Racing to the bottom or Doomful Nature

26Oct09

Over at Infinite Thought, Nina has a post critiquing a ‘race to the bottom’ in contemporary philosophy; a trend in thought which purportedly draws politics from the laws of nature and asserts the meaninglessness of nature and philosophy.  The post makes a number of statements which need to be addressed.  Nick has addressed some of them here already.

1 – Nature as a theoretical object cannot be neatly meshed with the ‘laws of nature.’  Nature is either reduced to what can be discerned from the laws (following from Bacon, Boyle and arguably Leibniz) or exalted in an obscure form (Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche).  Both of these gestures severely limit the ontological weight of nature particularly, as Iain Hamilton Grant has shown, as a productive entity.

2 – Presuming that a feeling of dread or negativity or that any focus on nature leads directly due  a phenomenological account or that everything is ontological is faulty.  The necessity of articulating nature leads to the process of separating the ontic and the ontological.  This is the two philosophies project of the late Schelling.

3 – Following Nick, the two philosophies or what we could call the division of ontology and politics is a strength and not a weakness of many variants of Speculative Realism.  This does not raise ontology above politics but questions the inhumanness of nature and highlights the artificiality or decisionality of politics contra ontology.  Nature should be taken away as a political standing stone.

4 – Pessimism and/or realism is not the same as defeatism – something fairly clear in a number of marxist and post-marxist texts.  This pessimism is often disregarded as apathy, solipsism and the like instead of addressing the unacknowledged positivity of a politics or ontology which must disavow its humanist underpinnings.

5 – The point where many of these issues coincide is that of process philosophy where an ontological positivity hides behind a supposedly realist take on nature.  This positivity however, manifests itself as a pre-thinkability of nature, where categories of the virtual, or the whole or reason necessarily place nature in an intellectual containment field.  This is similar to Meillassoux’s critique of Hegel yet Meillassoux himself (as Hagglund and others have shown) relies on a virtuality (or logical accessibility) which is undermining.

To say that articulating a dark or doomful nature is throwing in the towel politically appears oblivious to the fact that the spirit of positive philosophy has been over endorsed. To say for instance that the ecological movement is without a (erroneous) metaphysics of nature is no different then saying that it is post-ideological.  Nature requires despiritualization, re-contamination and an unbearable bringing-closer of a nature which is faulty purported as ‘out-there’ when really it is passing through us, under us, and above us.

“It was something black and twisted into the form of a man, something that seemed to have come up from the earth and grown over the wooden planks like a dark fungus, consuming the structure. There were now black legs that hung as if charred and withered; there was a head that sagged like a sack of ashes upon a meager body of blackness; and there were thin arms stretched out like knobby branches from a lightning-scorched tree. All of this was supported by a thick dark stalk which rose out of the earth and reached into the effigy like a hand into a puppet.” – Thomas Ligotti, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World

In The Grounding of Positive Philosophy Schelling argues that at the bottom of an issue is not being but potentiality, the inner organism of potentiality which is the cause of reason itself (p 142). Politics must acknowledge this generative yet obscure darkness of nature.

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One Response to “Racing to the bottom or Doomful Nature”


  1. 1 The Politics of Speculative Realism « Speculative Heresy

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