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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. 

                                                               *     *     *

       "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!

                                                                       *     *     *   
Out of the cradle
onto dry land...
here it is standing...
atoms with consciousness
...matter with curiosity.
    - Richard Feynman

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

"...to acknowledge this truth, the subject of philosophy must also recognize that he or she is already dead, and that philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction."
         - Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound


"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.  

                                                                              *    *     *

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


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2011 10:59 am (UTC)
Oblique Re:
After graduating college I entered a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. One night I encountered the head lama's closest student outside in the cold pre-morning darkness. In the desert there are, of course, some dozen thousands of visible stars encasing our tiny earth-vision. The lama's student and I smiled hello, and then I said, "The stars are quite brilliant tonight," in response to which the lama's student looked at me quizzically, and then asserted with a knowing smile, "There are no stars."

I was summarily flummoxed. What is this guy talking about? And yet, I had to admit, he was right.

So where is the eery homelessness really? Is it rather to be located where we directly encounter the non-conceptual? Alas, this is precisely what is denied in much recent philosophy. Reading Lacan, for example, you might imagine we cannot hack the unconscious that buffers the probably Real. One reason I find Buddhism interesting is what it claims is an empirical claim, namely, that there is an experience of non-conceptuality, a direct perception of interdependent causation as-it-happens.

It is this interdependent causation that much philosophy is acknowledging today as a fundamental component of a more-nearly-complete worldview.

On a similar topic, I went to the doctor after returning from the monastery for a ruitine checkup. The doctor was in his 30s and obviously intelligent. Conversation turned toward dietary supplements. He told me to take calcium citrate pills, because brain processes need lots of calcium ions, and calcium carbonate isn't absorbed properly. I asked him, "What is Calcium Citrate?" He looked at me thoughtfully and began his response by saying, "Well, Calcium is like a mineral, or an element..." He emphasized the word "like". I looked at him, flummoxed once again!, noting his seemingly analogous nod to a non-conceptual Real.

The Buddhist student's intended meaning was quite different from the doctor's, though. What they have in common, at least as I figure it, is an integrated realization that misplaced concreteness can lead to repeated inaccuracy, skewing representational events, potentially hindering the progress of a situated agent.

If I could, I would relate this to what you have posted. I really enjoy your writing. thank you.

cameron in phoenix, grad school applicant at Arizona State for Fall 2011
Jan. 23rd, 2011 11:11 am (UTC)
Re: Oblique Re:

Thanks for the nice post!

Against an 'interdependent causation' I would contend for a 'vicarious causation': instead of interdependent relations, or a network of relations and nothing beyond relations, we would have a world of objects that are non-relational. These objects are split into real and sensual, the real is always withdrawn (i.e., can never be in touch with other objects, hidden, non-conceptual), and the sensual (i.e., all that we know and see, both natural objects and objects of the mind). Graham Harman in his Object-Oriented Philosophy of which I've written a great deal of late presents this philosophy of objects.

Your stories illustrate some aspects of ontology that are indeed fascinating, hope you continue in your studies... good luck!
Jan. 30th, 2011 08:59 pm (UTC)
hi there,
My friend and former prof linked to one of your articles here-- may I add you and read along?
Jan. 30th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)

Sure... :)
Jan. 31st, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
I meant to comment on this before, but I'm really stunned you know this Shelley poem. One of the best, but one of the most mysterious too. It's taken up about two decades of my life to begin to get it straight...
Oct. 31st, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

Richard E Marion
Mar. 14th, 2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
Earth Wizard Presentation
Your Website is an inspiration. Its layout links logistics colors style: Emotional. Also, joined LiveJournal... Must drive it! Livejournal: The Large Wheels Beast Of Raucous Evolution. Thank You, Richard E Marion. P.S. Comments Pane doesn't code En Dashes?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


S.C. Hickman
S.C. Hickman

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