The Curse of the Sun: Libidinal Materialism as the Composition of the Universe

…philosophy is a machine that transforms the prospect of thought into excitation; a generator.

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land like his compeers – Nietzsche, Bataille, and Cioran has that quality of aphoristic power that keeps one returning here and there to his dark disquisitions and divigations into the night worlds between desire and death. I’ve asked myself many times why certain writers force me to reread them over and over and over again; and, as such, why with each new reading I discover bits and pieces of something I’d missed, or not been aware of within the last set of notations. For, yes, these are writers for whom one takes notes, jots down certain aphoristic sentences that suddenly awaken one’s own machine, one’s own mind, exciting it and generating other thoughts.  There seems to be under the darkening layers or scales of his thought an energetics, a theory of composition that seeks its habitation at the crossroads of eroticism, death, and the infinite inroads of desire. Life is a child of the sun, and its curse: to wander in a maze without outlet bound to an infernal machine of desire that seeks only ever more powerful ways of dodging the fatal Minotaur of inexistence.

As a pariah and outlaw philosopher Land in his one book and several essays pushed the limits of mind like some Rimbaud of the last thought. No need to go over the history of that again. Too many superficial readings of his physical and mental breakthroughs and breakdowns into vastation or emptiness are already misunderstood. And, that he has returned not as his former self, but as a gnomic agent proclaiming his cultural provocations to a certain reactionary mindset is only another masked distancing from his earlier wildness.

As he will remind us Bataille’s “thirst for annihilation is the same as the sun” (33).1 Yet, it is not a “desire man directs toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history” (33). This notion that the history of the earth is guided by a secret history of the sun, its dark proclivities and mythologies guiding the pathology of human civilization and the inhuman forms that shadow us. Is this not the truth we seem to fear? We seem to hide from the white death of its blinding gold mask, the eye of death that would turn us to ash if we were not protected by the ions swirling in the ocean of our atmosphere. That the ancients who sacrificed to the sun, who with obsidian or bone knives cut the living hearts of its victims from their chests and held them to the sun as to the great glory and splendor of heavenly sovereignty. That blood, and only blood; the violence of death could keep this great power churning in the heavens, this furnace of life, this engine of all creation: was this not at the heart of all ancient religion? Human life consumed in the furnace of the sun? Is not all economics an economy of the Sun? As Land will tell us:

Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.

The notion that all organic life on earth is part of a vast consumption machine, a living mouth. Is this not the truth of it? And, what are we consuming? Is it not the excess of the living Sun itself? Are we not fed by the sun and its excessive life? Sometimes I think of those nineteenth century mythologizers who sought to understand ancient religious practices under the auspices of solar mythologies; or, as Land will have it, there “is no difference between desire and the sun: sexuality is not psychological but cosmo-illogical” (37). Land will obliterate the Physicalism of science or philosophical thought through the light of the sun, and out of its ashes – like some new born phoenix, “libidinal materialism” will arise: a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, which as he satirically put it “a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice” (38).

Physicalism was bound to theology, to the One. It was a dualism, having formulated matter as dead and passive and mind as other than this stuff. It was already caught in its on fly-trap, bound to false assumptions before it even began explaining the universe of its reasoning madness. After a thorough investigation of thermodynamics, entropy, negentropy and Boltzmann’s mathematics and findings he will recenter his understanding of “libidinal matter” saying,

“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation… (following  Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud ) entitling it ‘drive’. Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/effect couple of classical physics. … drives are irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. (42)”

In his theory Land is moving toward a non-intentional philosophy, one that is “not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire as understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic” (42). So against Hegel, Marx and their progeny Land offers another libidinal materialism. One must turn to thermodynamics and ‘energy’ for an alternative view of materialism. Two-thousand years of metaphysical blundering is overthrown and new tropes rearrange our relations to science and philosophy: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. He will offer a new cosmographic cosmos:

“…thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there, just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. … Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. (43)”

The universe is an open, rather than closed system: “no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy,. A receipt of information – of intensity – carried downstream” (43). Yet, against Boltzmann who built his notions of thermodynamics within an ontology, libidinal materialism sits in chaos outside any thought of Being. What Land offers is a processual theory based on composition, one in which Being is an effect of chaos composition rather than some static substance: the “effect of being is derivative from process…” (44).

Out of Nietzsche he will demarcate a general libidinal energetics: 1) a questioning of the mathematical underpinnings of science as same, equal, or identical – as essentializing; 2) the figure of eternal recurrence as libidinal engine producing energetics; and, 3) a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). Idealism and Physicalism collapse, transcendental philosophy from Kant till now is decapitated; finished; and, finally, 4) a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire (the terminal end-point of humanity in null or God). (44-45).

Land will admit Freud into the new philosophical world of libidinal materialism: he, too, is an energeticist: “he does not conceive of desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process. Yet, Freud – even though recognizing the truth of the drives will bolster up the old metaphysics of ego and the reality principle against their force, going against the very truth of the pressure of the drives as modulation of self not as intentional agent but as temporary control point for the drives in their fluxuations and endless compositions. Land will discover in Freud another Solar Mythologist, one found within his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he discovers life as a mazing in complex escape from death or null zero, an endless wandering in the labyrinth of time against death: “a maze wanderer” (47). Then Land asks: “What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?”

Life is not an accident as some suggest, but is rather the curse of the sun. Land is our postmodern Lucretius teaching us that death is nothing to be feared, death is merely the form life takes in its infinite mazings and compositions under the gaze of the Apollonian eye of the Sun. “Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. … Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.” Desire continues its quest for the sun. Or, as that Shaman of the Evening Lands says it:

Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The secret of the labyrinth is in its “scalings” – like dark matter and dark energy which structurate and energize the visible matter we see in the universe the drives within that chaotic sea produce the veritable universe of light and suns and galaxies around us. Composing and decomposing and recomposing matter in an infinite play without purpose or teleological goal.  There is no whole, no totality, there is nothing but the labyrinth and process, comings and goings and returnings, endlessly all the way up and all the way down.

Land will remind us that for Bataille the natural and cultural worlds that envelope the earth or nothing more than the evolution of death. Why? Because in “death life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss” (56). He will add that such a materialist discourse is free of that intentional subject that mars all idealist discourse, and that it offers a non-metaphysical and non-intentional understanding of the of the economy as pure poetry rather than philosophical plunderings of either Descartes dualism or Marx’s dialectical modes of thought. Instead, as Bataille will affirm, poetry is a “holocaust of words” (56).

