nedjelja, 16. lipnja 2013.

Noir Realism - exploring the edge worlds of neomaterialism (blog)

Izvrstan filozofski blog (za ljubitelje spekulativnih realista osobito).


Ah! j’en ai trop pris: – Mais, cher Satan, je vous en conjure, une prunelle moins irritee! et en attendant les quelques petites Iachetes en retard, vous qui aimez dans 1′ecrivain 1′absence des facultes descriptives on instructives, je vous detache ces quelques hideux feuillets de mon carnet de damne.
                          – Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell
The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, that it rejects all the sweet geometry one has learned, that it breaks with all styles….These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .”
Frederico Garcia Lorca
Welcome to my new blog site!
As Ray Brassier once said and I affirm,
” I endorse a ‘transcendental realism’ according to which science knows the real but the nature of this ‘real’ is not strictly speaking objectifiable. The basic idea is that we know the real through objects, but that the real itself is not an object.”
      – Ray Brassier, Interview With Ray Brassier – Against an Aesthetics of Noise 
Steven Craig Hickman, poet and philosophical speculator of the real within which we all live and have our being offers an aleatory exploration of material existence. At the heart of it is  a secret history of materialism that flows out of Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Bataille, Althusser, Derrida, Deleuze. And beyond those giants are a group of New Materialists that are transversing between the sciences and the humanities discovering in natureculture the matterings that matter: DeLanda, Braidotti, Meillassou, Bryant, Brassier and a multitude of other lights, all offering us a way forward toward a theory and praxis for the twenty-first century.
I  take an interest in all things: travel, write, love, and most of all ponder the mysteries of existence. I believe we are at a distinct boundary zone in our existence on earth, a time wherein our oceanic world traveling amid the  voids of being is undergoing a transtition both terrible and wondrous, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to those non-human others we share this planet with to begin collaborating both locally and globally in the creation of a sustainable existence worth living. Ecologically, politically, socially, and economically we must work together in devising alternative visions and  forms of governance and livingness, forms of egalitarian and democratic and communitarian societies; for both human and non-human alike.
Darkness and its relation as matter-energy, as process and mattering, as explored within the sciences and arts is central to my vision: physics, astronomy, ecology, mysticism, speculative realism, psychoanalysis and literature, and politics. As a conceptual framework, noir materialism engages with mattering at the thresholds of its extinction and enfoldment beyond the topographies of a ‘base or libidinal materialism’, and at the very edges of forms of thought wherein objects, things, and spaces of reason on which it depends exert their independence.
Nick Land’s ‘libidinal materialism’, shape an aspect of my own noir realism: 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).
Yet, within the interstices of my vision lie those old time materialists and new alike: Nietsche, Freud, Lacan, Bataille, Cioran, Althusser, and Deleuze, as well as those others that have marked certain passages in the being and events of our age: Heidegger, Whitehead, Analytical and Continental thought and praxis, and those who escape under a dark blood moon to ride the black daemon of the duende inhabit the interstices of my vision: poets and authors of the mad and rabid nihilistic tracts, communist and socialist, anarchist and social libertarians, and fringe thinkers with that spark which lights the fire of mind. Within this blog will be an acknowledgement of a revolutionary materialism that seeks the emancipatory vision of human and non-human alike.
Like that old nihilist of desire, Emile Cioran: “The approach of disgust, of that sensation which physiologically separates us from the world, shows how destructible is the solidity of our instincts or the consistency of our attachments. In health, our flesh echoes the universal pulsation and our blood reproduces its cadence; in disgust, which lies in potential hell in order to suddenly seize upon us afterwards, we are isolated in the whole as a monster imagined by some tetratology of solitude”. Out of this disgust the renegade philosopher must “invent another genre of solitude, expatriate himself in the void, and pursue – by one exile after another – the stages of uprootedness”. Homeless and solitary, set adrift within the incommensurable incongruities of these unreal political dystopian worlds that dominate our current global civilization the new philosopher moves toward a post-humanism without regret: “The human adventure will certainly come to an end… we need only look at man in the face to detach ourselves from him… Thousands of years of sufferings, which would have softened the hearts of stones, merely petrified this steely mayfly, monstrous example of evanescence and hardening, driven by one insipid madness, a will to exist…”
Yet, unlike Cioran we affirm certain of the radical Enlightenment projects without the enforcement of Reason as some necessary god of the philosophes. Along with Ray Brassier I affirm the need to align the manifest and scientific images without merging them, the world of persons with the world of science in abeyance. An enrichment not with more ways of saying what is the case, but with the language of community and individual intentions, so that by construing the actions we intend to do and the circumstances in which we intend to do them in scientific terms, we directly relate the world as conceived by scientific theory to our purposes, and make it our world and no longer an alien appendage to the world in which we do our living (After Nature Interview). As he states it ““my conviction is that the sources and structures of human experience can and will be understood scientifically, but this integration of experience into the scientific worldview will entail a profound transformation in our understanding of what it means to be human—one as difficult for us to comprehend from within the purview of our current experience as the latter would have been for our hominid ancestors” (Interview With Ray Brassier). 
Yet, in the other realm of the non-scientific others is a truth as well, and in it we must pursue a poetry to the dark boundaries of thought where the unbounded registrar of existence no longer holds sway.
What if ideas are differential dynamisms, attractors immanent to and inherent in material reality? What if nature is self-organizing? What if it were nature that produced the structure of mind? What if it is the structure of material reality that generates the structure of thinking? The questions of embodiment and consciousness that Katherine Hayles describes within her work, as well as the issues raised by the Speculative Realists and the problematic surrounding the human subject seem to converge toward some form of posthuman ideology.
Brassier in a comment about Iain Hamilton Grant’s reconstruction of Schelling’s transcendental materialism which is based upon differentiation between the “Aristotelian-Kantian reduction of materiality to somatic or corporeal reality – the idea that to be material means to be some sort of body with a set of perceptible properties…”, as well as Grant’s conception of Schelling’s transcendental materialism, “where the real material structures are the abstract differential dynamisms that generate and produce bodies, organisms, and spatio-temporal objects, but can never be reduced to them,” offers us a doubled vision of those twin aspects or nodes of thinking and being that co-evolve within the corporeal fragments we term the mattering. Brassier tells us that one consequence attendant to transcendental materialism is that if “the structure of ideation is a function of the ideal structure of material self-organisation, then the process is ongoing…”, and “if the process is still ongoing and will keep going, then not only is there more to know about the structure of reality than we currently know just now; there’s also more to know about the structure of ideation than we currently know.”
Dr. Timothy Morton, of Ecology without Nature, from whom I borrow the term dark ecology for this blog’s url states succinctly the basic message of the noir aesthetics of my artistic impulse:
“Dark ecology puts hesitation, uncertainty, irony, and thoughtfulness back into ecological thinking. The form of dark ecology is that of noir film. The noir narrator begins investigating a supposedly external situation, from a supposedly neutral point of view, only to discover that she or he is implicated in it. The point of view of the narrator herself becomes stained with desire. There is no metaposition from which we can make ecological pronouncements. Ironically, this applies in particular to the sunny, affirmative rhetoric of environmental ideology. A more honest ecological art would linger in the shadowy world of irony and difference. …The ecological thought includes negativity and irony, ugliness and horror. “
- Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought

           For details of my thoughts on Abject Strangeness: read here!
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Ancient and Contemporary Philosophers, Artists and Curmudgeons that have influenced my thinking:
Heraclitus, the Atomists, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, Lucian, Spinoza, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Bataille, Whitehead, Heidegger, Sellars, Althusser, Deleuze, Badiou, Meillissoux, Zizek, Brassier, Land…
Homer, Pindar, Dante, Milton, Leopardi, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, Yeats, Stevens, Bishop, Ammons, Ashberry, Warren, Merill, Wright… and hundreds if not thousands of painters, essayists, musicians, and friends….
Contact me:

Abject Strangeness: to seek strange truths in undiscovered lands…

“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
Lilith, Sister of Sophia
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 the 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 ourforlorness; 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 newenlightenment 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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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 spectralSign 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 drives, 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:
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

peculations on the End of Time: Gratton, Harman, Barbour

The primary dualism in the world is not between matter and mind, but between objects and relations, and most relations will be unrecognizable as anything mental, just as objects turn out not to resemble what is usually called the physical.
- Graham Harman, Time, Space, Essence, Eidos
Harman’s work must deny the reality of time in order to make his own claims for a certain realism…
I suggest that our belief in time and a past arises solely because our entire experience comes to us through the medium of static arrangements of matter, in Nows, that create the appearance of time and change. Tensors relate different things and bring them into lawful connection.
- Julian Barbour, The End of Time
Recently Peter Gratton’s essay in Speculations IV (which I’ve already written of here) reminded me of Julian Barbour’s book The End of Time which I’d read a few years back and found some interesting parallel’s on the theory of Time within a metaphysics of presence. What you see below is just bringing out the comparisons, this is not a defense of Harman, Gratton, Barbour or anyone else. Time is a philosophical bombshell, and not a notions that has a perfect solution: at least, not yet, in my honest opinion.  Time is still one of the grand mysteries for science and philosophy, along with ideas on causality, and we need to be open to the strange and unfounded speculations even if they appear at first as counter-intuitive or against the grain of one’s common sense experience. Even Einstein’s conceptions on relativity were not accepted outright, but were debated for years before becoming central to physics. What I show below is just such a comparison between a working scientist, Julian Barbour (quantum gravity theorist), and the speculative philosophy of Graham Harman. To draw comparisons is not to defend either side of the coin. Quantum Gravity Theory is not even the most accepted theory in physics: that being String Theory at present. But all these ideas are hotly debated with no perfect solution. It is to tease out speculative thought and see things differently from our usual habitual modes of thinking. My attitude toward philosophy is to keep an open mind, to take off my ideological blinkers, my philosophical presuppositions, and let the philosopher bare his or her conceptual framework without some ultimate judgment. Judgment is for critique, not commentary. What I try my best to do on this site is commentary rather than critique. You’ll find plenty of critique on a thousand other blogs.  Time is a hobby for me, so I find things interesting in crossovers between systems, even if those systems are true or not true, its the strangeness of the ideas that fascinates. In fact Graham can and will defend his own position in a new book from a comment on this post and on Gratton’s conceptions: here.
* * *
Peter ultimately critiqued both Meillassoux and Graham Harman as metaphyscians of presence: philosophers for whom time is the cosmic illusion (my post on this: here). Harman considers himself a substantial formalist. In an early essay Time, Space, Essence, Eidos he lays out most of the themes that have from the beginning haunted his discourse on Objects and the fourfold tensions between real objects and real qualities, and sensual objects and sensual qualities. Every time I begin thinking about Harman’s system I want to pull out my nephew’s tinker set and start building objects in patterns that will somehow match his diagrammatic imagination.  Peter Gratton in his essay he remarks in otherwise frank terms tells us that neither Meillassoux or Harman believe in Time:
Meillassoux and Harman mark a return to the real that is anything but, as long as they treat the time of becoming as epiphenomenal, and thus deny the reality of time however aporetic it is, as we well know—at the beating hearts of thinkers they too quickly disparage while ignoring what were their central insights.

Speculative Posthumanism: R. Scott Bakker, Mark Fisher and David Roden

“A posthuman is any WHD [Wide Human Descendent] that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.”
- Dr. David Roden, Hacking Humans
“So really think about it now,” Thomas continued. “Everything you live, everything you see and touch and hear and taste, everything you think, belongs to this little slice of mush, this little wedge in your brain called the thalamocortical system. The neural processing that makes these experiences possible—we’re talking about the most complicated machinery in the known universe—is utterly invisible. This expansive, far-reaching experience of yours is nothing more than a mote, an inexplicable glow, hurtling through some impossible black. You’re steering through a dream…”
- R. Scott Bakker,  Neuropath
In his novel Neuropath Thomas Bible, one of R. Scott Bakker’s characters – an atypical academic, not one of your pie-in-the-sky type, theorists, reminisces with a friend about an old professor who once presented theories on the coming “semantic apocalypse,” the apocalypse of meaning. He tells this friend, Samantha, that this is when the Argument started and conveys to her its basic tenets:
“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purpose? For some reason, wherever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.”1(58)
After a few arguments on how the neural process of the brain itself weaves the illusions of free-will, mind, etc. Thomas lays down the bombshell of Bakker’s pet theory: Blind Brain Theory, saying: “The brain, it turned out, could wrap itself around most everything but itself—which was why it invented minds . . . souls.”(61) Suddenly Samantha wakes up realizing that all this leads to moral nihilism and begins babbling defenses against such truths as Thomas has revealed. For Thomas this all seems all too familiar and human, he reminisces a similar conversation he’d had with his friend and co-hort, Neil Cassidy, who on realizing just where the argument led stated (stoned and pacing back and forth like a feral beast):
“Whoa, dude . . . Think about it. You’re a machine—a machine!—dreaming that you have a soul. None of this is real, man, and they can fucking prove it.” (62)
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Mark Fisher: A Critique of Practical Nihilism: Agency in Scott Bakker’s “Neuropath”
My post was generated by rereading Mark Fisher’s excellent critique of Bakker’s novel inINCOGNITUM HACTENUS Volume 2: here (downloadable in .pdf format). What interested me in Fisher’s critique was his conclusions more than his actual arguments. You can read the essay yourself and draw your own conclusions, but for me the either/or scenario that Fisher draws out is how either the technocapitalists or the technosocialists (‘General Intellect’) in the immediate future might use such knowledge to wield powers of control/emacipation never before imaginable:
For whatever the theoretical implications of neuroscience, Bakker is surely right that its practical applications will in the first instance be controlled by the dominant force on the planet: capital. Capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself. (11)
He brings up two notions, both hinging on the amoral ‘practical nihilism’ of neuroscience itself: 1) the reinforcement by the dominant ideology, technocapitalism, to use such technologies to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives through invasive techniques of brain manipulation; or, 2) the power of some alternative, possibly Leftward, collectivist ideology that seeks through the malleability or plasticity of these same neurosciences to use the ‘General Intellect’ to freely experiment on itself. Do we really want either of these paths?

