News | Year: 2009

09 Dec 2009

Not since the heady days of Semiotext(e) has a philosophical journal seemed so essential […]” – Jack Sargeant on Collapse, The Wire

Urbanomic is back not only as the spearhead of adventurous philosophical experiments but also as the publisher of art editions, philosophical monographs and avant-garde texts: Collapse vi and new publications.
Also on another front: The December issue of ‘Artforum International: Best of 2009’ has listed Cyclonopedia among eleven titles including The Invisible Committee���s The Coming Insurrection and Giorgio Agamben���s What Is an Apparatus?

17 Nov 2009

Cover-pre6.jpg
Further delays (completing extended interviews with very busy people!) have held up publication, but contents are finalized, and an announcement will be made here and on the e-mail list soon. We now anticipate publication in early December January 2010.

11 Sep 2009

As per tradition, Collapse VI‘s publication has been delayed – the probable publication date is now mid-November. Further news and contents of the volume to follow soon …

27 Jul 2009

Aristotle's brazen head

A sequel to Cyclonopedia and the second installment in the Blackening trilogy:
The Mortiloquist
A barbaric interpretation of the life and problems of Western philosophy.
Feasting on the theatrical resources of Greek tragedy, Jacobean revenge drama, grand guignol theater, the theater of cruelty, aktionism (especially Herman Nitsch���s the Fall of Jerusalem and Orgien Mysterien theater) and employing the dialogue-commentary of scholasticism, The Mortiloquist is a cross-breed of play and philosophy. In this textual mongrel, the life of Western philosophy is gutted out by outlanders and barbarically staged.
Taking place in an alternative history of the Greek Empire during a hypothetical siege of Athens, The Mortiloquist begins with a heated debate among three philosophers. Aristotle, Speusippus and Andronosos have refused to flee from the Academy. Oblivious to the commotion in the streets, they are arguing the impact of Speusippus’ ‘alien causality’ on generation and corruption of ideas. As those who represent the philosophical militancy and political ethics of the Greek Empire, the philosophers are put into an ordeal of unspeakable cruelty at the hands of the barbarian invaders. They are forced into freshly gutted out carcasses of three oxen; the animals are then sewn up to trap the philosophers in a way that only their heads protrude.
Composed in the form of an inverse chiaroscuro, the stage consists of a tenebrous foreground and a luminous background. Three animal corpses lay in the foreground, from each carcass a chattering human head has protruded. Each act begins with monotonous De Sadesque depictions of barbarous savageries taking place at the stage background. Set against this chaotic but silent background, conversations between the three philosophers who are trapped in dead animals are audible and appear in the form of scholastic colloquies and theatrical dialogues.
In The Mortiloquist, each scene begins with a generation of a new entity from the putrefying animal carcasses. In line with Henry of Langenstein’s unsettling remarks regarding the possibility of a dog being generated from the corpse of an ox or a horse, the oxen carcasses in which the philosophers have been trapped change to canine and fox corpses among other unheard-of creative forms. Ideas and philosophical debates are renewed and shifted according to the germinal power of putrefaction and the possibility of the infinite deformity of forms in decay. The history of philosophy is, barbarically and problematically, revealed to be a differential form of arborescent emptiness which is in the process of blackening its vitalistic twists ��� a tree of rot whose supernal branches stretch toward the One and whose roots reinvent their own tortuous earth.
[This is an ongoing project which I am gradually developing.]

17 Jul 2009

Apologies for my indulgence in casual blogging lately. I will be back with more substantial materials including some news regarding a sequel to Cyclonopedia, etc. However, in the meantime, I would like to draw your attention to some fascinating posts on the potential cross-links between some of the recent activities in philosophy and experimentations in literature, cinema and ludicosm (especially those of videogames).
Thanks to Levi Bryant for mentioning Ben Marcus whose world looks like a textual counterpart of this game. This reminds me to post something on the porous narrative formation of Cyclonopedia and the loosening of human characters into complicities with anonymous materials.

11 Jun 2009

Drawing a maze for thought

Reza Negarestani

In order to assure Dominic that there is no overnight war / conspiracy against Badiou, this post is – disappointingly – not about Badiou whose Number and Numbers I have passionately read and am still admiring. It is rather a short commentary on differences and similarities between Alex Williams and Ray Brassier’s identifications of asymptopia. However, before moving in that direction I would like to add a few ‘crude’ comments regarding the recent so-called Badiou war, a term so symptomatic of the thought-journalism common in blogsphere (and prevalent among us all). There is something paranoically puerile in accusing Alex of an attempted – yet failed – patricide against Badiou. People are twittering around and charge Alex with lack of argumentation, premature patricide and closing comment boxes whilst not only they are not really against comments culling and closure but also they themselves fail to pose any serious argument other than delivering pieces of thought-journalism combined with a few witty and safely friendly remarks to ensure the constancy of the readership flow in the future. Alex’s confrontational post suggests, more or less, the first reactions of a reader who has been disillusioned about the deficiencies of a particular philosophical system or a philosopher. Looking back into the history of philosophy (a branch which has been needlessly vilified), no emerged philosopher has ever tackled the position of an established philosopher by initially constructing an argumentative juggernaut. It always starts with a combination of anger, frustration and a brief theoretical hailstorm which is too short to be distinguished as an opposition. It is in the next steps and over a long period of time, that the reader or philosopher begins to tweak her position by either filling in the gaps herself or turning them into ballistic weapons against that particular philosophical system or philosopher. And I hope this will be the case with Alex who has disturbed the ubiquitous temptation of blogsphere for a cozy and friend-appeasing atmosphere which sometimes does not amount to anything other than our secret desires for pseudo-philosophical gossiping. As the last note, I am looking forward to Alex’s future writing projects which I am sure will be remorselessly challenging and provocatively rigorous. (Also thanks to Dominic for posting two original posts in response to Alex, very appreciated.)

***

In his recent post, Alex draws a connection between limitropism and the unbound eliminativism of the kind elaborated by Ray Brassier in Nihil Unbound. At first look, these two cannot be wedded, for the limitropic conception of zero suggests a dynamic process (a verging-on) wherein zero or non-belonging as such is never achieved. Yet Brassier’s eliminativism appears to be fully in opposition to this limitropic conception of zero which seems to be conjuring up a vague shadow of vitalism. Closer investigation of Brassier’s eliminativism, however, shows that limitropic convergence toward zero is indeed a vector of eliminativism which is always in the process of shedding belongings (desertifying) and abandoning commitments to any horizon of interiority (or what Alex calls eliminativist betrayal) in its reckless approach toward zero.

Brassier’s unbinding of the Churchlands’ eliminativism in Nihil Unbound is done through different stages encompassing intricate engagements with Badiou, Meillassoux, Deleuze, Heidegger, et al. However, the reinscription of eliminativism on a cosmic level which is the characteristics of his position can not be consummated unless he combines eliminativism with something that undoes all horizons of interiority (from organisms to earth to stars, galaxies and matter itself) and returns them back to the concept-less exteriority of space or the cosmic abyss. In other words, in his attempt to mobilize eliminativism concomitantly toward all-encompassing-ness and cosmic unbinding (all the way down), Brassier needs a conjectural model that can loosen every horizon of interiority (be it us or planets and stars). Such a model, accordingly, requires a conception of interiority that is determined directly from an exterior backdrop in a nested chain by which interiorized horizons can be loosened up in regard to each other. It is like a loosening function that traverses the interiority of human in regard to the organic interiority which itself is nested within the interiority of the earth as a consolidating medium for inorganic materials required for the emergence of life. This nested chain of interiorities enables the loosening function to continue to the solar economy (conditioned by the interiority of a star / sun) and then to the galactic interiority all the way to the interiority of matter itself. Therefore, this conjectural model which is responsible for the cosmic reinscription of the Brassierian eliminativism needs to simultaneously present an all-encompassing regression toward the precursor exteriority and a topology of nested interiorities whereby the regression or loosening can be effectuated and guaranteed. Only such a model can bring about the possibility of the cosmic unbinding of eliminativism or asymptopia.

This model surfaces in two locations of Nihil Unbound: one in the second half of ‘Thanatosis of Enlightenment’ and the other toward the end of the book in ‘The Trauma of Life’. In both cases, Brassier elects Freud’s energetic model of thanatropic regression for this mission which consists of the cosmic unbinding of eliminativism and abandoning commitment to any horizon of interiority, a process which goes so far that it even deserts matter itself. However, both episodes are ended abruptly to prevent the slippage of the book into the ambivalent yet interesting consequences brought about by the unbinding and cosmic reinscription of Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression.

