Trauma and the Outside: 1000 forms of cut
17 May 2010

A few friends responded to the accelerationism post, rightly objecting that Bataille’s general economy is not limited to solar economy or the Sun as its manifest image, and that Bataillean general economy is indeed about cosmic forces, energies and exteriorities. In order to clarify this, it would be best to gasp Bataille’s general economy in terms of its mechanisms and instigators of exteriorization.

This is true; Bataille’s general economy is not restricted to the Sun since Bataille identifies general economy with cosmic exteriorities under the heading of exorbitance (more in terms of pre-individual immeasurability of energy than the excess and the surplus).[1] But this is precisely the problem with Bataille’s general economy because cosmic exteriorities are not limited to exorbitance. Although Bataillean general economy claims to be an economy of cosmic climates, forces and contingencies, Bataille grasps the ecology of these cosmic climates through exorbitant energetic spaces which are commonly found among stellar models of energetic acceleration and expenditure.

It is this energetic invocation of exorbitance as the cosmic exteriority that is flawed; and this invocation is explicitly manifested in the life-dynamics of stellar bodies such as the Sun. This is because, first, exorbitance as an index of exteriority is neither energetically nor climatically an all-encompassing cosmic model of extinction or exteriority. Beyond the stellar domain, extinction cannot be grasped in terms of ‘exorbitant’ cosmic forces. Even the model of stellar death (the iron-trauma whereby heavy and decaying iron and nickel isotopes disrupt the stellar burning process) cannot be perceived within the model of general exorbitance. Second, because exorbitance is always – by virtue of its excess over the capacity of the interiorized horizon – a matter of unsuccessful binding. Again as argued in the previous post, this unsuccessful binding finds its true expression in the restricted economy of the interiorized horizon which in its fundamental inability to avoid the unilateralizing power of exorbitance has also no choice but to afford this exorbitant index of exteriority according to its economical terms of binding. In other words, exorbitance obliquely underpins and implements the economical regime of affordance which is characterized by its inherent parsimony, affordability-driven dynamism and strategic decisionality. And it is this economical regime of affordance that fundamentally trammels the speculative opportunities of thought in regard to exteriorities by enacting a restricted economy of binding that not only narrows the scope of the abyss but also actively and vigilantly restricts exteriority to a mode of binding that strictly corresponds to the economic terms of the interiorized horizon.

The restricted economy circuitously imposed by the exorbitant index reduces exteriority into that which must be afforded by all means and at all costs, yet since such means and economic terms are dictated by the correlation between the exteriority and the interiorized horizon, the regime of binding becomes inherently restricted and auto-positing. That is to say, only a mode of binding or a fashion of dying that corresponds to the economic terms of consumption and dissipation of the interiorized horizon (which mark the latter’s affordability toward the exteriority) is authorized, pursued and wished for. Any other mode of binding or alternative fashion of inflecting upon extinction is actively staved off and thwarted.

Instigated and supported by exorbitant indexes of exteriority, this spontaneous antimony against alternative modes of binding becomes the ultimate expression of any general economy or nihilist philosophy of extinction that indexes exteriority as an expression of exorbitance. Interestingly, it is the restricted image of exteriority as the exorbitant that generates analogous and parallel expressions of monistic binding – that is, pluralistically life-oriented yet monistic in relation to exteriority or extinction – in Bataille’s system of general economy and Freud’s theory of the death-drive. Whereas this simultaneously restricted and restricting model of binding surfaces in Bataille’s system as unsuccessful models of consumption with regard to the exorbitant exteriority (terrestrial life being one of such unsuccessful consumptive solutions), it manifests in Freud’s theory as an unsuccessful, or more accurately, traumatic form of binding of the exorbitant inundation (überschwemmung). In both cases, the unsuccessful binding ensued by the torrential ingression of the exorbitant registers itself as an externalizing incision or cut that dichotomously posits the exteriority as an energetically exorbitant externality against the interiorized horizon that it has given rise to. In other words, positing exteriority as an exorbitant index eventuates in an unsuccessful – that is to say, an economical – form of binding. This unsuccessful binding, in turn, effectuates itself as a specific form of cut or incision that sets the exorbitant exteriority against and outside of the interiorized horizon so that it can never be fully bound yet at the same time it must be afforded as an inexorably exorbitant truth. This incision or form of cut is directly the outcome of conceiving exteriority as an exorbitant index. Such cut or incising wound (trauma) generates a field of restricted economy wherein only a mode of binding that is able to afford the external exorbitance and therefore, capable of integrating the irresistible exorbitance of the exteriority within economic terms of the interiorized horizon is pursued and recognized as a proper response (or mode of binding) to the problem of the outside and the real. It is this exorbitant and external deployment of exteriority that – as it was argued – opens up, aggravates and enacts the monistic regime of binding by reinscribing exteriority within the affordable and hence deeply economical correlations of the interiorized horizon.


