Dark Vitalism III


Repeatedly I have formulated Dark Vitalism as the description of the cosmological cascade or emergence of varying modes of reality schematized in the following way.


With matter as the operator between the first and second, life as the operator between the second and third, and pathology/drive as operating between the third and fourth.

The first two results of the Prohairesis (volition) of the indiscernible Sub-Planck epoch are intensive and space manipulating/creating whereas the latter two are Extensive and space filling.

This process proceeds from the One not as an eternality but an initial potential which is unfolding not as a plasma but as a simultaneous creation and destruction of entities via forces and powers. From the one we have only the piling of Zeros (in an Okenian sense) the reformatting of the detritus of the One. The procedure appearing as such:


The Force of Forces or Prohairesis following from the One.

The question becomes if individual entities are present yet also deformed/destroyed etc by the Force of Forces (spatio-temporality) then can we have a non-absolute or background independent conception of time and or space? That is, if time is conceived as relational, as that between entities, then how can it been seen as the darkly vital force that I have set it up as?

Relevant here is Martin Hagglund’s critique of Meillassoux in his paper presented at the 21st Century Materialism Conference. Hagglund is critical of Meillassoux’s underdeveloped theory of succession stating that there must be some connection between ancestral and phenomenal time and that time must not be a virtual power absolutized and severed from spatiality.

Hagglund connects these issues directly to the emergence of life on Earth:

“Consequently, there is no need for Meillassoux’s skyhook of irruption ex nihilo to explain the emergence of life. The emergence of life is certainly a contingent event, but this contingency cannot be equated with a power to make anything happen at any time. Rather, the emergence is dependent both on preceding material conditions that restrict what is possible and on succeeding events that determine whether it will have been the emergence of anything at all. ”

That is, while Meillassoux himself notes that the transcendental must be anchored in this or that material thing, the issue is in fact why Meillassoux is attributing transcendental like characteristics to life itself. Hagglund allies this anti-scientific transcendentalizing with vitalism when he says the following:

“Accordingly, there is an asymmetry between the animate and the inanimate in the arche-materiality of the trace. As soon as there is life there is death, so there can be no animation without the inanimate, but the inverse argument does not hold. If there were animation as soon as there is inanimate matter, we would be advocating a vitalist conception of the universe, where life is the potential force or the teleological goal of existence. The conception of life that follows from the arche-materiality of the trace is as far as one can get from such vitalism, since it accounts for the utter contingency and destructibility of life”

While certain accounts of vitalism have posited that there some vital stuff transmittable between bodies, vitalism does not seem to suggest life’s indestructability tout court. Furthermore, as Bergson noted in Creative Evolution, his one positive comment on vitalism was that at least it pointed towards our lack of understanding when it came to the category of life itself. This latter dimension seems too easily forgotten in most critiques of vitalism including Hagglund’s.

Dark Vitalism is particularly focused on the destructibility of life and but is also sceptical of Hagglund’s valorization of survival. That is, Hagglund’s account must take disadaptation, feedback and, when it comes to humans, pathology as paramount in understanding the category of survival. That is, one must be careful as soon as discussions of survival are connected to those of care – in that the physicality of death begins to immediately move towards culturalized death or even poeticized death. While Hagglund opens life as it must be in order to borrow energy from its environment to survive, life is always open to death, not just mournable death but the possibility of total annhilation. The spectral and the hauntological risk this as does Agamben’s form-of-life and Badiou’s recent discussion of a true life. The bio-cultural consistently dismisses the physical – the particlization of being.

Ultimately the issue is navigating between the weakness of humanity at the whim of nature, of the accident and its absorption by the unconscious and the weakness of nature, as Lacan saw it, in that our generation of artificiality puts us, in a material sense, at a apparent distance from nature as such.

2 Responses to “Dark Vitalism III”

  1. 1 The Manifesto of Speculative Realist/Object-Oriented Ontological Blogging « The Charnel-House

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