In fact bourgeois culture is not an expression of capitalism, it is its antithesis: capitalism is anti-culture (56). In the older feudalism of the aristocracy and Catholicism the notion of “expenditure” and pure loss were central, in the new modern economies cannot accept the need for expenditure or even admit that overproduction is an issue or problem. Instead of waste and excess, sacrifice and pot-latch festivals of total expenditure we get endless cycles of overproduction, deflation, and depression.

One remembers those anthropologists who studied the notion of potlatch:

“In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished”.2

As Earnest Becker in his Escape from Evil will remind us “primitive man created an economic surplus beyond basic human need so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place”3, so that he needed to give to keep the power flowing, the cosmological circuit of power from sun to earth and back again moving, allowing the obligation and expiation to channel its forces of accumulated riches rather than hording them. In the potlatch when the entire goods of a community and a chieftain were destroyed and annihilated it was to open up the power of the gods and sun to the community as a whole: “the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible” (30). 

In our time War is the potlatch feast of nations, the way in which nations sacrifice to the gods of life and expend their generosity and glory to the ancient sun and death. As Paul Virilio in Pure War speaking of the atrocities of Pol Pot will tells us: “If they had let Pol Pot act as he saw fit, there would have been no one left. Cambodia is the scale-model of the suicide State which no longer gathers populations in order to exploit territory, but which infinitely dissolves it” and allows the festival of a endless annihilation of expenditure.4

In our time philanthropy and other so to speak redistributions of wealth back to the community have become parodies and examples of the forgotten truth of those ancient potlatches. Even in the latest democratic pitch to redistribute the wealth to those in need is a parody. We’ve lost the truth of giving, of expenditure, or the pure waste of goods to the gods and sun. We live now in that labyrinth without outlet where no expenditure and no waste exist, only the endless cycles of repetition and economic depression. The riches of the world continue to be accumulated in the hands of a few who will never all those to return to the community or the sun. Yet, as the debt and guilt of this accumulate the earth and sun will have their day, too.

As Land will tell us the “mobility peculiar to the labyrinth – real cosmic motion or liquidation – is not confined by the scales, instead it finds a shaft of facilitation passing from one to another, a “slippage”, the full consequence of which is an illimitable dispersion across the strata: communication through death” (203). Harold Bloom in a book on The Labyrinth will tell us that the ancient identity of rhetoric, psychology, and cosmology is preserved in the figuration of imaginative literature “as a breathing, moving labyrinth”.5 James Joyce once said that “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”, and Finnegan’s Wake is a figural labyrinth within which both secular and sacred mazings repeat themselves in moving kaleidoscope of pun in which the reader is condemned to wander between sea and sea. But then again maybe the truth is that the living labyrinth doesn’t want you to escape, that in truth it lulls you into wandering its dark corridors forever in hopes that you will never discover the exit; for to find the exit is to discover neither escape nor freedom, but the final termination: death. 

Land will leave us one last sublime darkening, a philosophical knowing (kairos-happening) or gnosis (not Gnosticism but a knowing that is at once a corruption and a degradation of all we have been or will be):

Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’. There is no question of affirmation, achievement, gain, but only a catastrophe without mitigation compared to which everything is poverty and imprisonment.

 

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).
2. Potlatch. Wikipedia.
3. Escape from Evil. Ernest Becker. (Free Press, 1975)
4. Pure War. Paul Virilio ( Semiotext(e), 2008)
5. The Labyrinth. Harold Bloom. (InfoBase, 2009)

 

Tom Sparrow: Levinas Unhinged Arrived!

One recent day I realized that I had written several interrelated essays— which is to say, a book— on Levinas’s philosophy. … Its purpose is to exhibit what might be called a proto-materialist metaphysics leaking through the cracks of the familiar portrait of Levinas as a philosopher of transcendence. It resists the well-worn view that the Levinasian problematic is primarily, if not exclusively, ethical or theological in nature. The singular claim uniting the following chapters is that Levinas provides us with a speculative metaphysics and aesthetics which foregrounds the following: the body in its materiality; the irreducibility of aesthetic experience; the transcendental function of sensation; the ecological aspect of sensibility; the horror of existence. Levinas surprisingly keeps pace on occasion with philosophers of immanence like Gilles Deleuze.

– Tom Sparrow, Levinas Unhinged

I forgot I had preordered Tom’s book on Levinas and got a pleasant surprise this morning when I turned on my kindle fire. I like where he’s going with this and cannot wait to dig in today sitting in my cool pool sipping lemonade. Right… yea, the temperatures have been well above the 110 degree Fahrenheit for well over a week. We’re expecting a little rain later, but in Phoenix when it rains its a monsoon (and, yes, we have a monsoon season) that flushes the skies with muddy waters. But, hey, who cares when you have such great fare to read while the mud flashes by on the desert. I’ll have more to say on Tom’s work if the mud doesn’t float me off somewhere… otherwise I’ll be in that cool pool shades drawn over a too bright sunglint reading… reading… and, thinking as usual…

Yet, already, I’m distracted by the possibilities of Tom’s work. He admits that those rigid defenders of Levinas will probably stand aghast at his work of, as he terms it, ‘impiety’: “I am not trying to “get Levinas right” or advance his ethical program as it is typically understood. What I hope to have accomplished here is an account of Levinas as someone obsessed with matters besides God, the face of the Other, radical alterity, transcendence, and the usual Levinas catchwords.”1 Already the counter thrust, the definitive movement of misprisioning, of thumbing those who so meticulously guard the secrets of the coded world of Levinas, telling them that this will not be such a book, that instead he will offer a book for the uninitiated “so that its metaphysical potential can be fully exploited”. Against the cult of Levinas as a harbinger of some Religious Turn he offer us a Levinas “as first and foremost an engineer of ontology, as someone explicitly engaged in the establishment of a materialist account of subjectivity”. And, most, importantly, this new work is about the “rehabilitation of the sensible,” as against all those other concepts that people tend to fetishize like the “Other, the face, God, infinity, transcendence, or discourse”.

Okay, now I’m off for the pool… have fun all!

1. Sparrow, Tom (2013-06-28). Levinas Unhinged (Kindle Locations 63-65). Zero Books. Kindle Edition.

David Hume as Feminist: On Learned Conversation and the Fair Sex

I know nothing more advantageous than such Essays as these with which I endeavour to entertain the public.

– David Hume, Essays

David Hume was one of the first to break down the walls between the academy of learned professionals and the public at large for whom learned conversation was prized above all else.

