Nomadic Ethics: Deleuze and the Ethics of Freedom

War machines take shape against the apparatuses that appropriate the machine and make war their affair and their object: they bring connections to bear against the great conjunction of the apparatuses of capture and domination.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Nomadology: The War Machine

Against those like Badiou or Zizek and their sense of the negative and negation as the basis of subjectivity, the nomadic ethics of Deleuze affirms the positivity of Otherness, of life as zoe (from ancient Greek ζωή, meaning spiritual life, in contrast to Bios, meaning biological life).  Amor fati: that we must be, as Rosi Braidotti reminds us, “worthy of what happens to us and rework it within an ethics of relation, without falling into negativity” (ibid. 185). This is an ethics of relation, praxis, and complexity that promotes a radical ethics of transformation, an ontology of process (a vision of subjectivity that is propelled by affects and relations), and moves subjectivity beyond the reflective negativity and toward “reciprocity as creation, not as the recognition of Sameness” (194, ibid.). The keys to this nomadic ethics of freedom are self-determination through resistance and transgressive discipline, as well as the interminable critical analysis and questioning of all forms of repressive regimes. Finally, the need to think globally, but act locally – a shibboleth of our times still holds true for any viable microrevolutionary nomadism. As Braidotti remarks: “Localized and concrete ethical gestures and political activities matter more than grand overarching projects. … nomadic theory is a form of ethical pragmatism” (196, ibid.).

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The Rat King: Mutability and the Art of Change

The story goes that Karni Mata once tried to restore the dead child of a storyteller back to life but failed because Yama, the god of death, had already accepted his soul and re-incarnated him in human form. Karni Mata, famed for her legendary temper, was so inflamed by her failure that she announced that no one from her tribe would fall into Yama’s hands again. Instead, when they died, all of them would temporarily inhabit the body of a rat before being reborn into the tribe. Therefore, the rats are considered to be incarnations of storytellers and are much revered.[1]

At Christmas I wished for a rat, in the hope, no doubt, of stimulus words for a poem about the education of the human race.
– Gunter Grass


Have you ever thought of becoming a Rat? Maybe like Chang Tzu and his butterfly, but with a nightmare twist, you are just a rat dreaming it is human:

“Once I, Chuang Tzu, dreamed I was a butterfly and was happy as a butterfly. I was conscious that I was quite pleased with myself, but I did not know that I was Tzu. Suddenly I awoke, and there was I, visibly Tzu. I do not know whether it was Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming that he was Tzu. Between Tzu and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is called the transformation of things.”

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The Abyss of Freedom

“”This is the sadness which adheres to all finite life…From it comes the veil of sadness which is spread over the whole of nature, the deep indestructible melancholy of all life.”
F.W.J. Schelling

“Schelling is one of the first philosophers seriously to begin the destruction of the model of metaphysics based on the idea of true representation, a destruction which can be seen as one of the key aspects of modern philosophy from Heidegger to the later Wittgenstein and beyond. He is, at the same time, unlike some of his successors, committed to an account of human reason which does not assume that reason’s incapacity to ground itself should lead to an abandonment of rationality.”
– Andrew Bowie, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

What is this sadness that adheres to all finite life, and what must this indestructible melancholy be to have forced Schelling into so dark a turn in his philosophical thinking?

Andrew Bowie, speaking of Schelling, tells us that “we cannot, he maintains, make sense of the manifest world by beginning with reason, but must instead begin with the contingency of being and try to make sense of it with the reason which is only one aspect of it and which cannot be explained in terms of its being a representation of the true nature of being.”[1] He goes on to say that Schelling contends that the identity of thought and being cannot be articulated within thought, because thought must presuppose that they are identical in a way which thought, as one side of a relation, cannot comprehend.(ibid.) Schelling tells us:

“Activated selfhood is necessary for life’s intensity; without there would be complete death, goodness slumbering; for where there is no battle there is no life. The will of the depths is therefore only the awakening of life, not evil immediately and for itself….Whoever has no material or force for evil in himself is also impotent for good…..The time of merely historical faith is past, as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given.” [2]

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Abyss radiance: Toward a Dark Realism

Nihil est sine ratione….nothing is without a reason.”
– Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

“We have to allow the reality of force in physics.”
from the Theodicy, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

In his Theodicy Leibniz comes to a theory of finitude saying, “A fuller power to represent the universe is necessarily combined with dominance over an organized troop of members; for the mind knows the universe only in so far as the universe is expressed in its body. That is what the finitude of the mind means.”[1] He sees the objective universe of brute matter as devoid of mind, and “representation, in the required sense, is a mental act; brute matter can represent nothing, only mind can represent.” [ibid. p. 23]