Speculations IV: Peter Gratton and Post-deconstructive Realism

In On Touching, Derrida argues that ‘for Nancy, touch remains the motif of an absolute, irredentist, and post-deconstructive realism [réalisme ... post-déconstructif] … an absolute realism, but irreducible to any of the tradition’s realisms’ (OT 46/60).
- Michael Marder, The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism
Peter Gratton of Philosophy in a Time of Error fame in the introduction to his excellent book The State of Sovereignty tells us “Political mysticism in particular is exposed to the danger of losing its spell or becoming quite meaningless when taken out of its native surroundings, its time and its space”.1 One wonders if the same thing might be true of philosophical mysticism. Is that not what the history of the last two thousand years in philosophy is? Is not one of the basic tenets of modernity the overcoming of our ancestors metaphysical mysticism? Is metaphysics rather than being overcome still very pervasive within our academies hiding under other names other philosophical disguises?
One of the things that Gratton points out in his new essay for Speculations IV Post-Deconstructive Realism It’s about Time is just that: it is about time, about the presumptive arrogance of SR in its castigation of post-structural forms of philosophical speculation, and, as Gratton puts it, these speculative realists seek “means of driving straight past the “linguistic turn” that had side-tracked, they believe, a previous era of philosophers”. But we should not overlook the troubling effects of such a move he tells us, because what these philosophers have done in bypassing the “linguistic turn” is nothing less than a return to pre-modern, pre-critical modes of thought: “But my argument is that this is a dodge: at the heart of this speculative work is a pre-modern (not even just pre-Critical) consideration of time, where time is epiphenomenal when thought against the eternal…”. One of the consequences of this for Gratton is that until until a certain realism of time opens onto SR thought, their “interventions will be anything but timely”.
Peter center his attack on two specific members of the original SR gang of four: Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman. Why them specifically? Instead of answering that question directly Peter goes directly to the heart of Jaques Derrida’s central insight: “There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside-text; il n’y a pas de horstexte]“. The point of this being as Gratton tells us citing Lee Braver’s rendition of this very notion is this:
There is nothing outside the text because our experience is always linguistically mediated; this makes both subject and object effects of language, rather than entities that precede it from the outside to master or anchor it. Language impersonally structures our selves and our world, and our actions depend on passively taking on these structures.

Speculations IV: Eileen Joy and the Joys of Reading

Art is inherently subversive, after all, as much an act of doing as undoing.
- Eileen Joy, Weird Reading
Who can remember the first book they picked up and read for pleasure? I confess that having been athletic and being raised down south in the fifties of the last century that being a book reader wasn’t on the top priority list of things a jock was ever to be seen doing. So like many I separated out what I had to read to get by in school from my subversive reading pleasures done under the covers late at night so that no one, especially my non-book reading Step-dad or brothers would ever catch me in the act of reading stories about ancient knights, or musketeers, or pirates, etc. All those weird tales that took me away from my hum rum life of being molded into a no brainer jock who was supposed to know more about hunting, fishing, football, baseball, etc. than about strange far away places beyond the temporal ken of our staid grey lives in the Fifties U.S.A. So coming onto this passage in Eileen Joy’s new essay Weird Reading for Speculations IV brought all those first time reading pleasures back to me:
Nevertheless, works of literature are also unique events that possess a penumbra of effects that can never be fully rationalized nor instrumentalized, and there is no one set of relations within which the whole range of any one text’s possible effects can be fully plumbed or measured. There is always something left over, some remainder, or some non-responsive item, that has to be left to the side of any schematic critique, and this is an occasion for every text’s becoming-otherwise.
This excess, this remainder, this something that can never be explicated fully or trapped within the close reading of some master reader or critic’s textual analysis, this is what escapes or withdraws from us beyond our wildest speculations into a reality so intense and alive that our minds barely comprehend its existence much less acknowledge its haunting presence. Yet, like Eileen describes we can always count on certain repetitions to occur exactly the same way and at the same point within these strange narrative structures we call novels, poems, stories, etc. As she describes it Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina will repeat the same suicidal tale, jump in front of a beastly train; Macbeth will lose his head; Hamlet will murder too late… each of these things will happen over and over like clockwork each time we pick up these same books, plays, poems, etc. And, yet, something will have altered nonetheless. That something is us. We will have been altered by this reading, this moving through the repetitions of a temporal onslaught of words signifying nothing more than strange characters on the abyss of the page entering into conversation with our mind creating a new sphere or object that is an interpenetration of both worlds: that of the text-as-reader and the reader-as-text, the shifting vagaries of something that is neither one or the other, but of both at once. As Eileen tells us:
Stories are like deterministic, machinic systems in which characters, situations, and other details are frozen, as it were, in certain poses, while also being always “wound,” like watches, to keep the same time. Yet, narratives also contain discrete, disconnected instances of being and becoming that are always attempting to expand beyond or subvert the larger narrative system—these instances, or “units” (as Ian Bogost would term them) are like things, material elements with their own conatus (Spinoza’s term for any thing’s tendency to persist in existing), which always leaves the system open to a creative and possibly fruitful chaos (a plenitude of generative unruliness whose historical tense would be the future perfect subjunctive: what would have been, or, what would have not been).

Speculations IV: Lee Braver and Transgressive Realism

Transgressive Realism, I believe, gives us a reality that transcends our ways of thinking, but not all access to it, offering a middle path that lets us have our ineffable cake and partially eff it too.
- Lee Braver, On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
In the opening of his essay, sounding more like some ancient gnostic, maybe a Valentinian precursor, Lee Braver in his Speculations IV offering gives us a vision of “shadows and reflections, of illusions and elisions, of waste and death”.  Reciting an ancient tale he begins: “Philosophy is a means of escape. Our presence in this world is an accident, in both senses of the word, an unfortunate fate that has befallen us as we have fallen into it”. In other passages he takes on an almost ethereal Christian like ambience, telling us that “we are in this world, but we do not belong here”. Then where do we belong if not in this world? Some other world or sphere of reality, per chance? Exactly! Lee Braver returns, after his excursion into the metaphysical ether, to the Platonic myth of the true world, the real world behind the appearances of this illusionary one where: “We yearn for a reality that is real, and a truth that is true. Since these are not to be found among the detritus of everyday life, we must seek it in a world beyond or behind this one, a realm that truly exists because it has no whiff of non-existence about it—no destruction, no imperfections, no suffering, no death”.
Maybe Lee Braver, like Plato before him, is sick unable to cope with the world around him as it is, but instead seeks to overcome this one by finding some eternal home for his sick soul? But then Lee Braver announces the truth, that no this is not what he believes at all, that if the truth be told this is what for two thousand years certain philosophers, and not only philosophers, but whole tribes of churchmen and their followers believed. Who was the culprit who started this: “it is all Plato’s fault”, Braver tells us emphatically. And all those sick metaphysicians that followed in his wake mistook his parables for the truth, and they too sought to escape this dark world of shadows and enter the true world of light. As he surmises the “lesson of these meta-physicians is that we must not settle for the world we see around us, but must ever strive to transcend it, for the sake of our minds and our souls”.

Speculations IV: Adrian Johnston and the Axioms of Transcendental Materialism

“Any materialism worthy of the name must involve elements of both naturalism and empiricism.”
- Adrian Johnston, Points of Forced Freedom Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism
In a polemical tour de force Adrian Johnston condenses and codifies the elements of a philosophical materialism for the 21st Century. Adrian like others in the essays for Speculations IV returns to Kant, but for him this is not the exact correlationist litany we’ve seen in the others but more of an acknowledgement of Kant’s philosophical breadth and integrity in being the philosopher who put to rest the metaphysical claims of two thousand years of dialectical deadlocks: “The “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason, revealing the precise contours of the dialectical deadlocks forever dooming in advance each and every classical metaphysics to futility, extracts its critical logics from the evidence furnished by two thousand years of philosophical history.”
I must say that I’m bias toward materialist perspectives and especially of late to both Johnston and Zizek with qualifications (more on that at another time), but will do my part to be – as in previous posts – the neutral observer (or as much as one can be) or close reader and commentator who offers hopefully an unbiased condensation of the original discourse. Being more of a poet and fictional writer and not a professional philosopher, I like many – perceive myself as just an average man thinking and trying to discover in current theory and practice some semblance of the problematique we are all facing in our world today. Trying to find a way forward out of the malaise of our current dysfunctional global (dis)civilization. Speculative Realism offers a multiplicity of perspectives in dealing with the domains of epistemic and ontological aspects of both our material and immaterial worlds, and while I may not agree with each and every perspective I agree that each will need to be confronted and rigorously answered if we are to find a way forward.

Speculations IV: Levi R. Bryant and Borromean Critical Theory

If your not familiar with Levi R. Bryant by now I’m not sure if this post will matter. Levi on his blog,Larval Subjects, offers the lively reader purchase on almost everything within the spectrum of current philosophical thought. In his essay for Speculations IV he turns his keen eye toward the political spectrum and specifically the controversies surrounding Speculative Realism and its apolitical theoretic as seen within its four major players: Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Although Levi has moved on from the vitalistic shell of his early critique of Deleuze (Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence), and his flirtatious investment in Harman’s Object-Oriented modes (The Democracy of Objects), he continues to evolve a system all his own and has of late rejoined the Lucretian traditions in thought and philosophy. Thinking of Levi within that tradition there may be no better place to start a reading of his current essay on politics (“Politics and Speculative Realism” here: warning: pdf) than by readingProperties and States: Lucretius and Politics.
Levi begins with a Lucretian topos, a theme that runs the gamut of Critical Theory: the critique of thenaturalness of categories in both human identities and social relations, uncovering the ideological layers of that underpin their socially constructed, contingent, and historical character.  Levi earmarks Lucretius’s demarcation between properties that inhere in a thing, with the properties that arise out of our human relations with things. An example being slavery: slavery is not he remarks anintrinsic property of a person, but is an unnatural imposition based on power, rank, and privilege. As he restates the matter:
While a number of people—generally those in power or who stand to benefit from a particular way of ordering society—might try to claim that people are naturally slaves, that sexuality is naturally structured in particular ways, that certain groups are naturally inferior, that a particular economic system is the natural form of exchange, and so on, a critical theory reveals how we have constructed these things.

Speculations IV: Daniel Sacilotto on Representationalism

Daniel Sacilotto whose blog Being’s Poem always brings intelligent clarity to philosophical issues offers us a return to Wilfred Sellars in his essay for Speculation IV Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn (here: pdf). Like many of the other essays he gives us a litany of the history of SR and its Ontological Turn. Right off the bat he centers us in on the battle between two meanings of this ‘Ontological Turn’: 1) the radicalization of critique; and, 2) the overcoming of critique altogether. Ever since Kant moved us into epistemic territory, developing a transcendental logic that ultimately led us toward Idealism and Anti-Realism, philosophers have been trying to find there way back to what Meillassoux called the ‘Great Outdoors’. For Daniel the term Speculative Realism is almost a misnomer, a sort of loosely coupled conceptual framework or heuristic device to align a group of disparate philosophers who “share nothing more than an antipathy to post-Kantian anti-realism,” and are more like a dysfunctional family who use SR as a term that “coins nothing but an exceedingly vague family resemblance, rather than a concept announcing the advent of a new philosophical epoch, or a reformation of Continental thought.”
What binds these otherwise disparate formations or vectors of the Ontological Turn he tells us is their “rejection of transcendental philosophy understood as critical epistemology, and indeed a sustained attack on the concept of representation”. After outlining a short history of representationalism through its various proponents and opponents he teases out the two senses of its trajectory: 1) the break with the pre-modern vision and a turn from a resemblance theoretic to one based on isomorphy (“The possibility of thinking a correspondence between thought and the Real would then be amplified to be understood in terms of the isomorphy between a perspicuous formal ideography and the structural dynamics of spatio-temporal systems in the real order.”); and, 2) this form of representation deals with the long history of representationalism, of its concepts and its relations between the various domains of knowledge and world, etc. (“The distinctions between appearance and reality, mind and world, concepts and objects, statements and facts, would all partake thus of this more general concept.”).

Follow up on Speculations IV

I haven’t had a chance to read each essay in detail, but I’m discovering in this issue of Speculations IV that it seems to be a time for accounting, for taking stock of where SR started, who the players are, some of the directions for future appraisal, as well as a few critical appraisals that wonder if this is anything new at all. Reading Graham Harman’s introductory essay he lays out the differences among some of the original players: 1) Quentin Meillassoux, whose After Finitude sparked the initial conference in London back in 2007; 2) Ray Brassier, who has distanced himself from the ‘movement’ (If that is what it still is?), Iain Hamilton Grant, as well as Harman himself.
Harman mentions the battle-royal going on within Continental Philosophy between the new realists and the recent century of anti-realists, bringing up a comment by Paul Ennis who offers the succinct opinion that for most Continental philosophers SR and its anti-correlationism is just plain ‘silly’ and not a threat to the dominance of anti-realist traditions:
“Continental realism is the fringe of the fringe. It might be popular for now, but we can already see a sort of knuckling down by the antirealists…the backlash. Most of them find the whole anti-correlationism thing silly and I don’t think continental realism is actually a threat to the dominance of antirealism…”1

Speculations IV Ready for Review

The latest version of Speculations is out: Speculations IV
* * *
A fast note:
Read Manuel DeLanda’s short essay on Ontological Commitments. He breaks ontology down into three competing camps: Idealist, Empiricists, and Realists. For Idealists there are no mind independent things, entities, or objects. For the Empiricist appearances serve up reality through the senses, everything else is a model or theoretical construct of the mind, a set of tools to help us explain what the senses observe. It is the third, the realist camp within which DeLanda situates his own philosophical proclivities. The realist ontology is hard to pin down, it deals with a totally mind independent reality filled with entities that are fully autonomous and cannot be easily reduced to our conceptual mythologies. This is where speculation comes into play:
There is simply no way to specify the contents of an autonomous world without speculating, since this world may contain beings that are too small or too large, and becomings that are too fast or too slow, to be directly observed.
For DeLanda speculation comes into play specifically because he defines the objective identity of entities not only by their properties but also by their tendencies and their capacities. Using the example of water: it can be in a state of hot, cold, lukewarm, etc. As well as under certain circumstances it has a tendency or capacity to become gaseous, frozen, etc., and it can also become a solvent for acids, alkalis, salts, etc.