In order to consummate the non-dialectical negativity of eliminativism as a cosmic event (asymptopia), Brassier uses a model that can deploy the eliminativist vector inside every horizon of interiority, desertifying them all the way to the exteriority of the cosmic abyss where even elementary conditions for materialization are considered as indexes of interiority which must be deserted. This elected model is the energetic model of thanatropic regression presented in Beyond the Pleasure Principle built upon Freud’s earlier theories of trauma as well as theories proposed by figures such as Rank, Ferenczi and Spielrein. However, Freud only observers and speculates on the thanatropic regression toward the precursor exteriority in organisms or the organic life in general. Therefore, what Freud distinguishes as thanatropic return to the precursor exteriority is only the energetic and compulsive return of the organism toward the inorganic exteriority which itself is another interiority (another lie) set against another exterior backdrop. For this reason, in order to consummate the non-dialectical negativity of eliminativism on a cosmic level through Freud’s model of thanatropic regression which only consists of a passage from organic into the inorganic, Brassier should reappropriate Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression which is essentially a theory of drive. To put it differently, in the pursuit of an unbound eliminativism, Brassier reinscribes (absolutizes?) Freud’s energetic model on a cosmic level. Yet insofar as the eliminativist appropriation of thanatropic regression casts humanism and matter aside in favour of an ever-expanding never-attainable exteriority, it also redeploys human life and matter (on all their organizational and illusive strata) as mediums for the nested intrusion of cosmic exteriority. And of course it is the latter that brings the possibility of complicity. In other words, the cosmic modification of Freud’s theory results in the transformation of the eliminativism into an economically, dynamically and topologically ambiguous process – a limitropic convergence upon zero, a loosening with no end. [1] Now why is that Brassier’s cosmic reappropriation of thanatropic regression gives Eliminativism a perverse and ambiguous underside which is fertile for the kind of politics of the Insider that Alex has in mind? And even more importantly, why is it that this cosmic reappropriation turns the unbound vector of eliminativism into a limitropic process that has insinuations of a dark vitalism wherein neither ontological differences nor materiality enact any privilege?

The reason lies in Freud’s own theory of drive(s) and the way the energetic model of thanatropic regression is constructed. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud reveals that thanatropic regression is always bound to two other panoramas or energetico-structural principles: one is the theory of umwege (the energetic maze or detour) whereby the interiority of life becomes an increasingly twisted inflection of exteriority as such; and the other is the necrocratic law of the organism (or any other horizon of interiority) whereby the organic interiority should only die in one and only one way. According to Freud, the economy of thanatropic regression for any given organism or horizon of interiority must ensure that all other ways of dissolution or dying must be staved off. [2]

If Brassier unbinds and cosmically reinscribes Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression in order to extend the eliminativist vector all the way to the cosmic exteriority, then he must also unbind the theory of umwege beyond the organic life or bios. Because as Freud has explicitly argued and as Brassier has implicitly indicated, the thanatropic regression or the vectorial move toward the precursor exteriority is inextricable from the increasing convolution of the umwege. Here the convolution of umwege or the increasing twist in the roundabout regression to the precursor exteriority must not be confused with the complexification of life as an opportunity for posthumanist scenarios, because it suggests the differential decomposition of all interiorities via nested deployment or intrusion of cosmic exteriority. After all, the emergence or determination of an index of interiority from a precursor exteriority does not mean the complete envelopment of that exteriority and its reintegration according to the laws of the interiorized horizon. There is always a part of enveloped exteriority that refuses to be assimilated within the index of interiority, thus extending the intrusion of the precursor exteriority into the emerged nested horizons of interiority.

In short if the thanatropic regression is extended beyond the organic life to an abysmally cosmic level, so are the twisted and hence limitropic involutions of the umwege. Just as the organic regression toward the inorganic exteriority reinscribes the limitropic dimension of the organic life as a twisted curve aiming at the inorganic, the eliminativist absolutization of extinction or the unbinding of the theory of thanatropic regression also re-enacts the cosmic reinscription of the umwege as an infinitely convoluted slant toward cosmic zero. On this level, roundabout / convoluted paths of umwege do not stand for animate or inanimate life (bios or physikos) anymore, but rather they exhibit a continuous limitropic process via the loosening of nested interiorities (deserting one interiority on behalf of another so as to draw the graph of the cosmic exteriority, the ultimate maze-path for the remobilization of thought).

[1] Thanks to Kevin for his brilliant post on the ambiguous energetic dynamism of drive as ‘loosening’.

[2] I will elaborate more on the necrocratic law of thanatropic regression and its restricting impacts on the identification of Capitalism in an essay I am completing for Umbr(a).

11 Jun 2009

In order to assure Dominic that there is no overnight war / conspiracy against Badiou, this post is ��� disappointingly ��� not about Badiou whose Number and Numbers I have passionately read and am still admiring. It is rather a short commentary on differences and similarities between Alex Williams and Ray Brassier’s identifications of asymptopia. However, before moving in that direction I would like to add a few ‘crude’ comments regarding the recent so-called Badiou war, a term so symptomatic of the thought-journalism common in blogsphere (and prevalent among us all). There is something paranoically puerile in accusing Alex of an attempted ��� yet failed ��� patricide against Badiou. People are twittering around and charge Alex with lack of argumentation, premature patricide and closing comment boxes whilst not only they are not really against comments culling and closure but also they themselves fail to pose any serious argument other than delivering pieces of thought-journalism combined with a few witty and safely friendly remarks to ensure the constancy of the readership flow in the future. Alex’s confrontational post suggests, more or less, the first reactions of a reader who has been disillusioned about the deficiencies of a particular philosophical system or a philosopher. Looking back into the history of philosophy (a branch which has been needlessly vilified), no emerged philosopher has ever tackled the position of an established philosopher by initially constructing an argumentative juggernaut. It always starts with a combination of anger, frustration and a brief theoretical hailstorm which is too short to be distinguished as an opposition. It is in the next steps and over a long period of time, that the reader or philosopher begins to tweak her position by either filling in the gaps herself or turning them into ballistic weapons against that particular philosophical system or philosopher. And I hope this will be the case with Alex who has disturbed the ubiquitous temptation of blogsphere for a cozy and friend-appeasing atmosphere which sometimes does not amount to anything other than our secret desires for pseudo-philosophical gossiping. As the last note, I am looking forward to Alex’s future writing projects which I am sure will be remorselessly challenging and provocatively rigorous. (Also thanks to Dominic for posting two original posts in response to Alex, very appreciated.)

