Human being, this insignificance

31Dec10

At Hypertiling (a blog I should check more frequently) Fabio mentions his ambivalence towards the Lovecraftian tendency amongst the speculative nihilists – a group I would argue includes myself, Reza, Eugene Thacker, Nicola, Evan Calder Williams, SC Hickman, and probably others I am forgetting.

My engagement with fictional forms of darkness my seem too hyperbolic (hyperstitional) but this is, as Brassier and others have pointed out, symptomatic of a larger positivity within philosophy – positivity is a far less questioned operative mode whereas negativity is anything but – the dark and the negative is the more attacked tactic, affect, and behavior. The speculative nihilist wager is that positivity is questionable – positivity may merely be another patina to be shorn by the blade of realism.

Negativity is more often than not shooed into the self-destructive circuit of the suicide solution (Dominic Fox addresses this via Xasthur in Cold World – suicide is capitulation). An alliance with the darker bits of culture (whatever that may be and whatever that means) may be pigeon-holing but negativity is already pigeon-holed (and we are of course attracted to thinkers and writers often due to gut feelings of agreement).

Certain darknesses are already relegated to genre fiction (ie not to be taken seriously) and the more negative thinkers (such as Schopenhauer) fair far better in the arts than in philosophy. In the fourth book of The World as Will and Representation (the serious book) Schopenhauer delves again and again into the brutish nature of life, of nature, of human existence. Where sadness is the result of internal characteristics (317) Schopenhauer also asserts that optimism is a wicked way of thinking (326) and that happiness is a short lived exception and not the norm of life. Yet it seems that the lack of a smile (in philosophy and in life) is immediate cause for concern.

To hyperbolically address Lovecraft et all may also seem too phenomenological or too Kantian – horror and, in particular, Lovecraftian horror, is concerned with the limits of experience but this limit says more about the complexity of the world, about the voidic cauldron that is the cosmos than about our living in the world. Melancholy (in the traditional sense) becomes inverted (or extroverted?) turned outward – the inability to lord over the world becomes the fact of being caught in a thinking and self-conscious existence.

But maybe I am just a malcontent!

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4 Responses to “Human being, this insignificance”

  1. You’re neither too hyperbolic nor hyperstitional in the sense of one who uses the figuration of excessive imbrication that overlaps the edges of form upon form, which would entail a more Joycean excess of language to fend off the closure of discourse by creating a gap in the representational trace between the ending and beginning that is always ever the repitition of the death drive in his Fennigans wake.

    As for our love of Lovecraft, Ligotti, and speculative nihilism, and the figure of “dark” in our terminology: I think that what Meillassoux said in the The Speculative Turn, which seems to be a prolegamena toward defining a new metaphysique says is apropo(where he discusses virutality):

    ” the notion of virtuality, supported by the rationality of the Cantorian decision of intotalising the thinkable, makes of irruption ex nihilo the central concept of an immanent, non-metaphysical rationality. Immanent, in that irruption ex nihilo presupposes, against the usually religious vision of such a concept, that there is no principle (divine or otherwise) superior to the pure power of the chaos of becoming; non-metaphysical in that the radical rejection of all real necessity assures us of breaking with the inaugural decision of the Principle of Sufficient Reason”.(233 ST).

    Zizek on this notion says,

    “Quentin Meillassoux has outlined the contours of a post-metaphysical materialist ontology whose basic premise is the Cantorian multiplicity of infinities which cannot be totalized into an all-encompassing One. Such an ontology of non-All asserts radical contingency: not only are there no laws which hold with necessity, every law is in itself contingent, it can be overturned at any moment. What this amounts to is the suspension of the Principle of Sufficient Reason: not only the epistemological suspension, but also the ontological one. That is to say, it is not only that we cannot ever get to know the entire network of causal determinations, this chain is in itself ‘inconclusive’, opening up the space for the immanent contingency of becoming—such a chaos of becoming subjected to no pre-existing order is what defines radical materialism” (215).

    It’s this immanent contingency of becoming that is not founded by any transcendent order that is what is dark in our speculative realisms. So out of this discourse we’ve learned that there is no substrate of potentialities that pre-exists the emergence of objects into our universe, no great big Other (God, All) that orders the formation of things in our universe (no transcendental principle); instead we discover the notion of virtuality and irruption ex nihilo into a “time that nothing subtends”.

    I can even see from the other end Harman in his OOO, although from the metaphysical side (with a qualifier of “materialism”):

    What aligns Harman with both Lovecraft and Ligotti is a form of materialism without matter: ““What separates this model from all materialism is that I am not pampering one level of reality (that of infinitesimal particles) at the expense of all others. What is real in the cosmos are forms wrapped inside of forms, not durable specks of material that reduce everything else to derivative status. If this is ‘materialism’, then it is the first materialism in history to deny the existence of matter.” (Tool-Being: 293)

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Thanks for the response – sorry I’m so late. You are right about the mad darkness of Meillassoux – becoming that goes beyond becoming – that undoes the regime of becoming. For OOO though I’m reticent since it seems objects remain too phenomenological for me. An economy of forces, powers, and processes is fundamentally different, a different economy of ontology.

      • Yea, I’m working through some of the issues I see in Harman at the moment, along with the philosophical approach that Iain Hamilton Grant with his Schellengian project. It seems, as you say, that Harman is more interested in the surface sensuality of objects and their interaction, although he hints at those darker layers within layers and the hiddeness within the real that never reveals itself.

        Yet, he deals indirectly with in through the object as it extends its elements or notes within that molten core… so many metaphors within his phenomenology become a part of the obsuring rather than the clarifying that he seeks.

        For myself, I’m still working through both sides of the issue: Brassier’s scientific approach is needed, and some aspects of an eliminativism will always be a part of philosophical thought, which I see in Negarestani from a more Deleuzian vocabulary and his use of the inside/outside synedoche. I think the new Speculative Turn has helped heat up the debates within speculative realism and materialism, as well as clarifying and presenting new paths that will converge/diverge over time within this community. I’m still uncomitted to any one path as of yet, but tend toward a nihilistic darkness that still finds some aspects of the Schellengian Naturephilosophical project a worthwhile pursuit for our times.

  2. 4 Josh W

    On one hand, I’d say a negative philosophy is just another form of hegel’s inclination: Someone trying to find a way of looking at the universe that makes it seem like a reflection of their thought. In the hands of someone else, tied to someone else’s way of looking at the world, with someone else’s default moods, the same tendency that forms his “rationality” could form an opposed nihilistic perspective.

    People to tell you to cheer up, you want the universe on your side to tell them to cheer down.

    Not anything wrong with that, In my book it’s another story-building excercise, the question is whether it sticks!

    There’s obviously a paradox there (or at least an absurdity); if the only uncontingent thing is the contingency of all comprehensible structure, it’s possible for reality to falsify your project (insofar as it is of finding it alien and incomprehensible), by for a period appearing to justify nothing but a totally comprehensible and jolly metaphysics.

    But I think it’s unwise to implicitly presume the failure of your work before you start, to rule out solutions by implication, particularly to the point of closing the feild of options to the empty set. For that same reason I will still seek an a reality not in principle opposed to human comprehension and flourishing, basically because I want a nice life trying to understand the universe, and I don’t want to exclude the possibilities for it by acting as if they do not exist!


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