Heaps of Slime or Towards a Speculative Realist Politics

20Jun08

Let us make a decision – cut one half of the vicious fluid from the other – for our purposes slime is an organic substance and is different from waste in that waste is what the organic sheds to shed whereas slime harbors a stronger claim to the core of the organism – it’s functions or its essence itself. The beginning of slime is the beginning of life itself – the clutter of pools, some millions of years ago, in which nucleic acids danced and chained together birthing life itself. Amniotic fluid, stolen by Victor Frankenstein by the bucket full (in the most true film adaptation), the glistening trails left by verminous life forms and so forth. There is the move from slime as the trace of life (either as primodrial or putrefaction) to the innocous artificial slime, that is, the stain of life instead of its trace. This domestication of slime, in its severe popularity, seems to coincide with the environmental upshot of the late 1980s and early 1980s – no doubt fueled by the Chernobyl incident, the Antarctic Ozone Hole, as well as the spill of the Exxon Valdez. The cultural explosion seems apparent in the likes of Captain Planet, TMNT, Toxic Avengers, The Stuff, and various Nickelodeon compounds such as Gak, Floam, Goooze, Skweez, and Sqand. Artificial slime would not meet our first definition but to call it sludge would suggest a disintegration of the organic or inorganic and not a purposefully created non-Newtonian fluid.

Might this creative sludge be akin to a zombie populism – a deterritorialized flesh a la Hardt and Negri. As Steven Shaviro wonderfully illustrates, capital has claimed, and will not let go of the monstrousness of things. This is why, in the best zombie narratives, exemplified by Romero’s work, humans are always more of a threat to one another then the zombies, simply because they cling to what capitalism has taught them. We could also later their use of the Golem in relation to characters such as Swamp Thing and The Heap and Man Thing.

We can relate this view of politics back to the explosion of the environmental concern of the late 80s and early 90s – particularly in relation to Captain Planet. Created by Ted Turner, the show was a strong supporter of globalization and NATO as the singular governing body (obviously with the United States as the unofficial center). While writers such as Mike Davis (Planet of Slums) has pointed out globalization’s output of ecological disaster, the moment of Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez, signaled the beginning of the end for the USSR. Limp leadership and the failures of Afghanistan and the like, were evident of the eminent collapse and hence, it was a no-brainer that a logic of the global in the sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and globalized markets, would be wed.

Thus we have the move from the slime that promises either life or death to the slime that gives us the always-already cohesive – that no matter how much one prods the material, it strengthens for the worse. In essence, globalization marks the deterritorialization of the monstrous social – where the more one struggles to escape the faster you sink. Instead of situationist recuperation, we have a meta-recuperation – where the excess of capitalist recuperation is posited as an escape from banality and this escape is codified in terms of new pleasures – Zizek’s supereogic demand of ‘Enjoy!’

Opposed to this false hope of futurity we have the equally misguided false nihilism, of Badiou’s image of the punk rocker who screams no future! Zizek’s Bartleby politics may error towards such useless negativity or may even equate if such a refusal is seen as anything other than a ‘clearing of the field.’ Lee Edelman’s No Future, is a perfect example of how a ‘politics of the Real’ can be misleading. Edelman seems to either conflate or confuse the Real Real and the Imaginary Real – the Real as disgusting void and the real of the narcisstic self, the in oneself more than oneself. How can a politics recognize a horrible sameness, a stupid materiality (such is the meaning of the word golem taking into its various interpretations in Hebrew) without resorting to defeat or romancing an unbearable life (fleshy zombic multitudes somehow outside capital) or blank futurity found in ‘the children are our future’ which is oppressively heternormative and, biological true.

To return to our divided slime that is the trace of life (the zombic) and the promise of life (the baby’s face) how might we bring this to the Real or bring the Real to them without creating a facism of the face (a la Edelman) or a hollow utopian creature (a la Negri and Hardt)? If Zizek represents a more nuanced version of the first then it would seem that Badiou would fall in line with the latter at least in terms of ostensible negativity and positivity. But, in terms of pragmatism, both of these thinkers are consistently critiqued for being too obtuse when it comes to politics coming into practice. While I believe there is some use in synthezing the two in a kind of looking awry at the event, the longevity of Zizek’s disruptive negativity seems to falter as does the murk of Badiou’s pre-Evental time.