***

In his recent post, Alex draws a connection between limitropism and the unbound eliminativism of the kind elaborated by Ray Brassier in Nihil Unbound. At first look, these two cannot be wedded, for the limitropic conception of zero suggests a dynamic process (a verging-on) wherein zero or non-belonging as such is never achieved. Yet Brassier’s eliminativism appears to be fully in opposition to this limitropic conception of zero which seems to be conjuring up a vague shadow of vitalism. Closer investigation of Brassier’s eliminativism, however, shows that limitropic convergence toward zero is indeed a vector of eliminativism which is always in the process of shedding belongings (desertifying) and abandoning commitments to any horizon of interiority (or what Alex calls eliminativist betrayal) in its reckless approach toward zero.
Brassier’s unbinding of the Churchlands’ eliminativism in Nihil Unbound is done through different stages encompassing intricate engagements with Badiou, Meillassoux, Deleuze, Heidegger, et al. However, the reinscription of eliminativism on a cosmic level which is the characteristics of his position can not be consummated unless he combines eliminativism with something that undoes all horizons of interiority (from organisms to earth to stars, galaxies and matter itself) and returns them back to the concept-less exteriority of space or the cosmic abyss. In other words, in his attempt to mobilize eliminativism concomitantly toward all-encompassing-ness and cosmic unbinding (all the way down), Brassier needs a conjectural model that can loosen every horizon of interiority (be it us or planets and stars). Such a model, accordingly, requires a conception of interiority that is determined directly from an exterior backdrop in a nested chain by which interiorized horizons can be loosened up in regard to each other. It is like a loosening function that traverses the interiority of human in regard to the organic interiority which itself is nested within the interiority of the earth as a consolidating medium for inorganic materials required for the emergence of life. This nested chain of interiorities enables the loosening function to continue to the solar economy (conditioned by the interiority of a star / sun) and then to the galactic interiority all the way to the interiority of matter itself. Therefore, this conjectural model which is responsible for the cosmic reinscription of the Brassierian eliminativism needs to simultaneously present an all-encompassing regression toward the precursor exteriority and a topology of nested interiorities whereby the regression or loosening can be effectuated and guaranteed. Only such a model can bring about the possibility of the cosmic unbinding of eliminativism or asymptopia.
This model surfaces in two locations of Nihil Unbound: one in the second half of ‘Thanatosis of Enlightenment’ and the other toward the end of the book in ‘The Trauma of Life’. In both cases, Brassier elects Freud’s energetic model of thanatropic regression for this mission which consists of the cosmic unbinding of eliminativism and abandoning commitment to any horizon of interiority, a process which goes so far that it even deserts matter itself. However, both episodes are ended abruptly to prevent the slippage of the book into the ambivalent yet interesting consequences brought about by the unbinding and cosmic reinscription of Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression.
In order to consummate the non-dialectical negativity of eliminativism as a cosmic event (asymptopia), Brassier uses a model that can deploy the eliminativist vector inside every horizon of interiority, desertifying them all the way to the exteriority of the cosmic abyss where even elementary conditions for materialization are considered as indexes of interiority which must be deserted. This elected model is the energetic model of thanatropic regression presented in Beyond the Pleasure Principle built upon Freud’s earlier theories of trauma as well as theories proposed by figures such as Rank, Ferenczi and Spielrein. However, Freud only observers and speculates on the thanatropic regression toward the precursor exteriority in organisms or the organic life in general. Therefore, what Freud distinguishes as thanatropic return to the precursor exteriority is only the energetic and compulsive return of the organism toward the inorganic exteriority which itself is another interiority (another lie) set against another exterior backdrop. For this reason, in order to consummate the non-dialectical negativity of eliminativism on a cosmic level through Freud’s model of thanatropic regression which only consists of a passage from organic into the inorganic, Brassier should reappropriate Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression which is essentially a theory of drive. To put it differently, in the pursuit of an unbound eliminativism, Brassier reinscribes (absolutizes?) Freud’s energetic model on a cosmic level. Yet insofar as the eliminativist appropriation of thanatropic regression casts humanism and matter aside in favour of an ever-expanding never-attainable exteriority, it also redeploys human life and matter (on all their organizational and illusive strata) as mediums for the nested intrusion of cosmic exteriority. And of course it is the latter that brings the possibility of complicity. In other words, the cosmic modification of Freud’s theory results in the transformation of the eliminativism into an economically, dynamically and topologically ambiguous process ��� a limitropic convergence upon zero, a loosening with no end. [1] Now why is that Brassier’s cosmic reappropriation of thanatropic regression gives Eliminativism a perverse and ambiguous underside which is fertile for the kind of politics of the Insider that Alex has in mind? And even more importantly, why is it that this cosmic reappropriation turns the unbound vector of eliminativism into a limitropic process that has insinuations of a dark vitalism wherein neither ontological differences nor materiality enact any privilege?
The reason lies in Freud’s own theory of drive(s) and the way the energetic model of thanatropic regression is constructed. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud reveals that thanatropic regression is always bound to two other panoramas or energetico-structural principles: one is the theory of umwege (the energetic maze or detour) whereby the interiority of life becomes an increasingly twisted inflection of exteriority as such; and the other is the necrocratic law of the organism (or any other horizon of interiority) whereby the organic interiority should only die in one and only one way. According to Freud, the economy of thanatropic regression for any given organism or horizon of interiority must ensure that all other ways of dissolution or dying must be staved off. [2]
If Brassier unbinds and cosmically reinscribes Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression in order to extend the eliminativist vector all the way to the cosmic exteriority, then he must also unbind the theory of umwege beyond the organic life or bios. Because as Freud has explicitly argued and as Brassier has implicitly indicated, the thanatropic regression or the vectorial move toward the precursor exteriority is inextricable from the increasing convolution of the umwege. Here the convolution of umwege or the increasing twist in the roundabout regression to the precursor exteriority must not be confused with the complexification of life as an opportunity for posthumanist scenarios, because it suggests the differential decomposition of all interiorities via nested deployment or intrusion of cosmic exteriority. After all, the emergence or determination of an index of interiority from a precursor exteriority does not mean the complete envelopment of that exteriority and its reintegration according to the laws of the interiorized horizon. There is always a part of enveloped exteriority that refuses to be assimilated within the index of interiority, thus extending the intrusion of the precursor exteriority into the emerged nested horizons of interiority.
In short if the thanatropic regression is extended beyond the organic life to an abysmally cosmic level, so are the twisted and hence limitropic involutions of the umwege. Just as the organic regression toward the inorganic exteriority reinscribes the limitropic dimension of the organic life as a twisted curve aiming at the inorganic, the eliminativist absolutization of extinction or the unbinding of the theory of thanatropic regression also re-enacts the cosmic reinscription of the umwege as an infinitely convoluted slant toward cosmic zero. On this level, roundabout / convoluted paths of umwege do not stand for animate or inanimate life (bios or physikos) anymore, but rather they exhibit a continuous limitropic process via the loosening of nested interiorities (deserting one interiority on behalf of another so as to draw the graph of the cosmic exteriority, the ultimate maze-path for the remobilization of thought).
[1] Thanks to Kevin for his brilliant post on the ambiguous energetic dynamism of drive as ‘loosening’.
[2] I will elaborate more on the necrocratic law of thanatropic regression and its restricting impacts on the identification of Capitalism in an essay I am completing for Umbr(a).

21 May 2009

Urbanomic has launched its artistic counterpart of Collapse Journal, a place for “a renegotiation of the relationship between philosophers and artists, on the model of an interrupted relay in which thinkers deploy their conceptual resources to articulate and extend artists’ work, and artists in turn develop and synthesise concepts through their practice; resulting in a productive and unpredictable cycle of research and development subordinated neither to the norms of academic thinking nor to the mainstream discourses of art criticism.”
Documents and transcripts of the past events (including one with Ray Brassier on Darwin) will be available soon on the Urbanomic Studio website. I am also contributing to the future events on ‘Rat-ionalism’ and ‘How to Kill Animals’.
Also, Palgrave Macmillan and the BABEL working group have recently announced their new journal, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies. The journal has a non-traditional approach to medieval studies and philosophy which makes it an exciting publication for those who are interested to “bring the medieval and modern into productive critical relation(s)”. If you have proposals for articles or special themed volumes, you can contact Eileen A. Joy.

19 May 2009

With Florian Hecker and Sónia Matos, Collapse Editor Robin Mackay contributes a text to the programme for Hecker’s collaboration with Cerith Wyn Evans No night No day at Venice Biennale 2009 (more details).
Robin will also be speaking at Goldsmiths University London as part of the Visual Cultures Guest Lecture Series, on 11 June 5-7pm (more details).

29 Apr 2009

[As this post is longer than usual, I have also created a pdf of this text which you can download here.]

Since the review of Collapse iv, I have been reconsidering some of my initial thoughts regarding Quentin Meillassoux’s provocative essay Spectral Dilemma. After a few more reads, I started to tentatively question some of the aspects of Meillassoux’s spectral solution which is supposed to be coextensive with his speculative philosophy outlined in After Finitude. Some of these unsubstantiated strictures have been vaguely sketched out here. Now in order to highlight and streamline some of these – tentative – criticisms, I shall try to categorize some of these problems into purely conjectural charges against Meillassoux’s spectral solution. Perhaps in order to see that if the speculation of a speculative philosophy is truly uninhibited and venturesome, it is crucial to interrogate that philosophy with the same daring cruelty present at the core of each and every speculative thought. In other words, the determination of a speculative philosophy in taking risks and probing the abyssal must be put to trial with the most speculative charges in a manner reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition [1]:

The allegation of being a decisional philosopher and adherence to Aristotelian instrumentalism.

The imputation of speculating in the manner of a Lutheran theologist and bringing back the omniscient God in the guise of hyper-chaos.

The Illusionist controversy and resorting to specular trickery.

***

I.

Those who have read Meillassoux’s essay in Collapse iv know that spectral dilemma is presented as a speculative solution, a way out of the diametric morbidity of religion and atheism which paralyses and even mortifies the living and its world. Therefore, spectral dilemma is an ethical or even a political project which presents a speculative ethics of justice drawn upon the principles of hauntology and the necessity of contingency which drops the Principle of Sufficient Reason yet adopts the Principle of Non-contradiction. In this sense, spectral dilemma gives Meillassoux’s speculative philosophy an ethical front supposedly backed up by and in accordance with the necessity of contingency and hyper-chaos. Meillassoux begins his essay with questioning – via recourse to hauntology – if essential mourning for the spectres of terrible deaths (trapped within the diametric space of religion and atheism, hence caused by a God who has been emphatically affirmed or denounced) is possible? The first charge against Meillassoux’s spectrality, accordingly, is that his Spectral Dilemma restrains the speculative vector brought about by the necessity of contingency. Moreover, Meillassoux’s recourse to hauntology in order to formulate a solution for undermining the confines of religion and atheism obliges him to assume a decisional position which not only dampens the speculative drive mobilized by the absolute contingency but also makes his philosophy amicable to instrumental and neo-moralist regimes of ethics and politics. Even though in this case such regimes are severely mutated and explicitly dissociated from the gravity of their Idealist necessities, they still obstruct the speculative tempest unleashed by the absolute contingency of the cosmic abyss.