His theory of representation is seen as atomistic and in that sense based upon a correlation of all objects as bodies: “Each monad, if it is to be anything at all, must be a continuing finite representation of the universe, and to be that it must have a body, that is to say, it must have other monads in a permanent relation of mutual correspondence with it.”[ ibid. p. 23] In some ways he was moving toward a fractal monadology: “The wonders revealed by that new miracle, the microscope, suggested what the intrinsic divisibility of space itself suggests—whatever organization is broken up, there will still be a minute organization within each of the fragments which remains unbroken—and so ad infinitum.” Then he moves into the realm of a weird realism, a strangeness in which “the truth of things” is revealed in such a way that “each monad is simply its own mental life, its own world-view, its own thoughts and desires. To know things as they are would be simultaneously to live over, as though from within and by a miracle of sympathy, the biographies of an infinite number of distinct monads.”[ibid. p. 25]

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Cengiz Erdem: The Immortal Subject Beyond the Life Death Drives

“The creature called human can cease being a passive non-being and become an active being only insofar as it produces love against the negative power of the already existing capitalist law. As we all know, the laws’ negative impositions give birth to the vicious cycle of the life and death drives, which is in turn exploited in the way of more money.”
– Cengiz Erdem

The ImmortalLiving outside ourselves we are guided not by the Real but by the inner compulsions of a drive toward the last flowering of the negative force we call Death; but, death, is not itself creative, it is only the truth-event of life as it changes place with the symbolic order of Life in its dark mode of entropy: a god of no thing and nothingness. Cengiz Erdem in his new essay tells us that with “the domination of nihilist global capitalism all over the world social life has become a masquerade.” I’m reminded of Bruno Schulz for whom the “substance of … reality is in a state of incessant fermentation, of germination, of potential life. There are no dead, solid or restricted objects. Everything is diffused beyond its own boundaries, enduring in a particular form only for a moment, to quit it at the first opportunity.”[1] He saw this world, its customs and manners as being guided by a certain kind of principle, what he termed “panmasqueradium”. Schulz says this of it:

“Reality adopts certain forms for appearance’s sake alone, only as a joke, for a game. One person is a person, and another a cockroach, but such forms do not reach the essence; they are merely roles, assumed only for a moment, like an outer skin that, a moment later, is cast off. A certain radical monism of substance is evinced here, in which individial objects are only masks. The life of this substance depends on its using up a vast number of masks. This meandering of forms is its life essence. There emanates from that substance, therefore, the aura of a kind of pan-irony. A backstage, behind-the-scenes atmosphere is ever present, in which the actors, having taken off their costumes, now crease up with laughter at the pathos of their roles. The very fact of individual existence implies irony, leg-pulling, and a clownish poking-out of the tongue.”

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Nick Srnicek: Toward an Immanent Ontology

“Bring something incomprehensible into the world!”
— Gilles Deleuze (A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)

Commenting on Charles Taylor’s, The History of Secularization, Nick Srnicek tells us that this “work holds interest to me insofar as he defines religion in terms of a belief in transcendence. The history of secularization, therefore, is the story of the emergence of immanence over time.”[1] Now Srnicek is a bonafide member of that new breed of thinker who questions the humanistic post-Kantian traditions in political, religious, secular, and philosophical thought as it pertains to our grasp of the Real, which has emerged under the – not so tranquil – umbrella of speculative realism. In his Master’s Thesis, Assemblage Theory, Complexity and Contentious Politics, which he has published freely on his blog, The Accursed Share he follows a trajectory set out by the philosophical and political writings of  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. His main thesis is based upon Deleuze’s concept of assemblages as “particularly powerful ways to conceptualize the complexity, dynamism and differences that are inherent to the political world” (ibid.).

He quotes Deleuze who defines assemblages as a text that produces real material effects, rather than solely transmitting information:

An assemblage, in its multiplicity, necessarily acts on semiotic flows, material flows, and social flows simultaneously (independently of any recapitulation that may be made of it in a scientific or theoretical corpus). There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one or several authors as its subject. In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside. The outside has no image, no signification, no subjectivity. The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world.

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Thomas Ligotti: Speculations in Black

“At first there was no specific mention of Ascrobius, but only a kind of twilight talk — dim and pervasive murmurs that persistently revolved around the graveyard outside of town, often touching upon more general topics of a morbid character, including some abstract discourse, as I interpreted it, on the phenomenon of the grave.”
– Thomas Ligotti, His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House

Reading Ligotti is like listening to the disquisitions of a hermetic scientist or the dissonant music of an infernal composer – one who is continually fascinated by the arcane mysteries that traces the liminal and shadowy realm of nonbeing unto the furthest reaches of the darkest Abyss: a realm of the unreal just beyond the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not, a black world that is not so much separated from our own as it is the very groundless ground and source from which our world arises out of the great Void. An infrastructure of corruption that permeates the very smoothness of our late capitalism, a nomadic world that slips agential to the fake worlds we inhabit.

