Hauntology, or a shady vitalism
28 Oct 2008

Lately, I have been following this excellent blog. I especially recommend the new posts on xenoeconomic and anti-haunt. For now, a few perfunctory remarks on the haunt since this blog has posted a few related texts in the past. This is also a provisional response to this call. And finally it includes some thoughts on Meillassoux’s essay in Collapse IV, Spectral Dilemma. There is no need to say that this is far from complete or even satisfactory because its mere purpose is to stir some thoughts.

It seems that the problem of hauntology is inherent to any ontological system built on the primacy of intelligibility of being, persistence (continuation of being as such) and above all the possibility of determination of being in terms of being and only being. The influence of the specter over the living (the haunt) and the supposedly necessary negative binding of the specter by the living (mourning) suggest a process of negative binding of belonging qua dead whereby the living / being can determine itself and correlate itself to an ideality of some sort (the intelligibility, the possibility of determination of being qua being, the One, vitalism, etc.) To put it differently, only by binding the dead as a negative agency can the living establish its myth of inherent persistence, intelligibility and difference or determination as such. As argued in Collapse IV (The Corpse Bride) and else where, the binding of belonging qua dead, or more accurately, the influence of the haunting specter is necessary in order to transform the nomos of the dead into the nous of the living. The haunt demarcates the extensive or outward bond between the living and the dead. We know that such a bond extending outwardly from the living to the dead and from the dead back to the living suggests a contingent realm since it is established outside of the (supposed) ideal necessity of the living. We also know that ‘determination of being as such’ must unilateralize its distinction (or living as a difference in itself) both intensively and extensively, in regard to itself as an ideal possibility (qua being) and in regard to the undetermined qua the realm of the dead. It is the necessity of the latter (i.e. the determination of being against the undetermined or that which does not belong to the living) that makes hauntology inherent to the possibility of determination of being as such. In other words, determination of being / the living can only ground its ideal status by instrumentalizing the contingent bond with belonging qua dead. This instrumental binding of the dead (explicated by Aristotle for the first time) is comprised of the two fundamental aspects of hauntology:

First, it is the haunt or the negative binding of contingency. It imports the dead as a belonging or negative agency capable of supporting the intensive determination of the living (living as a difference in itself) independent of the contingent outside or the realm of the dead. To put it succinctly, contingency of the outside is bound negatively so as to support the positive necessity of the living according to its own terms i.e. determination of the living as such. The haunt allows the contingent indeterminate (or the dead) to return to and influence the living only as a negative or subtractive support. Why? Because this machinery of subtraction is capable of conserving an inner part in the form of an ideal necessity (being qua being) by instrumentalizing the negation or subtraction of belonging. In fact, whenever negation or subtractive employment of non-belonging (i.e. the universal principle of negativity) is factored in as an extensive (outward) vector, it can be indexed by an ideal necessity from within (i.e. intensive grounding of a precarious ideal). In ontological systems, this ideal is usually vitalism, difference in itself, the One or the nous. [1]

The second elemental aspect of hauntology is mourning. Mourning correlates the implicit affirmation of the possibility of ‘the living as a difference in itself’ with the explicit ‘declaration of the haunt as a negative agency’. This correlation is at the same time a utilitarian bond between the living and the dead and a pre-established correlation as in correlationism (Meillassoux). As a utilitarian bond between the dead and the living, the act of mourning puts the dead into the service of the living so as to get rid of the vengeful dead (subtracting belonging qua dead) and rescue the intensive determination of the living. The rescuing mission of mourning makes the living independent of the dead (i.e. it supports the unilateral distinction of being as an ontological necessity). The utilitarian bond that mourning establishes subtracts the dead only to conserve an inner part or a remainder qua living. On the other hand, mourning is posited on a supposedly inherent interrelation between the living and the dead wherein neither the dead nor the living can act or be faced independently. That means the dead and the living are always taken as a wedded couple for which the determination of one always rests upon the givenness of the other. Mourning emphatically reinscribes the givenness of correlation (between the living and the dead, the contingent outside qua undetermined and the determinable necessity of being / the living). What is mourned is not the specter of the lingering dead but the correlation of the living with the dead constructed on the presumption that the contingency of the outside or the indeterminable realm of the dead can be accessed by the living. Mourning is the correlationism between a self-posited ontological necessity (the living) and the contingency of the outside (the world of the dead as that which does not belong to the living), between X and not-X. For this reason, I think Quentin Meillassoux’s speculative solution to the “spectral dilemma” of atheism and religion which proposes an “essential mourning” (in accordance with the thesis of divine inexistence) is heavily reliant on a twisted form of correlationism. This of course, by no means, can serve as evidence that Meillassoux’s ethico-political move in Spectral Dilemma is doomed to fall into the trap of correlationism. It rather attests to the vulnerability of hauntology and its innately non-speculative solutions restrained by the correlationist nature of the haunt and mourning.

