Dialectics alone might settle the Greek argument whether like is known by like or by unlike. If the thesis that likeness alone has that capacity makes us aware of the indelible mimetic element in all cognition and all human practice, this awareness grows untrue when the affinity—indelible, yet infinitely far removed at the same time—is posited as positive. In epistemology the inevitable result is the false conclusion that the object is the subject.
– Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics
Blindness was ever an aspect of art…
– Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
The notion of an antithetical philosophy, one that goes against the grain of tradition or even contemporary soundings, that explicates the indiscernible truths that inhabit the hyperstitional, rather than the exposed and propounded truths that light up the fractured mediawaves of our collapsing Western mindset, this and this alone is the path of the inhuman in our time. I follow Badiou in seeking an art by way of aesthesis, by a material perception that is both immanent and singular. Art is immanent in the sense that its truth is given in its immediacy in a given work of art, and singular in that its truth is found in art and art alone—hence reviving the ancient materialist concept of “aesthesis”. Badiou views this as the link between philosophy and art and ties it into the motif of pedagogy, which he claims functions so as to “arrange the forms of knowledge in a way that some truth may come to pierce a hole in them”.
Yet, against Badiou who argued that “acceptable art must be subjected to the philosophical surveillance of truths”, as if the new nova police, the regime of some elite tribunal of truth procedures would oversee the art, philosophy, and education of the populace under the sign of mathematical purity, I offer only a Deleuzian line of flight, a rhizomatic escape valve that does not so much imply a hostility toward the mainstream, but rather it signals a desire to leave the society that exists, to leave it to its own devices, and to grow creative (with new devices) with other like-minded beings out of the ruins of late capitalism.
Rather than staying with the circle of mindfulness, the Kantian phenomenal realm of surface and texture, of the realm of the given – that which is for us – I seek the emptiness, voidness, openness, spaciousness, and vacuity of things, an immanence of their relations as invariant to the human, – as the inhuman within the human and beyond it. What this means is that there are certain consistencies in things and events that even if we as humans perceive them they cannot be constrained or changed by our interoperations and negotiations with them. What used to be the dualism of appearance and reality is marginalized into a monism that seeks neither the surface texture of phenomenon, nor the direct confrontation with things-in-themselves (Kant), but rather the workings of that strange agent at the core of our own being: the brain, creator of worlds and maker of all we know and see.
For it is the essential in our time to explore the operations of that singular organ from which all things proceed if we are ever to understand the truth of ourselves and the world we inhabit. We have no magic access to this organ, and in fact are blind to its processes, as well as ignorant of its ways of manipulating our reality towards ends of its own making. For too long we have presumed our power over the kingdoms of the natural realms, when we are not even masters in our own home. Philosophy has been unable to confront the truth of reality for the simple reason that we are bound by the inner constraints of an organ that was uniquely formed through evolutionary processes to know and understand its environment rather than its own nature.
The self-reflecting entity we assume is our self, the subject at the center of our consciousness if but the flotsam and jetsam of an afterthought, a temporary focal point for the complex operations of our brain in its infinitesimal complexity. We are but the artifacts of its devices, functions of its ongoing exploration of an environment from which it ions ago arose. Like drops of water in an infinite ocean of which we are unaware we flow forward into the realms of the senses taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and touch that our extended appendages have evolved for us.
We are neither the center nor circumference of all we purvey, but rather are the minute and insignificant animals we always were; and, yet because of our weaknesses we developed mental tools beyond the reach or capacity of our cousins in the ape kingdom in ways that were unforeseen. There never was a big Other behind the screen pulling the switches, guiding us toward some paradisial palace of dreams; instead, we are the happenstance accidents of an evolutionary process that is still ongoing, and will like all extinct creatures before us ultimately die off. It is not the individual that survives but rather the species.
