Demiurge.  They concluded that a distinction, often a dualistic distinction, must be made between the acosmic, spiritual deity, who is surrounded by aeons and is all wisdom and light, and the creator of the world, who is at best incompetent and at worst malevolent. Yet through everything, they maintained, a spark of transcendent knowledge, wisdom, and light persists within people who are in the know. The acosmic deity is the source of that enlightened life and light. The meaning of the creation drama, when properly understood, is that human beings—gnostics in particular—derive their knowledge and light not from the transcendent acosmic god, but through the mean-spirited actions of the demiurge, the creator of this world, wherein they have been confined and imprisoned. (The platonic aspects of this imagery are apparent.) Humans in this world are imprisoned, asleep, drunken, fallen, ignorant. They need to subtract themselves from the catastrophic trauma and consequences of the Real—to be freed, awakened, made sober, raised, and enlightened. In other words, they need to return to the gnosis of the spectral materialism of the gap just beyond the self-lacerating “night of the world”.1

The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here—pure self—in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head—there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye—into a night that becomes awful.
…….– Hegel, The Night of the World

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