Ligotti’s  characters always seem to be wandering down the lonely roads and byways of certain ruinous cities and  towns where the negative potency of corruption and decay give birth to the metaphysical potencies of a hellish paradise and the nightmares of a joyful cruelty at the heart of non-being.  Following these philosophical prodigies down the dark nooks and crannies of these strange and disquieting old villages, where the expectant guest who will never arrive but is always already there in all his unfounded wonderment, we begin to see the hideous amplitude of a primoridial world rise out of the bones and ashes of a cosmic catastrophe that overtook reality so long ago that even the darkest mind founders amid its necrotic zones.

One of my favorite stories is His Shadow Shall Rise to a Higher House, which opens with one of those natural yet strangely disquieting paragraphs that set the tone for most of Ligotti’s speculative musings:

“In the middle of the night I lay wide awake in bed, listening to the dull black drone of the wind outside my window and the sound of bare branches scraping against the shingles of the roof just above me. Soon my thoughts became fixed upon a town, picturing its various angles and aspects, a remote town near the northern border. Then I remembered that there was a hilltop graveyard that hovered not far beyond the edge of town. I never mentioned to anyone this graveyard which for a time was a source of great anguish for those who had retreated to the barren landscape of the northern border.”[1]

What’s interesting in this passage is how certain black sounds emerging from the outer world awaken in the mind of this, as yet, anonymous speaker architectural images of a remote town on the northern border. These harsh sounds of the “dull black drone of wind” and the “bare scraping against the shingles” break into the mind from the great outdoors of existence like the reverberations and repetitions of an alien universe. Yet it is this droning and scraping that helps focus his attention upon the strange geometric monstrousness of the town’s “various angles and aspects”, and from this imaginative reverie comes a memory from the hinterland of the mind that brings with it the image of a “graveyard” that was the originary force of a “great anguish” for the people of this “barren landscape of the northern border.” That the town exists on the boundaries of some undefined zone, county, country, etc. is in itself a part of the disquieting prelude to a horrible event. Kant distinguishes between the “remarkable differences” of the Beautiful and the Sublime, noting that beauty “is connected with the form of the object”, having “boundaries”, while the sublime “is to be found in a formless object”, represented by a “boundlessness”. Kant also believed that we cannot conceive of a mind-independent reality without a mind to conceive that mind-independent reality. But there is reason to believe that Kant was wrong about this and that there exists a reality totally and absolutely independent of our human thoughts and is indifferent to our human plight as well.

Timothy Morton tells us that we get most of our ideas about the Sublime from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, and that “for Burke the sublime is the awesome power of an external authority—shock and awe. For Kant the sublime is the experience of inner freedom based on a momentary feeling of cognitive failure.”[2] He goes on to tell us that both Sublimes are part of that post-Kantian heritage that Quentin Meillassoux describes as “correlationist”, and that both sublimes assume that “the world is specially or uniquely accessible to humans; the sublime uniquely correlates the world to humans; and, what’s more important about the sublime is a reaction in the subject” (ibid.). Instead of these correlationist sublimes Morton offers instead a speculative sublime, “an object-oriented sublime” that  refers us back to the oldest writer on the Sublime, Longinus, in his Peri Hypsous, which according to Morton is a sublime “about the physical intrusion of an alien presence” which can “easily be broadened to include non-human “experiences” of the sublime” (ibid.).

Without going into the history of the Sublime I think a review of the Longinian concept of ekphrasis is pertinent to our discussion of Ligotti’s sublime horror. It was Paul Friedlander who once taught us that true description is the representation of the surface appearance of a work of visual art, and that ekphrasis should try to represent, as faithfully as possible, the visible features of a work.[3] Leo Spitzer delimited ekphrasis as “the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art, which description implies … the reproduction, through the medium of words, of sensuously perceptible objets d’art”. [4] It is in this sense of one form of art being used to reproduce or describe another form that is the essential element of ekphrasis. Artists use their own literary and artistic genre of art to work and reflect on another art to illuminate what the eye might not see in the original, to elevate it and possibly even surpass it. There is also the idea of “notional ekphrasis” which may describe mental processes such as dreams, thoughts and whimsies of the imagination. It may also be one art describing or depicting another work of art which as yet is still in an inchoate state of creation, in that the work described may still be resting in the imagination of the artist before he has begun his creative work. The expression may also be applied to an art describing the origin of another art, how it came to be made and the circumstances of its being created. Finally it may describe an entirely imaginary and non-existing work of art, as though it were factual and existed in reality. [5]

