Weirdos: A Response

31May11

Over at Hypertiling Fabio has an interesting post about the weird, China Mieville, and the relationship of the weird to speculative philosophy. In general, the post is interesting and provides some interesting bits of clarification but, at times, the language is unnecessarily mean spirited. It would be an exacerbation of ego to assume that it is singularly about my appropriation of the weird but also unlikely to assume I am not a target.

It begins with a discussion of Mieville’s talk (mostly a q and a) at Kingston some months ago where he critically outlines the weird. First the relation (really non-relation) of politics and the weird is outlined where the conclusion is scepticism given the relation between the two. This is something I agree with – almost three years ago this issue was raised and then seemed to collapse in on itself. In a sense, the only real necessity broached was thinking the non-human in relation to the political – something important for both ecology and animal studies for instance. These issues were brought up again by Nick here several months later. For these reasons I don’t disagree with Pete here when he says discussions of mythic darkness are not politically useful – I don’t think I ever said they were. But back to the weird and philosophy Fabio writes:

“In general Miéville doesn’t seem to me to be particularly enthusiastic about the current ‘let’s turn weird all of our intellectual productions’, whilst at the same time staunchly defending the importance of this genre as a literary production. I agree on both counts.”

Having talked with Mieville about this his reaction seems to be one of simultaneously attraction and repulsion – he likes the weird but, as Fabio notes, is cautious about how far the weird can go outside of itself but, at the same time, Mieville is interested in theorizing the weird if not always with the weird. The issue then seems to be to what degree does the weird push back or enter into theory (this is some mix of Deleuze-Guttari, Brassier’s Laruelle maybe, and Schelling). That is when you think an object (here a genre of literary production) you are also thinking according to that object in regards to the latter two. As for Deleuze and Guattari I am referring to the caveat they throw out in the opening of A Thousand Plateaus that they have been critiqued for over quoting literary sources (4). But,  they argue, that a literary text is always plugged into some kind of machine – philosophy and the weird affect one another.

Fabio writies:

“the weird indexes that which is utterly alien, unsettlingly resistant to conceptualization, impossible for thought to metabolize. As Miéville notes, however, this concept-proof constructions used as literary devices impose an interesting disjunction (very noticeable in Lovecraft): on the one hand their complete transcendence, while on the other the literary necessity and the human desire to get to describe them. So, we are told how utterly impossible the shapes seen by the terrorized witness were…and yet these latter are still able to go on describing them in all their grotesque details.”

So the issue of discovery (as Fabio writes later) is what ties speculative philosophy and the weird together its how both seem to circle around the unknown or unknowable. This is why Mieville utilizes the abcanny in place of the uncanny (at the Cyclonopedia event Eugene Thacker made a similar distinction with the unhuman in Fritz Leiber’s Black Gondolier). Fabio cites Ligotti’s short short ‘The Astronomic Blur’ (which is my favorite thing Ligotti has done) and then writes:

“The weird is not the horror of the unheimlich re-cognition but that of getting a glimpse of the unknown and realizing that it is operating according to meaningless rules, rules which have been in place far before we appeared in the universe and will go on undisturbed after we’ll depart it.”

While resulting madness is dismissed as silly here where I think the above relation of speculative philosophy and the weird is interesting is in regards to affect, or the consequence of varying magnitudes physical, psychical, metaphysical, and so forth.

Following the above Fabio says:

“Having reached this point, it is all too easy to leap from weird fiction to Meillassouxian ‘realism’ of contingency and related philosophical ideas. For what is hyperchaos if not a name for those strange aeons during which even death may die? This is a most delicate point, since we are starting to walk the thin line between the careful comparison of certain kinds of sensibility — of affine orientations of thought — and the wholesale, meaningless (in the vulgar sense) and often pretentious unregulated exchange of concepts between ‘dark’ literature and philosophy.”

Later on his says:

‘the danger of immediate metaphors in the formation of the scientific spirit is that they are not always passing images; they push toward and autonomous kind of thought; they tend to completion and fulfillment in the domain of the image’. The Miévillian ‘broken metaphors’, literary powerful, don’t do philosophical work, but remain lost in a fuzzy world of affective ideality.”