What is the difference between Association and the State?

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Certain Marxists have their own weasel words to cover their statist inclination. Unless pressed to demonstrate it, they routinely  refer to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (as one person stated to me) as "a ruling class' instrument of the suppression of class enemies". The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state.
Jehu is making a very important point here... it shows the difference between Marx/Engels and Baukin, and the key to the abolishment of the State resides in knowing just what an Association is. His point is valid and central to a real understanding of Marxist thought. Read him at The Real Movement!

Utopian Speculation: Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown

UP TO NOW, it has been one of the principal tenets of the critical theory of society (and particularly Marxian theory) to refrain from what might be reasonably called utopian speculation.
- Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation
Emerson once remarked that Americans lived in the ‘optative mood’ – The Transcendentalist (1842):
Our American literature and spiritual history are, we confess, in the optative mood; but whoso knows these seething brains, these admirable radicals, these unsocial worshippers, these talkers who talk the sun and moon away, will believe that this heresy cannot pass away without leaving its mark.
Marcuse, a child of Marxian thought,  and native of Germany could have agreed with Emerson up to a point, but would have added only the communist dictum of Marx himself that the optative mood of communism is “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” What Marcuse did say in his Essay on Liberation is that “what is denounced as “utopian” is no longer that which has “no place” and cannot have any place in the historical universe, but rather that which is blocked from coming about by the power of the established societies.”1
So it was the repressive/oppressive regimes of both the liberal and socialist states of his era that he saw as the problem that was causing a blockage to all those creative potentials that needed to be released through utopian realization. As he put it “the question is no longer: how can the individual satisfy his own needs without hurting others, but rather: how can he satisfy his needs without hurting himself, without reproducing, through his aspirations and satisfactions, his dependence on an exploitative apparatus which, in satisfying his needs, perpetuates his servitude?” (KL 69-71) That Marcuse was correct in his diagnoses but incorrect in the treatment is old hat. He saw that we needed a new direction, and new institutions and relationships of production, ones that would express the ascent of needs and satisfactions very different from and even antagonistic to those prevalent in the exploitative societies. Yet, he based his criteria on a malformed notion of ‘instincts’ and their liberation:
Such a change would constitute the instinctual basis for freedom which the long history of class society has blocked. Freedom would become the environment of an organism which is no longer capable of adapting to the competitive performances required for well-being under domination, no longer capable of tolerating the aggressiveness, brutality, and ugliness of the established way of life.(KL 74-77).

A Short History of the Progressive Movement

My reason for this post is simple: Nick Land an apprentice of the self-styled Sith Lord, Mencius Moldbug professes a new political creed: NeoReactionism. Moldbug describes this new political faith in negative terms: “A reactionary is not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a libertarian.  It is not even a communist, a fascist, or a monarchist.  It is something much older, stranger, and more powerful. But if you can describe it as anything, you can describe it as the pure opposite of progressivism.” (here) In a nine part open letter to his straw man mythology of progressivism (start here) one is not so much berated with non-factual evidence, as with a skewed sense of what it truly means to be a progressive. So I thought it only appropriate to provide an actual short history of the Progressive Movement. The neoreactionary is no so much fearful of progressivism as he is of social justice, reformism, and regulation. These were and are the core values of the progressive ethical stance now as they were then. At the heart of this was the protection of the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the abandoned and sick of the world (i.e., pretty much the same things that a man named Jesus Christ believed a couple thousand years back). And, even an atheist could affirm such wisdom, then as now, with or without the God. It was the right thing to do. To link ourselves to the poor, the weak, the oppressed and seek for them and ourselves the right to social justice and the space to live and share in the good life is at the heart of the Progressive Movement.
Luke 4:16-19:  When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In final years of the nineteenth century a reform movement emerged that became what we now call “Progressivism”, which flourished from about 1900 to 1920, and faded away by the early 1920s, although many of its ideas and pragmatic ideology would flourish and inform our political and socio-cultural thought to this day. In U.S. national politics, its greatest achievements occurred between 1910 and 1917. In state and local politics and in private reform efforts—churches, settlement houses, campaigns to fight diseases, for example—Progressive changes began appearing in the 1890s and continued into the 1920s. In these social-justice efforts, legions of activist women, despite lacking the suffrage, were enormously effective. Most prominent in national politics were the “big four”: William Jennings BryanTheodore RooseveltRobert M. La Follette, and Woodrow Wilson. Mayors Tom Johnson and Sam “Golden Rule” Jones in Ohio led change in their cities, as did governors Hiram Johnson of California and James Vardaman of Mississippi. Lincoln SteffensIda Tarbell, and the rest of the crusaders (known as “muckrakers”) spearheaded what would later be called investigative journalism. Progressive educators ranged from university presidents to philosophers to sociologists. In philanthropy, Chicago’s Julius Rosenwald supported Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, while the Rockefeller Foundation poured millions into education and health in the South. The Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, the Episcopalian W. D. P. Bliss, and the Catholic John A. Ryan led their churches toward social justice, and by 1910 every major Protestant denomination espoused what was called the Social Gospel. A major progressive-era innovation, the settlement house, combated poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice in many cities, led outstandingly by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago, Lillian Wald and Florence Kelley in New York, and Mary Workman in Los Angeles.1

Thomas Carlyle: Calvinist, Reactionary and Prophet

In his Institutes, John Calvin defined natural law as the “apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony.” He described the purpose of natural law as “to render man inexcusable.”1
Thomas Carlyle lit his prophetic fires in the empyrean of Bacon and Locke, Hume and Bentham, and then Mills. The power of cognition, or superior intellect would drive this Titan through the Victorian Age. Yet, it was in the light of Shakespeare that he would discover his darkest precursor of this power - On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841):
For, in fact, I say the degree of vision that dwells in a man is a correct measure of the man. If called to define Shakspeare’s faculty, I should say superiority of Intellect, and think I had included all under that. What indeed are faculties? We talk of faculties as if they were distinct, things separable; as if a man had intellect, imagination, fancy, etc., as he has hands, feet, and arms. That is a capital error. Then again, we hear of a man’s “intellectual nature,” and of his “moral nature,” as if these again were divisible, and existed apart. Necessities of language do perhaps prescribe such forms of utterance; we must speak, I am aware, in that way, if we are to speak at all. But words ought not to harden into things for us. It seems to me, our apprehension of this matter is, for the most part, radically falsified thereby. We ought to know withal, and to keep for ever in mind, that these divisions are at bottom but names; that man’s spiritual nature, the vital Force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible…If I say therefore, that Shakspeare is the greatest of Intellects, I have said all concerning him. But there is more in Shakspeare’s intellect than we have yet seen. It is what I call an unconscious intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of. Novalis beautifully remarks of him, that those Dramas of his are Products of Nature too, deep as Nature herself. I find a great truth in this saying. Shakspeare’s Art is not Artifice; the noblest worth of it is not there by plan or precontrivance. It grows-up from the deeps of Nature, through this noble sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature.
Carlyle steeped as he was in the philosophy and poetry of the English and German Idealism followed the intricate course of vitalism through such romantics as Goethe, Novalis, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He also grappled with Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. He wrote a great history of the French Revolution that is still worth reading not only for its power of rhetoric but for its deep insight into the dark contours of that age. That old liberal gnostic Harold Bloom in his Essayists and Prophets admired Carlyle for his Shakespearean temper: “
We can learn from Carlyle also that the distinction between religious and secular writing is merely political and not critical. Critically, all writing is religious, or all writing is secular; Carlyle sees that Shakespeare has abolished the distinction, and has become the second Bible of the West.2

Slavoj Zizek: The Right Questions

The great lesson of state socialism was indeed that an immediate abolition of private property and market-regulated exchange, in the absence of concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination.
- Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing
What we need are the right questions, we already have plenty of answers, says Slavoj Zizek.  He is more pragmatic and realist than most give him credit for. No pied-piper piping to the choir of children here. He offers no panaceas for the struggles ahead. What he does offer is strategies, problems, and dialogue. He agrees that for the moment all of our debates remain on the ‘enemy’s turf’, and that all “we say now can be taken (recuperated) from us— everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is our “terror,” ominous and threatening as it should be.”1
He tells us there is a difference between a politics of resistance which is parasitical upon what it negates, to a politics which opens up a new space outside the hegemonic position and its negation. Sometime a ‘gesture of subtraction’ a withdrawal from both the political stage and the economic stage, as in the Occupy Movement is the only path toward opening such a space of the New. One might also say that the Occupy Movement was a first step in withdrawal, a movement of opening up a hole in the veil of capitalist geomancy, of a refusal to enter into any relation with the political or economic system in a constructive or positive way.
Reminding us that none of the great protests movements replaced the existing systems with something new, and that as Lacan said of the May 68′ revolts: “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one.”(Kindle Location 22450) The sadness of the political resistance and protest movements insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the Master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a (disavowed, of course) call for a new Master.(Kindle Locations 22452-22453)
He also states provocatively that the intellectuals as a class with answers, as a vanguard to lead the masses into the new, is a dead myth, that the roles have been reversed, that the people themselves have answers and solutions but have yet to realize the right questions, that they lack only the proper concepts and words as John Berger said, that ‘ring true’. (Kindle Location 22471)
We should treat the demands of the Wall Street protests in a similar way: intellectuals should not primarily take them as demands, questions, for which they should produce clear answers, programs about what to do. They are answers, and intellectuals should propose the questions to which they are answers. The situation is like that in psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but does not know what they are the answers to, and the analyst has to formulate the questions. Only through such patient work will a program emerge. (KL  22478-22482).
1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 22433-22435). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Philip K. Dick: Quote of the Day!

Time, then, is actually spatial expansion, layer upon layer. So the hologram is quite large— it is ubique; yes; here is the ur-significance of the word “ubique”: it occupies all space. It is the interface that is Real, in Malebranche’s system. I’m hot on the trail right now— since nothing exists outside of cosmos by definition, all info in it pertains to itself and permeates it and is self-causing. And identical throughout all loci. Then the info is eternally and ubiquitously retrieved and retrievable—A perturbation in the reality field— an irregularity, a departure from the normal— a tugging or pulling or bending. And that is all. Not even the thing, the perturbing body itself; only its effects on “the reality field.” Something out of the ordinary— like I say, a surd. There is a single interacting field and there is a mind ubiquitous in it, immanent in it—Spinoza would agree…
…neither efficient cause was at work (which has been obvious to me) but also not future or retrograde cause. It was self-generating (ultimate homeostasis). It caused itself. I’m not sure of my reasoning but I realize it’s true; I set up a perturbation in the reality field by thinking about it, so to speak. The information had no source (the needed information that I lacked that came into existence); it was self caused. [...] We are talking about ex nihilo information; information that generates itself. No wonder it’s so erratic.
- The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Patent Trolls: The Dark Side of Ideas

Creativity, the most precious resource, becomes a global corporate commodity to be appropriated and exploited on a worldwide scale through new organizational forms.
- Luis Suarez-Villa, Globalization and Technocapitalism
Have Ideas and Idea Makers become the ultimate economic commodity of our technocapitalist globalism? As corporations seek more and more control over the knowledge sector they often introduce contradictions and dysfunctions to the corporate control apparatus, and given the elusive, qualitative character of this most precious resource we are beginning to see effects of this in such things as the Patent Wars raging across the globe.  It’s become more like a three-ring circus with bit players across the globe jumping on the bandwagon. One would think it was a farce written by a bad comedian if it was’nt so apparently troubling. These patent wars are a global phenomenon, fought by multinational corporations based in the United States, China, Europe, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The companies involved include Yahoo, Barnes & Noble, ZTE, AOL, Ericsson, Apple Inc., EMC, Foxconn, HTC, Facebook, InterDigital, IBM, Microsoft, LG Corp, Kodak, Halliburton, Nokia, Motorola, Nortel, Oracle, Samsung, Pantech, Gemalto, Openwave, VIA Technologies and Research In Motion.

Bipolar Worlds: Dystopia or Apocalypse, or the Tension Between?

The question concerning cloning is the question of immortality. Blindly we dream of overcoming death through immortality, when all the time immortality is the most horrific of possible fates. Encoded in the earliest life of our cells, this fate is now reappearing on our horizons, so to speak, with the advent of cloning.
- Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion
Imagining a world around the dystopian vision of my quartet of novels (in progess), pushing the limits of the neoliberal world view to its final conclusion I’ve tried to envision the bipolar tension between dystopia and apocalypse. Dystopian novels seem to be divided between future anticipation and present collapse, the one anticipating some future scenario of apocalyptic or dystopic catastrophe, while the other works with the actual knows of present destruction in the systems scattered around us in the world today. Between the bipolar visions of dystopia and apocalypse we glide like travelers in a Ship of Fools, moving between totalitarian visions of Empire and endless war, and the hyperrealism of cinematic asteroid impacts, climate collapse, super-volcanos, economic and social collapse etc. Between pure anarchy and totalitarianism we are thrown into the latest movie or YA Dystopian fiction like outriders of an interplanetary screamfest. What does it all mean? Or is it all meaningless chatter, a way to while away the hours while the real world goes on clobbering us with austerity and the hygiene, the neoliberal immunology for debt relations? Yet, amid all these disaster scenarios I wonder if we’re missing the point of it all? What if all these scenarios were just one more piece of disinformation in the cycle of disinformation to keep our minds off the real ball? What if we are so preoccupied by terrorist plots, global disasters, economic maladies, epidemics, war, and, and, and… that we forget what is important in our lives?  Do we even have an answer to that? Or is this, too, just another problem without a solution? Just one more grist for the mill scenario to trouble our already overburdened minds? Could that be it? Could it be our ability to think clearly and distinctly that is at issue? Are we no longer able to think? And what is thinking, anyway?

