January 6th, 2011

S.C. Hickman

Ben Woodard: On being a Philosopher

"I approach writing philosophy as a hurried note taking which over time is meshed with an outline that eventually turns into a (hopefully) coherent piece of prose."
     - Ben Woodard

Ben Woodard in a humorous aside tells us  in a recent interview that "the work of the philosopher consists in being hunched over a laptop and surrounded by a pile of books for days at a time." [1] Of course he was in the middle of completing his thesis at the time, and we wish him all the success in the world if he is still in process of doing just that. Yet, on a serious note he tells us philosophy is about both the production and limits of thought. Production is "about producing something new in thought that hopefully does not remain in thought" ... and, limitation is about "thought not only in relation to itself, that is thinking about the process of thinking, but also thinking as a material process, as emanations from a hunk of gray matter or, maybe someday, something else". We wonder at the "something else": is this a forethought of some posthumanist philosophy, some dark imaginings from the philosophical outlands of thought? 

Originality and the material processes of thought have always been enmeshed in any artistic or philosophical enterprise bound as they are to a series of indefinable influences from the doubled depths of both our cultural matrix, and the dark vital processes of the natural in us thinking. Etymology was at one time the 'science of the true or real': "etymos", real or true; and "ology", the study of or science of. The literary critic, Harold Bloom, once remarked that it was strangeness in a work, whether of art, philosophy, or any creative endeavor, that can never altogether be assimilated, or that becomes such a given that a reader becomes blinded to its idiosyncrasies. Bloom also an affirmed that meaning "gets started only by or from an excess, an overflow or emanation, that we call originality" (Ruin the Sacred Truths p. 12). In his Anxiety of Influence he tells us that on "the surface of things, the concept of influence seems straightforward. An artist trying to define a space for himself or herself under the weight of tradition is inspired by precursors. She or he selects elements that are useful or admired, interpolates them with implicit commentary of his or her own, and arrives at an "original" production that nevertheless grasps what has gone before. Influence is pervasive and inescapable, even if the artist is a revolutionary and acknowledges the past only to condemn it."

Ben Woodard hints at the debilitating power of the past philosophical heritage, and the overwhelming accumulation of material texts, both within and outside the curriculum, that haunt any philosophical project, saying, "Furthermore the production of thought is not just pulling ideas out of the blue but is a recycling and reconfiguring of ideas we have read and drawn from other kinds of research. This can, as already mentioned, become a burden as it is temporally impossible to read everything and still have some sort of non-academic existence."


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S.C. Hickman

Eugene Thacker: 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.)  After an interesting divigationary exploration into the negative ontologies of both Pseudo-Dionysus and Eriugena he comes to the conclusion that "Superlative Life is defined as the necessary inaccessibility of Life to the living. To this, we can append a note on method: the ground and the limit of any ontology of Life is a negative ontology" (ibid.). 

Can life be thought in non-anthropomorphic ways? The difficulty surrounding older forms of thought such as theology and philosophy, and the boundaries between first philosophy (how those following Aristotle considered meta, as after, physics: metaphysics) and a philosophy of nature, or Naturephilosophy (in a Schellingian sense) is a floating target within all speculative thought.  Thacker promotes what he terms a "dark pantheism" which puts forth "challenge of thinking, under the sign of the negative, the conjunction of pure immanence and inventive life - with the caveat that this thought itself is thought as fundamentally exterior to all anthropomorphism. We would be tempted to call this "misantrhopology" - and in this sense, pantheism as a conjunction of immanence and life is also the horizon of thought itself" (ibid.). Going into further detail he says, "The question of dark pantheism is, then, a question about "life," insofar as it is irreducible to any biologistic substrate, is also a question about thought. The thought of life - or rather, the limit of the thought of life - is a central preoccupation of this kind of dark pantheism" (ibid.). Ultimately any dark pantheism must confront not only the challenge of all reductionisms, but also "deal with the difficulty of articulating the transcendent - especially when, in dark pantheism, the ontology of life is indelibly wrapped up with a notion of pure immanence" (ibid.).