I cannot but consider myself as a kind of resident or ambassador from the dominions of learning to those of conversation, and shall think it my constant duty to promote a good correspondence betwixt these two states, which have so great a dependence on each other. I shall give intelligence to the learned of whatever passes in company, and shall endeavour to import into company whatever commodities I find in my native country proper for their use and entertainment. The balance of trade we need not be jealous of, nor will there be any difficulty to preserve it on both sides. The materials of this commerce must chiefly be furnished by conversation and common life: the manufacturing of them alone belongs to learning. (2) 1

What’s interesting in the passage above is the use of economic language to describe the trade between academics and learned public. The idea of innovative ideas manufactured in the hothouses of the academy and then passed into the hands of the public like so many commodities whose value is both entertainment and commerce.

Hume also seems to have been one of the early feminists espousing a sovereignty to the ‘fair sex’ in the domains of communication: “As it would be an unpardonable negligence in an ambassador not to pay his respects to the sovereign of the state where he is commissioned to reside; so it would be altogether inexcusable in me not to address myself with a particular respect to the fair sex, who are the sovereigns of the empire of conversation.”(3) He continues:

To be serious, and to quit the allusion before it be worn threadbare, I am of opinion that women, that is, women of sense and education (for to such alone I address myself) are much better judges of all polite writing than men of the same degree of understanding; and that it is a vain panic, if they be so far terrified with the common ridicule that is levelled against learned ladies, as utterly to abandon every kind of books and study to our sex.(3)

Speaking of the Salons of France he writes tenderly “in a neighbouring nation, equally famous for good taste, and for gallantry, the ladies are, in a manner, the sovereigns of the learned world, as well as of the conversable; and no polite writer pretends to venture before the public, without the approbation of some celebrated judges of that sex.”(3-4) He remonstrates with the fair sex to leave off only one oddity of their learned involvements, and that is of the romanciers, the gallants and the devotionalists, because “the fair sex have a great share of the tender and amorous disposition, it perverts their judgment on this occasion, and makes them be easily affected…”.(4) And, yet,

Would the ladies correct their false taste in this particular, let them accustom themselves a little more to books of all kinds; let them give encouragement to men of sense and knowledge to frequent their company; and finally, let them concur heartily in that union I have projected betwixt the learned and conversable worlds. They may, perhaps, meet with more complaisance from their usual followers than from men of learning; but they cannot reasonably expect so sincere an affection: and, I hope, they will never be guilty of so wrong a choice, as to sacrifice the substance for the shadow.(4)

1. Hume, David; Stephen Copley; Andrew Edgar (1998-06-04). Selected Essays (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 2). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Gilles Deleuze: Difference and Repetition – A Short Intro

Difference is not and cannot be thought in itself, so long as it is subject to the requirements of representation.

– Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

Gilles Deleuze (January 18, 1925 – November 4, 1995)

For Deleuze we are all imprisoned in subtle webs of thought, bound to a world of thought-images, pre-suppositions, both objective and subjective, that weave the lightstreams of our minds in ways beyond telling, and it was to unlock these dark enclosures of the broken Image of thought that he set sail upon the seas of philosophical speculation. A post-philosophical Argonaut, he  sailed into that strange world where even the greatest of philosophers have lost their way, riding the twisted seas of this chaotic clime, fierce and resolute, Deleuze stood proudly among these speculators of the mind, sailed within his trusty ship, Critique, knowing that it was against the classical image of thought itself that he labored:

…and as long as the critique has not been carried to the heart of that image it is difficult to conceive of thought as encompassing those problems which point beyond the propositional mode; or as involving encounters which escape recognition; or as confronting its true enemies, which are quite different from thought; or as attaining that which tears thought from its natural torpor and notorious bad will, and forces us to think.”(DR xvi)

Yes, it was the emancipation of thought from its own chains that drove this Ulysses of the philosophical slipstream, a cunning intelligence who sought the “liberation of thought from those images which imprison it”(xvii). Looking back over the distant battlegrounds of his hard won victory he reminisced about the difference between philosophy proper and the history of philosophy. He likened the one to the study of “arrows or the tools of a great thinker, the trophies and the prey, the continents discovered”; while in the other case “we trim our own arrows, or gather those which seem to us the finest in order to try to send them in other directions, even if the distance covered is not astronomical but relatively small” (xv). And what do we discover when we dare to speak in our own name? Humbly he tells us the truth: “we try to speak in our own name only to learn that a proper name designates no more than the outcome of a body of work – in other words, the concepts discovered, on condition that we were able to express these and imbue them with life using all the possibilities of language”(xv).

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Alenka Zupancic: Quote of the Day!

Kazmir Malevich – Black Square

One analogy that seems particularly striking could be drawn between Nietzsche and Kazimir Malevich. Indeed, I am tempted to suggest that, at least to a certain extent, Nietzsche is to philosophy what Malevich is to art. “So far, artists have only been portraying, or representing, the world and its objects in different ways, but the time has come for us to create something in this world” – this is how one could express Malevich’s motto. He declares his Black Square to be the first new form that was ever created, the first artistic creation in the strong meaning of the word: it is nothing less than the “birth of the painting-surface.” A painting-surface or a “plane” is not an object that could be found anywhere in the world (and then reproduced or represented in a painting); it exists only as a painting. This is not to say that the painting represents some imaginary fantasy-object that exists nowhere in reality, only in the fictive domain of the painting. On the contrary, Black Square introduces a new object in reality, this new object being precisely the painting-surface as object. A painting such as Black Square is the very materiality of the painting-surface. Therefore, “any painting-surface is more alive than any face from which a pair of eyes and a grin jut out,”‘ and Suprematism is “the beginning of a new culture.” In relation to Malevich, one should stress that his project was far from being simply abstractionist; it was not about purifying the world of images or representations up to the point where nothing is left but its pure form. Rather, his project was to create a form that could count as the first “content” or object created by painting from within its own practice-the “painting-surface” or “plane” being, according to Malevich, precisely this: namely, a painterly object par excellence.

 from Alenka Zupancic’s:
The Shortest Shadow:
Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two

*********

Notes:

Is this the thing itself immanently registering its movement on the plane of the painterly surface as it rises from the gap as an Object replete with all its objecthood intact as the subjectal manifestation of the ‘plane of immanence’? Or is this nothing less than the geometry of the Void? Maybe this is the gap itself that gives rise to suture, the ontological crack that cuts through reality itself: because we cannot take in the whole of reality we are blinded by its immensity, situated within its dark concavity where we continuously fill it with a sea of fantasy… but even as our gaze penetrates the black darkness of this object we discover that we are falling into our own abyss of subjectivity rather than the Real, caught between sex and death we become destitute of the illusions that have sustained us and suddenly astonished we grasp for the first and last time the jouissance of life.

