Wednesday, January 31, 2018

JERKY READS IT FOR YOU: IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET


In early 2014, HBO caught lightning in a bottle with the first season of True Detective. With its intoxicating blend of Southern Gothic tropes, blockbuster production values, slow burn storytelling and masterful characterizations by leads Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the show became appointment television for millions and spawned countless water cooler conversations and online discussion forum threads.
A big part of the show's success was that it had a "Twin Peaks Factor"; the sense that no matter how crazy things got at surface level, there was a lot more going on beneath the narrative, a mystery waiting to be solved by anyone clever enough to crack the code, or pick the lock. Early on, due to the repeated use of the word "Carcosa", most focused on The King in Yellow, Robert Chambers' odd book of short stories from 1895, as a potential skeleton key. Unfortunately, the Carcosa sub-plot turned out to be an essentially meaningless MacGuffin, pointing towards nothing so much as show runner Nic Pizzolatto's excellent taste in comic books, and is one of True Detective's few weak spots.

Fortunately for True Detective's legions of amateur sleuths, there remained the details of Rustin Cohle's dark philosophy to puzzle over, and Pizzolatto, being a more forgiving god than David Lynch, was happy to share his inspirations. These included, among others, Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound, horror writer Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, and the featured star of this very concordance, philosophy professor Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of This Planet.

In short order, professor Thacker's odd little philosophical book on "the horror of philosophy" (and not, pointedly, the philosophy of horror) became something of a mini-phenomenon, jumping from its influence on True Detective, to the back of Jay-Z's leather jacket, and into a number of Far Right conspiracy theories... a journey that was chronicled in an excellent Radiolab documentary, embedded below.


To learn more about the pop cultural and surface political aspects of In The Dust of This Planet, the Radiolab piece is all you need. It also does a great job of introducing us to Thacker, the mild mannered academic. The intent of this concordance is to deal with the book, itself--distilling it, breaking it down, providing links to the works that it references, suggesting further potential avenues of research--and not to follow its trail of hoofprints across the cultural landscape. Seeing as the Radiolab piece contains precious little about Thacker's actual philosophy, I have decided that this is a task worth performing. 

A note before we begin: Considering the novelty of some of Thacker's concepts and the rigorous philosophical specificity of the language he uses, much of what follows consists of direct excerpts or point-form paraphrasing of his work. If you see a particularly intriguing turn of phrase and are having difficulty discerning who came up with it, just go ahead and assume it's Thacker's.

And so, with that introduction out of the way, let's dive into Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of This Planet.
***
IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET
HORROR OF PHILOSOPHY VOL. 1
By Eugene Thacker

PREFACE: Clouds of Unknowing
  • The world is increasingly unthinkable – a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. 
  • It is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part.
  • (We confront) an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all... an idea that has been a central motif of the horror genre for some time. 
  • The aim of this book is to explore the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world”. 
  • What an earlier era would have described through the language of darkness mysticism or negative theology, our contemporary era thinks of in terms of supernatural horror. 
  • The world is human and non-human, anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric, sometimes even misanthropic. 
  • We cannot help but think of the world as a human world by virtue of the fact that it is we human beings that think it. 
While in philosophy circles today it may be called “correlationism”, “accelerationism”, or “atmospheric politics”, for earlier philosophers this same dilemma was expressed in different terminology: the problem of “being in the world”, the dichotomy between “active” or “passive” nihilism, of the limits of human thought in the “antinomies of reason”.
There are precedents in Western culture for this kind of thinking: 
  1. In Classical Greece the interpretation was mainly mythological
  2. In the Medieval era and early modern Christianity, it was primarily theological – the tradition of apocalyptic literature as well as the Scholastic commentaries on the nature of evil cast a moral framework of salvation. 
  3. In Modernity, we speak of scientific hegemony, industrial capitalism, and what Nietzsche famously prophesied as the death of God. Therefore, the response is primarily existential, a questioning of the role of the human (whether individual or group) in light of modern science, high technology, industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and world wars. 
The contemporary cynic says we still live by all of these interpretive frameworks and only their outer shell has changed. The mythological has become the stuff of the culture industries, the theological has diffused into political ideology, and the fanaticism of religious conflict, and the existential has been re-purposed into the therapeutics of consumerism (self help, D.I.Y., etc).

These modes of interacting with the world – the classical/mythological, the theological/Christian, and the existentialist/Modern, all flow into and out of each other in the contemporary human experience. They are reflected in each other and in turn these reflections affect our experience of each. But they are all human-centric in their own ways. In short, when the non-human world manifests itself to us in these ambivalent ways, more often than not our response is to recuperate that non-human world into whatever the dominant, human-centric worldview is at the time. After all, how else would we make sense of the world?
We are now coming to realize that these modes are no longer adequate to the task at hand.