Thacker lays out a set of axioms as guides or notes on method for a dark pantheism:

1) The inaccessibility of God/Being. 
2) There is also a God/Being for itself.
3) "Life" is the point at which equivocity is introconvertible with univocity.
4) This leads to a question: What happens when the equivocal notion of the divine is layered onto the univocal notion of nature?
5) If this is the case, one would then have to consider a number of conjunctions, such as equivocal inexistence + the univocal creature, or the divine inaccessible + dark immanence.
6) Dark pantheism would be, taken broadly, the thought of the conjunction of immanence and life, under the sign of the negative. And the question this poses would be, quite simply: does life = generosity = nihil?

This takes us into the dark horror of such writers as H.P. Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson in which "the crux of supernatural horror, the reason why life is "weird" is that what is monstrous "can barely be named, let alone adequately described or thought"(ibid.). It is this limit to thought, this inexplicable thing that cannot be named "which presents itself as a horizon of thought," one that withdraws from the "possibility of a logic of life, though an inaccessible logic, one that is absolutely inaccessible to the human, the natural, the earthly - an "entelechy of the weird." (ibid.) As Thacker tells us for "Lovecraft, the weird is not a discovery of an aberration, which would place us in the context of law, norm, and the monster. Rather, the weird is the discovery of an unhuman limit to thought, that is nevertheless foundational for thought.The life that is weird is the life according to the logic of an inaccessible real, a life "out of space and time," and life of "extra-dimensional biologies." However this does not mean that life remains mystical and ineffable; life cannot be thought, not because it is poetry, the sublime, or even the noumenal. Rather, life cannot be thought because it can only be thought through a logic of contradiction, and contradiction is - as Aristotle reminds us - the very bedrock of rational thought itself" (ibid.).

1. After Life by Eugene Thacker (The University of Chicago Press 2010)

* Note: I'm using the Kindle for PC version of this book at the moment, which uses relations rather than page numbers, so have been unable to use page number in the ibid's. I have tried the Kindle Page Tool but with little success (i.e., seems to change from approximation to approximation based upon my resolution etc.) 

S.C. Hickman

Nick Land: A hypernihilist for an age of apathetic ghouls

"Ever since it became theoretically evident that our precious personal identities were just brand-tags for trading crumbs of labour-power on the libidinoeconomic junk circuit, the vestiges of authorial theatricality have been wearing thinner."
     - Nick Land

Nick Land is the comic poet of our philosophical despair, a troubadour for the nihil, a lover caressing the abyss that flows just below our fleshly feet and into the slime of time's kitchen sink. Like a black metal musician Land cleaves to the night, the stars, and the blank emptiness of the void, where the black vitality of dead suns sinks in the depths beyond our luminous gaze. Dragon born he drinks the blood of history like a latter day Anaximander seeking out the apeiron of an infinite thought. Shifting through the philosophical bric-a-brac of  this gaudy age of decadence and political malaise he tramples all those delicate academics who would hide within their hedgehog towers like victims of some catastrophic meteor strike. He stands there in this cosmic disaster and welcomes the darkest possibilities as if they were old friends who'd just stepped away from a cannibalistic feast:   

"An extraordinary lucidity, frosty and crisp in the blackness, but paralysed; lodged in some recess of the universe that clutches it like a snare. A wave of nausea is accompanied by a peculiarly insinuating headache, as if thought itself were copulating unreservedly with suffering. A damp coldness, close to fog, creeps through the open window. I laugh, delighted at the fate that has turned me into a reptile. The metallic hardness of intellect seems like a cutting instrument in my hand; the detached fragment from a machine tool, or an abattoir, seeking out the terminal sense it was always refused." (TA: 10). [1]