The Global Cartoon: Empire in the 21st Century

Today, the new corporations and sectors associated with technocapitalism are influencing how we view human existence, life and nature, and are well on their way to impose new realities.
-  Luis Suarez-Villa
What I’m about to portray is the sort of open nightmare of a neoliberalist future, a dystopic vision of the control machine of this corporatist socio-cultural complex extended to maximum overdrive, an open-ended structure for an unfinished history of the future. As I think through many of the current issues of my dystopic novel trilogy I’m working through the layers of this world building scenario, stretching the canvas and extrapolating based on certain known givens in our present society and technologies.
As food scarcity becomes more and more apparent in the years to come, and as a result health, nutrition, and global food production take on ominous priority within the socio-political spectrum we will begin seeing technology and capital merging in ways that may become irreversible. The use of bioengineered seeds may introduce anomalies that in the short term resolves the food crises but introduces unknown variables into the genetic heritage of life on earth as we’ve known it. With the promise of bioengineering and synthetic life forms corporate entities are transforming inorganic matter into living organisms, all the while patenting them as private property for marketability in some future economic system. These corporate entities operations will very likely lead to the creation of myriad living organisms, from viruses that can generate disease to microbes that produce fuels, to human organs for replacement, to new animal species and possibly humanoids, all created as corporate property. A new industry and a vast new market may thus be created for synthetic life, affecting most any aspect of human existence and of nature.

The New Cold War: Global Competition for Natural Resources

Competition for dwindling supplies of natural resources is at the heart of global economic and political conflict. It’s an open wound that will no soon heal. While the UN holds conferences on Sustainability the true power players are under the cloak of vying for the remaining resources of the world. Exploiting every region and its peoples, these nations and financial institutions could give a rats ass about human suffering. They hold their grand conferences while behind the scenes the keep on digging deeper, polluting more, toxifying what remaining water and food sources we have. Even in what they want for the future (here) you can see the actual non-commitment and non-cooperation in their continual use of such terms as “We acknowledge..”, “We recognize…”, “We encourage…”, “We view…”, “We note…”, “We reaffirm…”, “We underscore…”, etc. all leaving it up to someone else to actually do something, but for us we’ll just acknowledge, recognize, view, note, encourage, reaffirm, and underscore the need for such sustainability, but we reserve the right to not do it ourselves… Ah the modern diplomat, such a wonderful thing the United Nations, or should we term it the Disunited Nations and be done with it?
Spiegel Online says we’re already in the midst of a new Cold War over these resources. As Eric Follath remarks: “We live in an age of dramatic distribution battles over resources that are becoming increasingly scarce and yet required in ever-growing amounts. It’s also an age in which international politics are increasingly determined by questions of energy security. The cards are just now being reshuffled for potential winners and losers. Americans have discovered India as a new strategic partner, and energy-hungry China is making overtures to its old rival Russia.” (here) The Guardian reports that “the global battle for natural resources – from food and water to energy and precious metals – is only beginning, and will intensify to proportions that could mean enormous upheavals for every country, leading academics and business figures told a conference in Oxford on Thursday.” (here)

The Age of Speed: Accelerationism, Politics, and the Future Present

We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.
- F.T. Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto
The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words a producer of speed.
- Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics
What is at stake in our world today? Should we align ourselves with what one Japanese poet sang: “I pray for the music of the citizens walking.” Is this it? Movement, speed, the future as the force of acceleration? Has accelerationism become the order of the day? Maybe we need something on the order of what Mark Fischer describes, quoting Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: “Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Against all those like the Italian Autonomists who as Bifo Berardi (After Future) remarks that the ’future is over’ we should think differently.1 But to give him his due, Berardi was not speaking of temporality, but of ‘psychological perception’, which ‘emerged in the cultural situation of progressive modernity, the cultural expectations that were fabricated during the long period of modern civilization…”(AF 18). So it is against ‘progressive modernity’ that he speaks of futureas progressive, as some unending temporal order of succession as a radical Enlightenment Project projected into an endless future of possibility and hope. He says this is over, caput, dead and buried amid the wastelands of modernity strewn around us on this dying earth we all inhabit.
Nick Land was one of the first to take up the battle cry of accelerationism.  For him it was all about thanatropics: ”labour is far harder to control than the live stuff was, which is why the enlightenment project of interring gothic superstition was the royal road to the first truly vampiric civilization, in which death alone comes to rule” (TA, p. 79). Continuing his inquisition he remarks, echoing Nietzsche:
“This is the initial impulse into capital’s religious history; the sacrifice of all dogmatic theology to the ascetic ideal, which is finally consummated in the death of God. The theology of the One, rooted in concrete beliefs and codes that summarize and defend the vital interests of a community, and therefore affiliated to a tenacious anthropomorphism, is gradually corroded down to the impersonal zero of catastrophic religion” (TA, p. 79).
It is in this absolute zero of capital religion that we discover Land’s accelerationism, wherein capital ”attains its own ‘angular momentum’, perpetuating a run-away whirlwind of dissolution, whose hub is the virtual zero of impersonal metropolitan accumulation. At the peak of its productive prowess the human animal is hurled into a new nakedness, as everything stable is progressively liquidated in the storm” (TA, p. 80). Benjamin Noys in his own variation of this interesting doctrine tells us that it is “an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist.”  (Accelerationism)

Quentin Meillassoux, divine inexistence and split rationality

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With a new issue of Analecta Hermeneutica just out there has been some discussion this past week of Peter Gratton's article on Meillassoux's ontology of divine inexistence (herehere and here, with some reaction on Gratton's own blog, Philosophy in a time of error). The discussion put me in mind of a paper I gave way back in 2010 at the UK…
Christopher Watkin has an excellent post up as a continuation on the dialogue concerning Peter Gratton's new essay on Quentin Meillassoux's Ontology of Divine Inexistence. Christopher is the author of Difficult Atheism: Tracing the Death of God in Contemporary Continental Thought. After condensing his conceptual arguments for the logics atheism as imitative, residual, and integrated he critiques Meillassoux's argument. He tells us he has five reasons why Meillassoux doesn't succeed in his efforts, but he only details out one: 'split rationality'. I'll let the reader investigate just what that means by visiting his site and reading his excellent post...

Dubai – City-State of the Future: Globalism, Plutocracy and Social Exclusion

Nietzsche once warned us that if a State ever delivered on the promise of a good life for the greatest number that “it would destroy the earth from which a man of great intellect, or any powerful individual grows”(145).1 Our gurus and pundits of the Cathedral worlds of neoliberalism hype up these new City-States arising out of the sea of a broken democracy and communism as if we were already living in the future. JP Morgan Chase and the Brookings Institution have teamed up to launch the five-year, $10 million Global Cities Initiative:
Brookings and JPMorgan Chase will co-host a series of domestic and global forums in collaboration with local, metropolitan area leaders to drive discussions, build consensus, and catalyze action about best practices and strategies for regional economic growth. ‪ Using Brookings’ data-driven analysis and original research, metropolitan leaders will evaluate their regional standings on crucial economic measures and be exposed to best policy and practice innovations from around the world.
The City of the future will be based on a corporate model. “The goal is not perfection in  a single city, but more effective innovation and competition, so that the best  cities prosper and other cities emulate them. There are enough mobile people that one city’s success won’t harm others; on the contrary, it is more likely to  encourage existing cities to change, just as new market entrants force  incumbents to improve. Sometimes, in order for evolution to do its best work,  the individual components need some intelligent design.” (Urban Intelligent Design) Notice that migrant workers, and even the intellectual elite have become ‘mobile people’, and the now defunct comment on ‘evolution’ as a driver for economic change. And, even God gets his due: she allows the old conception of ‘intelligent design’ in through the back door.
As one pundit, Alan Berube, remarks: “The evolving idea of the  “global city,” coined two decades ago by the sociologist Saskia Sassen, further  demonstrates the city’s crucial position in global trade. Global trade is not pleasant;  it is fiercely competitive, and policymakers must address the short-term costs  that it routinely imposes on people and places.” (Return of the Trading City) Don’t you love these euphemisms: ‘short-term costs’, – military power, gun running, contraband and smuggling, slavery and human trafficking, money laundering and terror funding, etc. And, all this, handled with a smile by your friendly financial institution of choice in the free-zones of global trading paradises.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: On Comedy and the Comic

The secular art of homily like its cousin served Emerson well, he was able to find that fine line between conversational prose and the scholarly rhythms of the street. He gave us behind the façade of a formalist essay the honesty of a man thinking. Much of his life and thought drifted between Society and Solitude, the give and take of a life lived in the midst of others, and the marginal worlds that fly beyond the edges of our solitary lives amid a vast ocean of stars. Some see Emerson as some old fuddy duddy, a serious if not overpowering rhetorician of the transcendentalist movement. Yet there is another Emerson, the comic or humorist of thought who instead of wandering away from society entered its contours and byways, alleys and thoroughfares, its civic centers and its radical trade centers where he study men and women in the midst of their everyday lives. He’d studied his Aristotle, too:
Aristotle’s definition of the ridiculous is, ” what is out of time and place, without danger.” If there be pain and danger, it becomes tragic; if not, comic. I confess, this definition, though by an admirable definer, does not satisfy me, does not say all we know.
The essence of all jokes, of all comedy, seems to be an honest or well-intended halfness; a non-performance of what is pretended to be performed, at the same time that one is giving loud pledges of performance. The balking of the intellect, the frustrated expectation, the break of continuity in the intellect, is comedy ; and it announces itself physically in the pleasant spasms we call laughter. With the trifling exception of the stratagems of a few beasts and birds, there is no seeming, no half-ness in nature, until the appearance of man. Unconscious creatures do the whole will of wisdom. An oak or a chestnut undertakes a function it can not execute; or if there be phenomena in botany which we call abortions, the abortion is also a function of nature, and assumes to the intellect the like completeness with the further function to which in different circumstances it had attained. The same rule holds true of the animals. Their activity is marked by unerring good-sense. But man, through his access to Reason, is capable of the perception of a whole and a part. Reason is the whole, and whatsoever is not that is a part. The whole of nature is agreeable to the whole of thought, or to the Reason; but separate any part of nature and attempt to look at it as a whole by itself, and the feeling of the ridiculous begins. The perpetual game of humor is to look with considerate good nature at every object in existence, aloof as a man might look at a mouse, comparing it with the eternal Whole; enjoying the figure which each self-satisfied particular creature cuts in the unrespecting All, and dismissing it with a derisive smile. Separate any object, as a particular bodily man, a horse, a turnip, a flour-barrel, an umbrella, from the connection of things, and contemplate it alone, standing there in absolute nature, it becomes at once comic; no useful, no respectable qualities can rescue it from the ludicrous.
- from The Comic
Was this the first critique of Speculative Realism, and of OOO in particular? Or is this a comic hilarity of objects overmined and undermined by a transcendentalist poseur? Emerson as speculator of relations, what comes next?
1. Thoreau, Henry David; Ralph Waldo Emerson (2008-01-01). The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau (The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson) (Kindle Locations 11071-11073). C&C Web Press. Kindle Edition.

J.G. Ballard: The Calculus of Desire and Hope

The narrators are in these texts caught in a triangular pattern of relationships in which they are drawn to authority figures who urge them to accept and embrace the twisted social logics they uncover.
- Andrzej Gasiorek, JG Ballard
‘Not really.’ Gould finished my coffee and pushed the empty cup back to me. ‘It isn’t only the psychopath who can grasp the idea of absolute nothing. Even a meaningless universe has meaning. Accept that and everything makes a new kind of sense.’
- J.G. Ballard, Millennium People
Have we entered the last stage of the game, a game-theoretic that has played itself out in ever more duplicitous cycles within cycles for the past hundred years or so? I’m speaking of the shifting sands of both economic and political ideologies as played out in the modeling hijinks of its greatest ideologues as each in turn has vied for the space of politics?  It was Henri Lefebvre who once, optimistically said to us that the declining State would be dissolved not so much into “society” in an abstract sense as into a reorganized social space. At this stage, the State would be able to maintain certain functions, including that of representation. The control of flows, the harmony between flows internal and external to a territory, will require that they be oriented against the global firms and, by implication, will also require a general management of a statist type during a certain transitional period. This can only lead toward the end goal and conclusion by means of the activity of the base: spatial (territorial) autogestion, direct democracy and democratic control, affirmation of the differences produced in and through that struggle.1 Do we believe in such myths anymore? Is this another throwaway idea that has had its day and gone under the crunch of globalism? Is Democracy like Communism before it running scared? Is capitalism like some dark infestation freed of a shadow substance leaving its cloaked narrative of freedom and democracy in the dustbin of history like all other lost causes?  What comes next? Will the totalitarian regimes of the future offer us everything we always wanted rather than depriving us of our livelihoods? The blueprints for our postliberal dictatorships are in the works even now: the totalitarian future will be subservient and ingratiating, catering to our every need, and only asking in return that we willingly give up our freedom for the security and comfort of a fully posthuman life. Cyborgs or transhumanists of a technocratic future we will live in the terminal zones of a paradise run by executives who are as affectless and apathetic as an alien from some machinic universe.
They like that. They like the alienation … There’s no past and no future. If they can, they opt for zones without meaning – airports, shopping malls, motorways, car parks. They’re in flight from the real.
- JG Ballard, from Millenium People
Yet, as Ben Woodard says in his new and excellent work, On an Ungrounded Earth: Toward a New GeophilosophyHere we wish to subject the earth to pain – not as a somatized creature, but as a planet, the glob of baked matter that it is – in order to test its limitropic porosity and see how much ungrounding the earth can take before it ceases to be simultaneously and example of nature’s product and also its productivity.“2 Maybe we’re entering a new era, an era of planetary upheaval, of political and socio-cultural instability and transformation, that from one perspective might look like the grand collapse of civilization, but from another might tend more toward some form of breaktrhough in which the great wars for the earth take on a new and insidious meaning… Maybe what we’re seeing is the end of the Liberal worldview, with its system of enlightened governance that has ruled Western Civilization for at least two centuries. If this is so then what is coming our way?
A postliberal world of decay and decadence, fraught with both internal/external conflicts within science, culture, politics, and love? With the death knell of tyrannical communism and the slow death of liberal democracy is there something else on the horizon? We see the old guard  on both sides of the fence crying foul, saying that neither of these are finished, that there will always be one of these two views of life resurgent in our midst in one form or another. But is this true? Isn’t the devil out of the bag? Hasn’t capitalism in our time finally slayed the dragon of its own duplicitous  marriage to democracy? We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?