Land’s insistence on both escalating and diffusive acceleration of (unsuccessful) consumptive solutions under the heading of techno-capitalism as well as Brassier’s more subtle emphasis on philosophy’s traumatic (unsuccessful) binding of the exorbitant truth of extinction, accordingly, conform to the restricted economy of exteriority as the exorbitant. Therefore, both Land and Brassier abide by a mode of binding that is determined by an exorbitant image of exteriority and manifests as an externalizing, or more accurately, splitting form of cut or incision whose effect is that of enacting exteriority as the exorbitant. Such an incision or cut subjects the mode of binding to the economic affordability of the interiorized horizon and its capacity. By capacity we do not mean the static or relatively variable degree of the interiorized horizon to hold and receive what is exterior to it. Capacity, in this context, can be defined as the tolerance in amplitude of the interiorized horizon which is necessary for maintaining an undisrupted continuity between the excess that gives rise to the interiorized horizon via the originary splitting incision (i.e. the Freudian conception of urtrauma or primal wound) and the excess that subsequently pulls back the interiorized horizon to its precursor exteriority. The latter is not essentially the ‘zero of interiority’ but rather a pull-back or inflection into an exorbitant index of exteriority.

Moreover, the function of the externalizing incision or the splitting form of trauma imparts a strategic disposition to binding of radical exteriority, and this by means of positing the exteriority external yet correlated – under the energetic index of the exorbitant – to the economical conservative regime of the interiorized horizon. When the unilateralizing power of the exteriority which cannot be averted by the organism couples with the exorbitant conception of exteriority, exteriority becomes a matter of emphatic affordability: Since it cannot be deflected, nor can it be successfully bound in its externality and exorbitance, then it must be economically afforded. This recalibration of exteriority as an exorbitant and external unobjectifiable immanence conditions an illusory state wherein ‘binding of exteriority’ is grasped, understood and even realized in terms of strategy or strategic thinking (in its Clausewitzian sense). Yet such strategic encounter with radical exteriority or the unilateralizing real is precisely the restricting mode of binding that totalizes the multiplicity of binding into only one – which is to say, affordable – mode of binding (the strategic one). Whilst for Land’s libidinal materialism, this strategic binding is fundamentally adopted in the accelerationist engagement with techno-capitalism, for Brassier this strategic thinking toward exteriority is subsumed within the still valorized (if not enchanted) figure of ‘philosophy’ and its traumatic binding of extinction qua an ‘exorbitant death’ (Brassier, 238). Here the domain of strategy is consolidated first by the exorbitant conception of exteriority that brings about – by means of an externalizing cut – an unsuccessful binding which is subjected to affordability; and second, through the effect of the monistic binding whereby other forms of binding which are indifferent to the economy of the interiorized horizon are actively and antagonistically staved off.