His fascination with George Bataille "stems from the fact that nobody has done more than he to obstruct the passage of violent blanks into a pacified oblivion, and thus to awaken the monster in the basement of reason" (TA: 10). Bataille, the man who founded his own secret society,  Acéphale, the symbol of which was a decapitated man. A necrophiliac materialist weaving the base binary structures of an impossible thought, destabilizing all oppositions of high and low and obliterating all forms of philosophical foundationalism. Bataille is not so much a figure of thought within Land's mind as he is "an ennui, gesticulating at the void; the symptom of an absent tragic community" (TA: 11). Laughing like a broken god Bataille incessantly returns to the dog's vomit of three scarred bones: laughter, excrement, and death (AT: 12).  "Such ‘themes’ are suspended only momentarily at the lip of philosophical intelligibility, and then released into a euphoric immolation upon the burn-core of literature, disintegrating into a senseless heterogeneous mass. His texts obsessively reiterate that the decomposed body is excremental, and that the only sufficient response to death is laughter" (TA: 12).

Speaking of Bataille's poem 'Rire' he tells us that it is "a contribution to the theory of mourning. Laughter is a communion with the dead, since death is not the object of laughter: it is death itself that finds a voice when we laugh. Laughter is that which is lost to discourse, the haemorrhaging of pragmatics into excitation and filth" (AT: 12). At the center of our universal decay is a voidic energy, a force that finds its dissipation in a suicidal waste without recourse to any human thought: "Cowering in the shadow of its gods, humanity is the project of a definitive abrogation of expenditure, and is thus an impossibility. The humanizing project has the form of an unsustainable law" (AT: 13).

The only real death is the one that happened long ago: the death of God. "The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun" (TA: 14). With it comes the death of the human, not of humans, but the black bile of humanistic anthropomorphic piss that has spread its yellow pus across the earth for too, too long. The dehumanization of nature, the facticity of a ruthless fatalism, the bereft bare world voided of all moralism, and the return of the alien, the beast, the philosopher of a new thought. (TA: 14).

Libidinal materialism he calls it: thematically 'psychoanalytic', methodologically "genealogical, diagnostic, and enthusiastic for the accentuation of intensity that will carry it through insurrection into anegoic delirium. Stylistically it is aggressive, only a little sub hyperbolic, and—above all—massively irresponsible…" (TA: 14). A voyager in dissolution, a decadent hyperpilot of a psychedelic finitude, a scientist of strange days he tells us that no "one could ever ‘be’ a libidinal materialist. This is a ‘doctrine’ that can only be suffered as an abomination, a jangling of the nerves, a combustion of articulate reason, and a nauseating rage of thought. It is a hyperlepsy of the central nervous-system, ruining the body’s adaptive regimes, and consuming its reserves in rhythmic convulsions that are not only futile, but devastating" (TA: 14).

A psychonaut, a pioneer in zombie thought, the first among his kind to have passed over into death fully alive he brings back to us knowledge of those blood zones in the darkest abysses where all light seems like pain and blackness covers the soul like a warm blanket. But there is no soul to be comforted in these deadly zones, only the harsh truth of a cosmic laughter without mercy or reprieve. "When I stare into the eyes of Bataille’s photographic image I connect with his inexistence in a community of the kiln. I smile. ... Since I have floated in death the world has desisted from all effort to seduce me into seriousness. I rest in life as a tramp rests in a hedge, mumbling these words…" (TA: 15). 

1. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and virulent nihilism (an essay in atheistic religion) (Routledge 1992)
S.C. Hickman

Extinction: A Poem in Black

Gliding on the edge of time
watching the death of suns,
listening to the black noise:
the abyss, droning, drumming  -
rage of angels, a black decay;
voices rising, - bleak, metallic:
full of desperate hymns,
following the light that is
into the whirling void that is not -
choirs of luminescent being
thronging the avenues
like broken monuments
to a universal catastrophe;
each flying into the depths
never gazing back, -
 falling forward, touching
the face of the real;
jubilant and free of unreality!

    - S.C. Hickman (1.11.2011)