January 9th, 2011

S.C. Hickman

Quentin Meillassoux: On Re-reading After Finitude - Part IV continued...

"...we know by the principle of unreason why non-contradiction is an absolute ontological truth: because it is necessary that what is be determined in such a way as to be capable of becoming, and of being subsequently determined in some other way. ...Accordingly, it becomes apparent that the ontological meaning of the principle of noncontradiction, far from designating any sort of fixed essence, is that of the necessity of contingency, or in other words, of the omnipotence of chaos."
     - Quentin Meillassoux

Our knowledge of the principle of unreason has its lineages too. This counter-reason, this philosophical undertow to the power of metaphysical rationality, spawned by the great Leibniz, and his two principles: that of non-contradiction and sufficient reason; and, the spark that brought Hegel to his absolutization of the the principle of sufficient reason requiring the devaluation of the principle of non-contradiction; then by way Wittgenstein and Heidegger a strong correlationism that consisted in adamantly deabsolutizing both principles, we finally come to Meillassoux for whom the principle of unreason "teaches us that it is because the principle of reason is absolutely false that the principle of non-contradiction is absolutely true" (AF: 116).

Next he tackles the Leibnizian question of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' He tells us that we must discover a way to overcome the correlationist argument of the 'for-us' self-world axis and prove that the world would exist even if all life were dissolved in nothing this moment. The world does not need us to exist: even with the annihilation of all life the world in-itself would "subsist despite the abolition of every relation-to-the-world" (AF: 117).  But the proof must be non-metaphysical, there will be no deus-ex-machina called out of the closet of the metaphysicans trickery, no Prime Mover or Supreme Being "which would provide the reason for the fact that there is anything at all" (AF: 117). It must be both non-theological and non-fidiest: for it is not the atheist, but the believer who "insists that Leibniz's question has no rational meaning, and thereby who falls back on the fideist miracology that "marvels at the fact that there is something rather than nothing because he believes that there is no reason for it, and that being is a pure gift, which might never have occurred" (AF: 117). For Meillassoux it must be a deflationary solution: one that says that the only "proper solution to the problem should be the sobering effect induced in the reader when she understands the solution, and says to herself, 'so that's what it was..." (AF: 118).

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S.C. Hickman

Quentin Meillassoux: On Re-reading After Finitude - Part V

"When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument."
     - David Hume, 1737

"...the fact of the stability of the laws of nature seems sufficient to refute the very idea of their possible contingency... But it is precisely this claim about the real contingency of physical laws that we propose to defend in all seriousness."
     - Quentin Meillassoux

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Quentin Meillassoux proposes Hume's problem as follows: is it possible to demonstrate that the same effects will always follow from the same causes ceteris paribus, i.e. all other things being equal? In other words, can one establish that in identical circumstances, future successions of phenomena will always be identical to previous successions? The question raised by Hume concerns our capacity to demonstrate the necessity of the causal connection. (AF: 137) He goes on to up the ante by rooting out the difference between Hume's deterministic physics and our own conception based as it is on quantum mechanics and the Special Relativity theory of an indeterministic science of probabilities saying that we should not conflate Hume's problem with his deterministic framework, but define it as a more "general problem concerning all laws of nature, irrespective of their eventual specificity" (AF: 140). Which leads to the problem of whether we can have "any guarantee that physics as such ... will continue to be possible in the future" (AF: 140). Instead he reformulates Hume's question saying: "can we demonstrate that the experimental science which is possible today will still still be possible tomorrow?" (AF: 140).

