Horrific Nature?/Metroidic Nature?

01Dec09

Michael ends a post partially in response  to my last post that nature isn’t terrifying. Many of my posts here would seem to assert exactly the opposite – that a darkly vitalistic nature is a horrible monstrousity – but this darkness is a darkness for us and not in itself. This was suggested in comments to two posts.

In the first post Alex suggested here some time ago, that Eliminativism, once taken to its full extent, effectively eliminates the horrific experience of nature. If we know that something merely is an epiphenomenon with ontological machinery beneath it (machinery that to some extent remains unthinkable/unknowable) then is the horror of life abnegated?

In the second post Anthony Paul Smith commented here that the unknowability of certain mechanisms and the certainty of threats (entropy)  does not impose a necessarily dark world view, or dark phenomenology.

The usefulness of the term vitalism here and of dark vitalism as an inorganic vitalism points to the problem of thinking life (life that thinks and trying to think life) in a nature which is a non-totalizable set of processes. Nature as an open system (seemingly boundless and inviting an attitude of cosmicism or indifference) yet phenomenon such as life shows us unbearable closeness or bottlenecking – where particular systems need to borrow from one another.

The eponymous creatures of Metroid are particularly interesting in that they are parasitic creatures which suck the life force (or elan vital) from other creatures – the counterpart to indifferent cosmicism is, as Lovecraft knew, proximal values – the fact that things in proximity affect one another and form ecologies. That is the deeper mechanics of nature can be severely mutated by spatial and temporal proximity. The very possibility of the parasitic thriving assumes spatial limitations.

The issue here is the ideality versus the reality of relations. As Levi has formulated in several posts most notably here, a significant issue in the various factions of SR is the status of relations and the status of difference. The difficulty lies in remaining steadfast on the highly processural nature of nature while being able to explain individuation.

Another connection to Levi’s flat ontology and what I am attempting to work out is the use of ecologies and localities in terms of process and individuation. To swing back to the metroidic – the discourse of sci-fi embodies the tension of the cosmic and the proximal – where despite the fact that space is vast horrors conglomerate. Life is essentially a form of nature which fights itself for vitalistic superiority over the contingencies of space/time. Nature is terrifying in its potentiality cross referenced with its proximity – this is the two darknesses – the ontological and the epistemological.

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7 Responses to “Horrific Nature?/Metroidic Nature?”

  1. I think my main problem with the Zizekian-structuralist disenchantment with nature is that I really just don’t see it. I mean, this might just come down to my background, certainly not irrelevant to philosophical discussion, but I don’t see nature as inherently “horrible.” Nature is pure possibility, meaning that just as it can be catastrophic and terrible, so too can it be beautiful and amazing, and while it exists as pure possibility, it strives for order, with all of the various systems and strata of nature in tension. From this, complex systems emerge, one of them being human culture, and these systems themselves strive for order. This doesn’t mean they ever achieve it, I don’t think they could, but that is the system of relations that we are a part of. When Kohak goes to live in the woods, he finds a mostly ordered system, a system that he can embed himself if and become a part of. He does not find monsters and Old Ones, but birds and mammals, which again doesn’t mean the former aren’t possible, but recognizing that they are rare. Nature is not some experience of pure horror, but is both beautiful and sublime as well.

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Zizek does seem to equate nature with disgust (Adrian Johnston has a good discussion of this in Zizeks Ontology) which I disagree with in some respects. What bothers me is that people separate nature from humans and this is usually done in a romanticized way. I dont see all of nature as horrible – and to talk personal experience I feel very at home in the woods (embarrassingly my own last name comes from wood warden) but there is quite a bit of nature we cant just sit in a nebula (at least not yet) and I think phenomenological approaches like Kohak’s or Merleau-Ponty’s are limited.
      Perhaps there is an overriding aesthetic dimension at work here as well.

      The other issue with the sublime is that, as far as I understand it, is that the difference between the horrible and the sublime is that the sublime utilizes a subject apart from the nature it is in awe of – that a minimal safe distance is required in order for the horrible to become sublime.

  2. Perhaps in a truly vitalist ontology, the horrible is sublime, as you suggest…It is sublime because for it to be horrible (to evoke such qualia, essentially) it must also somehow be alive. And all that lives, both transcendent beauty and ugliness, is sublime.

    And squishy…


  1. 1 ‘dark flow’ & the vitality of emptiness | immanence
  2. 2 Horrific Nature?/Metroidic Nature? « Times of Dissolution
  3. 3 » ‘dark flow’ & the vitality of emptiness : immanence : University of Vermont
  4. 4 Dark Vitalism and Lovecraft’s Philosophy of Nature | dark ecologies

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