Hanutology, to this extent, firstly adheres to a shady vitalism in which the binding of the dead and its influence as a negative agency implicitly contributes to the intensive determination of being qua ideal (i.e. being in terms of itself or the intelligible). Hauntology, at least subtractively, supports the possibility of determination of being as such (the living as a difference in itself). The problem is not only that for hauntology, the living or ontological necessity as an Ideal is always given but that vitalism of the living can also employ hauntological solutions or the politics of the haunt to negatively underpin its so-called intensive necessity, proving itself to be alive. Ironically, hauntology is the speculative solution of vitalism for withstanding the absolute contingency of the void qua non-belonging. Through hauntology, vitalism is able to establish an instrumental affect with belonging qua dead. The haunt (or the traumatic influence of the dead over the living) is an inevitable consequence of such an instrumental affect determined by the vitalistic ideal. If hauntology is so decisive in determination of vitalism, then no wonder why hauntology offers speculative means of survival to the more resilient forms of capitalism hidden behind shady doctrines of vitalism.

In addition to its clandestine alliance with vitalism, hauntology is essentially constructed on a correlationist assumption that there is a given interrelation between the dead and the living, the contingency of the outside and the ontological necessity subsumed with being or the living. By means of such correlation, the dead and the living can affect each other, access each other’s realms so that the nomos of the dead be utilized on behalf of the nous of the living. The resolving capacity of mourning in rescuing the living from the haunting memory of the dead (as proposed by Meillassoux) is precisely the result of the correlationist nature of mourning which can capture the dead and the living in regard to each other.

Now that hauntology seems to be a surreptitious enforcer of vitalism and an acolyte of correlationism, then how can we rescue Meillassoux’s speculative solution in Spectral Dilemma?

One possible solution requires a sabotage against determination of being as such (difference in itself subsumed within being or the living). This solution can force the vitalistic implications of hauntology to shatter in a way that the correlationist foundation of hauntology begins to falter. Such solution entails a resurgence of the void within the ontological principle as a constitutional primacy. In my contribution to Collapse IV, I argued that in order for being to establish an intensive zone of determination for itself, first of all, it must affirm the primacy of the void qua the principle of non-belonging. Without such intensive determination, the living cannot distinguish itself against the dead and won’t be able to secure an ideal ontological necessity for its positioning. Yet securing such an intensive zone for the effectuation of being qua being (being in remaining in terms of being and only being) is not possible without affirming the void in its simultaneous primacy and exteriority. This means that the explicit determination of being as such (the vitalistic doctrine of the living as a difference in itself) is implicitly determined by the void (or the principle of non-belonging). It is the necessary intervention of the void that makes the living possible but only at the cost of becoming already-dead. The internalization of the void or the principle of non-belonging is required to shed belongings so as to reclaim the living by and according to itself. This necessity precedes the ontological necessity of the living. The necessity of void’s intervention renders the living already-dead, for the living (X) is not extensively determined by that which does not belong to it (not-X) but by the very principle of non-belonging that allows such negation, that is to say, the void as that for which mobilization of belonging in any form is impossible. It is this direct encounter with the radical exteriority of the void (radical since such exteriority belongs to no one) that continues the legacy of the already-dead under the heading of the living. The already-dead suggests a twist from a vitalist correlation between the living and its ideal necessity toward a problematic intimacy between the living and the void. The intimacy with the void guarantees the establishment of an intensive zone required for hosting the ideal necessity of the living. This is another way to say, that the intimacy with the void is prerequisite for the vitalistic correlation between the living and its ideal necessity and that the latter is problematically founded on internalization of the void. Accordingly, in conforming to its vitalistic intention, determination of being as such twists back to its problematic intimacy with the void qua the principle of non-belonging. Therefore, a solution for saving Meillassoux’s spectral thesis can be found in problematizing the intensive correlation between the living and its given ontological necessity by factoring in the internal intimacy of the living with the void. This means that the living is the condition of a new problem – that is the living as already-dead. Such problematization of the living nullifies the hauntological correlation between the dead and the living by supplanting the latter with the already-dead. Only once the living is counted or exposed as already-dead can the correlation between the dead and the living be dispossessed of its instrumental capacity. The nature of such correlation we argued implicitly contributes to the vitalism of the living and the givenness of its ontological status (the Ideal).

