Weird Possibilities

01Oct10

I am starting to think that it may be possible to combine the various academic pursuits into something resembling a coherent body of thought. Though weird fiction, naturephilosophie/ecology, weird fiction, and pessimistic thought may seem too disparate, it seems that a methodology shifting between theory-fiction and standard metaphysical texts (whatever that means) is useful in construction a philosophical system that is part epistemology, part metaphysics and part phenomenology. My recent post for the Science and Metaphysics events (and the resulting comments) is a clear example of the difficulty in parsing out the borders between the three.

In particular, I am wrestling with the ontological-epistemological gap (which, I believe, is a primary concern of Brassier’s forthcoming work) and the validity of intrinsic horror. In my last post, I ended my discussion of Ligotti with his mention of horror-as-real. This intellectual judgement of course presupposes the emergence of thought since horribleness is a seemingly epistemological-phenomenological category unless it can be argued that malignancy can exist without thinking. In my own thinking of horribleness, horror has always been a horror for-us and that horror cannot exist without thinking beings. Though how metaphysical Ligotti is being is questionable, as it may be simply that horror is the proper a priori mode of thinking and hence the conspiracy (which works against the human race) is optimism.

This onto-epistemological indistinction is dark in this fatalistic sense (whether or not this darkness is ontological or epistemological) as well as dark in that we don’t know the lines which separate ontological and epistemological limits in our epistemology. Thus we see our representation darkly and this representation is a murky flesh on the fanged noumena. So, what came up in the aforementioned comments was what is the proper way of epistemologically/phenomenologically navigating through this In the comments Ducan states the following:

“What leads to the ‘(human = nature) = horror’ line, imo, is a prior and overriding commitment to a set of really problematic ideas – a confidence, most often, that rational human thought can only exist if human thought is in some sense separable from the physical/biological [...] Is the fact that humans are natural creatures so intrinsically horrifying that anyone who accepts it should go mad? Or is this latter idea itself a highly culturally and psychologically specific one, which can legitimately and indeed easily be rejected? A lot of the rhetoric advancing this set of ideas in the speculative realist theoretical space is based on the idea that virtually everyone else in the whole world is failing fully to understand what it means for humans to be natural creatures, for time and space to extend beyond the limits of human experience, etc.: that speculative realism is the only philosophical position to wrestle with these intrinsically horrifying facts. And that we can tell that speculative realism is the only philosophical position wrestling with these horrifying facts, because so many other people are apparently accepting the facts without feeling their intrinsic horror.

My claim is that these facts aren’t intrinsically horrifying. That they only seem so from a specific, in some ways quite idiosyncratic, social/psychological perspective, and that it’s actually this perspective that pieces like the original post above are promoting/advocating.”

There is a missing element here, and I am tempted to call it the fetish. The assertion is not that humans are either happy without the knowledge of scientific naturalism or miserable/insane with it, but that very few incorporate this knowledge fully into their thinking. This is the thrust of the novel Neuropath – that a neuroscientist tortures, murders, and kidnaps in order to show the meaninglessness of the illusions of morality. This is also why Ligotti sees giving birth to other humans as reckless.

If there is something intrinsically horrible about reality it is the inability to determine the boundary between representation and non-representation – where this indistinction can be positivized (as it arguably is in Zizek) this indistinction is a redoubling of the onto-epistemological indistinction as the blur between the two is taken up by thought:

Epistemology—-Ontology
|
Representation/Nonrepresentation (indistinction)
|
Onto-Epistemological Indistinction
|
Regime of Thought—Regime of Being

So what is the integration of these thoughts, why do I advocate for a kind of Lovecraftian madness? Simply because Lovecraft denounced (at least fictionally) the cheery fideism or doxa where being alive is always alright or pessimism is always already a personal, or closed circuit, since it does not align itself with progressivity. A certain darkness or negativity then cuts the link between the anthrocentrically denoted innocuousness of the real and quotidian positivity. This is discussed quite wonderfully in the closing of Nihil Unbound…the husks of matter bit.

Duncan’s note above contains a kernel of critique of Speculative Realism which pops up again and again (it appears in Caputo’s first lecture here) in which SR is seen as not recognizing the difference between representation and nonrepresentation in others – ‘Of course Husserl knew about the pre-human (Gabriel Markus) or Caputo’s note that of course Foucault knew about the ancestral etc. But whether they did or not it certainly did not open their thinking! This is the epistemological circle – which might be seen as an affective accompaniment to the correlationist circle. This circle is a positive lacquer on the aforementioned collision of being and thinking. And both Deleuze and Land (according to Brassier) fall victim to this as well in terms of thought as endless materialist/machinc production.

My own attempt at a dark vitalism engages with the latter term carefully as the inorganic vitalism is a warping and hijacking of both traditional (pre-Bergsonian vitalism) and modern (Bergsonian-Deleuzian) vitalism as well as process. By de-organicizing vitalism and cracking its pre-thinkability it becomes a tumultuous force of decay and destruction codified in Michael’s ‘nature wins.’ This is against the dusty vitalism of Nietzsche which creeps about transmogrifying the mundane into lebenswelts, this is against the positive blur of being and thinking which, in his lectures on SR, Caputo buries under an anthrocentric synergy. If this energy is not thinkable, and the vital is energetic processes, then the problem because of how representation happens without falling into Hegelianism and how does vibrant matter slide into consciousness – what does it mean that nature thinks beyond epistemological limits?