Timothy Morton describes how Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Sublime with its “ultra vivid descriptions” works as a form of ekphrasis. In contrast to the sublimes of Burke, who located the sublime in the power of the object over a subject; and, in Kant, for whom it was located in the freedom of the subject; Morton sees in the Longinian sublime  an “intimacy with an alien presence” and described this sublime as “what evokes this proximity of the alien”. [6] He goes on to tell us that the Longinian mode of ekphrasis  “is not about the reaction of the (human) subject, but about rhetorical modes as affective contemplative techniques for summoning the alien” (ibid. p. 10). It reveals to us the strangely unnerving power of objects, in that the “subject” is revealed to be an assemblage of objects “that can be acted on physically” (ibid. 10). The idea that objects can have relations among themselves without our determining subjectivity or our human proclivities toward a subject/world correlation that has held us spellbound to Kant and his heritage for two hundred years is at the heart of this return to the Longinian sublime and its influence on the Object-Oriented Sublime of Graham Harman and Morton. Ultimately this OOO Sublime is about the melancholy of a subject cut off from the depths of “a world without reference to a subject” (ibid. p. 17). Morton goes on to tell us:

“The more the ekphrasis zaps us, the more we fall back into the gravity well of melancholy. Sentience is out of phase with objects, at least if you have a nervous system. So melancholia is the default mode of subjectivity: an object-like coexistence with other objects and the otherness of objects–touching them, touching the untouchable, dwelling on the dark side one can never know, living in endless twilight shadows” (ibid. p. 16).

Since Nature and the Transcendental Subject no longer exist, which is at the heart of a non-correlationist philosophy or speculative realism then what is left? Morton tells us that it is “things”, the utterly interminable universe of objects beyond any thought of the human or subjectivity. This philosophy agrees with the basic tenets of Science in that there is no “Big Other”, nothing that is not a part of the system of the universe that could define it from outside in an Archimedian fashion. Even materialism as it has come down to us is not without its faults, as Morton relates it: “OOO is troubling for materialisms that rely on any kind of substrate, whether it consists of discrete atoms or of a continuum. Materialism lopes along hampered by Newtonian–Cartesian atomistic mechanism on the one hand, and the formless goo of Spinoza on the other” (ibid. p. 19). In the world of quantum mechanics we discover objects and phenomena  that “are not simply hard to access or only partially “translated” by minds and other objects. They are irreducibly withdrawn” (ibid. p. 19). Quantum Theory is the only true realist approach to objects, and it “positively guarantees that real objects exist! Not only that–these objects exist beyond one another.

Quantum theory does this by viewing phenomena as quanta, as discrete “units” as described in Unit Operations by OOO philosopher Ian Bogost. “Units” strongly resemble OOO “objects” (ibid. p. 20). It is this “withdrawness”, this ability for objects to withdraw their relations to other objects that moves us beyond any form of nihilism as well suggests Morton, saying, “Relationism holds that objects are nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects. This begs the question of what an object is, since the definition implies a potential infinite regress: what are the “other objects”? Why, nothing more than the sum of their relations with other objects–and so on ad obscurum. At least OOO takes a shot at saying what objects are: they withdraw” (ibid. p. 26).

Morton tells us that objects cannot be defined by their relations to other objects, but that this does not mean that they do not have relations: it simply means “how they appear has a shadowy, illusory, magical, “strangely strange” quality” (ibid. p. 27). He goes on to say,

“Life forms and non-life forms are unique and strange precisely because they do derive from one another. Yet all kinds of life forms scuttle around, and objects proliferate. What we should drop are the concepts Nature and Non- Nature. Heidegger describes how things are intermodulated: we never hear the wind, only the wind in the door” (ibid. p. 28).

It’s this intermodulation of objects that returns us to Ligotti and his first paragraph with its strangely strange “dull black drone of the wind outside my window and the sound of bare branches scraping against the shingles of the roof just above me” (ibid.). Its the physicality of the droning wind whistling round the window and the branches as they “scrape against the shingles” that releases for a moment at least a strange relation within the mind of this particularized subject, awakens within him an anomalous set of objects that unfold in an ekphrasis that translates the artistic picturing of the town with its “various angles and aspects” into reverie, then releases the memory image of that weird object of the “hilltop graveyard that hovered not far beyond the edge of town” (ibid.). The image of a “hovering” graveyard is indeed a “strangely strange” object to envision and does appear as shadowy, illusory, and magical.