The first charge also summarizes part of the problems that I have with hauntology in general and then in particular, Meillassoux’s attempt to devise a speculative solution by inducing what he calls ‘essential mourning’ to the ‘divine inexistence’ harboured by the necessity of the contingency. Essential mourning, as Meillassoux proposes, is the ‘completion of mourning for essential spectres’. (Collapse iv, p. 262) Yet what are the ‘essential spectres’? They are ‘those of terrible deaths: premature deaths, odious deaths, the death of a child, the death of parents knowing their children are destined to the same end — and yet others. Natural or violent deaths, deaths which cannot be come to terms with either by those whom they befall, or by those who survive them.’ (ibid) Essential spectres are begotten by those terrible and unjust deaths which could not be mourned properly by either religion or atheism and hence, cannot leave the world of the living so as a result they simultaneously suffer and drive the world of the living into a despairing morbidity or ‘hopeless fear’. Accordingly, the essential spectres should be mourned (‘by the living’) properly, that is according to the divine inexistence as an alternative to the depressing dichotomy of religion and atheism which cannot appropriately address both the wanton evil and the indifferent negligence of God:

We call spectral dilemma the aporetic alternative of atheism and religion when confronted with the essential spectres. (Collapse iv, p. 265)

It is precisely in confronting this aporetic alternative with the essential spectres in order to mourn them properly that Meillassoux’s spectral dilemma as a speculative ethics of justice both instrumentalizes the speculative drive whose interests ‘do not coincide with those of living’ (Ray Brassier) and confines the dimensions unlocked by the contingency of natural laws. The latter restriction is the result of being implicitly restrained by the ontological domain. We have previously argued that mourning is concurrently determined by two inward and outward vectors, one fastened to the living and the other to the dead. In order to mourn for the dead, or more precisely, transform their negative vector of influence to a positive vector of subtraction capable of liberating them and hence contributing to our life (i.e. remaining so and as such), we must first ground the living as a necessary agency or state which despite its separation from the dead can be correlated to them. In other words, one cannot mourn for the dead if she is already dead, which is to say, mourning entails the intervention of the living as a necessity in order to make doing justice to the dead and correspondingly, the living possible. If the female protagonist of Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls is not able to mourn for the dead and as a result her life is disturbed by the haunting dead to the point of mortifying madness, it is not because she has not found a way of proper mourning yet but it is because, she herself is already dead. This brings us to a speculation whose terrifying vista can put an end to our vein and moral attempts to mourn for the essential spectres once and for all, and in the process save us from the maddening despair caused by a mourning which is cursed to be perpetually improper. We describe this terrifying vista that delivers us to a new dark age as follows: We cannot properly mourn not because mourning is tethered to polar axioms of religion and atheism whose alternatives must be found (Meillassoux) but because we are already dead – that is our life is a pure contingency not only in the future (hence our actual death) but also anterior to our very existence. If we are both anteriorly and posteriorly set on pure contingencies then we are as dead as those who have died or will die in terrible deaths. It is only in the ontological apartheid of the living that the dead can be taken as a negative agency which either must be expelled or instrumentally affirmed. If we assume that the ‘anterior posteriority’ (Brassier) renders us already dead, then we must come to terms with the pure contingency of our own life and the precarious position of the living itself. That the living is already dead and it is the attempt to ‘properly’ mourn for the essential spectres that denies the dead their independent nomos (with its respective justice) and ushers us toward a victimologic neurosis.

In line with the principles of mourning (that the dead must be mourned properly by the living), Meillassoux’s essential mourning surreptitiously reinscribes the necessity of the living. Yet the necessity of the living is the first thing that is abandoned by the absolute contingency (viz. the necessity of contingency). Therefore, in demanding and drawing upon an essential mourning, Meillassoux accedes to the decisional position that is inherent to mourning: The dead can be mourned because we are alive; our life and the conscious of being in life is the first guarantor for the possibility of mourning from which we must proceed to find a proper or essential mourn. Yet this insistence on aliveness or being conscious of being in life which is the first assumption and the necessary ground of mourning is precisely a philosophical decision which must be renegotiated. Even if this decision leads to a true justice to the dead and correspondingly brings about a non-morbid justice for the living, its burdening weight qua its ontological privilege encumbers the speculative drive which is supposed to be at the core of Meillassoux’s philosophy.

The surreptitious reinscription of the living qua mourning’s necessity from which Meillassoux’s spectral dilemma draws its so-called speculative solution strongly resembles an implicit decisional function inherent to hauntology. The essential spectrality of hauntology is not limited to the effectuation of a deadly negative influence over the living which must be mourned properly so as to make the living possible. Hauntology has also a hidden function which reinscribes the myth of the living at the expense of the dead. The negative influence of the dead over the living which must be mourned properly bespeaks of the living’s inherent instrumental correlation with the dead. The hauntology brings the dead back in terms of spectres so as to pit them against the living, that is to say, implicitly and albeit negatively reaffirms the necessity of the living. In other words, the spectre’s negative influence not only brings neurosis but also serves as an evidence – even though a miserable one – which is sufficient to ensure the living of its life. In confronting the essential spectres, one often comes to this conclusion: If I am disturbed by the returning ghosts and the lingering dead who haunt me in reality and in dreams, then I must be alive, for if I was dead too, then how could I be terrorized by the same? In this sense, the dead are instrumentalized as spectres so that the living can be negatively affirmed and grounded even through a neurosis which secretly contributes to human’s basic self-esteem. For this reason, hauntology can be posited as the politics of instrumentalizing the dead and the essential or proper mourning is its enforcer or what legitimately accentuates such politics.

Meillassoux’s essential spectrality restricts the operation of speculative justice, for it – contra Artaud – delimitates the presence of cruelty only in the death of those ‘who obstinately cast off their shroud to declare to the living, in spite of all evidence, that they still belong amongst them.’ (Collapse iv p. 262) This rigid delimitation of cruelty respectively restricts justice not really to the dead who are seemingly supposed to be liberated by essential mourning but to the living for which the spectre marks an instrumental correlation with death, their own death. If the essential spectrality of the hauntology surreptitiously testifies to the life of the living through a neurotic or negative bond, then doing an essential justice to the dead by this assumption that cruelty is only limited to those of terrible deaths also contributes to the living. In other words, a justice in terms of the law of the living is a justice to the dead but ultimately for the living. The dead in this sense is liveware (the instrument of the living). The reason for this undercover instrumentalism present in Spectral Dilemma is that the relation of justice to cruelty is one of a decisional collusion because the locus of cruelty is purely a decisional one. If as Artaud (and Deleuze in Difference and Repetition) suggests that cruelty is at base of every determination, then life as the first decisional determination (especially as accentuated in essential mourning) is itself an inexhaustible source of cruelty. It is in properly tackling with the cruelty of life qua its purely decisional determination that we can break apart from the instrumental approach in regard to the dead and bring about the cruel reign of a speculative ethics of justice. Only by a philosophy of cruelty that sheds a dramatic light on our equivocal inexistence (why is it that I am living while I am already dead?) and the precariousness of life’s ontological decision for and by the living can the cruelty of the speculative reunite with ethics.

In resorting to hauntological methods for mapping a way out of the despairing tyranny of religion and atheism, Meillassoux’s spectrality reduces into a speculative ethics of justice that is devoid of an ethics of speculation. The latter presupposes an irremediable cruelty in venturing thought beyond the comforts of the living whose putative life has been disturbed by the spectres of those who have unjustly died. In other words, spectral dilemma as an alternative to the haunting dichotomy of religion and atheism is not fully an index of a speculative thought any longer because its venturesome cruelty (i.e. speculative power) has been trammelled by an ontologically oriented ethics which implicitly privileges necessity of the living over its pure contingency. This is another way to say, that in attempting to wed the ethics of the dead (for the living) with the principle of absolute contingency (that which belongs to nothing and no one), Meillassoux’s spectral dilemma sacrifices the speculative front of his philosophy for the hackneyed ethical responsibility of the philosopher qua the living who is compulsively obsessed with doing justice to the dead on behalf of his living brethren. Yet such an act of justice for and to the dead is merely an implicit tactic to liberate the living (as acknowledged by Meillassoux himself) and return to its comforting but illusive domain once again. Therefore, the spectral dilemma as an ‘essential mourning’ assumes and privileges the ontological necessity of being entrenched in the relation between the speculative and the ethics (of justice). It is precisely for this reason that Meillassoux finds himself compelled to propose a solution for rescuing the world of the living from the haunting memory of the cruelty inflicted upon those who have died in terrible deaths by an indifferent or a tyrant God. However, we can only speak of such cruelty in death if we assume that life, ontologically speaking, is not itself cruelty or cruel but rather is inherently a ground or guarantor for justice. But if the absolute contingency of the cosmic abyss usurps everything even the necessity of life and the living, then how can we speak of doing justice to the dead because the spectre’s terrible death is as vacuous of the life of the living? Both the so-called terrible deaths of the lingering dead and the life of the living are the result of the absolute contingency of the cosmic abyss. Accordingly, the positions of both in regard to each other are flattened by the absolute contingency. It is this emphatic flattening between the terrible or cruel death of the spectre and the life of the living that prevents the act of justice qua spectral ethics as outlined by Meillassoux – that is justice (i.e. ‘essential mourning’) to the essential spectres (the subjects of terrible deaths) in the name of the life that they have been denied. Yet according to the absolute contingency, the dead have not been denied any life because such a life never existed as a necessity; it has been a mere contingency, that is to say, already-dead all along.

unghosts.jpg

Whether terrible or not, inflicted by a tyrant God or not, the death of the lingering dead is not external to the life of the living who is imagined as the presupposed harbinger of justice. Death as the effect of absolute contingency is internal to the life of the living as that which amputates the necessity of the living as the agency required for doing justice to the dead. In short, Meillassoux’s spectral justice is forced to crash from within precisely by the central core of his own philosophy that is necessity of contingency which remorselessly consumes anything remotely attached to the necessity of the living. This seems to suggest that Meillassoux is oblivious to the crushing power of the speculative front of his philosophy which is harboured by the absolute contingency. For if he weren’t, he was not interested in reconstructing a system of justice that adheres to an instrumental approach to the dead. This seems to insinuate yet another provisional problem for the entire project of speculative realism or at least speculative philosophers: The speculative drive is so uninhibited that it either intimidates or forces the speculative realist philosopher to resort to utopianist or neo-moralist politico-cultural formulas, or goes so far as to mandate a complete dismissal of socio-political consequences implicated in the impact of speculative singularities on socio-cultural or politico-economic fabrics. [2] It is as if the very figure of the philosopher (be it a speculative realist or an Idealist anti-realist) is urged to dam the speculative flood from within his/her own philosophy in the manner of what Freud attributes to the hidden mechanisms of repression over which even the ego has no control. It is in this sense that philosophers automatically tend to underestimate the monstrous cruelty of speculative drives of thought and readily forget the spontaneous and inaccessible repressive mechanisms of the living ‘which brood in the dark’ (Freud).