Let us call the world in which we live – the world that we humans interpret and give meaning to, that we feel related to, or alienated from, the world that we are at once a part of that is also separate from the human – the world-for-us.

But the world often “bites back”, resists, or ignores our attempts to mold it into the world-for-us. Let us call that world the world-in-itself. The world in some inaccessible, already given state, which we then turn into the world-for-us. 

The world-in-itself is a paradoxical concept, the moment we think it and attempt to act on it, it ceases to be the world-in-itself and becomes the world-for-us. A significant part of this paradox is grounded by scientific inquiry, both the production of scientific knowledge of the world and the technical means of acting on and intervening in the world.

Even though there is something out there that is not the world-for-us, and even tho we can name it the world-in-itself, this latter constitutes a horizon for thought, always receding just beyond the bounds of intelligibility. Using advanced predictive models, we have even imagined what would happen to the world if we humans were to become extinct. Let us call this spectral and speculative world the world-without-us.

To say that the world-without-us is antagonistic to the human is the miss the point. Nor is it neutral. It exists in a nebulous zone that is both impersonal and horrific. This world-without-us continues to persist in the shadows of the world-for-us and the world-in-itself.
  • Let us refer to the world-for-us as The World
  • The world-in-itself as The Earth
  • The world-without-us as The Planet
The terms “world” and “worlding” are frequently used in phenomenology to describe the way in which we as human subjects exist in the world, at the same time as the world is revealed to us. By contrast, we understand the earth as encompassing all the knowledge of the world as an object, via geology, archaeology, paleontology, the life sciences, the atmospheric sciences, etc.
And the Planet? It is impersonal and anonymous.

In the context of philosophy, the central question today is whether thought is always determined within the framework of the human point of view.

One alternative is to refuse the dichotomy between self and worldsubject and object. This is something that is easier said than done.

In addition to the three frameworks:
  • Mythological (classical Greece) 
  • Theological (Medieval Christian) 
  • Existential (Modern European) 
Would it be possible to shift our framework to something we can only call Cosmological, to incorporate the planetary view?

Approximately ninety percent of the cells in the human body belong to non-human organisms (bacteria, fungi, etc.). Why shouldn’t this also be the case for human thought as well? This book is an exploration of this idea – that thought is not human

The world-without-us is not to be found in the great beyond that is exterior to the World (Earth); rather, it is in the very fissures, lapses, or lacunae in the World and the Earth. The Planet is (in the words of darkness mysticism) the “dark intelligible abyss” that is paradoxically manifest as the World and the Earth. 

For Thacker's project, the term horror does not exclusively mean cultural productions of horror (or “art horror”) be it in fiction, film, comics or video games. Genre horror deserves to be considered as more than the sum of its formal properties. Also, by horror, we are not addressing the human emotion of fear.

Briefly, the argument of this book is that “horror” is a non-philosophical attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically. Here, culture is the terrain on which we find attempts to confront an impersonal and indifferent world-without-us, an irresolvable gulf between the world-for-us and the world-in-itself, with a void called the Planet that is poised between the World and the Earth.

Simple, no? No... not very simple at all. But worth grappling with, in my estimation.


I. THREE QUAESTIO ON DEMONOLOGY 

QUAESTIO I: On the Meaning of the world “Black” in Black Metal



ARTICULUS

Demons abound in popular culture, and there is no better starting point in the exploration of horror culture than Black Metal.

What, for example, is the “black” in Black Metal? It is called such for a wide variety of reasons: its references to black magic, demons, witchcraft, lycanthropy, necromancy, the nature of evil, and all things somber and funereal. Black metal is black because it is – this is one argument at least – the most extreme form of metal, both in its attitude and in its musical form, and because of its association with Satanism and the Devil. 

Black = Satanism.

The equation of Black = Satanism is governed by a structure of opposition and inversion… dramatized in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The opposition is as much political as it is theological, resulting in the infamous witch-hunts, persecutions and inquisitions of the early Renaissance, where Black = Satanism meaning “against god,” “against the Sovereign” or even “against the divine”.

The Dartmouth Reading Room edition of Milton's Paradise Lost is a beautifully annotated resource for anyone interested in tapping more deeply into this particular vein.