*     *     *

“You see what has happened,” Dr. Klatt said to us. “He has annulled his diseased and nightmarish existence, leaving us with an uncreated grave on our hands.”
– Thomas Ligotti

In one of those rare moments Ligotti, in an Interview with Darrel Schweitzer, tells us “I was a Catholic until I was eighteen years old, when I unloaded all of the doctrines, but almost none of the fearful superstition, of a gothically devout childhood and youth.”[7] Is Ligotti haunted by the spectrality of a childhood faith? Hauntology is the discursive processes that create and shape conditions of what Derrida calls spectrality, a ‘non-living present in the living present’ that is no longer with us but somehow continually appears.[8]

Is this not what haunts the small border town in the north? We are told that a Recluse, Ascrobius, has recently been buried in the town graveyard on the hill. We also learn that Ascrobius suffered from a malady that left his body deeply riddled with deformities, yet he had somehow managed to survive and had become intensely contemplative and philosophical in his solitary life. At first no one missed Ascrobius until certain citizens began to have a “kind of twilight talk — dim and pervasive murmurs that persistently revolved around the graveyard outside of town, often touching upon more general topics of a morbid character, including some abstract discourse, as I interpreted it, on the phenomenon of the grave” (ibid.).

One wonders if the citizens themselves are none other than undying revenants, what Powys once called “strange figures, “ces spectres agités,” as if they were passing from twilight to twilight through the silvery mists of some pale Corot-picture, passing into thin air, into the shadow of a shadow, into the dream of a dream, into nothingness and oblivion.” [9] Yet, these voices seemed to take on a life of their own, become disembodied and emerge from “shadowed doorways along narrow streets, from half-opened windows of the highest rooms of the town’s old houses, and from the distant corners of labyrinthine and resonant hallways. Everywhere, it seemed, there were voices that had become obsessed to the point of hysteria with a single subject: the “missing grave”(ibid.).” Certain legends on Japan speak of Japanese Yōkai,

“In ancient Aomori prefecture legends, Uwan is a disembodied voice that inhabits old, abandoned temples and homes. When a person enters a haunted building, the formless spirit belts out an ear-piercing “Uwan!” (hence the name). The voice is only audible to people inside the building — those standing outside hear nothing. Uwan consists only of sound and poses no physical danger.” [10]

This idea of disembodied voices is what Slavoj Zizek calls a “voice without source”, and they are “instances of “partial objects,” which according to Zizek, are instances of drive in the world.”[11] As Zizek would have it these disembodied voices “stand for drive at its purest: an ‘undead’ partial object that functions as a kind of impersonal willing: ‘it wants’, it persists in its repetitive movement, it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject’s well-being. This drive is that which is ‘in the subject more than herself’: although the subject cannot ever ‘subjectivize’ it, assume it as ‘her own’ by way of saying ‘It is I who want to do this!’ it nonetheless operates in her very kernel.”[12]

Yet, the very subject of these hysterical disembodied voices is the “missing grave,” which remind one of this mysterious borderland world beyond the margins of all change, where the “dim vague feelings of humanity take to themselves shadowy and immortal forms and whisper and murmur of what except in music can never be uttered” (Powys).

It is within this mileau we are told that of the doctor and scientist, Klatt, who began speaking of the “recent anomaly not as a missing grave, or even an absent grave, but as an uncreated grave…” (ibid.). We know that doctor Klatt was close to the missing Ascrobius, and that his “reputation” became “closely linked to that of the deceased individual who was well known for both his grossly deformed body and for his intensely contemplative nature” (ibid.). The proximity of this anomalous combination of a “grossly deformed body” with an “intensely contemplative nature” produces a grotesque sense of “total strain, a tense grimace to which is added the demonically seductive pallor of a man who has struggled along horrible, dark precipices.”[13]

Dr. Klatt tells us that Ascrobius “should be viewed as most monstrous and freakish, qualities that emerged as a consequence of his intensely contemplative nature. “He had incredible powers available to him,” said the doctor. “He might even have cured himself of his diseased physical condition, who can say? But all of his powers of contemplation, all of those incessant meditations that took place in his high back-street house, were directed toward another purpose altogether.”(ibid.)” He goes on to tell us that what Ascrobius sought was “was an absolute annulment, not only of his disease but of his entire existence. On rare occasions he even spoke to me,” the doctor said, “about the uncreation of his whole life” (ibid.).