II.

In what is now suspected to be Protrepticus, the young Aristotle presents a seemingly rudimentary but structurally elaborate model for his future metaphysical system of ontology or the science of being qua being. This model is nothing but the feared punishment of the Etruscan pirates whose terror haunts the history of philosophy, a terror far more terrible than the fear of impalement which paralyzed the progression of the Muslim Ottoman hoard throughout Europe. Yet whereas the fear of impalement immobilized the Turkish hoard, the simultaneous physical and metaphysical horror of the Etruscan torture aroused philosophy and became an excuse for it to loiter throughout the recent portion of the history of humankind. The Etruscan torture has been described as chaining the living person to a rotting corpse, face to face and limb to limb until the living person perishes by the decay of the corpse. Only when the living person was blackened by putrefaction, the Etruscan robbers freed the living, now a corpse, from the chains. A metaphysical torture and a model for the intelligible ontology, Aristotle suggests that the relation between the body, the soul (psyche) and the intellect (nous) as the triad of his ontology can be explained as follows: ‘their bodies [those who have fallen into the hands of the Etruscans], the living with the dead, were bound so exactly as possible one against another: so our souls, tied together with our bodies as the living fixed upon the dead.’ (Cicero quoting Aristotle in Hortensius)

The soul qua living (or in Descartesian fashion, the mind) is chained to the body qua dead (instrumental matter). This is both the price and the punishment of serving the nous and bringing the universe back into unison with the intellect (the One, the Ideal, the necessity of qua being). Yet it is not only the living that is chained to the dead but also the dead (the body) is tethered to the living in accordance with the Greco-Roman motif of mirror (Dionysos’s mirror and the Orphic tradition associated with the Etruscan punishment). The dead is chained to the soul (viz. the vital meaning or the intermediary slave of the intellect) as an instrument. That is to say, in the same way that the living is chained to the corpse, the dead is chained to the living so that it can serve the living as an instrument. [3] The living or the soul, in this sense, animates the body qua dead through an instrumental correlation ordered by the nous (or the necessity of being). The necro-animist tyranny of ontology makes sure that the dead can only be captured through an instrumental bond with the living, an instrumental correlation whose purpose is reinscription of the necessity of the living and its givenness. This explains why the horror of the Etruscan torture became a source of motivation and an impetus for philosophy rather than a cause of akinesia and complete paralysis. For the Muslim Ottoman, the impalement threatened the solidity of the religious man from behind, hence the terror of a death through the penetration of religion and masculinity from behind, both of which were of utmost divinity for the Turkish man of the Ottoman era. Yet for the philosopher, the fate of being in the embrace of the dead, being intimate with them and then only finding freedom in decay was a sufficient motivation to completely turn around and distort the system of the Etruscan torture: It is not the body that is tethered to the dead, but it is the soul qua living that is chained to the body qua dead. That is to say, according to Aristotle, it is not the dead that is fastened to the living and sees itself as the animated dead, but it is the living that is tortured by being bound to the dead. The horror of being intimate with the dead can only be sedated by the chains extending to the soul on behalf of a Mezentius-like mad king called ontological necessity or an ontological privilege (the nous, the Ideal, the One, qua being, the vital necessity of the living). Therefore, in order to opiate those who have already fallen into the embrace of the dead – each and every one of us – and are blackening in the process, it is best to bring out chains and shackles so as to fetter us to the soul – Thus speculated the philosopher. To put it differently, if we are already fixed upon the dead, then the philosopher must fasten us upon the soul in an attempt to reduce the horror of perpetual intimacy with the dead into a torment which will only last for a while.

By the virtue of its ethico-philosophical attraction to essential mourning and building upon essential spectrality of hauntology, Meillassoux’s speculative solution in Spectral Dilemma abides by the speculative decision of the philosopher in establishing the reign of chains. But nothing weighs down the speculative vector of philosophy more than philosophy’s own chains. Meillassoux’s essential spectres who deserve a proper or essential mourning are strongly resonant of the poltergeists – ghosts who are identified by the clanking noises they make and which utterly disturb the peace of the mind for any living human who can hear them. As elaborately described by Lutheran pastors and theologists, the poltergeist is a ‘strange spectre’ (Grösseste Denkwürdigkeiten der Welt, E.W. Happel) who has been begotten by a terrible death and its clanking noise can banish one to the realm of madness. The terrible noise originates from the ‘dragging iron chains’ (ibid) to which the spectre is shackled and when it moves, voluntarily or involuntarily, causing a great rumbling noise that disturbs the living. To this extent, poltergeist can be posited as the logical consequence of the philosopher’s decisional ontological solution: Essential spectres or poltergeists are the dead who have now realized that they are chained to the putative living, yet contrary to the promise of the philosopher, the chains are not attached to the soul or anything by which they can be saved. The dead, in this case, is only chained to a specular apparition called the living, and for this reason, his chains are loose, making a terrible noise while burdening him greatly for no apparent reason. In short, the essential spectre or poltergeist is the dead who still insists on its attachment to the living via chains (the noetic enslavement) and demands the reestablishment of its bonds with something as solid as the ground or the necessity of the living. Or contrary to this scenario, the poltergeist refers to the disillusioned dead who has just realized that the chains have never been attached to anything and they are nothing but a temporary apparatus of torment, a painful temporary diversion from the perpetual horror of intimacy with the dead. The latter case suggests that the poltergeist is not seeking the renewal of his enslavement to the living but that he is demanding a freedom from the chains he once believed in and to which he was and is still attached.

In his painstaking study of spectral disturbances in early modern times, Wolfgang Neuber draws a brilliant connection between the reappearance of poltergeists or essential spectres and Lutheran doctrines aimed at overthrowing or undermining catholic theological doctrines. [4] Neuber suggests that the Lutheran resurrection of essential spectres or poltergeists is in line with the militant remobilization of Protestantism against the church and Catholicism. Luther does not really question the essential spectre itself but instead he cunningly takes the spectre as an ‘evident warning’ (Neuber, p. 8) so as to utilize its insinuations to re-enact the doctrine of justification yet abandon sacerdotal Catholic practices such as sacrificial masses and trade of indulgences. This as Neuber suggests gives Luther the opportunity to tweak the theological controversy that if God is responsible for every phenomenon, then he is also responsible for the appearance of evil or pestering spirits and spectres which can plunge the faithful into a mortifying gloom. The existence of spectres and poltergeists, accordingly, is not questioned or refuted. They are instead excommunicated by Lutherans – in a distinctly papal fashion – as demonic games or tricks so that God is exonerated from the accusation of driving its own servants into madness. The Reformist redefinition of disturbing spectres and ghosts as demonic frauds played by the devil does not vanquish or relinquish spectres, insofar as it merely attributes them to a higher order of terror in order to strengthen the position of the One qua the necessity of life and the guarantor principle of the living. Just as Luther does not question Christianity but rather reforms it on the vital ruins of Catholicism, he reforms the spectral order on the ghostly ruins by relocating it to the order of the demonic (of the devil). This relocation or redefinition escalates the disturbing tension of the spectral and its terror, since the problem of the spectre cannot be tackled in its own terms any longer, whilst now it also belongs to a higher order of terror i.e. the demonic. In addition, since the existence of the spectral has not been questioned, the incorporeality of the spectre and the materiality of the demonic produce a deranged mixture that only adds to the confusion and terror of the ghostly and the spectral. Meanwhile, in contrast to the Lutheran theologist who in the manner of a stoic philosopher can ignore the the ghost qua demonic through the act of faith or ‘farting in the face of devil’ (Luther), normal people were rendered completely unarmed against poltergeists and their new order of terror. [5]