What I think is getting lost is the distinction of metaphysics and affect space. In Cyclonopedia Reza makes a note in regards to compelling vs hysteric forces:

“The affect space between these two forces is called a dracage zone, a zone into which the twisted activities of these forces are channeled. Feedback spirals can horizontally migrate (creep) across the dracage zone” (36). Broken down, affect space becomes one mode of indirectly measuring the stratifications and the horizontal movement of the continuum (or the absolute, or the manifold). Incidently, what’s left out following the above quote from ‘The Astronomic Blur” is the feeling that the narrator cannot ever go back, can never enter those houses again. Fuzzy ideality is not all the weird is about but not acknowledging one’s in view in discussing the phenomenological ramificatons of the weird seems problematic. In regards to this:

“To accept that in principle parts of the universe can exceed our epistemic and conceptual grasp does not turn one into a vulgar Kantian, for to assert epistemic inaccessibility does not imply lack of reference and ontological antirealism (unless you are Van Fraaseen). It is a realist move to claim ‘there are things we do not know’ (and yet exist) and even ‘there are things/mathematical propositions we cannot know to be true’ (and yet are true).”

In terms of vulgar Kantianism there is some mash up between critiquing Kant and misreading Kant particularly when it comes to the limits of the Kantian philosophy. My critique of Kant is namely Schelling’s critique – one could say that Schelling misreads Kant as confusing the normative and the constitutive (or the epistemological and the ontological) but this glosses over Schelling’s dissatisfaction with the very bracketing off of the noumenal (or the generative). If I wanted to be vulgar about Kant I’d say he was the Johann Kraus of philosophy – the ecotoplasmic mist of the subject in the containment suit of the categories.

Towards the end of this piece Fabio writes the following:

“It seems to me that a balance must be reached. An excessive emphasis on the weirdness, inaccessibility and incomprehensibility of reality in itself (re)produces a secular form of a vacuous mysticism of darkness (which is more self-congratulatory than philosophically fertile) and undermines naturalism by re-imbuing nature of ‘supernatural’ traits. On the other hand, we should be cautious with hyper-rationalisms, relying on the sheer power of pure thought to comprehend everything, for that is just the flipside of the old theological coin: on the one hand negative theology (which is always about meaninglessness for-us), on the other confidence in the lumen naturalis of reason (which ultimately banishes meaninglessness in-itself). The limits of our epistemic grasp cannot be overcome via either poetic talk nor via a mysteriously efficacious intellectual intuition. They can only be probed and pushed by rational inquiry.”

If I am guilty of something it is this imbalance. However, I do not see myself as making nature supernatural – Lovecraft and the weird are extremely useful for me in cracking the dense aesthetic/affective shell around nature, nature as caught between what Pierre Hadot has set up as the Orphic and the Promethean. That is to weird nature, to set it as something which gives rise to and eventually undoes thought is not to make it supernatural, its to de-supernaturalize thought, to break a certain degree of the (ungrounded) transcendental quarenteen on thought. Here is where I side with Iain Grant over Brassier. This move is not without cost however, it makes epistemology, for instance, exceedingly difficult.

Fabio ends his piece thusly:

“So no, thought is not omnipotent but yes, there is something like objective scientific progress and like the discovery of new truths. No, there’s no need to quiver in awe of ‘fanged noumena’ but yes, there are things ‘out there’ which will always elude any conceptualization (due to the limits of our biological brains) and attribution of ‘meaning’ (due to the intrinsic meaninglessness of reality). I join Meillassoux here, in stressing that the answers to ‘big questions’ don’t have to induce in us any sort of fear and trembling, but can be just be prosaically, rationally given.

Ultimately, I like to be disturbed and unsettled by weird literature and to be stimulated and provoked by ‘speculative’ philosophy – and these are pleasures best enjoyed separately.”

Again, fear and trembling is not a necessary response, for me it is a useful one for cracking the overly ideologically encrusted topic of nature, and ecology, and others. And on the last point we, obviously, disagree.

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One Response to “Weirdos: A Response”

  1. Horreo ut intelligam.


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