Michael Austin tells us that total annihilation can never be accomplished that ” the possibility of ghosts returning in a Spectral Realism, the idea that their bones could reassemble, perhaps not in the same way, but in the same spirit. In this way, a ghost can never achieve the perpetual peace of absolute non-existence, but is always only “almost dead.” No ghost is ever entirely here, nor are they ever entirely absent.” [14]

I will leave some of the mystery of the story to the reader, yet this idea of the ghost that is “never entirely absent” reverberates within the folding movement of the final paragraph:

“Although I cannot say that I witnessed anything myself, others reported signs of a “new occupation,” not at the site of the grave of Ascrobius, but at the high back-street house where the recluse once spent his intensely contemplative days and nights. There were sometimes lights behind the curtained windows, these observers said, and the passing figure outlined upon those curtains was more outlandishly grotesque than anything they had ever seen while the resident of that house had lived. But no one ever approached the house. Afterward all speculation about what had come to be known as the “resurrection of the uncreated” remained in the realm of twilight talk” (ibid.).

Maybe this is what Nietzsche meant when he said in an enigmatic aphorism:

“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”
The Gay Science

1. Weird Tales, Spring 1999 p. 28-32.
2.
Sublime Objects, Arcade 10.10.2010
3. Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentarius, ed. P. Friedlander (Leipzig-Berlin, 1912)
4. Leo Spitzer, ‘The “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in Essays on English and American Literature, ed. Anna Hatcher (Princeton, 1962), p. 72.
5.
Ekphrasis, wikipedia article
6. Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology, Timothy Morton
7. Speaking of Horror: Conversations with Masters of the Field – Borgo Press (December 1, 1994)
8. Freccero, Carla. 2006. Queer/Early/Modern (Durham & London: Duke University Press)
9.
SUSPENDED JUDGMENTS ESSAYS ON BOOKS AND SENSATIONS John Cowper Powys (Copyright, 1916, by G. Arnold Shaw)
10. Yokai, wikipedia article
11. Monsters, Demons and Partial Objects – Complete Lies (June 3, 2009)
12. Love beyond Law, Slavoj Zizek (© lacan. com 1997/2005)
13. On the Heights of Despair, E.M. Cioran (University of Chicago, 1992 p. 18)
14. The Bones of Ghosts 1: Hauntology and Architecture 
– Complete Lies (March 9, 2009)

Thomas Ligotti: Epicure of Pessimism – Part III

“We need books that affect us like a misfortune, that hurt us a great deal, like the death of someone whom we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide, a book must be an ax in a frozen sea inside us.”
– Kafka writing to Ernst Pollak

Harold Bloom writing on Edgar Allen Poe told us that “something primordial in Poe tapped into a universal anguish.” Bloom also subscribes to the dictum that the subtle art of criticism, and art for that matter, can only teach us “how to talk to ourselves and how to endure ourselves… the proper use of one’s own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one’s confrontation with one’s own mortality…. the rest is silence.”

Within that strange realm we call the modern weird tale one can see the ‘universal anguish’ shaping itself into an aesthetic splendor full of cognitive power and deep wisdom. The modern weird tale marks out a territory of myth and imaginative literature which gives to both its practitioners and its readers a counter-sublime. At the heart of this dark fantastic is a raging confrontation and displacement of the real by the ‘Order of the Unreal’.

As one of its post-modern masters, Thomas Ligotti, inhabits a special place where the confrontation with mortality takes on an agon which is at once a lie against time and ignorance, a battle against the illusionary traps that engulf people in a nightmare world of panic and anxiety. A cascade of stimulants and hormones – adrenaline, epinephrine, glycogen, cortical, norepinephrine, among others – flood all the cells of the body via the bloodstream releasing a dread anxiety that sends each victim scurrying irrationally into the dark recesses of imagined safety. Agoraphobic. Full of that dread of others that is the earmark of certain type of insanity the victim falls prey to paralyzing terror, begins to shake uncontrollably, nauseous, trembling, sweating… The victims of this dark fate are part and partial of what Ligotti calls the ‘human phenomenon’:

“The human phenomenon is but the sum of densely coiled layers of illusion each of which winds itself on the supreme insanity that there are persons of any kind when all there can be is mindless mirrors laughing and screaming as they parade about in an endless dream.”
In some ways Ligotti inhabits an inverse relation to Oscar Wilde’s high aesthetic: “That is what the highest criticism really is, the record of one’s own soul. It is the only civilized form of autobiography as it deals not with the events but with the thoughts of one’s life… the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind.”