Slavoj Zizek: The Answer of the Real

What, then, is the “Thing-in-itself” from a dialectical-materialist standpoint? The best way to answer this question is, again, to oppose dialectical materialism to Buddhism: in Buddhism, the In-itself is the void, nothing, and ordinary reality is a play of appearances. The question ultimately unanswered here is how we get from nothing to something. How do illusory appearances arise out of the void? The dialectical-materialist answer is: only if this something is less than nothing, the pre-ontological proto-reality of den. From within this proto-reality, our ordinary reality appears through the emergence of a subject which constitutes “objective reality”: every positive reality of Ones is already phenomenal, transcendentally constituted, “correlated” to a subject— in Badiou’s terms, every reality is that of a world defined by its transcendental coordinates.

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Tom Sparrow: ‘Levinas Unhinged’ and ‘A History of Habit’

Both of Tom Sparrow’s new books are ready for pre-order:

You can pre-order his book Levinas Unhinged HERE. It should be available at Amazon US before too long, too, in both paperback and Kindle versions. You can now pre-order his co-edited book A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Slavoj Zizek: The Thin Red Line

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

– Dylan Thomas

As we know the notion of the gap or crack in the world is central to Zizek’s philosophy, the sine qua non of its dialectical core or kernel. Between a passion for the Real and a passion for the Semblance humanity seems to be caught in the net of an illusionary drive toward opposing truths. Are either of these positions right? Zizek says there might just be a third way:

There is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real— this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. The “truth” is thus not the “real” state of things, accessed by a “direct” view of the object without any perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes the perspectival distortion itself. Again, the site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond perspectival distortion, but the very gap or passage which separates one perspective from another, the gap … which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of our ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, and not everything is relative— but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not a truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective.1

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Zizek on Kant and Hegel: the Grotesque, Macabre, and The Ugly

We have pointed out the characteristic trait, the fundamental difference that separates, in our view, modern art from ancient art, today’s form from dead form, or – to use vaguer but better accredited words – Romantic literature from classical literature… Not that it would be correct to say that comedy and the grotesque were absolutely unknown to the ancients: which would be impossible … But in modern thinking the grotesque plays an immense part. It is everywhere on the one hand it creates the deformed and the horrible, on the other the comic an the clownish … Beauty has only one type, ugliness has thousands… What we call ugly is a detail from a great whole that eludes us, and that harmonizes not so much with man alone but with all of creation. This is why ugliness constantly reveals new, but incomplete aspects of it.

– Victor Hugo, ‘Preface to Cromwell’ (1827)

“Kant, like a good compulsive neurotic … sets up the network of the conditions of possible experience in order to make sure that the actual experience of the real, the encounter with the Thing, will never take place, so that everything the subject will effectively encounter will be the already gentrified-domesticated reality of representations” (75).1 For Zizek Kant was an obsessional whose whole philosophical project was a great apotropaion: his discursive system is a labyrinth in which he hoped to entangle the vague horrors of the noumenon, ritual dependence and the ironic distancing from that dark heart of a traumatic encounter that he could ill afford to master. It is after Kant’s impossible withdrawal from the noumenal into a more refined realm of appearance and representation: his safety net against the dark horrors of the grotesque, macabre, and the ugly that Zizek speaks of “the monstrous noumenal Thing,” an abyss or vacuum threating to swallow up the subject that fails to maintain an appropriate degree of distance from it  ( Plague of Fantasies, 237).2

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Slavoj Zizek: The Place of Blindness

Our brain is almost entirely blind to itself, and it is this interval between ‘almost’ and ‘entirely’ wherein our experience of consciousness resides.

– R. Scott Bakker, The Last Magic Show

…philosophy as such is defined by its blindness to this place: it cannot take it into consideration without dissolving itself; without losing its consistency.

– Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Zizek like the Laughing Buddha, Budai, enlightens us through laughter and paradox, jokes and juxtapositions of high and low culture. And, at times, he surprises even himself, as in his first book The Sublime Object of Ideology where he uncovers the very form of philosophical blindness:

Philosophical reflection is thus subjected to an uncanny experience similar to the one summarized by the old oriental formula ‘thou art that’ [‘Tat Tvam Asi’]: there, in the external effectivity of the exchange process, is your proper place; there is the theatre in which your truth was performed before you took cognizance of it (11).1

Instead of a Freudian ‘scene of instruction’ this site or place is more of a confusion, a misrecognition scene in which individuals caught up in their own private solipsism exchange relations blind to the actual staging of thought itself (11). Thought and its reasons are blind to each other in the movement of the act. This misrecognition brings about a fissure in consciousness into ‘practical’ and ‘theoretical’ domains in which the ongoing active exchange between agents is carried on in complete non-knowledge, ‘practical solipsism’. And if these agents were to know too much, to awaken out of their solipsistic awareness, to ‘pierce the true functioning of social reality, this reality would dissolve itself (12).

This is probably the fundamental dimension of ‘ideology’: ideology is not simply a ‘false consciousness’, an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived as ‘ideological’ – ‘ideological’ is a social reality whose very existence implies the non-knowledge of its participants as to its essence – that is, the social effectivity, the very reproduction of which implies that the individuals ‘do not know what they are doing’ (15-16).

It is the ideological reality itself as ‘false consciousness’ that supports the sociality of this agent (being). We enter these ideological bubbles or spheres as children and are immersed in the effectivity of sociality long before we understand the dilemma of our blindness into its impact and strange control over our lives. The symptoms of this ideological world’s logic escapes us until the moment that knowledge after the fact awakens in us that ‘mise en scene’ of self-knowledge. In the moment of this antagonistic duel between knowledge and non-knowledge the kernel of self-reflecting negativity that is the transcendental field forms in the place of blindness.

1. Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. (Verson, 2008)

Slavoj Zizek: Two Lacan’s – Radical/Conservative

…those who err are precisely those cynics who dismiss the symbolic texture as a mere semblance and are blind to its efficacy, to the way the symbolic affects the Real, to the way we can intervene into the Real through the symbolic.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing:
Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Slavoj Zizek at the end of his discursive behemoth, Less Than Nothing, a convoluted yet brilliant divagation of the dialectic in all its ramifications enters the final stage, the stage of the political, the realm where the gap by which we as humans shall either produce something new or continue failing challenges us to think the gap of the political. Following Lacan as both radical and conservative, as a revolutionary that would push the ethics of symbolic realization and the ethics of confrontation bursting the bonds of the ego and pushing beyond the limits to the Real; and, then, in the last series of lectures, of a turn back from that abyss toward a more practical motion of psychoanalysis as a boat for the sick, a safety net in which  “One should not push an analysis too far. When the patient thinks he is happy to live, it is enough.”1 As Zizek puts it:

How far we are here from Antigone’s heroic attempt to attain the “pure desire” by entering the prohibited domain of ate! Psychoanalytic treatment is now no longer a radical transformation of subjectivity, but a local patching-up which does not even leave any long-term traces. (ibid)

It was this second Lacan, the conserver, the pale doctor of sick souls that would tempt his immediate keeper of the mantle, Jacques-Alain Miller, to accept the incurability of our subjectivity, to use it, to provide not a cure but a slow death between bodily jouissance and the acceptance of those semblances whose power marks the sacrifice of our lives limited finitude. Miller would provide a less than adequate critique of instrumental reason, a linkage between democratic culture and racism, a culture that used mathematical universalism and scientificity to demarcate the limits of reason and social hierarchies. The hegemony of science over language and positive knowledge, of its exclusionary practices and derogation of the humanities and other forms of knowledge would lead to a mode of universalism in which this passion became the end all for a culture of hedonistic enjoyment.

What this means is that a psychoanalyst occupies the position of an ironist who takes care not to intervene into the political field. He acts so that semblances remain at their places while making sure that the subjects under his care do not take them as real … (Kindle Locations 21584-21590).

The psychoanalyst no longer at the forefront of thought, becomes the ironist, and even the cynic of thought, he “doesn’t propose projects, he cannot propose them, he can only mock the projects of others, which limits the scope of his statements. The ironist has no great design, he waits for the other to speak first and then brings about his fall as fast as possible … Let us say this is political wisdom, nothing more”(ibid). With this we are lead to the defeat of the political, a Voltairean cynicism in which society is kept together only by semblances, “which means: there is no society without repression, without identification, and above all without routine. Routine is essential.” (ibid)

Such a world of routine and habit, repetition and abiding cynicism in which subjects know the truth of those semblances that hold them in thrall, but are unable to challenge their hegemonic power, allowing for only the hedonistic display of bodily jouissance as reprieve. Zizek tells us that only another alternative order, a new order of communism, one based on the idiosyncratic authenticity of a Utopia of misfits and oddballs, in which the constraints for uniformization and conformity have been removed, and human beings grow wild like plants in a state of nature … no longer fettered by the constraints of a now oppressive sociality, [they] blossom into the neurotics, compulsives, obsessives, paranoids and schizophrenics, whom our society considers sick but who, in a world of true freedom, may make up the flora and fauna of “human nature” itself.(Kindle Locations 21612-21615). In such a world ideology no longer resides primarily in taking seriously the network of symbolic semblances which encircle the hard core of jouissance; at a more fundamental level, ideology is the cynical dismissal of these semblances (Master Signifiers) as “mere semblances” with regard to the Real of jouissance (ibid).

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Norton. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: Quote of the Day!

The parallax gap is, on the contrary, the very form of the “reconciliation” of opposites: one simply has to recognize the gap.

So, again, what are the political consequences of asserting this gap? There are three basic options. First, there is the liberal option essentially advocated by Freud himself: the gap means that we should not fully identify with any positive political project, but retain a minimal distance towards them all, since politics is as such the domain of the Master-Signifier and of symbolic and/ or imaginary identifications. Then, there is the conservative option: against the eternal threat of destructive “negativity,” it is all the more necessary to impose onto social life a strict order based on a Master-Signifier. Finally, there is a Trotskyist-Deleuzian leftist version: true radical politics is a matter of “permanent revolution,” of persisting in permanent self-revolutionizing, without allowing this flux to stabilize itself into a new positive order. With Lacan and politics, it is thus the same as with Hegel: there are three main interpretations, the conservative (emphasizing the symbolic authority as a sine qua non of the social order), the leftist (using Lacan for the critique of patriarchal ideology and practice), and the cynically permissive liberal version (to each his or her own jouissance). This liberal interpretation participates in the short-circuit between ontology and politics typical of postmodern thought: radical leftist politics is rejected as “metaphysical,” as imposing on social life a universal metaphysical vision, as striving for a totally self-transparent and regulated society, and, since life resists the constraints of any such ideological straight-jacket, this politics necessarily ends in totalitarian terror. Such a political stance is very comfortable: while legitimizing a pragmatic politics without risks, it is able to present its cynical liberalism as the most radical-critical position.

So which of these three options is the correct one? The first should be rejected as taking the easy way out, claiming that the question itself is wrong: there is no “true” or “correct” version, the choice is undecidable, open. But, again, which of the three is the correct option? The answer is, of course, the fourth. In other words, as we have already seen, we should reject the presupposition shared by all three. In a properly Hegelian way, the distinction between the zero-level of the empty place and its filling-up with a positive project must be rejected as false: the zero-level is never “there,” it can be experienced only retroactively, as the pre-supposition of a new political intervention, of imposing a new order. The question is thus the Hegelian one of a positive order whose positivity gives body to the negativity by accomplishing it.

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

An Imbecile’s Guide to Zizek

“…the antiphilosopher Lacan is a condition of the renaissance of philosophy. A philosophy is possible today only if it is compatible with Lacan.”

– Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy

Somewhere between the idiot and the moron lies that strange negativity Zizek names the imbecile, a creature that knows he does not know; yet, who knows that in knowing this he knows more than he should know. He tells us that Less Than Nothing is neither a guide for the perplexed, nor a fully explicated encyclical of Hegel’s system, but is rather The Imbecile’s Guide to Hegel, adding insult to injury. Yet, if the truth be known, by a Lacanian reversal, this guide is not so much about Hegel as it is about that imbecile who is its guide and explicator: Zizek himself; or, that self-reflecting nothingness that purports to carry the name of Slavoj Zizek.

“So what does a becile know that idiots and morons don’t?” asks Zizek. He relates the fictional account of Galileo who in the moment of renouncing his greatest triumph and discovery of the truth of our Universe mutters the words “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”), after recanting before the Inquisition his theory that the Earth moves around the sun. The reality of this fiction or the fiction of this reality only underpins the truth of such a precarious movement. One that acknowledges that even if I renounce this truth to save my life from an Inquisition, that the truth as truth shall prevail. The powers that be,  those who would pretend to enforce their static model of falsehood upon us, will in themselves be the harbingers of the force of the truth they deflect and expunge,  as the truth of a future which is always moving toward us. They themselves will be forced to accept such hard truth, acknowledge that this new science has uncovered new narratives of creation, ones that go beyond their own cherished religious fictions, yet incorporate its strange forms even as it outstrips them and lays them bare to the very forces they fear: the void and the abyss of freedom.