Satanism takes on a different form by the 19th century, and in a sense, one cannot really talk of "Satanism" before this time. At least not as an organized counter-religion with its own texts and rituals, etc. Prior to this, Satanism was classified as a heresy within the church… a particular kind of threat from within. By contrast, 19th century Europe, following upon the religious challenges posed by Romanticism, revolution, and the aesthetics of the Gothic and Decadent movements, developed something that more resembles modern Satanism. It is markedly different from the Medieval and early Renaissance versions as it is from its later 20th century incarnation (e.g. Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan).

This 19th century Satanism was more formalized and poetic, as evinced by Baudelaire’s Les Litanies de Satan (1857).

If we take “black” in Black Metal to mean Satanic, then we see how this is emblematic of a conceptual structure of opposition and inversion. In this we see a relation to the natural world and supernatural forces as the means through which opposition and inversion is effected. The “black” in this case is almost like a technology, or a dark technics. Black magic in particular is predicated on the ability of the sorcerer to utilize dark forces against light, one set of beliefs against another.

SED CONTRA

It is obvious to any listener of Black Metal that not all such bands ascribe to this equation of Black = Satanic. Many take a non-Christian framework as their foundation, referencing everything from Norse mythology to the mysteries of ancient Egypt. For them, Black = Pagan.

Paganism is less negative or reactive than Satanism, being entirely different from Christian outlook because it is pre-Christian.

Historically, the different forms of paganism overlap with the rise of Christianity as a dominant religious, juridical, and political force. As a poly-and-sometimes-pan-theistic framework, it offered a stark contrast to the monotheism of Christianity.

During the high Renaissance a wide range of activities, from alchemy to shamanism were popularly associated with paganism. The RosicruciansFreemasonsHermeticists and (in the 19th century) Theosophists and spiritualists all claimed some connection to a pagan outlook.

The writings of HP Blavatsky and Rudolph Steiner, whatever their other shortcomings, are exemplary in their trans-cultural and trans-historical breadth.

In books such as Isis Unveiled (1877) and The secret Doctrine (1888), Blavatsky covers everything from archaic mystery cults to modern paranormal research, giving one the sort of global perspective found in anthropology classics such as James Frazier’s The Golden Bough (1890).

In paganism, magic is technology and vice versa. Works like Eliphas Levi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1855) read like a veritable how-to book of occult knowledge, theories, and practices. In contrast to the dark technics of Satanism, then, the dark magic of paganism.

RESPONSIO

So far we have…

Black = Satanism 
Black = Paganism

One has the structure of opposition and inversion, the other the structure of exclusion and alterity. Both are united in what amounts to a human-oriented relation to nature, and natural forces. Satanism features a dark technics vs light forces, and paganism, a dark magic of being on the side of nature itself.

Both meanings point toward one thing they have in common, and that is an anthropocentric view towards the world. Is there another meaning of “black” beyond this? There is, but it is a difficult thought to think and impossible to know, though it does exist (actually it doesn’t exist, though the thought of its not-existing does). Whereas both the Satanic and the pagan variants retain an anthropocentric thread, a third position, which we can call “cosmic”, attempts to relinquish even this.

Not just cosmic, but as a form of “Cosmic Pessimism”. The view of Cosmic Pessimism is a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman and indifferent to the hopes, desires and struggles of human individuals and groups. 

Black = Cosmic Pessimism.

Cosmic Pessimism has a genealogy that is more philosophical than theological. Its greatest – and most curmudgeonly – proponent was Arthur Schopenhauer, the misanthrope who railed as much against philosophy itself as he did against doctrinal religion and the nationalist politics of his time. 

Schopenhauer was as dissatisfied with the system-building of Kant as with the nature-romanticism of FichteSchelling and Hegel. To really think about the world in itself, we have to challenge the most basic premises of philosophy (says Schopenhauer). These include the principle of sufficient reason (the idea that everything that exists has a reason for existing) as well as the well-worn dichotomy between self and world, so central to modern empirical science. We have to entertain the possibility that there is no reason for something existing, or that the split between subject and object is only our name for something equally accidental we call knowledge, or an even more difficult thought, that while there may be some order to the self and the cosmos, to the microcosm and macrocosm, it is an order that is absolutely indifferent to our existence and of which we can have only negative awareness. The most we can do is to think this persistence of the negative

Schopenhauer uses the term Vorstellung (representation, idea, conception) to describe this negative awareness, an awareness of the world as we conceive it (be it through subjective experience or through aesthetic representation), or the world as it is presented to us (be it through practical knowledge or scientific observation). Whatever the case, the world remains the world-for-us, the world as Verstellung. 