In the manner of a Lutheran pastor, Meillassoux does not question the instrumental spectrality of essential spectres either but reinforces and protects it by correlating the essential spectres to the (dis-)order of hyper-chaos. The priority of the living, its ontological privilege and the instrumental definition of the dead – subsumed within ‘essential spectres’ and ‘essential mourning’ – are reaffirmed by Meillassoux in his attempt to wed the essential spectrality with the divine inexistence. The latter is implicated in hyper-chaos where necessity of contingency generates an unrepleteable rupture between laws of nature and the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It is the incommensurable marriage between the instrumental spectrality and absolute contingency that produces a great tension at the core of Meillassoux’s philosophy, threatening to implode its speculative core from within. This is because on the one hand, this great tension intensifies the ontological instrumentality of essential spectrality by leaving it unharmed and on the other hand, it induces the ontological privilege implicated in essential mourning to the absolute contingency. Yet we know that the latter cannot accord with the former, for it brings forth something akin to a Lutheran mixture of neo-moralist terror where the incorporeality (of the spectre) is conjoined with the materiality of demonic and its higher order of terror. In the same vein, the presupposed ontological privilege, instrumentality and noetic enslavement hidden in essential spectres return under a new rubric of terror, more powerful and more elusive than ever. Just as the Protestant poltergeist returns with a perplexing terror and begins to haunt the people of reformation (the Universal Priesthood) on the ruins of Catholicism, the noetic enslavement of the dead who is still chained to the illusive apparition of the ontological necessity (the spectre) is reestablished under a new heading in Meillassoux’s Spectral Dilemma.

As it was argued, the weight of the ontological privilege – implicated in essential mourning and its instrumental bond to the living – heavily slows downs and trammels the speculative drive in Meillassoux’s philosophy. This is not, however, the only danger that flaws Spectral Dilemma, for it also retards the speculative drive by a system of judicious knowledge which reinscribes the omniscient God under the heading of the hyper-chaos. As in the case of Luther who fails to properly address the problem of judgement when encountered with poltergeists, Meillassoux’s spectral dilemma falls short in questioning the judicious knowledge when it is confronted with essential spectres. Therefore, rather than interrogating the problem of judgement (knowledge) in spectrality, Meillassoux’s spectral dilemma accepts it as something given and not necessary to be questioned. In Spectral Dilemma, Meillassoux maintains that essential spectres are ‘those of terrible deaths’, ‘deaths which cannot be come to terms with either by those whom they befall, or those who survive them’. Accordingly, essential spectres are those who have fallen in cruel deaths, not deaths in cruel conditions but deaths whose terms cannot be resolved by either the living or the dead. Hence the cruelty of these deaths lies in unjustness of those terms which cannot resolve them, that is to say, terms which fail to justly address these deaths, namely of atheism and religion. But the question which arises here is according to which criteria of knowledge can we distinguish cruel or terrible deaths from non-cruel and non-terrible deaths so as to define essential spectres from the ordinary dead? Of course, if the latter category exists.

In religion, since God is aware of the conditions and the terms of death, cruelty of one death can be determined against another. God can either directly cause the emergence of a spectre based on the determination that its death has been cruel (as in the case of vengeful ghosts in Catholicism) or conversely, God can determine the righteous and salvation of a person, hence saving him and his soul from the devil’s manipulations (as in the case of Lutheran poltergeists). In both cases, it is the omniscience of God as the one who can determine the terms of and around death that is able to directly or indirectly cause an essential spectre. In Spectral Dilemma, however, it seems that any death can be a terrible death and the terms of every death are potentially cruel as long as they are trapped within the dichotomy of atheism and religion. It is true that this definition of terrible or cruel death as the requirement for appearance of essential spectres breaks away from God’s know-how omniscience, but it instead returns to a more fundamental aspect of God’s omniscience. This aspect of the divine’s omniscience that in Spectral Dilemma Meillassoux cannot escape from is the propositional knowledge of God according to which terribleness or base-cruelty is only found in death and in its terms. Among all species of knowledge, propositional knowledge (know that) is the most fundamental aspect of God’s omniscience. Whereas Meillassoux circumvents the easy obstacle of God’s know-how by stating that any death can be terrible or every death can be potentially a cruel death, he does not break free from the propositional knowledge or the fundamental aspect of God’s omniscience. This is because Spectral Dilemma does not question why cruelty or terribleness in terms of death should be taken as the focal point for the implementation of justice. Here essential or proper mourning represents the implementation of justice. To put it differently, Meillassoux abides by this presupposition that the starting point of a speculative justice should be focused on ‘those of terrible deaths’ based on this implicit presumption that the ultimate irresolvable manifests of cruelty or terrible-ness appear in one’s death (whether the actual death or in its terms) rather than life.

The assumption that the terrible irresolvability (viz. cruelty) which should be taken as a locus for the beginning of justice only happens in one’s death and according to terms of that death strongly conforms to the fundamental aspect of the omniscient God i.e. God’s propositional knowledge. It is a godly decision – i.e. in accordance with God’s omniscience – to first determine the locus of cruelty and then implement a complete system of justice in and after one’s death. If God only enacts his complete system of justice after death, it is because he propositionally knows that death is the completion of one’s life (teleological decision) and must be encompassed and set as an outset for the complete unravelling of his system of justice. Likewise, Meillassoux adheres to the propositional aspect of the omniscient God in that he decisionally and unilaterally presents one’s death in contrast to its former life as the locus of justice. This contrast and opposition is manifested in essential spectres from which the survivors can ostensibly be distinguished. This brings us back to this fundamental question, ‘why should cruelty be distinguished by the ontological difference between one’s life and one’s death?’ Because, after all, the ontological difference between life and death which essential spectres or poltergeists miss, envy or cannot come to terms with is an instrumental correlation between the dead and the living’s ontological privilege. The necessity of this ontological difference as the marker of cruelty or a signpost for the beginning of justice is fully abolished by the absolute contingency which is posited not only in future but also anterior to the emergence of life. That is to say, since the anteriority of absolute contingency renders us already dead, then cruelty or terrible-ness cannot be decisively found in one’s actual death or terms of death, because they have already been here. The omnipresent cruelty of life is not the result of the reversal of values or propositional knowledge which privileges life over death or makes life more significant than death; it is rather the immanent outcome of the collapse of life’s ontological necessity and the problematization of its determination qua difference-in-itself.

III.

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This part of optics, which is called catoptrics, teaches to make a mirror, which does not retain the images of objects, but reflects them in the air. Witelo has written about its composition […] Thus, should one prohibit cunning women to fool the eyes of men with this mirror, by making them believe they see ghosts raised from death, while they see the image of some hidden child or statue in the air outside the mirror? Because what is most certain is that, if a cylindrical mirror is placed inside a room closed from all sides, and if a mask, or a statue, or whatever else, is placed outside this room, so that there is a fissure in the window or in the door of this room, through which the rays from the mask penetrate [into the room] to the mirror, then the image of the mask, placed outside the room, will be observed inside the room hanging in the air, and, since the reflections from these mirrors are highly deformed and show a misshapen image of a beautiful thing, how hideous and terrible will the image seem of a mask prepared to arouse horror and consternation. (Jean Pena, from the introduction to De usu optices, the emphases are mine)

It has been suggested that the outbreak of the poltergeist epidemic in the sixteenth century was concomitant with the development of optics especially experiments with mirrors through perspectivist concepts and late scholastic analytical geometry. The philosophers now had the opportunity to put their visions (in regard to cosmos) to the test through optical techniques not practiced before. Yet the philosophical approaches of the majority of these philosophers and polymaths who were enthralled by the development of optics and new scientific visions were still bound to the dominant scholastic philosophical decisions of the Middle Ages. Consequently, their fascination and support for the burgeoning science were in many cases in line with their philosophical goals – that is scientifically projecting their still scholastically influenced philosophies into an ever expanding universe and in turn, anticipating the universal reflection of their philosophical projects as a specular alibi brought about by the science of the time. For the late scholastic and early Renaissance philosophers, the possibility of this specular alibi that could testify to the universality of their philosophical decisions had been brought about by optics as a new science of vision. However, this complicity with the scientific reflection (image) was significantly subjected to the imperfections of the perspectivist optics and the flaws in early optical models as well as the technological or methodical peculiarities of the time. As the result, the so-called scientific reflections of these philosophical projects (viz. specular alibis) were usually modally disproportionate to their original form and even in some cases, incompatible or inconsistent to their original philosophical hypotheses conceived prior to the scientific projection / reflection. This distortion of scientific reflections of scholastic philosophical projects was one of the major impetuses behind the rise of the pseudo-scientific branch known as ‘natural magic’ along with philosophy and science (Giovanni Battista Della Porta, John Dee, Athanasius Kircher, et al.)