He tells us that up till now three types of responses to the Humean problem have been offered: the metaphysical, sceptical (Hume), and the transcendental (Kant). He briefly details out these responses to Humen's problem as follows:

1) the metaphysical response defends its position by positing the existence of supreme principle governing the world; 

2) Hume's own sceptical solution is twofold: a) he subscribes to the position that it is impossible to establish the future stability of natural laws by any sort of a priori reasoning (i.e., no metaphysical solution is possible), and, b) he offers instead that since no metaphysical solution to the problem exists, then "we should stop asking ourselves why the laws are necessary and ask instead about the origin of our belief in their necessity" (AF: 143). Instead of a question about the nature of things, we are offered a question about the relation to things - "one no longer asks why the laws are necessary, but why we are convinced that they are" (AF: 143);

3) finally, in Kant's transcendental response offers his own solution to the problem based on the elaboration of "the objective deduction of the categories as elaborated in the Critique of Pure Reason's 'Analytic of Concepts'" (AF: 143). Meillassoux elaborates it as follows:

"...the transcendental enquiry produces an indirect proof of causal necessity, which is to say, a proof by reductio ad absurdum. It proceeds as follows: we begin by assuming that there is no causal necessity, and then we examine what ensues.  But what ensues,  according to Kant,  is the complete destruction of every form of representation, for the resulting disorder among phenomena would be such as to preclude the lasting subsistence of any sort of objectivity and even of any sort of consciousness. Consequently, Kant considers the hypothesis of the contingency of the laws of nature to be refuted by the mere fact of representation. This is the regard in which Kant's response is conditional - he does not say that it is absolutely impossible that causality could cease to govern the world in the future; he merely says that it would be impossible for such an occurrence to manifest itself to consciousness - and this because if causality ceased to govern the world, everything would become devoid of consistency, and hence nothing would be representable. ...[then Kant argues] causal necessity is a necessary condition for the existence of consciousness and the world it experiences. In other words, it is not absolutely necessary that causality governs all things, but if consciousness exists, then this can only be because there is a causality that necessarily governs phenomena." (AF: 144). 

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S.C. Hickman

The Mythology of Objects - the further adventures of Graham Harman

"Though we knew them all to be in perfect working order, the varying degrees of shadow in which they were displayed made each appear in a different state of advanced decrepitude, like the ruins of a future oceanic civilization devised by Albert Speer."
        - Graham Harman, on Offshore Oil Rigs

Reading Graham Harman's new book, Circus Philosophicus, is like entering that strange country of the mind that Bruno Schultz spoke of when he described certain "turbulent, fiery and stupefying days, I am transported in my mind to the faraway town of my dreams; and in my vision, I soar over that low country..." where everthing "is acquiescent to the sky, and clasps it tightly to itself, colourfully vaulted and multifarious, full of galleries, triforiums and rose windows open" ... and events "here are not an ephemeral phantom on the surface; they have deep roots into things, and touch the very essence. At every moment, something is decided here, exemplarily and for all time. All occurrences pass only once, and irrevocably. Hence that great seriousness, that great emphasis, the great sadness that lies upon everything that happens here." [1]

Harman describes his meeting with China Miéville, a poet and story writer of our fantastique mythologies, in the gulf beyond southern Louisiana where they spent some time on a remote oil rig that China hoped would provide "atmospheric inspiration for his coming book."[2] Harman relates of his mutual "fascination with degenerate plants" and tells China he knows of a mutual friend that might provide the perfect opportunity for an excursion into the oil realms of objects. So they set off into the hinterlands of ocean and sky toward the distant conclaves of ruinous oil rigs rising out of the slime infested waters beyond the coastal regions of Lousiana, where, as he reflected, "oilmen expelled their souls through tubes toward the core of the earth, siphoning the remains of ancient ferns and reptiles in return" (CP: 40).

Once they arrive they are given a perfunctory tour, and then their guides are called away to take care of an emergency leaving both China and Harman on the rig alone to discover the intricacies of this atmospheric world of metal, wood, and salt-spray. The two begin a dialogue on their respective blurbs for a mutual friend, Reza Negarestani, and his new book of horror, Cyclonopdedia. Each took turns making fun of the others vociferous banter in a light pedantic play of mutual disgust and admiration, which soon leads them to attack an unwitting and absent philosophical protégé, Nick Land, "the former guru of the Warwick Deleuzians, now a self-imposed exile in Taiwan" (CP: 43).