Is there something outside this? Logically there must be, since every positive needs a negative. Schopenhauer calls this non-existent something-outside Wille (will, drive, force) a term that designates less the volition or action of an individual person, and more an abstract principle that runs through all things, from the bowels of the earth to the array of constellations – but which is not in itself anything. For Schopenhauer, this will is impersonal, blind, indifferent to our wants and desires. It ultimately negates even itself. The final passage of The World as Will and Representation reads:
…what remains after the complete abolition of the Will is, for all who are full of the Will, assuredly nothing (Nichts). But also conversely, to those in whom the Will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies is – nothing.
To find others as full of cosmic pessimism as Schopenhauer, one must turn to fiction and the likes of HP Lovecraft.

But back to Black Metal. How would this cosmic pessimism fit in there?

Well, old school Norwegian Black Metal would seem to fit into the Satanic meaning of black, as evidenced by albums such as Darkthrone’s Transylvanian HungerEmperor’s Wrath of the TyrantMayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Other Black Metal bands might fit the pagan meaning, as exhibited by UlverStriborgWolves in the Throne Room. Some of the formal experiments in Black Metal, like Sunn O))), offer the musical equivalent of cosmic pessimism. Thacker argues that cosmic pessimism runs through all the other forms.

In this sense, the most striking example of Cosmic Pessimism comes from outside of the metal genre. It is by Japanese multi-instrumentalist, poet and mystic Keiji Haino. His album, So, Black is Myself employs a subtractive minimalism that is beyond that of SunO))) or dark ambient artists such as Lustmord. Haimo’s approach is eclectic, borrowing techniques from everything from Noh theater to Troubadour singing. 

Clocking in at just under 70 mins, So Black is Myself uses only a tone generator and voice. Its sole lyric is the title of the piece itself: “Wisdom that will bless I, who live in the spiral joy born at the utter end of a black prayer.” The piece is brooding, rumbling, deeply sonorous, and meditative. Sometimes the tone generator and Haimo’s voice merge into one, while at other times they diverge and become dissonant. … radically unhuman… the performance invokes the impersonal affect of dread described by Kierkegard as ‘antipathic sympathy and sympathetic antipathy.” It manages to be mystical at the same time that the individual performer is dissolved into a meshwork of tones – voice, space and instrument variously existing in consonance and dissonance with each other. It is a reminder of the metaphysical negation that is also at the core of black metal, as if Schopenhauer’s nihil negativum were rendered as music.

Needless to say, So, Black is Myself is not for the faint of heart...


Before moving on to the second Quaestio, it might be edifying to dip our toes into this short VICE documentary called True Norwegian Black Metal, which paints a paradoxically colorful picture of the Black Metal lifestyle, an uncompromising, intolerant worldview that that could only exist in an extremely tolerant milieu like Scandinavia (another paradox there, for those of you keeping count). This entire documentary is worth watching for the final moments alone.


***

QUAESTIO II: On Whether There Are Demons, and How to Know Them

ARTICULUS

That demons really exist seems to be verified by the cross-cultural acceptance of supernatural forces of some type.

An interesting shift takes place once one moves into the clinical and medical view of Western Modernity. In a 1923 article, “A Neurosis of Demoniacal Possession in the Seventeenth Century,” Sigmund Freud re-casts an account of possession in light of psychoanalysis’s study of the workings of the unconscious.

If the demon is taken in this anthropological sense as the relation of the human to the non-human (however this non-human is understood), then we can see how the demon historically passes through various phases: there is the classical demon, which is elemental and at once a help and a hindrance (“the demon inside me”); there is the Medieval demon, a supernatural and intermediary being that is a tempter (“demons surround me”); there is a Modern demon, rendered both natural and scientific through psychoanalysis, and internalized within the machinations of the unconscious (“I am a demon to myself”); and finally a contemporary demon, in which the social and political aspects of antagonism are variously attributed to the Other in relationships of enmity (“demons are other people”).

SED CONTRA

But how is the traditional Christian-theological demon non-human when demons are represented in anthropomorphic ways (an intermediary creature between the natural and the supernatural)?

When Jesus confronted the demons and they named themselves “Legion”…

In a philosophical sense, that the demons choose to present themselves via voice and sound – at once present and absent – is noteworthy.