Less Than Nothing endeavors to draw all the ontological consequences from this eppur si muove. Here is the formula at its most elementary: “moving” is the striving to reach the void, namely, “things move,” there is something instead of nothing, not because reality is in excess in comparison with mere nothing, but because reality is less than nothing. (Kindle Locations 292-295).

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Slavoj Zizek on Violence

…ugliness today is a sign and symptom of great transformations to come.

– C.G. Jung on Joyce

Contempt, it turns out, was assimilable to democracy. In fact, rather than subverting democracy, it assisted it by making generally available to the low as well as to the high a strategy of indifference in the treatment of others.

– William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust

Reading this work of Zizek, ‘Violence‘, awakens in me something old and dangerous, a realization that the power of rhetoric and the dialectic serve each other as either violent partners to an ongoing crime, or as the secret accomplices of a two-thousand year old murder and of the guilt that comes with such monstrous actions. The violence of language is at the forefront of this unique work. Zizek uses every tool at his disposal to bring philosophical speculation down into the street. He is no frigid academic whose prose, grey and analytic, distills truths that are so abstract and cold to be almost useless. No, Zizek opens up the guts of the world, spills out the grotesque humor of our dark heritage in all its disgusting glory, and offers us no absolution but the truth of our own inescapable complicity in a crime we commit daily by both our action and inaction, by our failure to solve the riddle of democracy.

According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist “chaos” of the painting, asked Picasso: “Did you do this?” Picasso calmly replied: “No, you did this!” Today, many a liberal, when faced with violent outbursts such as the recent looting in the suburbs of Paris, asks the few remaining leftists who still count on a radical social transformation: “Isn’t it you who did this? Is this what you want?” And we should reply, like Picasso: “No, you did this! This is the true result of your politics! (V 11)”1

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Deleuze’s Anti-Platonism

In the same moment that Greece gave birth to democracy (demos) it also gave birth to its greatest enemy, Plato. Plato reduced the fragmented authority of tradition to the syllabus of the Laws and Republic. Out of Plato came the new authority of Philosophy itself: its distinctions and judgments, of a supposed superior authority as one of its greatest inventions, and of its greatest triumph: the concept of  ‘transcendence’, the Idea, the metaphysics of representation, imitation, and participation.

The real world of the Idea as opposed to the apparent world of simulacra became both the tool and means for the dialectic: the art of hierarchical theory and exclusionary practices, as well as an elitism in philosophical theory and practice, aesthetics and political rule.  As Miguel de Beistegui remarks:

Platonism is a response and a solution to a problem brought about by the birth of Athenian democracy, in which, in the words of a commentator, “anyone could lay claim to anything, and could carry the day by the force of rhetoric.” Such is the reason why Platonism seeks to nip this anarchy and rebellion in the bud, by hunting down, as Plato says, simulacra and rogue images of all kinds (57).1

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Steven Shaviro: New Materialism and Whitehead

Whitehead’s ontological and cosmological concerns put him in connection with the speculative realists; but pragmatically, he is closer to those contemporary thinkers who have been called new materialists. Jane Bennett’s “vital materialism” and Karen Barad’s “agential realism” both seem to me to have resonances with Whitehead’s thought, even though neither of them mentions Whitehead directly (as far as I know). Donna Haraway, on the other hand, has spoken specifically about the importance of Whitehead for her ideas about companion species. None of the new materialisms are based on Whitehead’s system or his technical terms, but they share his project of reconciling phenomenal experience with natural science, without rejecting either.

– Steven Shaviro, Interview on Figure/Ground

Lauren Berlant: The Subtle Art of Cruel Optimism

Intensely political seasons spawn reveries of a different immediacy. People imagine alternative environments where authenticity trumps ideology, truths cannot be concealed, and communication feels intimate, face-to-face. In these times, even politicians imagine occupying a post-public sphere public where they might just somehow make an unmediated transmission to the body politic.

– Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism

A filter, after all, separates out noise from communication and, in so doing, makes communication possible. Jacques Attali and Michel Serres have both argued that there is no communication without noise, as noise interferes from within any utterance, threatening its tractability. The performance of distortion that constitutes communication therefore demands discernment, or filtering. However steadfast one’s commitment to truth, there is no avoiding the noise.

The transmission of noise performs political attachment as a sustaining intimate relation, without which great dramas of betrayal are felt and staged. In The Ethical Soundscape, Charles Hirschkind talks about the role of “maieutic listening” in constructing the intimate political publics of Egypt. There, the feeling tones of the affective soundscape produce attachments to and investments in a sense of political and social mutuality that is performed in moments of collective audition. This process involves taking on listening together as itself an of desire. The attainment of that attunement produces a sense of shared worldness, apart from whatever aim or claim the listening public might later bring to a particular political world because of what they have heard.

– Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism

Public spheres are always affect worlds, worlds to which people are bound, when they are, by affective projections of a constantly negotiated common interestedness. But an intimate public is more specific. In an intimate public one senses that matters of survival are at stake and that collective mediation through narration and audition might provide some routes out of the impasse and the struggle of the present, or at least some sense that there would be recognition were the participants in the room together.” An intimate public promises the sense of being held in its penumbra. You do not need to audition for membership in it. Minimally, you need just to perform audition, to listen and to be interested in the scene’s visceral You might have been drawn to it because of a curiosity about something minor, unassociated with catastrophe, like knitting or collecting something, or having a certain kind of sexuality, only after which it became a community of support, offering tones of suffering, humor, and cheerleading. Perhaps an illness led to seeking out a community of survival tacticians. In either case, any person can contribute to an intimate public a personal story about not being defeated by what is overwhelming. More likely, though, participants take things in and sometimes circulate what they hear, captioning them with opinion or wonder. But they do not have to do anything to belong. They can be passive and lurk, deciding when to appear and disappear, and consider the freedom to come and go the exercise of sovereign freedom.1

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Slavoj Zizek: The Obscene Machine – Quote of the Day!

The threat today is not passivity but pseudo-activity, the urge to “be active,” to “participate,” to mask the Nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time, “do something”; academics participate in meaningless “debates,” and so forth, and the truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw from all this. Those in power often prefer even a “critical” participation, a dialogue, to silence-just to engage us in a “dialogue,” to make sure our ominous passivity is broken.

The anxious expectation that nothing will happen, that capitalism will go on indefinitely, the desperate demand to do something, to revolutionize capitalism, is a fake. The will to revolutionary change emerges as an urge, as an “I cannot do otherwise,” or it is worthless. In the terms of Bernard Williams’s distinction between ought and must,’ an authentic revolution is by definition performed as a Must-it is not something we “ought to do,” as an ideal for which we are striving, but something we cannot but do, since we cannot do otherwise. This is why today’s Leftist worry that revolution will not occur, that global capitalism will just go on indefinitely, is false insofar as it turns revolution into a moral obligation, into something we ought to do while we fight the inertia of the capitalist present.