After a while they begin a memory contest, each reciting a portion of a book from a favorite author of horror, Poe for Harman - choosing Arthur Gordon Pym; and, Lovecraft, for Miéville - with "At the Mountains of Madness". Each making certain blunders of memory and execution Harman ends the friendly match rising up and saluting China "with a mock bow that was most inappropriate given the ongoing danger of wind and sea" (CP: 43). At the time they had been left alone for many hours on the rig, a hurricane was brewing in the distance; and, unknowing to them their hosts helicopter had plunged in to the sea killing all aboard soon after leaving the rig earlier that day.

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S.C. Hickman

Journey of a Spectral Realist

"Metaphysical revelations begin only when one's superficial equilibrium starts to totter..."
       - E.M. Cioran

"...the consolation of horror in art is that it actually intensifies our panic, loudens it on the sounding-board of our horror-hollowed hearts, turns terror up full blast, all the while reaching for that perfect and deafening amplitude at which we may dance to the bizarre music of our own misery."
     - Thomas Ligotti

"When early youth had passed, he left
   His cold fireside and alienated home
   To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands."
           - Alastor, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Cosmic Wonder
Hegel once told us that the "aim of knowledge is to divest the objective world of its strangeness and to make us more at home in it." But what if the opposite were true that the real aim of knowledge is to invest the objective world with abject strangeness and to alter our mode within it as pure homelessness?

Homeless voids roam the empty abyss of this universe licking up light from the swirls of galactic clusters surging round the infinite drift of dust and stars; black holes like the gods of some delusionary dream shuffle among the broken quasars seeking out the dark filaments of superfluous suns, each cannibalizing the light of a thousand civilizations on the edge of cosmic nothingness.  

We all live like haunted specters on a dead planet full of bones and ashes, each wandering in the erotic tribulation of a nervous thought that can never find its way back home; guided by the Lamentation of a melancholic despair we drift lethargically toward the interminable finitude that is. Renouncing all hope of ever regaining that frozen paradise of fire and ice from which we fell into this funerial world we wander among its dark chemistry seeking out a vulcan science to explain the hidden order of its black life and the broken symmetry of its amor fati.  Exiled from our true home we wander forever between desolate voids like misguided children haunting a deranged landscape of jungle and mountain and snowbound chaos: seeking in each other's gaze the nacreous light of that original corruption which first gave us this blasted world; and, like fallen angels who have lost their wings, we have fallen into each other's dream hoping to awaken that darkening spark that once lit the cosmic firestorm of all being. 

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       "Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal..."
                 - H.P. Lovecraft, The Tomb

Behind our eyes are those of the tiger, wolf, dolphin, elephant, and mustang and all those animals and insects of the terrestial dream; the shifting gazes of a million life-forms spread their light among the dark contours of this sensible self. The mutable surface of skin hides the innumerable macrophages who defend the black inner realms like the militia of a defensive army, engulfing the cellular debris and pathogens of a terrible desire; and
Lilith, Sister of Sophiathe bacterial denizens of this wet oceanic life in symbiotic resistance break down the ancient predatorial and vegetal vitality that invades the blood and acidic cavities, each mobilizing its own secret agenda without benefit of agent, goal or purpose beyond the sacred power of teeth chittering in the hive. The inertia of metalloid biotics collides with the fractured resilience of this strange flesh like a musical score played upon some stellar harp spread across transfinite dimensions, bleeding into this space of time giving birth to the shape of a spectral delusion that is beyond the human form. 