In terms of the phenomenological field, I am interested in a phenomenology of horror which is an overflowing madness of things which in which I want to corrupt the phenomenology of thinkers such as Henry and Marion. I am particularly interested here in the Bergsonian madness of the image that Meillassoux discussses in Collapse 3 and how this contrasts with zero madness (or abyssal madness, or going to the edge of space and seeing nothing) as well as relates to a weird vibrancy of things (things look at me – Paul Klee) as in a perverse OOO or even Deleuze’s dark precursor if the stage of pre-thinkability of such darkness is wiped away.

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6 Responses to “Weird Possibilities”

  1. A supreme logical inversion of H’s “when something threatening brings itself close, anxiety does not ‘see’ any definite ‘here’ or ‘yonder’ from which it comes. That in the face of which one has anxiety is characterized by the fact that what threatens is *nowhere* . . . the world as such is that in the face of which one has anxiety”? Horror as new paradigm of the essential nothing? A university whose motto is:

    I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.

  2. A kind of Sartrean rejoinder to Wittgenstein: “Not how the world is, but that it is, is the horrible.”

  3. There is a missing element here, and I am tempted to call it the fetish. The assertion is not that humans are either happy without the knowledge of scientific naturalism or miserable/insane with it, but that very few incorporate this knowledge fully into their thinking. This is the thrust of the novel Neuropath – that a neuroscientist tortures, murders, and kidnaps in order to show the meaninglessness of the illusions of morality

    Hi Ben – I think what you’re referring to as the missing element here is already addressed in the comment of mine you quote (in my remarks about suppression). But to recap/expand: I get that your position (and a common specreal position) is that, although many people endorse scientific naturalism, most people who do so have not incorporated that naturalism adequately into their thinking. That is to say: your position is that most of these people have not drawn the full and correct conclusions from their endorsement of scientific naturalism – they have not understood where that endorsement would lead them, if they think through its implications properly.

    But I’m disputing this: I’m disputing your claims regarding what an endorsement of scientific naturalism should lead to, if it is thought through correctly. I’m arguing that you think certain conclusions follow from an endorsement of scientific naturalism alone, but that the inferential chain you’re referring to actually depends additionally on a whole lot of other prior assumptions which I don’t think you’ve provided any compelling reasons to accept. The conclusions you see as following from scientific naturalism, actually only follow from scientific naturalism plus a whole lot of other quite problematic stuff.

    I regard as ludicrous, for example, the idea that the results of neuroscience could prove morality to be an illusion. This claim only makes sense (as I said in the other thread) if you regard the legitimacy of morality as dependent on a non-natural mode of ethical existence – a soul, for example, or the divine. What you need to argue for, if you want to provide adequate reasons for your conclusions, is that morality requires the supernatural (or at least the non-natural) if it is to have any legitimacy. This is actually the position you’re advancing. To my mind, this is not really a naturalistic position.

    • 4 Ben Woodard

      Duncan,

      We may have to agree to disagree about naturalism implies. I don’t fully agree with neuropath’s conclusions – I think there are hierarchies at work, both nested and otherwise, which complicate the nullifiction of morality. Morality is supernatural from the point of view that humans are not totally natural beings – I am not advocating that position but I am saying that quite a bit of continental philosophy maintains a supernaturalism by priviledging some aspect of humanity that should not be ontologically universalized (like ethics of the Other in Levinas’ Totality and Infinity) and that such positions implicitly denaturalize human thinking. Morality does not require supernaturalism but it leans toward it if it tries to transcendentalize a production of thought – this is related to the problem of Laruelle’s Principle of Sufficient philosophy – philosophy (and thought in general) must admit its non-priority.

      If horror is real it is because it is hard to grapple with that our thought cannot pre-determine or catch up to the real and morality must grapple with this fact. This is a break between epistemology and ontology which is the darkness I talk about. I do not think this is supernatual.

  4. “The trees are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing. They just screech in pain. …Taking a close look at what’s around us, there is some sort of harmony: it’s the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.” – Werner Herzog

  5. Thanks Ben. It’s cool to agree to disagree. But I’ll have just one last shot at articulating this…

    I’m entirely on board with the following, I think it’s well put:

    quite a bit of continental philosophy maintains a supernaturalism by priviledging some aspect of humanity that should not be ontologically universalized (like ethics of the Other in Levinas’ Totality and Infinity) and… such positions implicitly denaturalize human thinking.

    I think this is absolutely right (and someone like Levinas isn’t trying to pretend otherwise of course – his work is pretty explicitly motivated by religious concerns…) And I agree with this too:

    Morality does not require supernaturalism but it leans toward it if it tries to transcendentalize a production of thought

    To me, though, the question is where this leaves us – what conclusions we should draw from these and related insights? Lets say we reject the commitment to transcendentalizing the production of thought – what then?

    It seems to me that you’re moving from this point to claims about the horror associated with the gap between thought and being – to me, this move seems underdetermined / undermotivated. If we break it down as follows, we have a couple of parallel arguments here, I think. First the morality example:

    1) Morality requires humans to be at least partly supernatural.
    2) Humans are wholly natural.
    therefore:
    3) No morality.

    You’re not endorsing this argument – but another argument of the same form (which I think you are advocating) is as follows:

    1) Justified lack of felt horror when considering nature in itself requires a boundary of essence between nature and thought, such that thought is not wholly natural.
    2) Thought is wholly natural.
    therefore:
    3) Horror at nature, etc.

    Your claim seems to be that we should accept (3), because it follows from (2). My claim is that (3) only follows from (2) if we accept (1), and that we should reject (1). I agree that a fair few prominent philosophical positions in the continental space endorse (1) – but I think those positions are wrong.

    As you say, though, we should maybe agree to disagree about these issues…


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