Mencius Moldbug: A Short Lesson from a Sith Lord

America is the Jedi nation, and it’s natural that we fear the ancient peril of the Sith.
- Mencius Moldbug
Soon there developed in Western Europe two great political ideologies, centered around this new revolutionary phenomenon: the one was Liberalism, the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity; the other was Conservatism, the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of the old order.
- Murray N. Rothbard,   Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty
Mencius Moldbug would have us believe he is one of the Lords of Light, a Jedi Prince of the Right, a prophet of the new doom that hangs over America like some deadly Death Star. Yet, as we take a closer look we discover the error of our ways, if we look into the dark pupils we begin to notice another light, a darker light, the visible darkness of a Sith Lord. Yes, my friends, this is no naïve Jedi Master, this a veritable prince of darkness. One of the first lessons he teaches us on his now infamous blog is that “its goal is to cure your brain“. I kid you not. As he says in his first ‘general introduction’ there isn’t anything difficult about his message, in fact its as simple as realizing that Mencius Moldbug is the direct opposite of Noam Chomsky. “As a broad generalization, UR’s stance in any controversy will be the opposite of Chomsky’s.” Why Chomsky? Why not Badiou or Zizek, much more prominent and respected intellectuals in the philosophical world? Is it because Chomsky is American? Because he is a part of the American Elite Academia? Because he represent the old guard of the libertarian socialist traditions?
Well, as we know Noam Chomsky is a libertarian socialist which he describes against the backdrop of classical liberalism:
Ideologically, they are in agreement that the functions of the state are repressive and that state action must be limited. The libertarian socialist goes on to insist that state power must be eliminated in favor of democratic organization of industrial society, with direct popular control over all institutions by those who participate in-as well as those who are directly affected by-the workings of these institutions. So one might imagine a system of workers’ councils, consumers’ councils, commune assemblies, regional federations, and so on, with the kind of representation that’s direct and revocable, in the sense that representatives are directly answerable to and return directly to the well-defined and integrated social group for which they speak in some higher order organization-something obviously very different than our system of representation.1
What do we really have here?  As we study the above two things become obvious: 1) The State is the Enemy; and, 2) Power belongs to the Producers, the Workers, the People not the State. Other than that he seems to bandy about for some kind of organizational framework within which to allow for a free and open society of workers to govern themselves through democratic processes. What that may entail has been blueprinted by a score of previous thinkers in both the classical liberal and socialist anarchistic traditions. He seems to be non-committal about the specifics and details of such a system almost as if it were a grey zone, a sort of zero-point beyond which thought cannot go.
Now if this is libertarian socialism and Chomsky’s vision then what is it that Mencius Moldbug all hot about? Why does he feel it necessary to oppose Chomsky’s libertarian socialism. If one could define it in just two words, those words would be ‘property rights’. Along with the State the libertarian socialist would do away with private property. But never fear there is on the opposite end of the anarchistic tradition another theory: libertarian capitalism. As one of its latter day proponents Hans-Hermann Hoppe tells us that ”private property is an inescapable institution in a world of scarcity”, and draws on the work of contemporary European philosophy - the Austrian School of Economics and their progeny - to make his claims more robust than any of his intellectual predecessors did.2 Hoppe stands with a long line of anarchist thinkers who see the state as playing a purely destructive role in society. But unlike the main line of thinkers in this tradition, Hoppe’s thinking is not encumbered by utopian illusions about society without the state. He follows Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard in placing private property as a central element in social organization. Hooppe in a recent interview tells us:
…there are rich people, mostly from the class of political leaders in control of the state-apparatus and from the state-connected elites of banking and big business, who are rich, because they have been directly engaged in, or indirectly benefitted from, confiscation, theft, trickery and fraud. Such people should not be left alone, but instead be condemned and despised as gangsters. The same applies to poor people. There are poor people, who are honest people, and therefore should be left alone. They may not be heroes, but they deserve our respect.(ibid.)

Andreas Burckhardt: A Sanctuary of Sounds

Authored by Andreas Burckhardt
A Sanctuary of Sounds is an aural rewriting of William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary (1931). A polyphonic object. A garden – assemblage of blooms, of affects, of sounds, of meaning. An invitation to rethink appropriation ethically, aesthetically, and epistemologically. The appropriation of a body of work, of a physical body, of an idea, of data. The history of knowledge and its production is enabled by the process of appropriation, by the differentiation of noise.
“What does it mean sample data, not of finished artworks, but of noise itself, the environment? Being victimized by the crushing quality of noise is all too human. Art must become an acoustic ecology. Noticing the landscape of objects, the relationships, the environment itself, in order to compose the music of tomorrow. Let the song of vibrant matter sing itself.”
A Sanctuary of Sounds is a noise-totality. Noise – nothing but noise. Noise as the first object of metaphysics. Noise as the synchronic/diachronic mediator of production-processes and their reorganization in society. Utopia and dystopia at once. A Sanctuary of Sounds is a dialectical poem, it is noise against noise – raping a rape.
Andreas has been a regular reader of my blog both here and on my old Dark Chemistry site for a long while, commenting and leaving tidbits of interesting info here and there. I just discovered his new book today! I think many of us in the blogosphere might be interested in just what Andreas has been up too. Always thoughtful and generous in his appraisals here and on other sites, I believe you might just enjoy his new blend of artistic excellence and philosophical voyaging.
I’ll only leave you with a glimpse, a sentence - the first, from his baroque and sensual world:
She  seemed  to  follow  with  her  eyes the  waves  of music  to  dissolve  into  the  dying  brasses  across  the pool  and  the  opposite  semicircle  of  trees  where  at
somber  intervals  the  dead  and  tranquil  queens  in stained  marble  mused  and  on  into  the  sky  lying prone and vanquished in the embrace of the season of  rain  and  death.
You can find his work over here on Punctum Books: A Sanctuary of Sounds.

Panda Bear Democracy

If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.
- Slavoj Zizek, Berlusconi in Tehran
Zizek asks: “Is there a link between Ahmadinejad and Berlusconi? Isn’t it preposterous even to compare Ahmadinejad with a democratically elected Western leader?” Sad as it is he comes to the pessimistic conclusion that the two leaders are part of the same “global process”. Even if Zizek intends a communist future, he is more pessimistic in that he envisions that we could take another path. He quotes Peter Sloterdijk who once remarked that “if there is one person to whom monuments will be built a hundred years from now it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who thought up and put into practice a ‘capitalism with Asian values’.” Even China is modeling its future on the logic of Singaporean success. Like a viral meme that is infecting the socio-culture nets of our postmodern cities the “link between democracy and capitalism” has finally been severed. Like zombies in a second rate film we move fitfully and without purpose, consuming everything in out path knowing full well that we have given ourselves over the embedded mechanisms of control that have become so habitual and invisible that we no longer even know they were at one time the pure substance of propaganda. Governance has disappeared into our neuralnets like artifacts from the future controlling the very processes of productive thought.
Democracy is an empty shell he tells us. Capitalism no longer needs democracy to prop up its illusionary scaffolding. Democracy everywhere in the world has become an experimental laboratory where our future is being worked out. If our political choice is between “permissive-liberal technocratism and fundamentalist populism”, then the great choice of the future is a marriage of the two. Zizek reminds us that the “dignity of classical politics stems from its elevation above the play of particular interests in civil society: politics is ‘alienated’ from civil society, it presents itself as the ideal sphere of the citoyen in contrast to the conflict of selfish interests that characterise the bourgeois.” Now our neoliberal Leaders have effectively abolished this alienation: in today’s democracies, state power is directly exerted by the bourgeois, who openly exploits it as a means to protect their own economic interest, and who parades their personal lives as if they were taking part in a reality TV show. And, the funny thing is, that they truly are. One need only turn on the TV to any cable network and find it littered with Reality Shows more fantastic and fictional that reality itself.
Every night we watch the news our media moguls dish out to us an ever more preposterous series of repetitive time bombs that seem to repeat the same message: you need us, we will protect you, the world is a bad place, government can solve your problems, just continue buy more and more of our sponsors products, everything will turn out ok. In their fictional universe our Leaders are all clowns, but as Zizek remarks “we shouldn’t be fooled: behind the clownish mask there is a state power that functions with ruthless efficiency”. The ideological fictions we live in are more like bad cartoons. He explains it using a cartoon movie:
Kung Fu Panda, the 2008 cartoon hit, provides the basic co-ordinates for understanding the ideological situation I have been describing. The fat panda dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. He is chosen by blind chance (beneath which lurks the hand of destiny, of course), to be the hero to save his city, and succeeds. But the film’s pseudo-Oriental spiritualism is constantly undermined by a cynical humour. The surprise is that this continuous making-fun-of-itself makes it no less spiritual: the film ultimately takes the butt of its endless jokes seriously. A well-known anecdote about Niels Bohr illustrates the same idea. Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, a visiting scientist said he didn’t believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: ‘Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn’t believe in it!’ This is how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware that they are corrupt, but we practise them anyway because we assume they work even if we don’t believe in them. Berlusconi is our own Kung Fu Panda. As the Marx Brothers might have put it, ‘this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you – he is a corrupt idiot.’
Zizek warns us that the future coming at us is one where the ‘state of emergency’ is permanent. Agamben’s notion of homo sacer – the figure excluded from the civil order, who can be killed with impunity – is being realized everywhere and without impunity. Freedom is another word for slavery. In search of security we have allowed ourselves to be put into chains. There is no exit door from this insanity. Barbarism with a human face. The kindness will kill you, literally.

The Neoreactionary Impulse: Who is Mencius Moldbug?

What looks thuggish from one perspective, feels inarticulately pissed off from another. Class lenses can be cognitively confining. Couldn’t it be that simple? (I realize that baroque conspiracy theory is more fun.)
- Nick Land
Is it as simple as that? Is the neoreactionary impulse nothing more than a new Baroque, inscribing the past within the cultural dynamics of our present slipstream, producing thought-worlds to confront the enigma of our future? Are these marginal renegades trying to achieve some form of aesthetic legibility so that their designs on the past can gain if not traction and historical legitimation then at least conspiratorial approval from the Right and silence from the Left? Is this new Baroque, with its historical and geographical, not to mention aesthetic eccentricity, challenging the past even as it implodes the future? Is it demarcating lines of flight within an arsenal of perspectives seeking nothing more than an opening, an ‘outside in’ that could infiltrate the hegemonic power centers of the Cathedral, thereby disinterring and unleashing the accelerating forces within late capitalism that would destroy it. At the crossroads of this renegade tribalism there are signs and wonders, an aesthetic logic no longer of mourning and melancholy, but of terror and hypermimetic luxuriousness, an erotic convulsion and counter-allegory built neither on pathos nor bathos, but bearing witness to the demise of postmodernity and to the very condition of a world that could not be assimilated by the project of the original Enlightenment. Instead the neoreactionaries offer a new Dark Enlightenment.
In many of the comments from a recent lampoon ‘You’ve got to be kidding? Neoreactionary Soup and The Fall of Man‘ a name kept cropping up in regards to this new dark enlightenment: Mencius Moldbug. Like many I wandered over to Wikipedia the supposed free encyclopedia of our cyberage and did a search. Nothing. Zit. Came up blank. Wondering why such an important personage within a marginal movement was left out of such a prestigious institution of technological empowerment (lol) I decided to look up the neologism ‘neoreactionary’. Of course, nothing. So I did a cursory search on reactionary, and low and behold we get the ideologically neutral entry here:
reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society. The word can also be an adjective describing such viewpoints or policies. Reactionaries are considered to be one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is radicalism, though reactionary ideologies may be themselves radical.
So to be fair I took a peak at the ‘radicalism’ link to see how the opposite pole of reactionary politics was defined:
The term Radical (from the Latin radix meaning root) was used during the late 18th century for proponents of the Radical Movement. Historically, it began in the United Kingdom with political support for a “radical reform” of the electoral system to widen the franchise. Some radicalssought republicanism, abolition of titles, redistribution of property and freedom of the press. Initially identifying itself as a far left party opposed to the right-wing parties; the Orléanists, theLegitimists and the Bonapartists in France in the nineteenth century, the Republican, Radical and Radical‐Socialist Party progressively became the most important party of the Third Republic (1871–1940). As historical Radicalism became absorbed in the development ofpolitical liberalism, in the later 19th century in both the United Kingdom and continental Europethe term Radical came to denote a progressive liberal ideology.
So it seems we get this superficial sense of history of bitter rivals vying for the supremacy of their reactionary/radical ideologies as part of the Enlightenment project.

A Theory of What Constitutes the Heart of the Žižekian

Here is the introduction of my essay for a new book on Žižek and Education edited by Antonio Garcia, with contributions from many of my favorite Žižek scholars.
In this piece, entitled "The Threshold of the Žižekian" I argue that the heart of the Žižekian, can be located in the way that Žižek modifies the discourse of the Master by putting the disciple (reader) into a new relation towards what I call "emancipatory knowledge."
Daniel Tutt of spirit is a bone introduces a new book on Žižek, Žižek and Education by Antonio Garcia. Nuanced and calibrated he lays out the parade of scholars succinctly and with his usual aplomb! Looking forward to the reading the new work. Description
Zizek has spoken very little on the subject of education, so how could a book be devoted to such a subject? For many years, educational theorist and philosophers have incorporated Zizek's work, but none have taken on the project of developing an identified "Zizekian line of thought" (Butler), how Zizek and Education might be a matter of "Public Pedagogy" (see The handbook on Public Pedagogy by Sandlin, Schultz, and Burdick), or what renderings of education in the vein of Boris Groys (and Badiou) anti-philosophers.

You’ve got to be kidding? Neoreactionary Soup and The Fall of Man

As a young man growing up in Texas, in the Bible-belt in the heart of “God’s Country” I dabbled with fire, I entered the dark waters, touched the serpent of that crazed god of the underworld of the U.S.A. My family was not only conservative, they were of the tribe of Paleoconservatives that came out of depression era economics: in the United States, the Southern Agrarians, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, Robert R. McCormick, Felix Morley, and Richard M. Weaver among others, articulated positions as paleoconservatives. Some have even offered up William Jennings Bryan, T. S. Eliot, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, and Walker Percy as major paleo influences.
What this was all supposed to lead up to was my own counter-reaction to the web’s new Bad Boys: the NeoReactionaries. As I began moving out from Nick Land’s site over on Outside In I followed the trail to the tributary flow-boys that seem to make up this post-futurist paleodrome, a throwback to that Burkean matrix of rock gut conservatism they are now calling the Dark Enlightenment. The Neoreactionary movement is comic fanfest for the middling professional, an open joke that purports to offer ideological charms for the mystified net runners. Surfs up, the neo-reactionary tribes are on the loose. Let the surf wars begin.