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Epicure of Pessimism: The Horror of Thomas Ligotti – Part II

“We are only passers by in this jungle of mutations and mistakes. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads: the moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature.”
– Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Matt Cardin in his recent essay, The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets, measuring the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s life and writings upon Thomas Ligotti shows forth a distinct, if not core, leitmotif that has circulated in and out his horror fiction, interviews, and philosophical musings:

“I aspired toward nothing less than a pure style without style, a style having nothing whatsoever to do with the normal or abnormal, a style magic, timeless, and profound . . . and one of great horror, the horror of a god” (SOADD, p. 112). In other words, he was trying to burst the bonds of the written word… by writing a horror story that presented pure horror, the pristine experience in and of itself, on a veritably cosmic-divine level, and that would therefore be able to invade the reader’s experience and become, instead of just a story on a page, his or her existential reality. The attempt failed, of course, because it was necessarily founded upon the very unreality (of the world of fiction) that it was attempting to overcome. That is, the whole idea was a categorical impossibility. But the passion behind it was and is real in the minds of both the narrator and Ligotti himself…”

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Epicure of Pessimism: The Horror of Thomas Ligotti – Part I

“Generalists of disillusionment broadcast on a wider frequency. Yet their message, a repetitive dirge that has been rehearsed for thousands of years, is received only by epicures of pessimism, cognitive mavericks who have impetuously circled the field in the race to the finish line.”
– Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

In a recent interview Thomas Ligotti reflecting on the displacement of literary masters like H.P. Lovecraft and Bruno Schulz toward a more philosophical turn in the pessimism represented by Peter Wessel Zapffe confessed:

“Yes. As I’ve said before, literature is entertainment or it is nothing. Before I die I’d like to find something more than entertainment, although I doubt I will. Lately I’ve been thinking about television as a “way” to deliverance. Not long ago I read that television produces alpha waves in the human brain, something that meditation also does. Who knows, I could become liberated from suffering by watching cop shows and reruns of Seinfeld.”

What’s interesting here is not the irony of such a pursuit but that Ligotti, an avowed atheist and pessimist,  would use such Buddhistic language in his need for ‘deliverance’ and liberation from suffering. The idea of Ligotti sitting in front of a television watching banal comedy and action series in pursuit of a new liberationist “way” like a new age guru of some arcane cult of technological rapture seemed both absurd and reassuring at the same time. J.G. Ballard and some of his writings came to mind as I read that last sentence where he juxtaposed the absurdity of a group of scientists studying people watching tv as a form of ‘alpha wave’ therapy as if suffering were just another technological problem to be solved by the elite harbingers of our technocratic future.

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Jane Bennett: The Force of Materiality

“What would happen to our thinking about politics if we took more seriously the idea that technological and natural materialities were themselves actors alongside and within us – were vitalities, trajectories, and powers irreducible to the meanings, intentions, or symbolic values humans invest in them?”    – Jane Bennett

Jane Bennett represents one of the new breed of materialists that seek a vision of a speculative philosophy that exists somewhere between a Rube Goldberg complexification of reality, and one that crosses over into the darker world of J.G. Ballard’s vision of excess and abject or aleatory wonder (i.e., think of The Crystal World, Crash, Millennium People, etc.). This new vision of materialism “would not be radically new, but part ad hoc invention and part a gathering of elements from preexisting traditions”, yet with a quirky twist: it would no longer follow the old Cartesian-Newtonian sleepworld of passively resistant or inert matter, but would enter the age of modern string theory and quantum physics where material objects are seen within a dynamic field of vital “thing-power” – where the boundaries that separate life from matter, organic from inorganic, human from nonhuman, man from god, are “not necessarily the most important ones to honor” (NM: 47). [1] The litany of philosophers in that tradition are represented by Epicurus, Lucretius, Hobbes, Spinoza, La Mettrie, Diderot, Marx (dissertation on Democritus), Althusser (aleatory materialism), Deleuze… as well as, the material vitalists, especially in its non-naive form of critical or modern vitalism, which endeavored to engage experimental science and “fought doggedly against one kind of materialism” – mechanistic or deterministic materialism in its post-Cartesian mode (NM: 48).

Those critical vitalists she aligns herself with are Hans Driesch and Henri Bergson for whom life is irreducible to matter, and that there is a life-principle that animates matter, exists only when in a relationship with matter, but is not itself of a material nature (NM: 47-48). The vitalists squabbled and bickered amongst themselves about how this new vital force should be depicted, whether Bergson’s elan vital or Driesch’s entelechy should win the day, yet both agreed, along with their opponents, the materialists, that matter “was unfree, mechanistic, and deterministic (though “dynamic” in the sense of capable of undergoing regular changes of state)” (NM: 49).

Driesch made a bow toward the mechanistic materialists insisting that the “vital principle” has “no existence independent of the physico-chemical matter” (NM: 48-49). For Driesch there is a thin line, or firewall, a buffer between matter and life that is so close, yet so far that Bennett tells us that she is intrigued because “he pushes the lifematter binary to the limit, although, at the last minute, he draws back from taking the plunge into a materiality that is itself vibrant or active” (NM: 49).  