With Copernicus came the displacement of the earth as the center of the cosmos. With Darwin the truth of our origins gave us again our true birthright as animals on an evolving planet revolving around a minor star on the edge of a minor galaxy. With Freud cam the knowledge that we are not even the master’s in our own homes: our bodies. And, now, we are entering what Luciano Floridi terms the “fourth revolution” in which a re-ontologization of humans and environment is taking place in which the older metaphysical oppositions and binary codes give way to an acknowledgement of the human as an information organism (inforg) within a complex environment of both natural and technological artifacts that we neither control nor command but as one among many live with on the same ontological footing.
This is not an essentialism, it is an acknowledgement of the voidic core at the heart of being which remains whether we perceive it or not. What this means is simply that one cannot identify one’s self as special, as distinct from all other life on the planet. The realm of nature and our artificial and technological realms – I reiterate, are not for us: not given. We are in the midst of a restructuring process of the notion of what it means to be human, our knowledge of ourselves is limited and fragmented since we as of yet know so little about the mechanics of our own brain much less the operations and informational indexes of our planetary life. What we do know is that our religious and philosophical, cultural and moral, mappings or cartographies of mind and nature need a thorough revamping. Our planet is in a precarious state, and we who know so little act as if we knew everything and can do with the earth what we will. We cannot. The time of human exceptionalism is at an end.
Against the phenomenological traditions based on notions of “intentionality” and “directedness” I seek a nondirected form of perception. Emptiness, the signless, and the undirected are names for a state of concentration that lies on the threshold of Unbinding. They differ only in how they are approached. Accordingly, they color one’s first apprehension of an Unbinding of things: a meditator who has been focusing on the theme of inconstancy will first apprehend Unbinding as signless; one who has been focusing on the theme of stress will first apprehend it as undirected; one who has been focusing on the theme of the inhuman will first apprehend it as emptiness. Though we perceive a world of concrete and discrete objects, these objects are “empty” of the identity imputed by their designated labels. What we perceive is there form emptied of meaning, which is the same as saying form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
For too long things have been attached to human meaning rather than being allowed to have their own meanings. What we seek is an unbinding of those human attachments of meaning: signs and intentional or directed impositions. One might say the unbinding is an act of seclusion, a separation out or unbinding of the constraints that humans have imposed on the forms of things to their own telos or purposes. Deprived of our sensory input, our bodily necessities and external desires the form of things can exhibit their own uniqueness, singularity, and solidarity beyond our human wants and desires. Stripped of human meaning the emptiness of things reveal and revel in their own powers and dispositions.
There is nothing new in this way, I’ve gleaned these ideas, notions, and thoughts from a myriad of sources in my life. From and early age I was trained in martial arts, and was heavily influenced by forms of Daoist and Buddhist forms of thought and life. The notion of Śūnyatā will be well known to those practitioners of the various traditions of the Mādhyamaka. Yet, against the notion of co-dependence and co-arising, an idealism in which things have no independence of their own but are like the Platonic Forms or Ideas (eidos) dependent on us arising with us in unison inwardly. I cut against this philosophical grain and formulate an independence of things that are no longer mind-dependent, a realism not of objects or subjects but of the void between them. At the heart of this is a substanceless view of reality, in which things, events, entities are less than nothing: for to say they are nothing is to give nothing a positive value, and to say they are not nothing is to give nothing a negative value. Instead, as Ray Brassier, remarks after Lacan:
To think oneself in accordance with a real which is without essence does not mean to think oneself to be this rather than that; a human being rather than a thing. To think oneself according to an inconsistent real which punctures nothingness itself means to think oneself as identical with a last-instance which is devoid of even the minimal consistency of the void. The real is less than nothing— which is certainly not to equate it with the impossible (Lacan).1
Against both Zizek and Badiou I oppose any return to a Transcendental Materialism of any form of stripe based on the subject or subjectivation, instead we seek a Transcendental Realism of the Void decentered of subject and objects altogether that accepts that which is form and number as information.