At this point, one can ask what are these alternative modes of binding if not ways by which the exteriority breaks and enters into the interiorized horizon on its own terms, generating its own fields of complicity, mobilizing its contingencies through the intricate topologies that it simultaneously occasions and degenerates; and all this in absolute indifference to the dominant regime of binding and terms of the interiorized horizon. Accordingly, alternative modes of binding suggest an insurmountable and ultimately detrimental asymmetry with the strategic, or more precisely, affordable mode of binding. Such asymmetry is the non-dialectical identity of exteriority tout court. In every restricted economy, the intrinsic proclivity of the strategic thinking or political reason is to seal itself against such asymmetry for even insinuations related to such purely tactical bindings are realized as anti-axiomatic fits of terror. In his forthcoming groundbreaking book Reimagining War in the 21st Century, Manabrata Guha painstakingly traces the pathology of this strategic thinking among both the so-called war theorists and contemporary philosophers. Guha argues that the unilaterally immanent conception of war is frequently subjected to this strategic thinking which is conveniently espoused by politics. He contends, however, that it is the tactical exteriority of war (beyond the power principle and beyond a philosophy of antagonism) that is indifferent to ‘the politics of this world’ (Hallward). Here, Guha’s tactical exteriority of war can be grasped in terms of alternative and therefore, asymmetrical modes of binding whereby radical exteriority enters on its own and unpacks innumerable modes of complicity and binding within but indifferent to the interiorized horizon. [2]

Strategic thinking has become such an indubitable politico-philosophical trope under whose influence neither politics nor philosophy has managed – to this date – (re-)imagine war in terms of its tactical exteriority. For this reason, both politics and philosophy have remained chained to a definition or imagination of war which is at once naively irreal and precariously antiquated. The politico-philosophical myopia of strategic thinking as Guha suggests is not only passively received as a pre-given decision by politicians, philosophers and military commanders alike but also is vigorously reenacted and defended in contemporary politico-philosophical analyses (see Hallward, et al.) to such an extent that non-restricted binding of exteriority is discussed in terms of something that must be warded off and appalled – for it brings a terror that does not pose a threat from the outside but instead radically corrupts and vitiates the very axioms of political reason and its philosophical supports. [3] Whether conducted under the heading of the ‘accelerationist embracing of techno-capitalism’ (Land) or ‘strategic thinking and action according to this world’ (Hallward) or ‘(military) transformation of future forces’ (Rumsfeld), strategic thinking is distinguished by its peculiarly restricted and restricting economy toward radical exteriority. And as Guha elaborates, it totalizes different vectors of thought and courses of action into a ‘strategic common’ that ultimately levels the differences between the aforementioned political or philosophical orientations.

The grand illusion of strategic thinking (or binding) is occasioned by the monistic regime of binding which itself is effectuated by the externalizing cut that sets the exorbitant image of exteriority against and outside of the interiorized horizon. In order to disperse the illusion of strategy and debilitate the monistic regime of binding, first the order of trauma whereby exteriority enters on its own terms and enacts the freedom of alternative or asymmetrical bindings must be rethought and its topology must be revitalized with a new calculus. This rethinking of trauma or exteriorizing binding can also be recapitulated as a question: How can new forms of thinking be tactically determined by different forms of cut or different calculi of trauma, since there are forms of cut that restrict the binding of exteriority and the ones that tactically expose thought and reroute it to radical exteriority that acts, penetrates and slashes on its own? Although the Freudian account of trauma is a monstrously ingenious speculation in the history of thought, its calculus of deployment and mobilization of exteriority – as it was argued – is susceptible to a form of conservative or restricted economy that is reinforced by the monistic regime of binding it gives rise to. Both Land’s conception of capitalism as a process that repeats and deepens the originary trauma into the exorbitant outside and Brassier’s nihilist binding of extinction through cosmological reinscription of Freud’s account of trauma are strongly attached to the vulnerable edifice of Freud’s account of trauma. Their ‘speculative opportunities’ are to an extent circumscribed by this attachment and by their model of binding according to which exteriority is always reinscribed as an exorbitant index. Here neither the anthropomorphic residues are purged nor are opportunities for positive projects unbound.