Nick Land: Shuggoth’s Revenge

Capitalism is still accelerating, even though it has already realized novelties beyond any previous human imagining. After all, what is human imagination? It is a relatively paltry thing, merely a sub-product of the neural activity of a species of terrestrial primate.
Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier adeptly situate this swan song at the end of their book of Nick Land’s essays, Fanged Noumena. If one were to take this essay as a finis, a final statement of the departed philosopher-turned-social-critic then it would have to be his swan song for lost hope, for all those who once believed in alternative economies, alternative societies. Instead of lost causes in Slavoj Zizek’s sense we get the dark enlightenment of Landianism: a supercapitalism of thanatropic intensive predation without end. For it is here more than anywhere that Land enters the ranks of those neoreactionary forces he so well chronicles on his blog Outside In.
In his diatribe against the old guard he opens the pit and tries to bury Marxism: ”The Marxist dream of dynamism without competition was merely a dream, an old monotheistic dream re-stated, the wolf lying down with the lamb.” And, for all those who dream of hope, of a post-capitalist world free of consumerism he reiterates his stance: “ ‘Post-capitalism’ has no real meaning except an end to the engine of change.” In Land’s new SimWorld he forcasts the future as fiction: reality turned inside out, or outside in. It’s as if he had taken Baudrillard one step further: instead of the simulacra or copies of the real taking over, we have the real swapping out sim-chips from the simulacra and reverse engineering the hyperworlds as reality itself. Fiction is Real: but reality with a vengeance, a self-constructed polyp that resembles not so much our world as it does a horror novel by H.P. Lovecraft. Land’s blog becomes the fictionalized game-theory of the new Zombielands of the future history. He explores the zones beyond our neoliberal worlds where escape is no longer an options because the great Outdoors has already imploded. We are the citizens of an alternate world, creatures of a ready-made vision of apocalypse that is more intensive than imagination could ever dream. Welcome to the real void… Landtopia!

Ben Jeffery’s Anti-Matter: Michel Houellebeq and Depressive Realism

So far Ben Jeffery’s book on Houellebecq has been nothing but a dark ride into depressive realism, not in the clinical sense but in the literary critical sense. I’m enjoying it: if you can call enjoying a pessimist, misanthropist, misogynist, anomieist (he subverts every norm beyond recognition)… you name it the Houellebeq’s not you’re average cynical author out for laughs… actually he’s a rather nasty bastard whose only redeeming factor is his black humor. But then again he’s portraying our own culture, and the bottom feeders at that… like a marriage of noir and rotgut on steroids, except unlike noir where despair usually ends in the outer limits of sadomasochism… Houellebeq  turns it all inside out: instead of s/m we get the real bloodmaul, a sacrifice that bleeds the psyche dry… This guy’s like a walking tomb, an agent to the Black Mass, a slow freeze in a steel furnace. If someone thought that meth was a good idea, then this guy is meth without the speed. Hell is gaping and this guy is its emissary, except that metaphysical hells still offer solace – even if only for the lost. With Houellebecq you get no solace and no metaphysical rubbish: the only thing you get is pure and unadulterated emptiness, the void beyond the thin red line, a pit so dark you’d think you were dreaming except in this black prison there are no keepers, only weepers…
An instance of this is the rendition in Whatever where the protagonist, an anonymous freak, your typical psychopathic office jockey: full of himself, blind to others, a real narcissist type, suddenly wakes up from his comatose life after a fellow employee, Raphaël Tisserand, dies in a car wreck driving home from work on Christmas Eve. The nameless protagonist, a manipulative sociopath who has for the most part enjoyed his little torture games with Tisserand suddenly falls apart, has a break down and finds himself in a mental ward at a hospital. This isn’t one of those absurdist romps like Ken Keysey’s One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, this is more of joe schmo gets what’s coming to him:
After checking himself into a psychiatric hospital, the hero is confronted by a female counsellor who chastises him for speaking in overly abstract, sociological terms. His effort at self-analysis emerges: ‘But I don’t understand, basically, how people manage to go on living. I get the impression everybody must be unhappy; we live in such a simple world you understand. There’s a system based on domination, money and fear [and there’s a] system based on seduction and sex. And that’s it. Is it really possible to live and believe that there’s nothing else?’ Afterwards, he asks the counsellor if she would sleep with him. She refuses. (14-15)1
Ben Jeffery makes a comment on this, saying: “It is not that Houellebecq is a reactionary writer exactly. For example, it is never suggested that religious faith is the solution to his character’s dilemmas; the books are all resolutely atheist.” (15) But I guess Jeffery has never heard of the likes ofMencius Moldbug, neoreactionary atheist: not the sort of guy you’d want as a neighbor, believe me. Nick Land uses him as a pin cushion for his own merciless entertainment on his new blog Outside In. It would be sad to find Houellebecq in the company of such a Neanderthal, but hey we’re not all destined for the progressive farm, are we?
Ben Jeffery tells us that the term ‘depressive realism’ comes from a psychological study performed by Alloy and Abramson in 1979 which suggested that depressives routinely demonstrate better judgment about how much control they have over events (as opposed to non-depressives, who habitually over-estimate their control). Alloy and Abramson concluded that ‘depressed people are “sadder but wiser”… Non-depressed people succumb to cognitive illusions that enable them to see both themselves and their environment with a rosy glow.’(3)  A rosy glow? Have you read Koheleth’s book of late, believe me it’s no picnic. But I don’t think people read Houellebeq for wisdom, folks; no, his works lead one into silence not out of it. What you get with his books is just the stark obliteration of what it is - whatever that is is. Maybe a bucket of ashes over the head would do the trick, a sort of endless prayer to the Void. If Nietzsche was the first to put nihilism on the map, then Houellebecq took it into the abyss and zipped up the black hole to infinity. There is no escaping this dark world: helpless and alone you wander the circles of your own lost dreams.
Jeffery tells us that helplessness is the current running beneath all of Houellebecq’s narratives, the inability to either get what you want or change what you want; to avoid death or believe that death is anything except bad.(36) If your seeking solace for you lost soul Houellebecq’s books should not be on your priority list for self-help, rather think of self-loathing and sinking your head into a shit can:
This is the omega point of depressive realism. What good are books if you are sick, alone, and unloved? They are no good. At best they are make-believe to help us disguise the facts of life – but the facts remain, and they are unbearably heavy. Hence the dark joke at the bottom of the pessimist’s project is that it subverts itself. Ridiculing the futility of human action finally makes pessimism seem pointless, demonstrates the emptiness of its honesty. Depressive realism leads us up to an airless summit, and the wonder is how seriously we can take it; whether, despite itself, there is anything to be drawn from its negativity.(36)
He may lead me to the summit, but once I get there if he expects me to jump he’s got another thing coming. But that’s just it: that’s just what his pessimism leads too: that moment of pure depressive realism when you realize “You will die!” This is the Great Defeat, not some simple mindless jaunt into madness, but the stark cold facts of one’s useless existence spelled out in harsh black and white, no color here folks, just the dark contours of the psyche depleted of its last gestures. “This is not one defeat amidst life’s pleasures; it is the overwhelming end, a negation at once absolute and utterly private.”(77)
And what of staging his own death. In The Map and the Territory we come upon a Alfred Hitchcock moment, when the author himself makes a ghostly appearance, or should we say an offstage vanishing act:
That did happen the following day. “Author Michel Houellebecq Savagely Murdered” was the headline in Le Parisien, which devoted half a column to the news, though quite uninformed. The other papers gave it almost the same amount of space, without giving more details, mainly just repeating the communiqué from the prosecutor in Montargis. None of them, it seemed, had sent a reporter to the spot.
 - The Map and the Territory (198)
A Detective on the investigation wonders who would be capable of murdering this author, and gets a reply:
Houellebecq had lots of enemies, they had repeated, people had shown themselves to be unjustly aggressive and cruel toward him; when asked for a more precise list of them, Teresa Cremisi, impatiently shrugging her shoulders, offered to send him a press file. But when asked if one of these enemies could have murdered him, they both replied in the negative. Expressing herself with exaggerated clarity, a little like the way you address a madman, Teresa Cremisi had explained to him that you were dealing with literary enemies, who expressed their hatred on Internet sites, in newspaper or magazine articles, and, in the worst case, books, but that none of them would have been capable of committing physical murder. Less for moral reasons, she went on with notable bitterness, than because they would simply not have had the guts. No, she concluded, it was not (and he had the impression that she had almost said “unfortunately not”) in the literary milieu that you had to look for the culprit.
- The Map and the Territory (199)
To stage one’s own death and have one’s revenge on one’s enemies to boot. Is this the last boon of taste or what? Yet, if there is any redeeming thing in Houellebeq’s works it all comes down to his own words as author on his own writing:
To this, only one reply: ultimately, you know nothing about it. … You will never really know this part of yourself which compels you to write. You will know it only through contradictory forms which merely approach it. Egotism or devotion? Cruelty or compassion? Any of these possibilities could be argued for. Proof that, ultimately, you know nothing about it; thus, do not behave as if you did. Before your own ignorance, before this mysterious part of yourself, remain honest and humble.
Maybe that’s all any of us can do: remain honest and humble before the mystery of our own lived lives. Whether that is enough is up to each and every one of us to decide. Maybe that’s what being a depressive realist is all about: looking at the horror surrounding one with unblinking eyes, a recording Angel that knows the truth has flown the coup, and all that’s left is the myriad lies (sorry, I meant stories) we tell ourselves in the night to help us survive this catastrophe we call life. As Ben Jeffery remarks:
That life is not an inevitable defeat is not a claim that can be defended in good faith. Not everyone is happy, or healthy, or loved – but everyone is caged in their own body, and in the deepest sense helpless over what happens to them, and everybody dies. In a certain state of mind that feels very like lucidity, the bad things appear so much more pertinent and insoluble and unutterably real that the idea of being sanguine or reasonable or ‘intelligent’ about them is almost hideous.(91)

For my previous review of Michel Houellebeq, Islands of the Mindclick here!
1. Jeffery, Ben (2011-11-16). Anti-Matter: Michel Houellebecq and Depressive Realism (p. 14). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

Peter Gratton: On Meillasoux’s Speculative Politics

Peter Gratton of Philosophy in a Time of Error fame has a paper up on Analecta:  Meillassoux’s Speculative Poltics: Time and Divinity to Come (.pdf). I’ve admired Peter’s posts for a while now, but haven’t read much of his published work. Not sure why that. Be that as it may, this is a superb reading of Meillassoux’s work. I’ll be purchasing Peter’s new books as well: The State of Sovereignty and one that should be out soon Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects.
I noticed right off the bat that he hits quickly in pointing out a discrepancy in Meillassoux’s argument for ‘contingency’ in moving from the singular to the universal in a sleight-of-hand way that if one were not a careful reader one might step over without ever realizing that one had just been hoodwinked:
Meillassoux provides no warrant for moving from “the only veritable” absolute (note the singular) to “everything” (note the universal) from one page to the next, even if we take this absolute contingency to be part of what “everything” would be. In other words, as far as we can tell, he only proves what the correlationist has already known: that thinking did not need to be and that, yes, it is absolutely true. This only changes things if one depicts the correlationists as denying all reality as such, which probably was not the case.(4)
Another thing Peter points out is that Meillassoux purports to term his project a speculative materialism, but that it relies on the incorporeal and immaterial for its justification. What he means by this is that Meillassoux affirms creation ex nihilo: “there is no necessary being, yet there is a hyper-chaosthat is “eternal” and beyond the dictates of physical time: “Time is not governed by the physical laws because it is the law themselves which are governed by a mad time.” What is interesting about this Time as creator is that it is not a part of process or becoming, but is in fact static time and the creator of becoming and process. Ultimately this contingent unfounded conception of creation out of nothing, ex hihilo, leads to Meillassoux’s notion of divine inexistence. This remarks Gratton, states that “if there is no necessary being, then there is nothing subtending the world. And his rejection of the principle of sufficient reason means that he has arrived at what he calls an “irreligious” conception of creation, not just of the world, but of events taking place within this world: “Advent [surgissementex nihilo thus presents itself as the concept par excellence of a world without God, and for that very reason it allows us to produce an irreligious notion of the origin of pure novelty.”(5)

The Cathedral of Time: A Sci-Fi Novel in Progress – A Teaser

 A politics of escape, flight, exodus, leaving, refusal, secession…
Some say the Outside is a myth, a fabrication of silly troubled minds – neuronets on the frag. Others say that the progenitors instilled such myths of freedom in our biomech cores to goad us toward greatness and change. The Cathedral of Time says such heresies need to be stamped out, forbidden and that even the mention or hint of such places, such alternate zones should be slit from our biochips and distributed to the lower echelons of Slay Town as so much fodder. I do not know about such things, I’m no philosopher, just a citizen who knows something great happened in our midst and is now no more.
No one knows when it began. The search for origins are useless in such matters. It wasn’t one of those things that happened over night. Things like that take time, or should we say they happen in neither our clock-work world, nor in those interstices between time present and time past; no, there is another site of time, a third order of time: a Time out of joint, set to one side of our time, helter-skelter, skewed. We always knew there were pathways into such strangeness, but most of us were so blinded by our everyday worries that we were unable or unwilling to slow down enough to register the speed of such spaces as they intersected with our own troubled world. But a time came when people began to disappear, withdraw, secede into the interior zones of that other realm; a realm just the other side of our own, just outside its control lanes, its dark enlightenment, its angular time quadrants. Even I didn’t notice it until it was too late, till all avenues of escape grew less and less, till the elements of control shut the doors for the last time and allowed no further access to the other realm. Yet, even those within the Cathedral of Time, those controlling all knowledge were unable to control the anomalies that surfaced from time to time.
It all started for me one bright day when my neighbor, John Fullerton and his family, disappeared along with their cy-home into one such zone. It didn’t just vanish it took flight or withdrew from our world into somewhere else; or, was it, somewhen? I’d have never noticed except that my son, Billy, who came home wistful and restless that day, asked, innocently: “Hey Dad, did you notice our new neighbors, yet?”