First we should grasp exactly what substance itself has meant in art and philosophy. The philosophical term ‘substance’ corresponds to the Greek ousia, which means ‘being’, transmitted via the Latin substantia, which means ‘something that stands under or grounds things’. According to the generic sense, therefore, the substances in a given philosophical system are those things which, according to that system, are the foundational or fundamental entities of reality. Substances are a particular kind of basic entity, and some philosophical theories acknowledge them and others do not.3
Zizek in his critique of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics puts his hands on the ball then falls back to his own subject based self-reflecting nothingness, etc., when he says:
We can see now why Adorno’s project of “negative dialectics,” which sees itself as the overcoming of Hegel’s “positive” dialectics, misses the point. “Negative dialectics” wants to break out of the confines of the “principle of identity” which enslaves or subordinates every otherness through conceptual mediation. In Hegel’s idealism, negativity, alterity, and difference are asserted, but only as subordinate secondary moments serving their opposite— the absolute Subject re-appropriates all otherness, “sublating” it into a moment of its own self-mediation. Adorno counters this with his “primacy of the objective”: instead of appropriating or internalizing all otherness, dialectics should remain open towards it, granting ultimate primacy to the objective over the subjective, to difference over identity. (Zizek, KL 6094-6107)
What Zizek tries to do is overturn Adorna’s conception and tell us that it is not Hegel but Adorno himself who is caught in the webs of “identitarian” thought:
…it is Adorno’s “negative dialectics” which, paradoxically, remains within the confines of “identitarian” thought: the endless critical “work of the negative” which is never done, since it presupposes Identity as its starting point and foundation. In other words, Adorno does not see how what he is looking for (a break-out from the confines of Identity) is already at work at the very heart of the Hegelian dialectic, so that it is Adorno’s very critique which obliterates the subversive core of Hegel’s thought, retroactively cementing the figure of his dialectic as the pan-logicist monster of the all-consuming Absolute Notion.
Instead it is Zizek himself who is caught in the webs of the Subject, the voidic self-reflecting navel gazing object of his less than nothing identity-void, the core of his lack, the void of his own existence.
Yet, if one reads Adorno’s Negative Dialectics carefully what Zizek implies is a falsification of its features. Zizek has this habit of always turning the screw, of doubling back, of twisting the kernel of another’s conception so that it benefits Lacan or Hegel his pet progenitors, his chosen fathers: his Oedipal fixation and fetish. Against this Adorno holds that dark realities can eclipse dazzling ideas, and that theory, however noncontradictory, cannot undo a contradictory practice. He contends that if nonidentical objects belie the identity of subjectivism—even of collective subjectivism—that identity is not truth but a lie. And his defense of all this, the reason why a believer feels compelled to disavow articles of his own creed, is that the negativity of the concrete particular, of things as we see and experience them in our time, makes his the true, the “negative” dialectics.
As Adorno himself states it:
Nonidentity is the secret telos of identification. It is the part that can be salvaged; the mistake in traditional thinking is that identity is taken for the goal. The force that shatters the appearance of identity is the force of thinking: the use of “it is” undermines the form of that appearance, which remains inalienable just the same. Dialectically, cognition of nonidentity lies also in the fact that this very cognition identifies—that it identifies to a greater extent, and in other ways, than identitarian thinking. This cognition seeks to say what something is, while identitarian thinking says what something comes under, what it exemplifies or represents, and what, accordingly, it is not itself. The more relentlessly our identitarian thinking besets its object, the farther will it take us from the identity of the object. Under its critique, identity does not vanish but undergoes a qualitative change. Elements of affinity—of the object itself to the thought of it—come to live in identity.4
The point here is that there is another use of the notion of identity that Zizek would have us forget or pass over, and instead attributes to Adorno and identitarian thought that is not his at all. As Adorno remarks:
To define identity as the correspondence of the thing-in-itself to its concept is hubris; but the ideal of identity must not simply be discarded. Living in the rebuke that the thing is not identical with the concept is the concept’s longing to become identical with the thing. This is how the sense of nonidentity contains identity. The supposition of identity is indeed the ideological element of pure thought, all the way down to formal logic; but hidden in it is also the truth moment of ideology, the pledge that there should be no contradiction, no antagonism. (Adorno, KL 2700-2704)
But how to attain the real sense of the identity of things that do not trap them in a substantive formalism? Again Adorno:
Such hope is contradictorily tied to the breaks in the form of predicative identity. Philosophical tradition had a word for these breaks: “ideas.” They are neither nor an empty sound; they are negative signs. The untruth of any identity that has been attained is the obverse of truth. The ideas live in the cavities between what things claim to be and what they are. Utopia would be above identity and above contradiction; it would be a togetherness of diversity.
