Thought and Nature (some notes)

13Oct09

“It was the age of everlasting night. The sunset of man had long since gone by, and the last few millions who still dwelt on earth in those far future days took refuge in the mighty pyramid of imperishable metal that was the last of all men’s cities and would ere long become his tomb” – Nightland, William Hope Hodgson

“Then will appear the man who, as the first of all, has dared strip his soul naked and submit it alive to the outmost thought of the lineage, the very idea of doom. A man who has fathomed life and its cosmic ground, and whose pain is the Earth’s collective pain. With what furious screams shall not mobs of all nations cry out for his thousandfold death, when like a cloth his voice encloses the globe, and the strange message has resounded for the first and last time:

“- The life of the worlds is a roaring river, but Earth’s is a pond and a backwater.
- The sign of doom is written on your brows- how long will ye kick against the pin-pricks?
- But there is one conquest and one crown, one redemption and one solution.
- Know yourselves- be infertile and let the earth be silent after ye.

And when he has spoken, they will pour themselves over him, led by the pacifier makers and the midwives, and bury him in their fingernails.” – Peter Zapffe, The Last Messiah

In Iain Grant’s Philosophies of Nature after Schelling Grant notes that one of the major problems that his text set out to address was that of naturalism’s relation to reason.  It is also on this point that Grant and Brassier differ most – with my own Dark Vitalism being largely a combination of Grant and Brassier’s work (with elements from others as well) the issue of thought’s connection to nature is a constant problem.

As I understand it, the difference between Grant and Brassier is the transcendent quality of thought – whereas for Grant nature thinks just as nature mountains or rivers whereas for Brassier thought must be transcendentally separate.  The epigraphs above (the first relating to Brassier and the second to Grant) illustrate the stubbornness of thought or the possible opening of its own self-destruction.

The place of thought can also be developed in terms of interiority versus exteriority.  Where elsewhere I have argued that the process of grounding and ungrounding creates interiorities and exteriorities but for Grant the interior is not a concern.  The limiting factor of thinking is the regionality of  the particular identity (unstable subject-object) attempting to grasp nature’s infinitude.

Brassier is concerned with cleansing the dyad of being and thinking of meaning while clarifying the work of the concept.  Furthermore, Brassier’s call to distinguish between objects and concepts (against Latour) asserts that scientific statements give us reason to believe that we can still determine when thought tracts and misses nature.

The alienness of thought collides with the possibility of the unnatural, of whether a human production can be against nature.  As Lovecraft writes in the beginning of “The Call of Cthulhu”:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability f the human mind to correlate all its contents.  We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.  The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (Lovecraft, p 355).

Lovecraft’s statement addresses the limitation of our knowledge (“island of ignorance”) as well as the danger of its speculative possibility (“terrifying vistas” and “deadly light”) as they are anchored in the uncertain real (“black seas” and “frightful position therein”).  One dimension that Lovecraft does not mention, the dimension which his own work embodies, is that of thought’s capacity to produce the horrible and not merely reveal it.  The question is whether the worst aspects of thought, of the deepest power of speculation, is a capacity divorced from nature, simultaneously questioning the ontological and epistemological status of the unnatural.

Lovecraft writes in “The Unnameable”: “[...] if the psychic emanations of human creatures be grotesque distortions, what coherent representation could express or portray so gibbous and infamous a nebulousity as the spectre of a malign, chaotic perversion, itself a morbid blasphemy against Nature?” (Lovecraft, 260).

The tale which begins with “speculating about the unnameable” (Lovecraft, 256) nominates the very mode of Lovecraft’s story telling; the rampancy of the imagination and that which falls out of psychic classification (Lovecraft, 257).  The problem is the productive capacity of  imagination and philosophy (System, 10-13) in relation to the discernability of the thinker.

As Grant clarifies, the self can only grasp the productivity of its thinking by making itself into an object but this process of objectifying the self is itself an ongoing process (Philosophies of Nature, 176-177).  Being, or objectivity is the temporary limit of productivity (Philosophies of Nature, 181).

The unnameable then, is the inability of thinking to capture being in the flow of its production, not because, in the Kantian sense, that being as such is inaccessible ontologically, as noumenon, but because being is in motion and thought, as an interruption of this trajectory, is just as transient.  That is, the question of an approaching horror raises questions of the limits of being (what is that in terms of its being) and the limits of epistemology (what is that in terms of the perceivers thinking).

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2 Responses to “Thought and Nature (some notes)”

  1. I’m curious about this:

    “The unnameable then, is the inability of thinking to capture being in the flow of its production, not because, in the Kantian sense, that being as such is inaccessible ontologically, as noumenon, but because being is in motion and thought, as an interruption of this trajectory, is just as transient.”

    Isn’t the move that Schelling makes in his early works precisely to bring together the ideas of the Kantian “noumenal” and the Spinozistic “natura naturans,” claiming that they are both describing the process of Nature?

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      I think Schelling’s conception of nature is a combination of the two but not without some modification.
      Schelling is critical of Spinoza’s nature for being too ideal (in that it is an infinite extensive being outside of the subject) – this critique is in the Ideas and for being too mechanical for leaving idealism to the side of nature (this critique is in the Freedom essay). Also, why I think Schelling likes certain things about Kant’s nature in the noumenon sense – the fact that its successive or progressive capacity is often reduced to a kind of stringing together of appearances and that it is thinkable according to laws reduces the churning darkness of nature’s ground.


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