Transcendental Miserablism, The Pathos of Finitude, and the Utility of the Negative

05Feb11

In the cyber fog of the Hyperstition archives Nick Land has a short entry on transcendental miserablism (no doubt to be expanded in Fanged Noumena) which he argues is an impregnable form of negation which places all negation in one entity – his example being capitalism. Land argues that the miserablist collapses all change (or time) or process or flux into misery thereby denying the possibility of change. Land nominates Schopenhauer as the king of this tendency (though to me, without adequate justification).

Transcendental Miserablism seems like the opposite spectral position of the pathos of finitude. Where the pathos of finitude is melancholic celebration of the limits of human being in the world regardless of what is in the face of (the other, nature, and so forth) transcendental miserablism places the negativity in the external (whatever it may be) – TM being the pathos of infinitude. In both cases there is too much on one side of the equation, where dark vitalism asserts that horror and the gothic, pessimism etc, are useful in that they suggest modes of existence given unknowing and darkness. My interest in Lovecraft is due to the fact that he consistently grappled with the limits of human on the one hand and on the other the seemingly unlimited productivity of nature.

Previously I had discussed the difference between terror and horror – doing some research I stumbled on this list of comparisons between the two. Also I came across this piece on transcendental horror and through it the work of John Clute. Clute’s The Darkening¬† Garden is one of the more interesting texts I have seen that tries to formalize horror. I attempted some formalization of horror here with What is that?

The response to philosophical engagements with horror has been mixed as to be expected. But one form of negative response seems completely asinine yet its been repeated by more than one fairly well known figure in the blogosphere. The critique is that if we (us ‘speculative nihilists’ whomever we may be) like negativity, and death, and despair, than we should go lick a wound, cause how we could we possibly ‘know’ about dark things being first world people.

There are a surfeit of assumptions in this charge (many personal ones which should be beneath anyone would refer to themselves as an intellectual) but the most offensive and clumsy being that because we are interested in ‘darkness’ we wish it upon others, or enjoy the suffering of others. When they say go lick a wound – why can’t one respond to go chase a rainbow? The move breaks utility from the negative – that interest in the negative means want of the negative, the bodily negative, on others for those who would critique speculative nihilism.

There is also the assumption that the negative, that horror, or gore, or nihilism, is unpolitical. This is an absurd assumption. My work does not often delve into the political, but to say that Benjamin Noys’, or Evan Calder Williams’, or Alex Williams, or Reza’s work doesn’t use the negative to engage the political interestingly and effectively appears grossly false.

More soon.

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