Let’s reread that. These “ideas” are neither sound nor empty sound, they are negative signs; and, this identity is not founded on truth or truth procedures, but untruth and lies; and, these ideas live in the void between things and events rather than in the substantive form of the thing, entity, or object itself as self-identity. This would be a substanceless philosophy based on a negation of human meaning, signs, identities, subjectivities, etc. One that unbinds the thing from its identity and allows an ontology of sound (negative signs) as ideas, as vibrant tonal and atonal dialectic of sound and noise generative and productive within the void between what things and events claim to be and what they are. Isn’t this what Zizek himself once affirmed in Organs Without Bodies “a true materialism joyously assumes the “disappearance of matter,” the fact that there is only void.”
So an inaesthetic philosophy shall follow the negative vita of Adorno while admitting that even Zizek does not know what he knows. We are moving toward an informational ontology here; one that includes the noise of resistance at its core, a cry from the void. Noise is a double-edged sword that can form the core of an inaesthetic resistance toward command and control, but it can also in turn allow those very systems to in turn sap our cognitive resources and abilities, leaving at best only survival, consuming and escapist practices in their wake.
As for Floridi and his accounts of inforspheres, inforgs, and information, he adds a new form of “conceptual design”:
Philosophy as conceptual design is therefore a realistic philosophy, which treats semantic artefacts as mind-and reality-co-dependent, in the same way as a house is not a representation but the outcome of a specific architectural design both constrained and afforded by the building materials.9
But against this notion of co-dependence which still seems an idealism turned inward one must affirm otherwise that this is not a realism since it does not affirm the independence of the real, but rather makes it dependent upon the mind even if that mind is an information organism. We must find a foothold in the realm of a realism that affirms the transcendent power of the external in the concept for this notion of conceptual design to gain traction. Much work needs to be done here.
In the worlds of myth that have slipped through the secular gates of our age there is a resuscitation of those old legends of the Jewish people that have remained among us like broken vessels seeking redemption. These Jewish rabbis of the Kabbalah once told of a great tree which made up the body of God. That before our world God had created many worlds before ours and destroyed them all dissatisfied with their imperfections. The Bahir speaks of the Sefiroth Gevurah or Din as the Left Hand of God, and so as a permitted evil. Out of this came the Kabbalistic doctrine that located evil in the spaces of reason, or in Kabbalistic terms Din brought forth the sitra ahra or “the other side,” the sinister qualities that came out of a Name of God, but fell away from the Name.
The Zohar assigned to the sitra ahra ten Sefirot all its own, ten sinister crowns representing the remnants of worlds that God first made and then destroyed. In one of the great poetic images of esoteric tradition, Moses de Leon compared evil to the bark of the tree of the Sefirot, the kellipah. The creatures of this bark – Samael and his wife Lilith, or Satan and the chief of the Witches – became the Zohar, almost worthy antagonists of God. Kellippot, conceived first as bark, became regarded also as husks or shells or broken vessels of evil. But even in the Kellippot, according to the Zohar, there abides a saving spark of good. This notion, that there are sparks in the kellippot that can be redeemed, and redeemed by the acts of men alone and not of God, became the starting point of Kabbalah.5
Walter Benjamin once remarked that in “the idea of a classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time. And this is a good thing. It was only when the Social Democrats elevated this idea to an “ideal” that the trouble began.”6 As we move forward let us remember that a secularized notion of Kabbalah would also entail the need to redeem democracy from its dark husks that have been entrapped like lost sparks in a dead body, the dead body of Capital. Is this political mysticism, or an inaesthetic appropriation of artistic and religious designs toward secular ends? In using this outmoded forms of religious myth, ritual, and practice are we not giving way to those secret hyperstitional worlds that surround us in the shadows like so many demons waiting to have their moment in the light? Are, or we rather exposing the underlying belly of social forms that need to be thought through so that the sparks or ideas hidden in their secularized voids might benefit us as we emerge from our own evil husks within the ruins of late capitalism?
