Dark Vitalism: Some Notes


The following is an attempt to summarize what exactly Dark Vitalism means as a metaphysical project. In many ways, it seems that quite a bit of philosophy seems lost between overformalization (Badiou) and lack of it (Deleuze). There is either not enough or too much speculative play with the very possibility and stature of the thinker poorly examined.

/1/ – Nature is the concept for the All, an All which has being as becoming but not a becoming of pure-flux or totalizing immanence. This becoming is interrupted and crystalized at various stages akin to a Schellingnian/Grantian Stufenfolge (what I have also refered to as the cosmological cascade). This process of grounding and ungrounding due to forces and powers necessitates a replacement of forms with interiors/exteriors.

/2/ – Nature-as-becoming is an un-prethinkable becoming contra Deleuze’s image of thought or by any kind of virtuality. Any sense of prethinkability must be replaced by a darkness of onto-epistemlogical indistinction

/3/ – Vitalism, instead of being taken as a singular life-force which animates or enlivens all things, is instead taken to be a collection of forces comprimising a larger prohairesis which distengrates what we take to be the solidity of being both in creation, destruction, and transformation. As a result the organic/inorganic distinction is not an ontological distinction,

/4/ – The Stufenfolge and various forces cause an ontic layering which, given the ability of some forms of matter to sense and to think lead to proximal epistemologies. Given the following registers Real-Immanence-Sense-Transcendence the various relations of the layering of the world can be thought but not without the troubling ghost of thought itself as a strange relation. The issue is that thought seems to be a process (although a lesser one) then other formative processes operating through time and space. Yet the ground of thought is far more tenuous than the ground of interactions amongst stones in an avalanche.

/5/ – The strange process of thought is thought to do more ungrounding then it does or, in other words, the process of thought pushes the onto-epistemological distinction towards one or the other in regards to nature. These two strands of thinking are captured by Pierre Hadot’s Promethean vs Orphic nature. For the former nature is something completely knowable, or eventually knowable, as the source and matter for techne.  For the Orphic approach nature is a monist being which must be worshipped/protected. In both cases nature is already unbalanced by the supposedly limitless power of thought, or the human, to determine nature ontologically and epistemologically. For both approaches humanity stands apart from nature.

/6/ – Following this logic we come to Grant’s enigmatic ‘nature thinks’ statement which troubles Brassier. The tension between the two is whether or not thought, as part of nature, means then that nature is thinkable and, furthermore, whether thought as a trasncendental bound to nihil can be considered natural or not. For Grant everything possible in nature is natural whereas for Brassier, the Real may be called nature but thinking that nature requires either distanciation or some other transcendental alteration. It would seem that the function of the transcendental needs to be clarified in Brassier in relation to thought and Grant’s grounding and ungrounding nature needs spatial clarifications.

/7/ – The importance of internality/externality is pivotal towards constructing a flux/individuation relation which does not rely on thought to carve out entites from the plasma of becoming. Interior/Exterior functions as the most basic representation of resistances within the flux of becoming along with points of indistinction. Inside/Outside divides the exposed and the explosion not absolutely but simply marks that the interior is mediated by internal forces which are localized (the work of cells, digestion, etc) whereas externality marks expansive forces (time, gravity, energy). Again, thought is problematic because is an internal force which poses as an external one.

/8/ – The internal and External as a representation and ungrounding/grounding in micro also hints towards onto-epistemlogical indistinction. The very division point between the internal and the external is the pivot between Real-Immanence and Sense-Transcendence. In this way we can see how idealism continues materialism in Schelling and that the former can never escape the gravity of the latter.

/9/ - Since thought is sadly aware of its flimsy ground (only exacerbated by its over extension by trying to be an externality) nature appears as horrific in its becoming and only romantic or innocuous in its phenomenologically stabilized being.

/10/ – A non-Badiouian Platonism must be pursued in which the dynamism of materiality and of the idea are tethered to realist developments in science while still acknowledging the need for metaphysics.

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13 Responses to “Dark Vitalism: Some Notes”

  1. “…innocuous in its phenomenologically stabilized being.” Are you saying that nature is stabilised through phenomenology? Or that nature appears as phenomenally stabilised?

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      That nature appears stable through phenomenological thinking – if our senses were more advanced we might clouds of decay where now we see fixed objects

      • In that case, your reading of phenomenology is factually wrong. Phenomenology’s receptivity to interstitial states is clear enough in Husserl’s morphological variations and even more pronounced in Merleau-Ponty’s être sauvage.

        Also – and excuse me if I’m wrong, as I don’t know much about your project – but isn’t your resistance to romantic and poetic modes of knowing rather at odds with your veneration of “darkness,” which is presumably as much an ontological category as it is an aesthetic one, with all its anthropomorphic/Herzogian undertones of nature as horrific?