We have entered a new stage, forsaking the drift of our former philosophic and religious tribulations we shall set off into the hinterlands of cosmic loneliness, mapping the voids between the stars, wandering among the dark recesses of that nihilistic light at the center of this vast Necropolis of the Unreal; and, within this vastation we shall explore the dreams, nightmares, and speculative worlds where the unreal and Real cross each other's paths in the great Void. Guided by a sense of aphoristic play our minds will cross the boundaries of the groundless ground of this interminable Night School of Being seeking out the weird realism of a dark materialist view of existence that resides just below our forlorness; like a fractal thought our minds shift up and down the axis of a hyperdimensional spectrum in search of strange days seeking out kindred spectres to share our visions of a dark vitalism at the heart of this blackest nightmare. Like shamans - breaking free of the mental barriers that have encased us all in a prison house of delusion and abjectness, which for millennia has closed off thought from those terrible truths surrounding us in an uncanny brew of dark religion and political tyranny - we drift among the flotsam and jetsam of ungrounded objects; and, holding on to the radical reason of a new enlightenment to guide us, we shall boldly go where only artists or scientists dare to roam -testing the limits of being and the void; challenging the dark edges of this cosmic catastrophe we will ride the black horses of philosophical nihilism beyond nihilism where the transcendental real is by definition an impossible possible: that which resists words and meanings, but is the source of the scientist's desire to pursue his quest for ontic-epistemic knowledge and the poet's desire to conceive artifacts so well-wrought and convincing that they bring forth from the void those terrible objects from which all splendorous horrors spring!

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"The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe."
          - H.P. Lovecraft

Neither fully alive nor interminably dead, but caught in the generative matrix of marginal possibilities, we live under the spectral Sign of Saturn; our lives bound to the chains of the void seek within the groundless ground of this irrational order the freedom and contingency of pure being. Schelling once told us that "order and form nowhere appear to have been original, but it seems as though what had initially been unruly had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason by the greatest exertion but always remains in the depths. Out of this which is unreasonable, reason in the true sense is born.Without this preceding gloom, creation would have no reality; darkness is its necessary heritage." [1]  Michael Austin tells us "annihilation is a spectre haunting creation, the order of existents is haunted not only by the possibility of being destroyed, but with the ontological awareness that creation emerged ex nihilo. This is what Schelling refers to in the Weltalter as “the Past which was never Present” or, those memories which seem eerily real, but never really were" (
Complete Lies:On Spectral Realism Schelling). Austin has also termed this the 'Metasphysics of Absence' "since nothing can ever Exist for me as Absolute Presence" (Towards a Proper Introduction to Spectral Realism).

For Schelling the underlying darkness or ground of existence hides three fundamental forces (or potencies): a negating, inward-turning, contracting force; an affirming, outwards-flowing, expansive force; and a third force that is their unity. This is the primordial chaos out of which the world was created, and the three potencies are fated to become the recognizable features of the created world. He mythologizes these potencies by placing them in a cyclical view of time within his Ages of the World project, which was never published in his lifetime. The logic of the cycle begins with negation: "Darkness and concealment are the dominant characteristics of the primordial time. All life first becomes and develops in the night; for this reason, the ancients called night the fertile mother of things and indeed, together with chaos, the oldest of beings (WA II, 179).

Schelling regards the primoridal ground as an agon, a striving, yearning or longing for existence in the tradition of Plato's Symposium in characterizing this state of longing (what Plato calls eros) as a combination of poverty and plenty – or in his terms, negative and positive forces. [2] Because Schelling has a dynamic view of matter rather than a static view we can see him as a part of that tradition of dark materialist thought that extends from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and a Freudian-Lacanian-Zizekian, psychodynamic conception of dr
ives, and then beyond, into the energetic materialism of twentieth century French philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, but without the encrochement of an organic-vitalism. As Welchman and Norman suggest,

"The fundamental insight of this line of materialist thinkers is that it is an impoverished conception of matter as passive or ‘dead’ that has, historically, driven idealist thinkers from Plato to Kant to posit a transcendent realm of forms that have a separate, extra-material origin. Schelling may have been the first to consider the consequences of a wider conception of matter that already includes a capacity to develop forms without presupposing a separate realm of forms themselves" (ibid. 2).