Maybe like Marx we need a messianic time, a time of renewal and hope, a time to reawaken from our dark dreams of capital and reaffirm the impulses and pulses of those ideas that once trumpeted through the evil husks of the 19th Century a message of communal solidarity and freedom, based on propertyless rights and a sense of justice that was inclusive of all those inhuman creatures which we share this planet with. And even if Marx himself did not think of those creatures in those terms we do, and that is enough. Yet, in this messianic time there will be no influx of the divine, but rather an influx of the void at the heart of things devoid of our human impositions and constraints. For too long we have looked upon the world as given, and tried to read the earth as if it were a repository of signs for us to decipher by the discovery of gaps, absences, and tensions inherent in the world-as-text. No more, no semiotician will decipher this knot of dark kellipots, nor redeem us from our own broken vessels. The earth is not our book, neither is it our network or assemblage, it is neither a totality nor some incomplete object to be concluded. It is an open mystery, neither to be contemplated nor known in its entirety, rather it is part of an ongoing process that is the universe of which we are finite sparks of informational negativity seeking to understand our place in it instead of mastering it for our own use.
And what if this is all conjecture, opinion, speculation? What then? That old goat, Nietzsche believed the little lies we tell ourselves, the logical fictions, the philosophical spin to keep ourselves alive were healthy:
The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing, and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us, that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely IMAGINED world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live–that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. TO RECOGNISE UNTRUTH AS A CONDITION OF LIFE; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.7
Did not Adorno himself admit as much: “Artworks detach themselves from the empirical world and bring forth another world, one opposed to the empirical world as if this other world too were an autonomous entity.”8 But this is not Platonic realm of eternal forms, this is a creation of necessity, of the moment, temporary autonomous zones of hazard and risk where the concept, idea, and world come together in strange ways and form relations into odd entities that did not exist before. Like everything art is a product of history, a desiring production of temporary duration, that once it melds with the mesh of the world will – as all things do, pass away. But in the movement of the world that art is we begin to perceive those transitions and becomings that register the virtual patterns of our lives in ways unforeseen. Art is neither mirror nor lamp, but the negative refraction of that spark which lives in the void of your being; and, this is not some transcendental category of subjectivity beyond the present moment, rather it is the immanent relation of your livingness in this becoming instant, a slip from the river of time, a dance on the edge of that black hole where all things – even light fall forward.
Fugitive guests in the midst of complex systems we did not conceive we travel among their becoming processes, neither directed nor directing their paths toward ends other than those offered through their particular modes of existence . We have learned to invent spaces of habitation in the midst of this vast wilderness of timespace, and are only beginning to realize that our continuity is with all the forms of existence we share this fragile earth with. We can no longer think of ourselves independent of the environment which encompasses us and is our actual not virtual foundation. Our lives as a species – and we are not singular, but a multitude – begin and end in this environmental fold as willing guests or as victims of our own misguided volitions. We must choose our path forward. Let us choose wisely. We have much to learn together, and it is a collective enterprise not some solitary game or strategy of reason and power. May we all come together and reason at the table of our habitation and create a way for us all rather than for the few and the mighty.
This is only a beginning – our beginning
1. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2007, p. 137.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 21362-21368). Norton. Kindle Edition.
3. Robinson, Howard, “Substance”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/substance/>.
4. Adorno, Theodor W. (2003-12-16). Negative Dialectics (Kindle Locations 2692-2699). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
5. Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Ernst Cassirer Publications Fund, 2002)
6. Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940. ( Harvard University Press, 2006)
7. Nietzsche, Friedrich; Bill Chapko (2010-03-01). Nietzsche’s Best 8 Books (Gay Science, Ecce Homo, Zarathustra, Dawn, Twilight of the Idols, Antichrist, Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals) (Kindle Locations 14946-14952). . Kindle Edition.
8. Theodor W. Adorno. Aesthetic Theory. (University of Minnesota Press, 1997)
9. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 2). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.