  2. These are GREAT points, much appreciated. On a first reading my favorite line is “Any sense of prethinkability must be replaced by a darkness of onto-epistemlogical indistinction.”

    Do you know of anyone working at the differentiation of kinds of thoughts, types of *knowing* and sensation? It seems like a lucid wade into that very difficult and slippery material would be helpful in illuminating the relations between the natural. There seems to be some sort of ontological knowing that goes much more quickly than epistemology, that is a more essential expression of the natural, if nature thinks.

    • 5 Ben Woodard

      Schelling uses intuition as a different way of knowing – but I am a little hesitant to engage overly romantic or poetic means of knowing

  3. 6 Ben Woodard


    My issues with phenomenology are the same as Brassier’s – namely that phenomenology often makes ontological claims based on what are ultimately physiological structures as well as a smuggled idealism where immanence is idealized.

    The use of darkness is to illustrate our inability to know as well as our inability to distinguish between being and knowing – the darkness is for us and not darkness in itself. Darkness is not an ontological statement about whats out there but that because things appear dark to us they seem horrifying – the heat death of the universe isnt ontologically dark or depressing but it is depressing or dark because we (as self conscious beings) are aware of it.

    • Then it’s not dark.

      • 8 Ben Woodard

        How should nature as not completely accessible to us be described?
        I dont know how it wouldnt be obscure/dark etc for us?

      • There’s a lot of issues at play here in the short set of theorems. I’d say it isn’t dark because it isn’t dark in itself and because this lends itself to the aesthetic “darkness” of the scientific bits you are drawn to (heat death rather than some other cosmological theory). If we know that it isn’t dark in itself and the the epistemic darkness, as horror, is a hallucination of the subject then described it thusly remains within the discourse of that subject and doesn’t allow yet get to the apophatic thinking which science engages in (the “we just don’t know”, which scientists, or at least working scientists and not their popularizers, are quick to say in contradistinction to the dogmatic “this is how it is” of religionists). That you decide to go with an aesthetically charged notion suggests a subject bound thought rather than an “angelic” one. I’m also really unconvinced by this critique of phenomenology. Yes, Ray Brassier has a critique of phenomenology and it follows, in general, the critique that more radical philosophers (Badiou, Deleuze) have proffered. That said, I’ve never been convinced by Ray’s argument and I’ve never seen him argue with a proper phenomenologist (which isn’t to besmirch his good name, Ray would likely never back down from such a debate, but I’d really like to see him and Peter Steeves, a phenomenologist and a scientist, discuss these issues). But, have you read Merleau-Ponty’s Lecture notes on Nature? I don’t really see it fitting with what you’ve hinted at here as the problem of ontology/physiology. In fact, it shares a great deal with Schelling (if you can track down an article by Robert Vallier on this, I think you’d find it interesting).

        Ok, enough quibbling though, you may show your work in the longer piece. I do find the rapproachment between Grant, whose work is very interesting, and Brassier interesting and wish you the best in it.

  4. Interesting stuff. Although having just read Badiou on Deleuze’s vitalist ontology I’m not sure there’s as much difference there as you suggest. Otherwise, there are lots of dualities in these points (language always/never does that to you), and I’ve always thought of vitalism, in part, as an attempt to transcend/erase/eclipse/just plain forget about dualities. Or negotiate them in a constantly oscillating play of language (again, thinking of the Badiou article…). Still, like I said, some good stuff. And anyway, perhaps as Alan Watts suggests, the western brain (all brains?) can’t get beyond duality/dualism.

    Maybe the interior is always being ‘exteriorized’ and the exterior is always being ‘interiorized’.

    Maybe grounding is unstable and the ungrounded is stabilizing.

    Maybe up is down, left is right, etc…Maybe the dead always live and the living are always dying.

    Maybe I should end this comment but this comment never ends…

  5. 12 Ben Woodard


    Thanks for the comment. As for the phsiology phenomenology question we may have to agree to disagree though I think you are right in that it would be nice to see Brassier engage a phenomenologist other than Henry or his brief skirmishes with Levinas/Nancy (does Nancy count?).

    As for the darkness – despite (or I guess because of) the aesthetic charge I believe its useful in differentiating my weird use of vitalism from traditional uses – that vital forces destroy us. That what we do know about nature appears dark for self conscious entities. But we might just be chasing each other in a circle here.

    I have read MP’s Nature and I think its a very good text. I have some issues with it – he makes some remarks about vitalism which are taken straight from Bergson which I dont think are helpful (he combines vitalism and finalism) and, while there is a very nice summary and discussion of Schelling – he states that Schelling along with the other romantics wanted a reconciliation with nature – I think that is false. Schelling presented a spectrum between humans and nature but didnt seek a reconciliation.

    I will take a look for that article thanks.

  1. 1 Transcendental Dynamism/Dark Vitalism « Naught Thought

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