Assuming that we are only ‘ugly bags of mostly water’ can there be a politics which is true to our finitude without falling into a hip nihilism which only engenders narcissism or, even worse, Randian objectivism? The closing pages of Nihil Unbound, leans towards what might be a politics, in that, jumping from Freud’s theory of the drive as repetition, there is an inherent will-to-know in humans that is, contrary to most of the universe, negentropic. As mentioned in the last piece, Brassier ignores half of the equation – the axis of alteration – the way in which the external world, whether this externality is something happening to the subject (from the physical outside) or an inexplicable unconcious thought causes a somatic state which is then connected to a consciously experienced externality. We could say that the synchronic axis of alteration is akin to Badiou’s evental politics whereas the axis of iteration is bound to Zizek’s politics of the act.

Bruno Bosteels puts it best when he says the political difference of psychoanalysis and Badiouian politics is “a vanishing apparition of the real as absent cause (for Lacan) or a forceful transformation of the real into a consistent truth (for Badiou).” However, as Zizek notes here, it is not simply that the break of the act for Lacan is the Truth opposed to Badiou’s fidelity to the event as truth, but that, for Lacan, truth lies after the fact in the response to the act. For Lacan (and ZIzek) truth is a form of already existant fiction whereas, for Baidou, the event is absorbed into a new structure. Zizek critiques Badiou for separating event from being and that keeping the multitude from the crystallizing one of the event, he maintains a naive oppositional stance – the building of a new structure intsead of an internal rupture.

To return us to slime, Badiou’s politics is the very move from the biological to the synthetic that is, politics is forgoing the trace of life, whether rotting or promising, whereas a psychoanalytic politics embraces the excess of the slime as life, as life being naturally unnatural – hence the negentropy of the drive along the axes of iteration and alteration. The quick political jump, which is the error, is to then proscribe a politics which happens by the very nature of the fleshy multitude, the slime of being. The question becomes: how does one account for the genesis of the multitude in a non-vitalist way, in a philosophically realist way, that does not occlude the possibility of politics? While speculative realism provides a step in the right direction, it that it illustrates the radicality of thought by ‘immanencizing’ the transcendental by binding it to the object, this remains a strong articulation of what Freud called material truth without giving any weight to historical truth – the truth of the unconscious, of affect, of implication.

Brassier, in his texts prior to Nihil Unbound, suggests that Laurelle’s non-philosophy, taken as philosophy, gives as a possibility of thinking capitalism as a decision – that the pre-capital can be thought. While the objects of a pre-capitalism (objects including subjects can be thought) one cannot simply remove the noetic trenches that capital has dug in our gray matter: our relation to capital centers on whether surplus value is Real, ontological or experiential. If capital invented surplus value, if it serves as its objet petit a (as Zizek argues) then how do we account for Harman’s discussion of object’s inherent allure? Or does this equate an excess that is hidden in the object versus an excess that is exuded by the object – that is, since Harman’s allure centers on the hidden depths of the object, can we separate capital’s surplus value as the possibility of the social, the social itself as object? Where Marx stated that the glow of the object relied on the suppression of its material history, the invested labor, doesn’t Harman’s objective allure have to do with the historical truth of objects, that is, there unknown relation and not there unknown being? That is, although Speculative Realism demystifies the object, it essentially mystifies the relation of objects via the occasionalism of Harman, the loss of cause and effects’ linkage via Meillassoux, the objectification of the subject via Brassier and the material excess of ontology a la Grant. This demystification highlights the gap between surplus value (the non-object, or in Laurelle the decision) and the fantasy of endless productivity.

Hence, the implicit politics in Speculative Realism is found in its return to slime as the trace of life, that the smudge of materiality cannot be idealized away, not even in the most basic form of relation itself, in the notion of currency and exchange. This zero point of being is, in a sense, a paradoxically deanthropomorphized bio-politics – that matter matters in that it can think itself as such without recourse to the reflective structures of ethics or democracy. Speculative Realism exposes that the zombic hunger of Hardt and Negri’s multitude is a form of thinking and not a form of being. The psychoanalytic contribution here is that capital, while inhabiting the drive’s mode of iteration, is still subject to alteration. In thinking capital as object we highlight the objects around it as possibly dissociable from it such as democracy¬†and the social.

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3 Responses to “Heaps of Slime or Towards a Speculative Realist Politics”


  1. 1 The Velvet Howler › Blog Archive › Zizek on Philosophy
  2. 2 Speculative Realist Politics and Xenoeconomics « Speculative Heresy
  3. 3 Weirdos: A Response « Naught Thought

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