Deleuze on Foucault and Multiplicities

And what is the conclusion to Archaeology if not an appeal to the general theory of production which must merge with revolutionary praxis, and where the acting ‘discourse’ is formed within an ‘outside’ that remains indifferent to my life and death? … None the less, the core of the notion is the constitution of a substantive in which ‘multiple’ ceases to be a predicate opposed to the One, or attributable to a subject identified as one. Multiplicity remains completely indifferent to the traditional problems, of the multiple and the one, and above all to the problem of a subject who would think through this multiplicity, give it conditions, account for its origins, and so on. There is neither one nor multiple, which would at all events entail having recourse to a consciousness that would be regulated by the one and developed by the other. There are only rare multiplicities composed of particular elements, only empty places for those who function as subjects, and cumulable, repeatable and self-preserving regularities. Multiplicity is neither axiomatic nor typlogogical, but topological. Foucault’s book represents the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-praxis of multiplicities. (14)
- Gilles Deleuze, Foucault

Radical Thought in Italy

Mark Purcell author of Recapturing Democracy and The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy has a joyful and optimistic approach to many of our current predicaments in politics and other conditions of life and philosophy. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out his blog, Path to the Possible, you should. In a recent post Stop Being a Social Being he reminded me of a book I recently read as part of my self-made curriculum for the current year: Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. by Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt. In his introductory remarks Hardt comments on these Italian radicals:
What is perhaps most attractive about these Italian theorists and the movements they grow out of is their joyful character. All too often, leftist cultures have identified a revolutionary life with a narrow path of asceticism, denial, and even resentment. …These authors are continually proposing the impossible as if it were the only reasonable option. But this really has nothing to do with simple optimism or pessimism; it is rather a theoretical choice, or a position on the vocation of political theory. In other words, here the tasks of political theory do indeed involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us, but the first and primary tasks are to identify, affirm, and further the existing instances of social power that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community. The potential revolution is always already immanent in the contemporary social field. Just as these writings are refreshingly free of asceticism, then, so too are they free of defeatism and claims of victimization. It is our task to translate this revolutionary potential, to make the impossible real in our own contexts.
In some ways this is a part of that tradition of Spinoza and Nietzsche, an affirmative and joyous nihilism that is always ready, expectant, and hopeful. An affirmation that does not bemoan the past defeats, but, to use one of my Americanisms: “Keeps on Trucking”, keeps on moving along, keeps on pushing ahead, looking for the hidden paths out of our deadly malaise of late capitalism. As Hardt remarks again: “The defeats of the Left in the late twentieth century are not a result of “too much” Marxism or communism, she argues, but, on the contrary, of a failure to redeploy creatively the resources of these traditions.” And, this is the key: – as Zizek repeats with joyous affirmation: We must fail, but fail better! It’s about creativity, about entering into these traditions and deciding what is available to us today, what will help us survive today, what will help us get on with our current situations day by day both individually and collectively. No matter how we may disagree on the fine points, I think we can all agree that we need an affirmative and positive theorypraxis of action that can be both hopeful and joyous even amid the heartaches of our terror infested world. Without hope we are doomed to the circle of hate and resentment that is self-defeating and doomed to failure always. As Hardt reminds us we should not forget “ the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us”, but we should also remember to “further the existing instances of social power that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community.” This a vision that once again opens up the future to us as a site for hope beyond the dearth and dark presentiments of our present era.

Post-Nihilistic Practice: Levi R. Bryant and Arran James

Both Arran James’s ideas on post-nihilistic practice and Levi R. Bryant’s Axioms of a Dark Ontologyand …Some further Axioms have some interesting and suggestive ideas. What Levi presents is the Lucretian heritage that we see within modern reductionary naturalism with some modifications and extensions from critiques of this heritage as seen within Levi’s own philosophical project. His work starts with the basic dictum that “There is no meaning to existence or anything in the universe. Life is an accident and has no divine significance (though it’s obviously important to the living).”
Since this is from the first axiom and underpins every other axiom as a sort of figure/ground of the system, then it is here that the system either frees up or fails to meet the criteria of the system as a whole. The stipulation is that there is no meaning in existence nor is there any meaning in anything in the universe. Why not shorten this to the simpler: “There is no meaning.” Period. Why the need to constrain it to “existence” and the “universe”. To do so is to imply that existence or the universe in themselves are already implicated in certain human meanings that we must free ourselves from in order to accept this criteria. Meaning already implies “sense, import, and intent”. Which in itself already implies either a subjective or objective awareness or intelligence to provide such intentionality. So to say that that meaning doesn’t exist automatically refuses consciousness, awareness, or intentionality its qualification as an arbiter for judging the meaning or non-meaning of existence or the universe. Removing human judgment from the equation also eliminates any “sense” of meaning, aesthetic or otherwise, from the equation.

An Odd Post

As a long time coder, a software engineer, and now architect of systems I’ve learned the art of detection as a part of the arsenal of tools I have needed to maintain things. Being a software detective is a somewhat dubious profession, but it seem analogous to much of what we do in our daily lives. What do we do when things break down? When your automobile goes on the blink, when your boss says: “Roger, you lost the account…”, when one of you kids comes to you with the vestiges of a favorite toy that lies in a thousand pieces looking up at you as the fixer, the woman/man of the hour, the one who has all the answers and will solve the mystery of this dark and fragile world.
Coming back to software I discovered long ago that most problems one faces are marked with traces, with subtle cookie crumb trails that lead back to the kernel of the issue. There’s a logic to failure. And debugging software algorithms becomes a process of elimination rather than of positive feedback. Yet, in the process of discovery we have to rely on specialized tools, apparatuses that can make it easier to trace down the illusive code lost in the maze of algorithms. Debugging tools that we can set up to observe the actual process of an algorithm as it works in collusion with and in relation to a multiplicity of others methods, functions, procedures, etc.

Control Society: The History, Logic, and Methodologies of Control

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the  conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he  must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though  the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can  come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground  which is given to him to till.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance
To the point that the idea of freedom, a new and recent idea, is already fading from minds and mores, and liberal globalization is coming about in precisely the opposite form – a police state globalization, a total control, a terror based on ‘law-and-order’ measures. Deregulation ends up in a maximum of constraints and restrictions, akin to a fundamentalist society.
- Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism
Everywhere you turn you see the pulpists screaming conspiracy, paranoia, catastrophe as if the earth were the stage of some horrific cinematic apocalypse. Emerson preached a good tune, the great American Myth of the Self Reliant individual who could revolt against history, against the wisdom of the ages and invent himself whole cloth out of the emptiness of his own being, must mix it up with others in the carnival of life open and free. This was Emerson’s version of The Good Life, a personalist version of the pursuit of happiness in 10 easy lessons. Yet, in the pursuit of self-reliance and happiness we seem to have produced its opposite in less than a two hundred years. We are more dependent and unhappy than ever before in history. In our pursuit of the Liberalist Democratic Utopia we have imposed worldwide intolerance, hate, and unhappiness at the forefront. How did this all come about? Where is the history of this dark world to be found? In our pursuit to understand this are we not in ourselves forging the very links to control that feed the beast? Or, are we actually trying to liberate ourselves from its terrible grasp? Caught in the meshes of this fly-trap that seems to permeate the planet is there an escape valve, a way of withdrawing from its dark trap?
A great many individuals fall into the trap of ‘Conspiracy Theory’ narratives, which as Christopher Hitches recently said “are not just false, but are not even wrong” (2004). That is, they do not reach the threshold of acceptability to even be tested, to be falsifiable. If the mind is that sphere that can distinguish between truth and falsity, then conspiracy theories are beyond that sphere. They are para (beyond or beside) the nous (mind). They are paranoid.1 Richard Hofstadter (1967) in his germinal essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” this term transformed a multiplicity of beliefs in conspiracy into a style of thought. Transposing a clinical psychology term onto the field of politics, Hofstadter not only pathologized conspiracy theories, he gave them formal coherence, historical persistence, and intelligibility as a genre of political knowledge.(ibid.) As one scholar puts it:
Conspiracy theory is thus a bridge term-it links subjugating conceptual strategies (paranoid style, political paranoia, conspiracism) to narratives that investigate conspiracies (conspiratology, conspiracy research, conspiracy account). Conspiracy theory is a condensation of all of the above, a metaconcept signifying the struggles over the meaning of the category. We need to recognize where we are on the bridge when we use the term. (CP Kindle Locations 129-131).

Deleuze and Foucault: A Conversation…

Representation no longer exists; there’s only action – theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks.
Michel Foucault opened a conversation with Gilles Deleuze relating his dismay that a Maoist in his circle suggested that Deleuze was somewhat of an enigma in regards to his political affiliations. Deleuze in response remarked that “No theory can develop without eventually encountering a wall, and practice is necessary for piercing this wall.” He continued telling us that practice was itself “a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another.”
A system of relays within a larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and practical. A theorising intellectual, for us, is no longer a subject, a representing or representative consciousness. Those who act and struggle are no longer represented, either by a group or a union that appropriates the right to stand as their conscience. Who speaks and acts? It is always a multiplicity, even within the person who speaks and acts. All of us are “groupuscules.” Representation no longer exists; there’s only action-theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks.
In response Foucault reminds us that ”theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional, as you said, and not totalising.” And, in response to this Deleuze is affirming: “ Precisely. A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless…”. Deleuze adds: “A theory does not totalise; it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself. It is in the nature of power to totalise and it is your position. and one I fully agree with, that theory is by nature opposed to power. As soon as a theory is enmeshed in a particular point, we realise that it will never possess the slightest practical importance unless it can erupt in a totally different area.” I like this pragmatic Deleuze!

Beyond Representation: Plato, Deleuze and the Simulacra

Reason is the black widow in the cage of time. Spiderlike sufficient reason allows nothing to escape its dark power. Even the infinite cannot escape the grasp of this deadly creature, the venomous touch of reason kills everything within its purview, and like its dark precursor dissolves even the smallest elements into the acid bath of its formidable categories: identity, difference, doubling, and reflection. Representation is the disease of time, the cracked wand of a dead wizard whose power is dispersed among the broken vessels of light scattered to the four corners of the universe. Like ministers to a dead god our philosophers and scientists serve a Master illusionist, a sorcerer who has hoodwinked them all into believing in the power of the mind to capture reality in a box, when in truth the Real is the wilderness that can never be captured by thought.
The dialectic sought to push contradiction to its supreme limits, when in fact the filaments of this web thrown across this universe of doubt was itself made of the very essence of identity it sought to dispel, instead of truth we discovered in this net the capture of difference within the logic of identity that makes it the sufficient condition for difference to exist to begin with. In Hegel the game was rigged from the outset, the player and the played were bound to the curve of sufficient reason and clarity all along, and the touted power of this method was bound to a monocentric system of circular ratios that left no doubts to chance and necessity. Do not be fooled by those others who offer you the incompossibility of the world, either. Between compossibility and incompossibility there is no true connection or reversal, the former is not reducible to the identical, and the latter is not reducible to contradiction.1

Deleuze: A Short History of the Human

What were the conditions of possibility of the human sciences, or what is humanity’s true date of birth?
- Gilles Deleuze, Humans: A Dubious Existence
To answer this question of the birth of the Human Deleuze gave a precise and eloquent answer, saying, the “Human can exist in the space of knowledge only once the “classical” world of representation itself has collapsed under the pressure of non-representable and non-representative forces” (91).1 We know that for Deleuze the order of representation consisted of the essential elements of a system of identity, difference, doubling, and reflection. Yet, it could be after the collapse of these categories that the Human could emerge as something obscure. Before the Human can exist, biology must first be born, and a political economy and philology…“(91). Quoting Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things he continues, saying, “Once the living organisms have left the space of representation to lodge themselves in the specific depth of life; and wealth, in the progressive development of the forms of production; and words, in the becoming of language;” then natural history gives way to biology, the theory of money to political economy, and general grammar to philology.(91)

Life in the Shadow of Protocol

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I've been reading Alexander Galloway's excellent Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, which explores what he terms the “protocological” apparatuses of control, or the invisible mechanisms of power that hide behind the horizontally organized distributed networks that define the workings of the post-Fordist information economy. The 'protocol' in his term is the combination of the internet's Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP in shorthand, and the DNS.
Edmund over on Deterritorial Investigations has a excellent post on the work of Alexander Galloway'sProtocol, which in its complementarity feeds into many of my own thoughts of late. I read Galloway's work a few years back... worth a good read... and Edmund has done it justice!