Otherworldly apparitions such as poltergeists (rumpelgeist), wraiths and lemures where meticulously incorporated and categorized under the heading of (philo-)pseudoscientific Natural Magic. These apparitions were not only representing the distortion of the scientific reflections / images brought about by the complicity between scholastic philosophy and science, but also they themselves were the misshapen specular alibis of scholastic philosophy and theological doctrines generated by the application of heavily decisional systems into science. The radically treacherous nature of the latter is present even when it is restrained by analytical inadequacies and methodological flaws. In the wake of the spectre as a misshapen scientific witness for the scholastic marriage between ontology and theology, one can also ask if Meillassoux’s essential spectres and the theory of spectral dilemma are distorted illusionist apparitions generated by the application of implicit ontological privileges and the living’s noetic enslavement to the blackening ethos of contemporary science. The astrophysical unbinding of the image of the cosmos as a dark, contingent and catastrophically expanding universe which will eventually stop to support conditions for materialization gives a misshapen reflection of us qua the putative living. The discrepancy between such a cosmos and ontological necessity or a philosophy that still – even implicitly – insists on the determination of the dead against the living or vice versa produces a misshapen image of us wherein we are all potentially spectres. That is to say, we are instrumentally and neurotically living dead rather than already dead (i.e. freed from the chains of ontological necessity, noetic enslavement and the burden of any privilege that ontology brings with itself).

Notes

[1] This is a preliminary sketch of three interconnected charges which appear on this blog before being published elsewhere.

[2] These consequences or implications should not be confused with the possibility of having a political vector of (belonging to) speculative realism.

[3] On the instrumental definition of the body in Aristotle’s philosophy see, Abraham P. Bos, The Soul and its Instrumental Body: A Reinterpretation of Aristotle’s Philosophy of Living Nature (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003).

[4] See Wolfgang Neuber, ‘Poltergeist the Prequel: Aspects of Otherworldly Disturbances in Early Modern Times,’ in Spirits Unseen: The Representation of Subtle Bodies in Early Modern European Culture, eds. C. Gottler and W. Neuber (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008).

[5] Gillian Bennett draws a connection between Reformist redefinition of ghosts as a higher order of terror and the rise of witch hunting. See Gillian Bennett, ‘Ghost and Witch in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’ in Folklore vol. 97, no. 1 (Taylor and Francis, 1986).

21 Apr 2009

The American magazine The Fifth Estate has published a short and kind review on Cyclonopedia by the anarcho-theorist Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) who has described the book as ‘partly genius, partly quite mad’, whilst concluding his review: ‘To sum up: a weirdly compelling read.’

Also for other readers who have not seen this already. It is an introduction to an early draft of Cyclonopedia (circa 2004) written by Nick Land. The introduction was not included in the final publication for a few reasons, one of them was to leave the book without a seat belt, making the dive more vertiginous.

There will be more discussions on the technical / philosophical aspects of the book in the next issue of Collapse. However, a few remarks before then:

In his review, Peter Lamborn Wilson has expressed doubt as whether the book is a treatise on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the Nomadic War Machine or not. Since some other readers have also questioned this, it will be probably more helpful to say that the book develops a geophilosophical reinscription of energetic models of psychology, a conjectural philosophical line with monstrous interpolated singularities: Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, Sabina Spielrein, Sandor Ferenczi and then culminating in Freud’s dazzling energetic model of the unconscious and nervous system and then to Reich and so on. It is in giving the energetic models of the psyche a geophilosophical twist that Cyclonopedia departs from Deleuze-Guattarian geophilosophy and consequently speculates on a different model of the war machine, earth, Capitalism, monotheism, the human and the cosmic.

Also as an additional note, Ben Woodard and Michael Austin have written two very intriguing posts in reply to ‘memento tabere’, one on the dark vitalist connotations of decay or what Robin called ‘pestilential vitalism’ in his note on the 2007 Goldsmiths event on the politics and architecture of decay, and the other piece a stimulating spectral challenge to the politics of decay (more discussions will follow soon!).

31 Mar 2009

Please join us on 19 April from 2pm – 8pm for “playing practice” – a curatorial, collaborative event at Urbanomic Studio in Falmouth and online at the Department of Reading wiki and Skype .
playing practice
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Start 2pm (BST) – finish 8pm (BST)
Skype (contact: soenkeha or magdalenatc)
www.reading.department.cc
Urbanomic Studio,
The Old Lemonade Factory,
Off Windsor Terrace,
Falmouth TR11 3EX
Cornwall, UK
numap1.jpg

“playing practice” suggests a space where text becomes a matter of playing and playing a practice that allows for reading and writing to coincide. Sharing textual fragments as tools and toys, this collaborative session takes place at the Urbanomic Studio, Falmouth, and online with the use of Department of Reading wiki, Skype and Department of Reading internet system (DoRis). By proposing simple frameworks and rules with which to start this session, playing itself becomes a space of encounter, experimentation and intervention that you can join or leave at any time.
Of course, we can’t tell you how to play, since the aim of this session is to see what kind of play comes out of the activity. We wish, however, to suggest some introductory rules as the basis from which to start:

  • Bring your own toys, that is bring in quotations and excerpts on the subject of playing.
  • Share your toys by pasting your quotations to the Wiki of the Department of Reading. We will provide further instructions during the session.

We will also host an “offline” version of “playing practice” in the Urbanomic Studio. There will be repository of quotations to which you are welcome to add your own textual toys. We will use tools such as blue tack, magnets, papers, pens and scissors to create and display a physical version of the play.
To participate in the session join us on April 19 at the Department of Reading and on Skype, and/or at Urbanomic Studio, Falmouth, UK (bring your laptop, textual toys-printed out or digital, and whatever else you think you might need to play). See map for directions.
“playing practice” is part of the ongoing collaborative practice-led research project Virtual Networks Social Fabrics, initiated by Magda Tyzlik-Carver (New Models of Curating? at iRes) with Sönke Hallmann (Department of Reading) and Scott Rigby (Basekamp/Plausible Artworlds). The aim of this project is to consider models in which to share the knowledge and research gathered as a result of each of the projects: Plausible Artworlds, Department of Reading and New Models of Curating? as well as through the meetings in which these three projects come together.

28 Mar 2009

The edition of Collapse IV: Concept Horror is now sold out.
So as to ensure the continued availability of this volume for those unlucky enough to miss the print edition, we plan to publish an open-access electronic version of the volume in the near future.

28 Mar 2009

Cover_eMEGO094_higres.jpg
Due for release mid-April, the new CD by Florian Hecker (See Collapse III), Acid in the Style of David Tudor features an essay-length sleevenote, ‘Climate of Bass Hunter’ by Collapse editor Robin Mackay.
See Editions Mego for more details.

21 Mar 2009

Motivated by a few current projects as well as some recent inspiring outputs from Nicola and Alex on the concept of decay and putrefaction, I was thinking about one of the main problems inherent to any politics or philosophy of decay. It is the problem of Time, or more precisely, the role of time in any politics or philosophy concerning the process or concept of decay as the calculus of its structure. What is the relation of decay or putrefaction to time? Is decay a narrative conception of time’s indifference to ontic differences or is it the experience of time as presence which in a Heideggerian fashion turns death into an infinitely deferred occurrence through Dasien‘s already-dying? What is exactly the role of time in decay, does this role reinscribe the correlationist appropriation of time through experience and presence or does it amount to an idealism which favors and privileges time over space? These are undoubtedly questions whose answers decide the very definition of decay. The understanding of time and its role in the process of decay is so pivotal that it can lead to different conceptions of decay. Decay as a romanticized concept, decay as a necrocratic fetish, decay as a differential form of emptiness, decay as an umwege (maze) toward base-matter and decay as an ontological fate are all decided by different understandings of time by itself and in regard to space.

My view on the role of time in decay is based on the idea of complicity between time and space. Through such complicity, the diachronicity of time and the exteriority of space are expressed by each other: While space is perforated by time’s emptiness or fundamental indifference, time’s contingency is formally and materially expressed by space’s unbound ferocity for assimilation (which according to Caillois is intrinsic to thanatropism that dissolves the ground of individuation). This is what distinguishes decay as an unwholesome participation between the most abominable of time (non-belonging and pure contingency) and the most degenerate of space (space’s tendency for infinite involutions which undermine any potential ground for the emergence of discrete entities). It is the complicity between the worst nightmares of space and time that brings about the possibility of putrefaction (even an infinite decay) as a differential form of irresolvable emptiness disguised as ideal objectivity with a generative twist. [1] (Think of Bosch’s hollow treeman, the Menger sponge, Nietzsche’s sponge, Bataille’s labyrinth, Deleuze and Guattari’s holey space and Parsani’s ( )hole complex!)

a hollow tree from hell

But what kind of complicity are we talking about? If time belongs to no one and is in absolute indifference to ontic differences (Ben Noys’s Azathothic materialism), then how can its worst nightmares participate with space? And even if despite such irresolvable incommensurability, time and space can indeed participate with each other, then how can this participation be conceived outside of the correlationist ambit?