In order to break away from the ultimately economical understanding of cosmic forces / exteriorities in terms of exorbitance, we should search for and invest in new forms of binding or new configurations of trauma. Only once the trauma or the unilateralizing cut is remobilized inside the interiorized horizon, it can degenerate the axioms of interiority and its restricted economy. And only the acceleration of such internal cuts – characterized by their asymmetry to the strategic and monistic regime of binding – poses an anti-axiomatic threat against the interiority of the world-capital. Alex Williams’s call for modes of binding capable of ‘maintain[ing] the tension and complex topological relation between the two (organic/inorganic, exteriority and its interiorized horizons)’ correctly addresses the prerequisite for a purely tactical acceleration or asymmetrical mode(s) of binding. Such internal and topologically degenerate tensions cannot be generated by externalizing cuts or incisions which constitute Freud’s rudimentary account of trauma. Because a non-restricted index of exteriority breaks and enters on its own: Rather than exorbitantly sets itself against and outside of the interiorized horizon, it employs internalizing cuts to generate nested horizons of interiority which are asymptotic to its immanent outside-ness. Trauma, in this sense, is more than an incision or a wound; it characterizes a cutting process that generates interiorized spaces nested – or asymptotically within – the exteriority. Therefore, the function of the cut is more of boring through (tetrainein) the precursor exteriority rather than inflicting splitting or dividing cuts. The interiorized horizon (life, organization, organism, etc.) is, in this case, generated by the precursor exteriority cutting itself into a nested space. For this reason, exteriority is always diagonally posited against the interiorized horizon, yet in the same way, the interiorized horizon also finds an asymptotic relationship to the exteriority that has resected it.


In this way, trauma – as it is understood asymmetrically and modally unbound – renders a topology of tension in which the exteriority is immanent more to the inside of the system (or the interiorized horizon) than to its outside. Accordingly, the traumatic cut nests cosmic exteriorities within bounded horizons as inassimilable (hence unilateralizing) yet convolutedly interiorized insiders. The understanding of such topology of trauma perhaps requires a shift from the concept of trauma as incision (Freud) to an understanding of trauma as envoiding and perforation (Ferenczi). Sandor Ferenczi understands trauma not as an incision that cuts the energetic horizon into an interiorized horizon (manifestations of life) and an originary bedrock of immeasurable exorbitance. For Ferenczi, trauma is a form of ‘alien transplantation’ (or the interiorization of the originary cut or wound) that does not restrict itself to the affordability of the interiorized horizon by directly and immediately positing its exteriority against the limited capacity of the system in conserving or dissipating energy. Instead, Ferenczi’s model explains trauma as a positive wave of radical exteriority that on its own cuts a problematically convoluted and nested horizon of interiorities. And this by means of turning the externalizing function of the splitting cut (Freud’s trauma) into the temporarily formative function of the ‘internalizing cut’ which creates intricate topologies of nestedness (continuous internal fissions) rather than externalizing incisions. Therefore, the alien transplant posits radical exteriority as a perpetual anti-axiomatic Insider for which life and all manifestations of interiority are but the topological asymptotes of its exteriority. In his The Clinical Diary, Final Contributions and letters to Freud, Ferenczi even claims that what we know as organic evolution is the inorganic mimicking its own nested topological mobilizations. In another occasion, he remarks that by becoming organic, the inorganic does not succumb to a passive or repressed state but becomes active again by finding a homeomorphic topological equivalence with the organic space itself. This is a far more consequential (and probably more insidious) than anything Freud has ever said about the return of the inorganic / the repressed. Also in Ferenczi’s model of the internalizing cut, radical exteriority is actively inside the interiorized horizon of life as an inassimilable but twisted mobilizing principle. In this scenario, the ideas of successful or unsuccessful binding of the originary trauma imposed by the exorbitant cosmic forces simply become irrelevant – relics of an antiquated strategic thinking.


[1] Not to mention that in the context of economy, energy is also a rather vague and questionable concept. See P. Mirowski, More Heat than Light: economics as social physics, physics as nature’s economics.

[2] In a similar argument, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy approaches the spontaneous eruption of non-strategic conception of war under the heading of ‘larval terrorist’: an autophagic subject driven by the force of nihil which has its own – i.e. asymmetrical to the traditional strategic subject – modes of destruction and creation.

[3] Here, of course, non-restricted is not a Bataillean concept that is connected to excess or the exorbitant image of exteriority in one way or another. Instead, this term suggests more than anything the plurality or the freedom of alternatives in complicity with and binding of exteriority. Yet this freedom by no means is an object of politics, for it bespeaks of the exteriority in bringing about such alternatives or fields of complicity not in terms of the interiorized horizon but on its own terms.