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Slime Dynamics: Extinction and Openess

“A polytical ethics necessary for replacing or undermining existing planetary politico-economical and religious systems. Cthulhoid Ethics is essential for accelerating the emergence and encounter with the radical Outside.”
  – Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia 

The first movie I remember going to as a child was also the most memorable, it wasn’t a great movie but it left a lasting impression on me because of the creatures that slimed there way through its dark and scummy world. The name of the movie was, The Blob.

The film takes place in July 1957. Teenager Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut) are making out at a lovers’ lane when they see a meteorite crash beyond the next hill. Steve decides to look for it. An old man (Olin Howland) living nearby finds it first. When he pokes the meteorite with a stick, it breaks open, revealing a small jelly-like blob inside. The man picks it up with the stick, but then it suddenly attaches itself to his hand. In pain and unable to scrape or shake it loose, the old man runs comically onto the road, where he is nearly struck by Steve’s car. Steve and Jane take him to Doctor Hallen (Stephen Chase).

Doctor Hallen is about to leave for a medical conference, but anesthetizes the man and sends Steve and Jane back to the impact site to gather information. Hallen decides he must amputate the man’s arm since it is being consumed by the growing Blob. Before he can, however, the Blob completely consumes the old man, then Hallen’s nurse Kate, and finally the doctor himself, all the while increasing in size.

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Transcendental Paranoia; or, the Mad Speculations of an Absolute Inhumanist

“Philosophy, if it can truly return to the great outdoors, if it can leave behind the dead loop of the human skull, must recognize not only the non-priority of human thought, but that thought never belongs to the brain that thinks it, thought comes from somewhere else.”
– Ben Woodard

Just read Ben Woodard’s excellent new essay published on continent, Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism: Lovecraft, Ligotti, and the Weirding of Philosophy (click here to read), in which he expostulates a theory of horror and madness as the very foundations of post-Kantian correlationist philosophy within the continental tradition.  

In this essay we discover that Kant set up not only a self-perpetuating machinic system that is both “auto-vampiric” self-consuming and bloodless to support the new economics of Capital as situated within the Academy, but is also a machine that excises the real world in favor of a feeding frenzy that is always and only consuming its own bloodless discourse ad naseum. What Kant gave to us was a legacy of horror, an amalgam of “pre-critical metaphysics and the ravings of the mad in the same critical acid (continent. 1.1 (2011): 3-13).”

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Dark Vitalism and Lovecraft’s Philosophy of Nature

“In the beginning was nature. The background from which and against which our ideas of God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem.”
         – Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

 

H.P. Lovecraft, his materialism, and how it relates to certain problems within the new philosophical project of speculative realism was the central leitmotif within the discussions held at the Real Horror Symposium. As it states in the blurb the “symposium extends Graham Harman’s reading of cult gothic novelist H.P. Lovecraft in his essay “On the Horror of Phenomenology” and brings into question the relation between reality and horror. The proposition is that both horror and reality share a common ground and that horrific relations occur within the realm of realism.”

One paper caught my eye right off the bat by Ben Woodard: A Nature to Pulp the Stoutest Philosopher: Towards a Lovecraftian Philosophy of Nature. The formal drift of the essay as he relates it “sets out to propose a philosophy of nature in which the formal isolation of rationality is undone by the processes of an acidic materialism…”. Heady stuff indeed.

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The Horror of Thought and Dark Pantheism

“But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
– Matthew 8:12

Instead of weeping and gnashing our teeth we should welcome the great outdoors, the outside world, the darkness of the unintelligible, where as Eugene Thacker remarks, the horror of thought and its “furtive, miasmatic unintelligibility” is itself the central concept within which our thoughts on nature and life can be thought without the sovereignty of the human-centric pose; and, instead, we begin to discern the “unhuman, a life without us.” [1] Listening to the droning metronomic distensions of Xasthur with its deep bellowing notes and raw monstrous vocals that howl from the night land of our voidic solitudes one can get a hint at this inhuman realm of life lived without us and indifferent to all our desires or thoughts toward it. Like banshees from some hideous nightmare realm the electronic chords rupture out of the void beating to a rhythm that  implodes the human into wastelands devoid of  hope and marked only by the tears of despair. Left in this abyss we discover the “nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not” that Wallace Stevens once regarded as the deep force of life itself.

What if life itself were based on an absolute negation, a transcendental nihil? What if the tenebrous force of absolute non-existence is that which brings about existence-in-itself?  What if the dark intelligible abyss of nature surrounding us on all sides held the keys to the unintelligibility of our own negativity, our own self-conscious nothingness? Thacker tells us that “superlative Life, that which never “runs out,” cannot simply be thought positively… but it must instead be thought negatively, as that which is nothing (nihil) precisely because it is superlative” (ibid.). If this is true then he concludes “this means that the only relation between Life and the living is a non-relation, or a relation of, literally, nothing” (ibid.)

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