Cities Under Siege by Stephan Graham: Dystopian Thoughts on Control Society

In some of his work, Guattari argued that digital technologies were constructing human-machine assemblages that would enable entirely new and different forms of subjectivity to emerge.
- Savat, David,  Uncoding the Digital:
Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society
In the coming machinic society our post-human assemblages will huddle in hive like worlds protected by a technosphere of total surveillance. In this world all travellers to any destination will be screened against no-fly lists and intercept target lists. Together with biometric visas, this will help keep trouble bound to the outer limits of the new no-man’s land of non-civilization. ”The massive global proliferation of deeply technophiliac state surveillance projects like the e-Border programme signals the startling militarization of civil society – the extension of military ideas of tracking, identification and targeting into the quotidian spaces and circulations of everyday life.”1 This is the landscape of postmodern civilization, the new era of total security, governance, and control.
The data conclaves of the future will house the micro-analysis of threat whether in the homeland or on the frontiers of global edge culture. The technodreams of the global elite reinforced by the industrial war machines integrated into the circuits of our internal lives are producing a total surveillance society. Our military analysts Stephan Graham tells us look forward to a day “a whole suite of surveillance and tracking systems emerge on the back of high-tech modes of consumption, communication and transportation to permeate every aspect of life in Western cities.”(ibid)

Welcome to the paradise of tears…

Let us take a limited example, and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games.
- Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine
We seem to be caught in the vice between fascism and terror, like members of a forgotten tribe, forlorn and destitute we live in our wall-less cities like refuges from an asylum for abandoned hope. Our academy has become the streets of war torn cities, the twisted wastelands of shanty towns, the boneyards of former shipping lanes where the pirates of a new age filter through the debris of metal giants, leftovers from the future where our hopes and dreams blasted by the fluid war machines of a terrible peace were finally captured in this infernal Cage of Time.
The Dark Lords of this enterprise were not some mythical apparitions of our imaginal minds, but the mathematical algorithms of an insidious thought, a philosophy based on axioms of desire turned against us; the drives of life formulated by a twisted and fractured, fragile species seeking its own path to paradise. We discovered in the mythologies, epics, dramas, and games of our ancestors the true path to oblivion. The age old tools of peace and prosperity turned against us at last brought us to this place of misery and total destitution. We now live in the hell we sought to escape, no longer a mythic dimension of some poetic tribal memory, the linguistic musings of a Dante or Milton, we emerged from the cesspool of a glutinous poetry into this triumphal cave of idiocy and apathetic ineptitude. Children of Time we have conquered its last domains and found in the silences of its last circles the resting place of our kind, the eternity of a pure repetition, a prison house for our most secret desires.
Striated within the temples of a vast State we’ve learned the harsh lessons of tyranny at last. We’ve all succumbed to the Great Lie, to the interior paramour of a forbidden truth, the siren song of a great defeat: we allowed the knowledge of escape to entrap us in this eternal chamber of security and peace. Trapped in this hermetically sealed universe of hate and despair we’ve all attuned ourselves to the music of the dark precursor, to his terrible deeds and failures, to the memories scattered across the blades of time like so many leaves crumbling into the winter of our dying sun.
Having stripped ourselves of the last vestiges of our humanity we’ve entered the machinic realms like undulating serpents, modulated by the law of our kind, controlled by the mechanisms of an internal necessity. No longer free to choose our way, we’ve finally entrusted ourselves to the supreme entropy of endless bifurcation. Moving from splice to splice we divide ourselves into immaterial code, channeled by the indifferent gaze of the demiurgic void that is less than nothing. Nothingness itself has come home to roost, to deliver its final coup d’état.
Graced by the miracle of life we’ve invented a temple to death. The citizens of a new earth we’ve built our iron paradise in the ashes of a blasted humanity. Frightened by our own power we’ve entered these cages of steel like butterflies swarming in their death throes, hoping beyond hope to find the broken vessels of light, knowing that only our own darkness survives. The light was scattered into the black holes of a lost age long ago. Now we silently sit here in the pandemonium of our insipid thoughts unable to move forward or backward, caught in the frozen gaze of our fated Keepers. With no way out we have finally accepted the bitter truth: we alone caused this, we alone are responsible, we alone deserve this demonic paradise. There is no judgment day, there is only the judgment we’ve passed upon our own children, knowing that it is they who will inherit our terrible dreams…
Welcome to the paradise of tears…

Societies of Control: Deleuze and Foucault

It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three quarters of humanity, to poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to deal with erosions of frontiers but with the explosions within shanty towns and ghettos.
Someday there will be a history written of the impact of Michel Foucault on the work of Gilles Deleuze. One can browse just a smattering of essays Deleuze wrote from the early seventies to the early nineties in which he develops threads and productive moments that he first read in the works of Foucault. As in his praise of Foucault’s commentary on Raymond Roussel, the relatively unknown artist: “…recently Michel Foucault has published a commentary of great poetic and philosophical power on the work of Roussel, and finds the keys to this work in an entirely different direction from what the Surrealists had indicated.” (72)1
Yet, it is not about this close reading of Foucault’s works by Deleuze that I want to write today, instead it is about the shift from certain elements of Foucault’s methodical uncovering of the societies of discipline and how those have in our time transmuted into societies of control. Deleuze in his Postscript on the Societies of Control reminds us that Foucault’s histories of these disciplinary societies from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reached their pinnacle in the twentieth. Yet, somewhere during the mid part of the twentieth century new forces made themselves known that began as a process of reform in schools, industries, hospitals, armed forces, and prisons that lead to these societies of control. Deleuze, a long time reader of William Burroughs, took the term “control” as best befitting this new “monster, one Foucault recognizes as our immediate future.” Each of these new regimes discovered sites of confinement, environments for enclosure within which they could practice their experimental pressure of control.

The Prison House of Capital: Walter Benjamin and Philip K. Dick?

In general, the fundamental terms  of these different Gnostic theologies are the same, and at their core is  an attempt to conceive and determine what is in and for itself. I have  mentioned these particular forms in order to indicate their connection  to the universal. Underlying this, however, is a deep need for concrete  reason.
- G.W.F. Hegel, Kabbalah and Gnosticism1
Walter Benjamin speaking of the strange power of objects, their fascination and splendor once remarked: “To perceive the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return.” Benjamin discusses the aura in relation to Proust and to Leskov, but his most famous use of it is in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” where it is bluntly defined as loss–the precise loss ensuing from mechanical reproduction. The aura is thus an effect of distancing, of the refusal of authentic opening, and of the withdrawal of even the shadow of an object-world. It is in his essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” that Benjamin raises his conceptual image of the aura to its greatest power, partly by deliberately confusing “aura” and “aureole,” a wholly unrelated word (except by punning). The aureole is the bright ring seen around a misty sun or moon, or else the halo of god, angel, or saint. The word is a form of the Latin for “gold,” aurum, and ought to be very different from Benjamin’s aura, which, as I once wrote, “is properly an invisible breath, or emanation; an air, as of nobility, characterizing person or thing; a breeze, but most of all a sensation or shock, the sort of illusion of a breeze that precedes the start of a nervous breakdown or disorder.”2

Slavoj Zizek: The Subtle Art

Only Slavoj Zizek could compare Jane Austen to Hegel and get away with it. A smile comes to our lips, we want to laugh, and, yet, we wonder to ourselves: “How could he compare this dialectical monstrosity to this subtle ironist, this comic novelist of manners?” Yet, one realizes that is just the point, it was Austen’s inwardness, her subjective individuation, her consciousness of those subtlemisrecognitions that slip between fault lines of conversation and observation, those subtle ironies that raise an eyebrow, cause a smirk, bring a quiet recognition of that true wit that is both her power and her art that aligns her with the master of dialectical persuasion.
It is Jane Austen who is perhaps the only counterpart to Hegel in literature: Pride and Prejudice is the literary Phenomenology of SpiritMansfield Park the Science of Logic andEmma the Encyclopedia… No wonder, then that we find in Pride and Prejudice the perfect case of this dialectic of truth arising from misrecognition. (66)1
What’s interesting in Zizek’s bringing together Hegel and Austen to discuss the subtle art of misrecognition is not that it neatly ties together the strands of his Hegelian argument, but that like any true didactic scholar he teaches us through the power of delight and elucidation rather than through abstract verbalism. This is why it is usually fun to read Zizek even if you disagree with him at time, he entertains and delights, instructs and illustrates without bludgeoning one with the truth of his argument. He is didactic and dialectical at the same time. There is a subtle rhythm to his method, repetitions of word and tone that intersperse the abstract truth of his argument with layers of empirical wit and illustrations from other authors to make his points.

Wisdom’s Lover: The Philosopher and the Poet

In those eloquent passages of the Phaedrus on the divine madness of prophets, mystics, poets, and lovers, Plato’s mentor Socrates with subtle irony and elliptic elegance, his own madness notwithstanding,  once offered this advice to the poets:
If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses’ madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds. 1
(Translated by A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff)
That this divine madness was a divine gift not to be confused with physical disease the ancients knew well. As E.R. Dodds in his excellent study The Greeks and the Irrational reminds us it is not clear in what this “given” element consists; but if we consider the occasions on which the Iliad-poet himself appeals to the Muses for help, we shall see that it falls on the side of content and not of form.2
The idea of poetic knowledge coming as a reliable gift of the Muses is central to poetry – as Dodds reminds us, for in an age which possessed no written documents, where should first-hand evidence be found? Just as the truth about the future would be attained only if man were in touch with a knowledge wider than his own, so the truth about the past could be preserved only on a like condition. Its human repositories, the poets, had (like the seers) their technical resources, their professional training; but vision of the past, like insight into the future, remained a mysterious faculty, only partially under its owner’s control, and dependent in the last resort on divine grace. By that grace poet and seer alike enjoyed a knowledge denied to other men. Dodds mentions that it is recent scholars who have emphasized that it is to Democritus, rather than to Plato, that we must assign the credit of having introduced into literary theory this conception of the poet as a man set apart from common humanity by an abnormal inner experience, and of poetry as a revelation apart from reason and above reason. Maybe this is another reason Plato hated Democritus and never even mentioned that great progenitor of materialism. *(Kindle Locations 1606-1609)
This conception of the poet as a special being and a transmitter of special knowledge that comes to us as a gift of the gods or Muses that is beyond the purview of reason or above it has been summarily dismissed or disputed by Philosophers from Plato’s time to ours. Ever since Plato said poets must be evicted from the Republic and murdered if they return, things have not been good between poets and philosophers. Yet, why do so many philosophers return to the divine madness of the poets for inspiration? In a recent group of posts dealing with Alain Badiou (Philosophy for Militants) I noticed his return to one of his conditions for philosophy: art… or poetry, in this case, and of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wallace Stevens.
In its long history there have been philosophical poets and poetic philosophers, there have been crossovers and castigators on both sides of the aisles, as well as those such as Wittgenstein. “Whereof we cannot speak, we must be silent,” says the philosopher Wittgenstein in a mean little poem against poets. Negative thrust from “cannot” to “must” slams the sentence shut. Wittgenstein also says language is a scum on the surface of deep water. To put this differently, some things lie too deep for the scummy touch of words. In this at least poets and philosophers agree. Simone Weil says a poem is beautiful insofar as the poet fixes his mind on what cannot be said. Nietzsche says his ideas are less good after he writes them. Socrates never would write anything. Plato said a philosopher betrays himself by putting his ideas into words. We all remember that beautiful passage in which writing and painting, truth and the image of truth are formulated by Socrates:
You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support. (Plato’s Phaedrus)
Against this form of writing Socrates opposes the dialectic:
That’s just how it is, Phaedrus. But it is much nobler to be serious about these matters, and use the art of dialectic. The dialectician chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within it discourse accompanied by knowledge—discourse capable of helping itself as well as the man who planted it, which is not barren but produces a seed from which more discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as happy as any human being can be.(ibid)
A living discourse accompanied by knowledge and planted in the living soul like an immortal seed which sprouts forever and brings its carrier happiness. Ah Plato you sly devil. One wonders at Plato sometimes, hiding himself behind Socrates, wishing he could have been a poet, telling us that writing is a thankless occupation, and then tricks us with writing itself in the form of his dialogues.  And, of course, that final snippet from the Phaedrus On the Art the Dialectic:
First, you must know the truth concerning everything you are speaking or writing about; you must learn how to define each thing in itself; and, having defined it, you must know how to divide it into kinds until you reach something indivisible. Second, you must understand the nature of the soul, along the same lines; you must determine which kind of speech is appropriate to each kind of soul, prepare and arrange your speech accordingly, and offer a complex and elaborate speech to a complex soul and a simple speech to a simple one. Then, and only then, will you be able to use speech artfully, to the extent that its nature allows it to be used that way, either in order to teach or in order to persuade. This is the whole point of the argument we have been making.(ibid)
One wonders how either a poet or philosopher tasked with such a daunting set of criteria would ever begin to speak, much less write down anything concerning the truth. If we before beginning must know the truth of everything we are about to speak or write, that we before beginning to start such a task must first divide this knowledge about things into kinds until we reach the bedrock of indivisibility; and, next, that we must understand the nature of the soul in the same way as we understand things in themselves; furthermore, that before we can even begin to speak or allow someone to hear or read our work that we must first write or speak only in such a way that is appropriate to the particular soul or person that we are about to impart the seeds of such immortal knowledge; and, most of all, until we attain such perfection of truth, knowledge, and wisdom in the art of speech or writing we cannot call itart is to admit before one even begins that this is an impossible task and that no one human being will ever attain such a sublime art of knowledge, truth, and wisdom: let Sysyphus reign in such impossible tasks – the repetition of infinity. But then again this was the point of Plato’s sly old devil of a dialectician, Socrates, to begin with: knowing as he did in advance that he didn’t know anything anyway. Yet, it was in pursuit of such refined wisdom that he pointed the way: the way of his dialectic.
At the end of this remarkable prose poem of Plato’s Socrates comes to a conclusion of the matter telling Phaedrus:
If any one of you has composed these things with a knowledge of the truth, if you can defend your writing when you are challenged, and if you can yourself make the argument that your writing is of little worth, then you must be called by a name derived not from these writings but rather from those things that you are seriously pursuing. (ibid)
Phaedrus asks Socrates, simply, “What name, then, would you give such a man?” And Socrates answers:
To call him wise, Phaedrus, seems to me too much, and proper only for a god. To call him wisdom’s lover—a philosopher—or something similar would fit him better and be more seemly.
So it was this need to situate the disjunction between poets and wisdom’s lovers that Plato mentions in the culminating sections of one of his most famous dialogues that “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (Rep. 607b5–6), in support of which Plato quotes bits of several obscure but furious polemics—presumably directed by poets against philosophers—such as the accusation that the opponent is a “yelping bitch shrieking at her master” and “great in the empty eloquence of fools”.  Indeed, much of the final book of the Republic is an attack on poetry, and there is no question but that a quarrel between philosophy and poetry is a continuing theme throughout Plato’s corpus. The scope of the quarrel, especially in the Republic, also indicates that for Plato what is at stake is a clash between what we might call comprehensive world-views; it seems that matters of grave importance in ethics, politics, metaphysics, theology, and epistemology are at stake.3 To pursue this topic is outside the range of this post and would entail a long discourse on those relevant dialogues IonRepublic,Gorgias, and Phaedrus.
There are some superb works on this topic:
  1. Raymond Barfield: The Ancient Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry
  2. Susan B. Levin: The Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry Revisited: Plato and the Greek Literary Tradition
  3. Stanley Rosen: The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry: Studies in  Ancient Thought
  4. Massimo Verdicchio: Between Philosophy and Poetry
  5. George Steiner: The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan
1. Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works. Hackett Publishing.
2. Dodds, E. R. (1962-12-01). The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures). University of California Press
3. Griswold, Charles L., “Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
* I’ll need to make search of the actual book for page numbers. KL is horrid on this account.

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