Dark Vitalism II


Kvond and Michael at Complete Lies have both written on Dark Vitalism which has become the formal name for half of my (and possibly others’) speculative realist naturephilosophie (the other half being a darkening of Lacan, Henry and Zizek).  One point that Kevin makes is that vitalism assumes a living substance and not a particular articulation of life or a life force or force on life.

As Merleau-Ponty argues in Nature in regards to Whitehead, Bergson and Schelling, vitalism is attacked because it assumes a transspatial substance (passed from organism to organism).  In another questioning of vitalism in relation to death, Kevin points out that:

“an ontology of Death Drive, at least from a Freudian foundation, is one that already assumes a non-vital basis for Substance (or totality), for if Substance itself is living, a return to it would not be a death.”

Furthermore, Michael questions what it is about ‘dark’ that modifies vitalism – the answer to this and what rallies against the substantial reading of vitalism is temporality.  The ‘dark’ of vitalism is vitalistically mechanistic in that the depth of erst nature, of the dark past, cannot be accessed and that the long chain of events leading up to and penetrating our existence is always partially beyond access.  Temporality as the vital force in taken partially in response to Schelling’s statement in Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature that life-force is a self-contradictory concept because a force must be opposed or in relative equilibrium or in perpetual conflict.

Schelling goes on to say that a third, something outside the reach of empirical science.  He then suggests that the mind may function as this thirdness.  This is not to say that Schelling separates the mind from nature (such a separation would make nature a dead object) nor, as Merleau-Ponty suggests does it mean that man and nature are unified.  That is humanity’s unity with nature is a non-separation but unified (but only ever ideal).  In this sense Schelling’s relation of human and nature seems distinctly Laruelleian (as identity without unity).

More on this later…

10 Responses to “Dark Vitalism II”

  1. 1 kvond

    What is “dark” about Dark Vitalism? Indeed the word dark seems to give us any number of answers. It is dark in the sense that it takes up an intimate relation with the possibility of “evil”; it is dark because it does not privilege ocular metaphors of central clarity and sight (so it cannot be, or should not be a philosophy of Presence, confined to an essential binary): there are many other senses and experiences which determine our epistemic relations: thus dark vitalism in a certain sense must be able to “see in the dark”; it is dark because it is potentially cold; it is dark because yes there is a limit of epistemic capacity, an occlusion to any finite status.

    I don’t know if I ascribe to any or all of these as I am unsure if I am a Dark Vitalist. Though I do find the phrase intellectually appealing as a path to investigative thought.

  2. Ben,

    Schelling does have a unity of humanity (Spirit) and Nature, that is the Absolute of his Absolute Idealism. Spirit is invisible Nature and Nature is invisible Spirit (he says this in the introduction to the Ideas). He opposition between the two is a methodological one, as Spinozism and Idealism exclude one another, while he thinks his Absolute Idealism can account for both. His early work is an attempt to show this, with the Ideas and the First Outline leading the path from Naturphilosophie to the Absolute, while his System of Transcendental Idealism shows the way from Idealism to the Absolute. Both Subject and Object find their unity there.

    On my reading of the later Schelling, he also finds the way to the Absolute from the perspective of individual things or personalities through his use of the Ungrund and the Abgrund as the ground of existence itself. In this way, all things are grounded in the divine nothingness of freedom which is the Absolute.

    The separation of mind from nature is the distinction between conscious spirit and unconscious spirit. Conscious spirit is the freedom of human reason, while, following Kant’s Third Critique, Schelling claims that teleology in nature is explained through an understanding of it in terms of fulfilling its own unconscious desire. So there is no mind in nature in the sense of the self-reflexivity of humanity on itself, though it seems that for Schelling, the achievement of human mind is actually, as in Bohme, that human reason, as an outgrowth of nature, is how nature comes to know itself.

    • 3 Ben Woodard


      You are right about Schelling – my issue is in regards to the ontological weight and reach of such unity. The unity of the real and the ideal is both real and ideal in an identitarian way, that is in terms of a thought simultaneity but not a temporal or historical simultaneity. That is, the withdrawnness of nature holds the ideal back but the ideal also moves towards the light, moves forward in time.

      There is an issue of thinking the absolute here which is different from intuiting it, I think.

  3. 4 kvond

    It occurs to me to add that I have heard it said that if there is any TRUE binary, it is the binary of Being/Not-Being on the one hand, and Polyvocality on the other: perhaps symbolized as 2/n. In otherwords, the very idea that there are two (some fundamental two whatever their name), and that there are the many (all of which are to be investigated). In my mind what makes Vitalism Dark would be the decided attempt to position one’s vitalism on the “dark” side of this binary, within polyocality. Here, “dark” is not only representively dark, as in dark vs. light (with all the cultural powers and pitfalls of being on the lesser half), but also dark as in, non-binarious in its explanations.

    • 5 Ben Woodard

      I would say what is dark is that it is dark from the point of view of thought in that it is both obscure (the X of the Real)a negative in a entropic sense in that ‘ thiings fall apart.’ Being/nonbeing would be on one side whereas (at least for me) temporality or a non-anthropic possibility would be on the other. I am still trying to work all this out.

  4. 6 michaeloneillburns

    Would be really interested in hearing about your ‘darkening’ of Henry at some point. Sounds interesting.


  5. 7 kvond

    I’m with MB, I would like to hear more…

  1. 1 2/n: The ESSENTIAL binary of all Philosophical Discussion « Frames /sing
  2. 2 A Taxomomy of Evils and the Demoness Ontology of Powers in Vitalism « Frames /sing
  3. 3 The Manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological Blogging « The Charnel-House

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