At the heart of this conception of matter is Schelling's concepts of the Absolute and Time. For Schelling the Absolute is that freedom which can choose to be or not to be, and that it the "will of the depths" that is this yearning for existence; and, that spectre of the abyss in creating himself out of this material nature becomes a part of the process of affirmation and negation that is time. But how can ghost appear as both affirmation and negation? "Schelling’s answer is that it is not possible. In order to appear as the eternal indifference between what is and what is not, the Absolute must appear as both; and the only way to accomplish this, to appear as both determinate within the ground and existence is to separate the past from the present and reveal himself sequentially in time.... Against any Hegelian or Marxian dialectical concept of time and history, as well as any "mechanistic" Aristotelian conception of time as a sequence of instants, Schelling offers a conception of time that is neither dialectical progression nor as mechanistic succession, but as defining the past as always past, a past that is the static ground of the present.

For Schelling, the past was never a present or a ‘now’, it has always been the past, it is always already past. He writes: "The past clearly cannot be a present at the same time as the present; but as past, it is certainly simultaneous with the present, and it is easy to see that the same holds true of the future" (WA II, 174). Schelling believes that this is phenomenologically evident as well as rationally sound. He argues that a close inspection of our experience of time reveals two forces, one pushing forward and another holding back. If it were not for the one holding back, time would slip away instantly; if it were not for the one pushing forward, time would stagnate and not move forward at all. Once again, Schelling’s claim is that a contracting, negative force is evident in all things, acting as a ground of an affirmative, expansive force.."(ibid. 42)

This colludes with Heidegger's idea that the a priori is already a temporal term that refers to a past that cannot have ever been present.[3] Welchman and Norman argue that this helps overcome the Kantian distinction of things-in-themselves independent of experience. Ultimately this leads to two questions: what must have happened to things in themselves, in order for us to be able to work them up into objects of experience? And further, what must have happened to produce us as beings capable of having experiences in the first place? They suggest that these are cosmological questions, but that they lead to a speculative physics which is exactly what Schelling develops. Schellings theory is based upon a set of intellectual tools to "conceptualize and articulate the distinctive nature of the past" (ibid. 244). Summing up his concept of historictiy, Welchman and Norman tell us that "Schelling’s insight is into the fundamental historicity of any kind of origin (theological, cosmological, psychoanalytic, or transcendental), a historicity that involves freedom and radical contingency on a fundamental level" (ibid. 43).

Schelling's positive philosophy was based upon a radical acceptance of freedom and contingency. Although blind being was not comprehensible, could not be transparently absorbed into the conceptual structure of rational reflection, it could open itself to comprehension by revealing its implicit structure through the actions in which it made itself explicit in nature and history. Schelling contends that acts of what he will call “metaphysical empiricism” are in principle capable of discerning the absolutely contingent ‘thatness’ that lies at the heart of things. In The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, Schelling argues that since ‘positive’ (as opposed to ‘negative’, merely logicist) philosophy begins “with a being that is absolutely external to thought”, it “has no necessity to move itself into being”, and consequently “if it passes over into being, then this can only be the consequence of a free act”. For Schelling human history was a story of freedom in the sense that temporal development was instigated by mankind’s voluntary act of rebellion against the divine order of integrated being, an act that released the first potency, indeterminate desire or will, from its proper place as the ground of divine personality and set in motion a conflict-ridden relation of the three potencies in historical time. [4] 

Between the impossibility of Being, and the dark entropic pull toward the Void, we shift among the three potencies:  longing for being we strive against the chains that bind us to the void, temporal creatures living out the spectral possibilities of an existence lived in the midst of things that have no relation to us, and are in some sense beyond our comprehension; and, yet, knowing with a knowledge that takes into account that harsh truth that to really grasp the dark power of the absolute real one would need a mind of winter, as Wallace Stevens once sang in The Snow Man:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,


Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.  

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Between the 'nothing that is not there and the nothing that is we as no-one and no-thing, devoid of the wavering disease of consciousness are the wind as the wind is 

1. Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, trans. James Gutmann (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1936), 34.
2. Creating the Past: Schelling's
Ages of the World - Alistair Welchman and Judith Norman (Journal of the Philosophy of History 4 (2010) 23–43)
3. Heidegger, Basic Problems, 324.
4. Becoming Historical: Cultural Reformation and Public Memory in Early Nineteenth-Century Berlin John Edward Toews p. 10