The living qua already-dead is a problematic agency since its correlation with its ideal necessity (being qua being, the intellect or intensive vitalism) only demonstrates the twist inherent to the intimacy with the void as a principle necessity. It is by bringing about the speculative possibilities of the living as already-dead or unbinding the twisted intimacy of the living with the void that hauntology can be twisted into a non-correlationist and anti-vitalist solution or genre. In hauntology, the given correlation between the living and the dead turns the nomos of the dead to the nous of the living; for capitalism, however, it is the contingency of the outside that is subtractively transformed to the intensive necessity of capitalism so as to both extend capitalism to an afforded outside and affirm the existence of capitalism as a necessity. Yet by twisting the intensive correlation of the living with its ideal necessity toward a problematic intimacy with the void and explicating the living under the heading of the already-dead, it is possible to truly foray into the realm of the speculative.

To conclude: The unraveling of the problem of determination of being as such (posed by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition and to some extent in The Logic of Sense) can only gain a true speculative capacity once we factor in the implicit determination of being by the principle of non-belonging qua the void. This speculative move can be recapitulated as ex-plicating the living as the already-dead. Faced with the already-dead, hauntology cannot pit the dead against the living in a vitalistic fashion anymore. Since from this point, the dead and the living (qua already-dead) only bespeak of different modes in mobilizing or employing the principle of non-belonging, that is to say, they only suggest two instances of intimacy with the void as a non-ideatable exteriority.

It was digressively discussed on this blog, that the already-dead is not hauntological but weird. The contact between the dead and the already-dead does not belong to the spectral affects of hauntology but to the speculative territories of the weird. This can be exemplified in the incommensurability between the ghost stories of M.R. James and the fiction of Thomas Ligotti, or between the seemingly sinister hauntology of The Ring and the already-dead universe of The Carnival of Souls where the weird is ensued by pitting the dead against the already-dead. So in order to bring Meillassoux’s thesis back to the speculative track, first his hauntological solution must be rigorously reformulated with a non-vitalistic determination of the living and outside of a correlationist framework. This can constitute tweaking Meillassoux’s mourning solution which is inevitably hauntological and consequently built on an extraneously ideal situation (the possibility of determination of living) with Brassier à la Ligotti’s nihilism of the living qua already-dead.

[1] The fact that negation is mostly effectuated extensively (rather than intensively) makes negative resistance a very delicate matter, because it can instrumentally contribute to or affirm determination of a pre-established ideal. Contra Zizek’s reckless negationalism (zombified negativity), negation must be extricated from its instrumental extensity whereby the contingency of the outside is subtractively put into service on behalf of an intensive affirmation of an ideal necessity. The consequence of such an approach to negation as NeoPlatonists have demonstrated is the reslaving of negativity by the principle of an implicit affirmation. For this reason, the emancipation of negation from the yoke of its implicitly affirmationist impetus requires a problematical recourse to the void qua the principle of non-belonging. Such emancipation, therefore, entails the deflection of negation from an outward (extensive) orientation to an inward and intensive internalization (Ray has obviously much to say about this).