The deadlock of “resistance” brings us back to the topic of parallax: all is needed is a slight shift in our perspective, and all the activity of “resistance,” of bombarding those in power with impossible “subversive” (ecological, feminist, antiracist, anti-globalist …) demands, looks like an internal process of feeding the machine of power, providing the material to keep it in motion. The logic of this shift should be universalized: the split between the public Law and its obscene superego supplement confronts us with the very core of the politico-ideological parallax: the public Law and its superego supplement are not two different parts of the legal edifice, they are one and the same “content”-with a slight shift in perspective, the dignified and impersonal Law looks like an obscene machine of jouissance. Another slight shift, and the legal regulations prescribing our duties and guaranteeing our rights look like the expression of a ruthless power whose message to us, its subjects, is: “I can do whatever I want with you!” Kafka, of course, was the inimitable master of this parallax shift with regard to the edifice of legal power: “Kafka” is not so much a unique style of writing as a weird innocent new gaze upon the edifice of the Law which practices a parallax shift of perceiving a gigantic machinery of obscene jouissance in what previously looked like a dignified edifice of the legal Order.

see kafka

1. Slavoj Zizek. The Parallax View (Short Circuits) (Kindle Locations 5755-5759). Kindle Edition.

Peter Sloterdijk: Anthropotechnics and Homo immunologicus

A theologian would have had no difficulty preserving the mystery… for he can employ contradictions. But since science does not have such a recourse, it is not an exaggeration for me to say that the difficulties of a fantasy writer who sides with science are generally greater than those of a theologian who acknowledges the perfection of God….

– Stanislaw Lem, Microworlds

Robin Mackay in his introduction to Collapse III says that “Deleuze himself told us simply to use concepts ‘like a toolbox’?”1 Such a riposte typifies the most deleterious aspect of the ‘success’ currently enjoyed by Deleuze; for any precision tool must be mastered before it is ‘put to work’, and for this one must understand, in turn, its own workings and its interaction with the rest of the conceptual ‘equipment’ in hand (ibid). Yet, even more than mastering the tool itself, one must understand the use of tools, and even more one must enter into apprenticeship with a Master of the Craft in which these tools are used if one is ever to truly put these tools to work in an effective manner.

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Slavoj Zizek: On the Communist Idea

I call an ‘Idea’ an abstract totalization of the three basic elements: a truth procedure, a belonging to history, and an individual subjectivation. … an Idea is the subjectivation of an interplay between the singularity of a truth procedure and a representation of History.

– Alain Badiou, The Idea of Communism

‘Begin from the beginning…’, remarks Slavoj Zizek; yet, adds, “descend to the starting point, but with a difference.” (210)1

Those who sit on the fence will be torn to shreds by their own indecisiveness. Today we have a choice to make: What kind of future do you want? Communist or socialist? This is the question Slavoj Zizek repeats with gusto and a polemical fervor that offers no third alternative. “The only true question today is: do we endorse the predominant naturalization of capitalism, or does today’s global capitalism contain antagonisms powerful enough to prevent its indefinite reproduction?”1 At the moment there are only four such antagonisms at play in the world today according to Zizek: first the threat of ecological catastrophe; second, the inappropriateness of the notion of private property for so-called ‘intellectual property’; third, the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, finally, new forms of apartheid, new Walls and Slums around the world.(214)

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Timothy Morton: The Aesthetic Dimension

Phenomenology, then, is an essential cognitive task of confronting the threat that things pose in their very being. … After phenomenology, we can only conclude that a great deal of philosophizing is not an abstract description or dispassionate accounting, but only an intellectual defense against the threatening intimacy of things.

– Timothy Morton, Realist Magic

Peter Schwenger in his book The Tears of Things comes very close to the same central insight upon which Graham Harman has built his entire metaphysical edifice. We discover that for the most part the everyday tools that we use: hammers, rakes, pens, computers, etc., remain inconspicuous; overlooked by those of us who use such tools; noticing them, if at all, as necessities that help us get on with our own work. Yet, the paradox of this situation is that there are moments when the tool threatens us, becomes an obstacle to our enterprising projects, and it is at such moments that we suddenly awaken from our metaphysical sleep and notice these objects in a strange new light: when the hammer iron head flies free of the wooden handle, or the computer suddenly freezes, the screen goes black, then sparking and sending out small frissions of stench and smoke from the flat box that encases it; at such moments we become defensive, threatened by the power of these material objects that we no longer control, that in fact are broken and exposed, beyond our ability to know just what they are.

We also become aware that the tool is part of a larger sphere: it does not exist in and of itself, but is applied to materials in concert with other tools to make something that may then be seen in its turn as “equipment for residency” in parallel to Le Corbusier’s famous pronouncement that “a house is a machine for living in.” The full network of equipment’s interrelated assignments and intentions makes up what the subject perceives as “world.” The dynamic of this world, at whatever level, is one of care – care of the subject’s being. The business of equipment, then, is not just to build an actual house but as much as possible, and in the broadest sense, to make the subject feel at home in the state of existing.1

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Timothy Morton – Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality

The title of this book is a play on the literary genre of magic realism. Later in the twentieth century, writers such as Gabriel García Márquez developed a writing that incorporated elements of magic and paradox.

– Timothy Morton, from Realist Magic

Timothy Morton’s new work is out, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, which is available from Open Humanities Press,  and is online at the University of Michigan site. I haven’t had a chance to read through his work, but have enjoyed his previous books on literature and ecology. He is a standup guy and excellent writer. A member of the Speculative Realist movement in its off-shoot branch of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) along with Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, and Levi R. Bryant. It should be an interesting read whether your accept or reject its basic premises, and you should enjoy the rigor, energy and eloquence of its argument.

Realist Magic is an exploration of causality from the point of view of object-oriented ontology. I argue that causality is wholly an aesthetic phenomenon. Aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and painted canvases or between humans and sentences in dramas. They happen when a saw bites into a fresh piece of plywood. They happen when a worm oozes out of some wet soil. They happen when a massive object emits gravity waves. When you make or study art you are not exploring some kind of candy on the surface of a machine. You are making or studying causality. The aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension.