Perhaps one hypothetical solution – merely presentable as a basis for further speculations – would entail the conception of at least two different times, one of which can bridge the exteriority or diachronicity of the absolute time to the exteriority of space. This intermediating time should be interconnected to the other conception of time (i.e. time as an absolute time which belongs to nothing and no one) as a manifest of the latter’s pure contingency. In other words, the intermediating conception of time should itself be a production of the absolute time’s pure contingency which suspends all natural laws, obstructs the operation of belonging and nullifies ontic differences. To put it differently, the second conception of time which intermediates between the diachronicity of the absolute time and the exteriority of space should itself be a symptomatic production of the absolute time’s pure contingency. Accordingly, the intermediating time does not suggest a dichotomous scission in time but a temporal and contingent conception of its absolute form. Only the vital temporality of this intermediating time can bring about the possibility of ontic difference in relation to appropriated regions (scales) of space, or the ground. The synthesis between time and space – necessary to support the ontic difference – requires the bifurcation of Time into two different but interconnected conceptions. Without such bifurication, absolute time and thanatropic space remain inherently unassociated and exterior to each other and cannot ground the conditions for the emergence of the ontic difference on any level. Perhaps, for the first time, the stoics realized the necessity of having different conceptions or readings of time in order to explain the vital syntheses of time and space. For similar reasons, Deleuze adapts and ingeniously tweaks the stoic model and comes up with two conceptions of time, the time of Aeon and the time of Chronos. The indefinite non-pulsed time of Aeon is inherently closed to the vital bodies; so there should be another conception or reading of time which can synthesize with the scales of space and support vital vibrations. The pulse time of chronos is this second conception of time which supports organic vitalities and provides Time with qualities which are compatible with the structure of corporeal beings.

If decay is the synthesis between the worst of time (non-belonging and contingency) and the worst of space (infinite involutions and ungrounding), then we try to explain the nature of this inherently incommensurable synthesis by a conjectural solution. As mentioned above, this solution requires the bifurcation of Time into (‘at least’) two different but interconnected times. After Deleuze but in contrast to his quasi-Heideggerian readings of time, these two conceptions are as follows:

1. The ungraspable and cosmic time which belongs to nothing and no one. It is the absolute time of pure contingencies which suspends all laws and eliminates all necessities.

2. The temporal conception of time which is time insofar as we experience it and therefore is characterized by ‘the access’ to its presence rather than its quiddity per se. But even more importantly the temporal conception of time supports the temporality of beings (our temporality) by providing the conditions for their emergence. These conditions are nothing but the contingencies of the cosmic and absolute time. The temporal conception of time brackets and foregrounds the contingencies of the absolute time in the form of conditions for the emergence of life (or the subject of temporality). Therefore, the temporal conception of time is an interiorized or bounded form of the absolute time, a ‘temporal set’ wherein contingencies are taken as conditions for the emergence and the continuation of existence (here continuation suggests the temporality of life). In other words, temporal time sets the contingencies of the absolute time as the ground for the determination of difference and ontic emergence through bracketing and interiorizing of pure contingencies. We call this temporal conception of time, the vital time or the time of determinations and productions. Constitutive to the ground of life, the vital time is accentuated in the organic realm through the compatibility of its interiorized and sequential structure with the sequential growth or the rhythmic difference of the organic interiority.

The vital time – the intermediary conception of time – emerges from the cosmic time of pure contingencies as ‘an interiorized set of contingencies’. As a temporal Set, the vital time interiorizes its elements which are contingencies. Since the function of this set is interiorization, it can intensively determine contingencies of the absolute time as conditions for the emergence of life, or necessities for ‘making of a difference’. In the process of interiorizing contingencies and realizing them as conditions, the vital time appropriates the exteriority of the cosmic time and turns it into an interiorized conception of time accessible by life and its manifests. Yet the cosmic time of non-belonging and pure contingencies can never be fully appropriated or assimilated (interiorized) by the vital time and its temporal conception. Why? Because the vital time is itself contingent upon the cosmic time as a temporal condition for the interiorization and bracketing of the absolute time’s contingencies and their realization as the necessary conditions required for the emergence of life. This means that since the vital time is itself a temporal condition qua contingency of the cosmic time, it cannot fully interiorize the exteriority of the absolute time qua pure contingencies. The vital time suggests only one contingency among pure contingencies of the absolute time; its fundamental functions are simultaneously supported and derailed by other contingencies. For this reason, the contingencies of the cosmic time are never fully reintegrated within the manifestations of life (viz. realized horizons of interiority) which are conditioned by the vital time. To put it differently, the vital time can be interiorized by beings as the necessary condition for their emergence because it is itself an interiorized conception of the cosmic time’s pure contingency.

Now, if the cosmic time can never be fully appropriated by and within the vital time, then the horizons of interiority inherent to manifests of life or ontic differences cannot assimilate and appropriate the contingencies of the cosmic time either. Consequently, the interiority of life is a host or a niche for the inassimilable contingencies of the cosmic time – contingencies that never completely turned into temporal conditions within the vital time. In conditioning the emergence of life, the vital time introduces nightmares of the cosmic time into the phenomena of life. The horizon of interiority inherent to the manifests of life becomes a chamber for the pure contingencies and non-belonging of the cosmic time. The cosmic time is deployed inside the vital time and correspondingly, inside the life or being that is conditioned by the vital time. This remobilization of the cosmic time’s exteriority and redeployment of its contingencies within the vital time and manifests of life posits a third conception of time. That is the conception of the cosmic time as an Insider; it is the Insider conception of the cosmic time that internalizes the incommensurability of time’s diachronicity with the exteriority of space within the manifests of life. The conception of the cosmic time as the Insider redefines the intermediary conception of the vital time as a ‘temporal agent’ which smuggles the contingencies and non-belonging of the cosmic time to life’s horizons of interiority. In other words, the Insider conception of the exterior (cosmic) time interiorizes the incommensurable tensions between cosmic contingencies within life and its manifests.

In the wake of the Insider conception of time, the termination of life does not exclusively mark the temporality of life qua its contingency because the very interiority of life (its difference and internal vitality) can unfold as the abyssal infinity of material and ontological contingencies. This unfolding of the cosmic time’s pure contingency through life and by life is expressed by decay as a dysteleologic process. In this sense, life is the medium for the incommensurable tensions between the contingencies of the cosmic time. And decay is the expression of these incommensurable tensions or contingencies along the infinite involutions of space – a complicity between time’s subtractive enmity to belonging and the enthusiasm of the space for dissolution of any ground for individuation, a participation between the cosmic time’s pure contingency and the infinite involutions of space from whose traps nothing can escape.

The process of putrefaction or decay accentuates the compulsion to return toward pure contingencies of the cosmic time through the third conception of time (i.e. the cosmic time as the Insider time). This ‘compulsion to return’ which is instigated by the Insider conception of time becomes a source of tension between the principles of the cosmic time (i.e. contingency and non-belonging) and temporal conditions or necessities of the vital time. These contingent and subtractive tensions are narrated by the degenerate qualities of space through the process of decay. [2] We can say that in decay space is perforated by time: Although time hollows out space, it is space that gives time a twist that abnegates the privilege of time over space and expresses the irrepressible contingencies of the absolute time through material and formal means.

Notes

[1] This generative twist is depicted by the medieval concept of the Tree of Rot: a “deformly deformly deformed” (Nicole Oresme) tree trunk which spews forth a cosmic range of both familiar and nameless creatures as a differential extension of its arborescent emptiness.

[2] Through this reciprocal synthesis between the dissolving thanatropism of space and pure contingency of time, these tensions are registered, or more accurately, expressed as discontinuities – perforations, fissures, cracks. The more the being insists on its horizon of interiority or the more the organic entity endures in and by means of the vital time, the more it is exposed to the tensive effects of the incommensurability between time’s contingencies which are expressed by involutions of space. In short, the more the living endures, the more it is perforated and riddled by discontinuities. It is only in decay that discontinuity is formally expressed and materially mobilized by the objectal continuity in the form of a structure overridden by fissures and holes which are held together by the object’s former self.

28 Feb 2009

Readers of Martin Schönfeld’s new translation of Kant’s ‘On Creation in the Infinite Extent of its Infinity in Both Space and Time’ in Collapse V will have spotted an editorial mistake that crops up in the very first paragraph: namely, that the second and third sentences of the text are two slightly different translations of the same sentence of the original. The first of these is Schönfeld’s own translation; the second is from Ian Johnston’s translation. The latter somehow found its way into the text after it was cited in editorial correspondence by way of suggesting that Einbildungskraft be rendered as ‘power of imagination’ (rather than ‘imagination’) and that Verstehen be rendered as ‘the understanding’ (rather than ‘the mind’). While the latter substitution was made, unfortunately the Johnston translation was also accidentally inserted, and we failed to catch this in the final proofs. We would like to extend our apologies to both Martin Schönfeld and our readers for this blunder. (The only other mistake the editors have come across is that the italics are missing on the first page of Martin Schönfeld’s own paper: apologies again, Martin!)

20 Feb 2009

Sphaleotas was shocked to read hurtful and wholly groundless insinuations of anti-Semitism levelled against a respected philosopher by a prominent television celebrity.
And yet, guided by the insight of thinkers as diverse as Pythagoras and Nietzsche, Chrysippus of Soli and Heraclitus of Ephesus, Gautama Buddha and Jules Henri Poincaré, is there not consolation to be had in the fact that, in a sense, we’ve all been here before?