– Timothy Morton, from the Introduction Realist Magic

Nick Land: The Sponge that absorbed God

The labyrinth is the unconscious of God, or the repressed of monotheism. … What God really was is something incompatible with anything ‘being’ at all. Real composition is not extrinsically created nature, but if this is a Spinozism, it is one in which substance itself is sacrificed to the scales. So that atheism is in the end (and end without end) an immense sponge, a mega-sponge, the dissolution of boundaries in all of its positive complexity.

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

The darkness shines like the terror of an angel, the clipped wings trailing bloody suns through the labyrinths of time, where the consuming flames like a tortured love are inextricably linked to the death of everything. “Agony alone has the power to seduce us, and it is to our most savage torments that we most ardently cling. We know that a life that was not torched into charcoal by desire would be an unendurable insipidity” (175).1  An ancient music of howls and screams purges this deadly angel, subtracting him from the torpor of a twisted thought, melding his mind to the core heat sink of a black hole where the zero point of eternity and time fold into the labyrinthine scales.

Only those isolates who partake of this anti-logos understand the unbounded freedom of oblivion, they know that it too serves a god. The density between the stars is almost too much for such creatures, they need the silences of immanence rather than the transcendent specters of  those angelic hierarchies to absolve all those crimes of eternity. Its only in the gaps, absences, discontinuities; in the fragments, juxtapositions, and abandoned plans of feral utopias; in the flows of quantum spinal cores collapsing toward the center of an intoxicated dementia that we discover the savage gods of our blasted inheritance. In this wraith-realm the virological horrors begin. Here is Bataille’s community of the disjecta: a scattered remnant, fallen revenants of the Void. “Bataille is less an ‘interesting writer’ than a loathsome vice, and to be influenced by him is less a cultural achievement than a virological horror; far closer to the spasmodic rot of untreated syphilis than to the enrichment of an intellect” (178).

Even as you read these words the fragmented text of your own being is being annihilated moment by moment. The illusions of your habitual mind, the small repetitions of others influences, the traces of fabricated imbrications of thought that mark your psyche undo the very fibers of your own empty reflective nothingness.

“Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. To face up to death is more than the others do, our haunted grimace becomes a complacent smile, we run our hands lovingly over the lichen-spattered graves.” (180)

Even the angels envy our infinity of death. “Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls” (180). And here you thought Life was for the living, much more the dead. Death feeds on us each second of our lives, the cells you have now do not belong to the creature you were at entry into this labyrinth. “Matter is in flight from the possibility of essence as if from an original pertinency of ontology, and life is merely the most aberrant and virological variant of this flight” (181). Adventurers in the art of death, we travel in a dimension of confusion seeking out the threads of an impossible externality. Quarantined in this compositional ghetto on the edge of a void we sift the slums of creation for signs of God’s body only to find that it is immanent to the  virological madness of our own reasoning minds. Ariadne’s threads are none other than the filaments of our own neuronal tentacles tallying the fragments of an unbounded infinity.

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

Slavoj Zizek: Why a return to Plato?

This, then, is our basic philosophico-political choice (decision) today: either repeat in a materialist vein Plato’s assertion of the meta-physical dimension of “eternal Ideas,” or continue to dwell in the postmodern universe of “democratic-materialist” historicist relativism, caught in the vicious cycle of the eternal struggle with “premodern” fundamentalisms.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing

If one wanted to find the center of Slavoj Zizek’s book, Less than Nothing, one could do no better than start at the question: “So why a return to Plato?” It is just here that he brings up the great divide in philosophy today, which he borrows from his friend Alain Badiou’s Logic of Worlds (Logiques des mondes): the opposition between “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first is “There is nothing but bodies and languages …,” to which materialist dialectics adds “… with the exception of truths.”1

This need to add an immaterial element to the materialist program is central to Badiou’s gesture. His incorporation of incorporeal truths as the excess that any materialist program needs. As Zizek iterates it, as “a materialist, and in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the idealist topos par excellence: how can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? …Badiou repeats, within the materialist frame, the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure for producing sensual pleasure but a medium of Truth; and so on.”(ibid.)

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Alain Badiou: The Ethics of Truth

It is a difficult task, for the philosopher, to pull names away from a usage that prostitutes them. Already Plato had to take all possible pains to hold his ground with the word justice, against the sophist’s quibbling and devious usage.

– Alain Badiou, Ethics

Against its misappropriation of an ethics deemed a smug nihilism, a conservative order that has proclaimed its own universal ethical dementia through economic enforcement and unbridled conquest of financial resources, Badiou martials the plaintiff case of a an impossible possible: an ethics of truths by which “every loving encounter, every scientific re-foundation, every artistic invention and every sequence of emancipatory politics” tears itself away from such nihilistic smugness.(39)1

Badiou tells us that only a particular kind of animal, the human animal, has – so far as we know, entered into that composition that composes a subject that enables the “passing of a truth along its path”(40). “This is when the human animal is convoked to be the immortal that he was not” (40). But what does Badiou mean by immortal? Badiou explicates:

An immortal: this is what the worst situations that can be inflicted upon Man show him to be, in so far as he distinguishes himself within the varied and rapacious flux of life. … So if the ‘rights of man’ exist, they are surely not rights of life against death, or rights of survival against misery. They are the rights of the Immortal, affirmed in their own right, or the rights of the Infinite, exercised over the contingency of suffering and death. The fact that in the end we all die, that only dust remains, in no way alters Man’s identity as immortal at the instant in which he affirms himself as someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to-be-an-animal to which circumstances may expose him. (12)

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Karen Barad: Quantum Entanglement and Relations

Levi Bryant recently argued against the notion that “relata do not precede relations” as Karen Barad in her recent book, Meeting the Universe Halfway, affirms. For her there is a distinct “ontological priority of phenomena over objects (Barad : 315)”. 1 For her an atom is not a separate object but rather an “inseparable part of the phenomenon”. In her understanding of scientific analysis it is the quantum entanglement between the “object” and the “agencies of observation,” that the key to any adequate ontological theory can be found.

As she states it:

“If one focuses on abstract individual entities the result is an utter mystery, we cannot account for the seemingly impossible behavior of the atoms. It’s not that the experimenter changes a past that had already been present or that atoms fall in line with a new future simply by erasing information. The point is that the past was never simply there to begin with and the future is not simply what will unfold; the “past” and the “future” are iteratively reworked and enfolded through the iterative practices of spacetimemattering-includ-ing the which-slit detection and the subsequent erasure of which-slit information-all are one phenomenon. There is no spooky-action-at-a-distance coordination between individual particles separated in space or individual events separated in time. Space and time are phenomenal, that is, they are intra-actively produced in the making of phenomena; neither space nor time exist as determinate givens outside of phenomena (Barad : 315)”.

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