These two manifestations of the demon – in the old man and the herd of swine – lead to a third type, which is the word-of-mouth among the people, which itself spreads like a disease. Jesus’ demonstration of his sovereign and medical powers instills a certain horror in the people, resulting in his effectively being deported. We might take a decidedly modern view of this scene and suggest that the threat posed by the demons is not simply a topological one having to do with the proper relation between the One and the Many, and neither is it to do with the proper relation between Creator and creature.
“The demonic challenges the divine in its refusal to be organized at all.”
In these scenes, the demons/angels have as their sole function a religious-juridical relation to the human (either to damn or to save them). The various symbolic devices, from scales and seals to bowls, are technologies for the end of the world. Here the demons are a form of mediated presence.

By contrast, the exorcism scene from the Gospels portrays demons that are unmediated and yet only embodied – the demons called “Legion” are never present in themselves, but only via some form of embodiment (the old man, the herd of pigs, the wind, the sea). In a sense, they are strangely pantheistic. 

Demons are here a form of immediate absence. At its limits is the idea of the absolutely “dark” demon – the demon that remains absolutely unknowable to us as human beings, but which nevertheless seems to act upon us, perhaps through a malevolence we can only call “bad luck” or “misfortune”.

Perhaps there is a meaning of the demonic that has little to do with the human at all – and this indifference is what constitutes its demonic character. If the anthropological demon (the human relating to itself) functioned via metaphor, and if the mythological demon (human relating to non-human) functions via allegory, then perhaps there is a third demon, which is more ontological, or really “meontological” (having to do with non-being rather than being). As the sixth century mystic Dionysius theAreopagite notes, commenting on the paradoxical existence of demons, “Evil is not a being; for if it were, it would not be totally evil… evil has no place among being.”

Given that, for us as human beings there is no simple “going over” to the side of the non-human, it would seem that the mode best suited to this third type of demon is something like metonymy (with the demon as a stand-in for the abstract, indifferent, non-being of the world). The demon is, then, a way of talking about the perspectives of the non-human and thinking about its being is the same as thinking about its non-being. This is brought forward in Dante’s Inferno, one of the classic depictions of the demonic. And all kinds, at that.


Here we have Satan, the counter-sovereign, who like the divine sovereign is centralized and transcendent with respect to that which he governs. However, this counter-sovereign demon actually does very little in the long journey that constitutes the Inferno.

Distinct from this, there are the multitude of demons found peppered throughout the different circles of the underworld. An example is the so-called Malebranche demons found in the 8th Circle. These are “demons” in the more modern, Faustian sense. Torturers, tricksters, tempters. Less a giant majesty, more a roaming pack.

Third, there are the demons of the Second Circle. They are a “black wind” (aura near) coursing through the bodies of the damned.

It is paradoxically the most manifest form of life (indeed, Dante the character faints before its force) and yet it is also the most empty (the demonic storm is not a discrete thing, much less a body). It is everywhere and nowhere. Not a transcendent, governing cause, not an emanating radiating flow, but a concept of the demonic that is fully immanent and never fully present. It is also pure nothingness.

Demonic possession in the Inferno is not just teratological, but also geological and even climatological.

***

QUAESTIO III: On Demonology, and Whether it is a Respectable Field of Study

ARTICULUS

Demonology is commonly understood to no longer be of contemporary relevance; it is an unfortunate and anachronistic offshoot of late Medieval and early Renaissance theology, the stuff of the imaginative fancy of modern horror films. However, recent work by scholars such as Alain BoureauNancy CaciolaStuart Clark, and Armando Maggi, has done much to tease out the philosophical and political aspects of demonology in its historical sense.

Demonology as a distinct field of study does not really emerge until the late 15th century. An often-cited reference point is the papal bull Sammis Desiderantes Affectibus (1484), issued by Pope Innocent VII in response to growing concerns that heretical activities, including witchcraft, constituted a serious threat to the unification of Church authority across the continent. The bull is noteworthy for several reasons, the foremost being that it confirmed the existence of witches, witchcraft, and the activities of those who have “abandoned themselves to demons”.

It identified the threat, but also made recommendations for dealing with the threat, giving inquisitors like Heirich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger the authority to legally seek out, put to trial and punish.
Kramer and Sprenger published the legendary blueprint for witch-hunting. The Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches, 1486).

What makes the Malleus Maleficarum unique, however, is its practical orientation. It is not a work of theological speculation, as in Aquinas’ De Malo (On Evil, ca 1270).

Added to this epistemological role of medicine is another role, which is juridical. Though the Malleus Maleficarum is a decidedly single-minded text, aiming without hesitation at the extermination of all witchcraft activity, it does make minimal allowances for natural, as opposed to supernatural, causes of witchcraft: a supernatural cause producing a natural symptom, which could be classified as either illusion or illness.

If illness, then the question was what type? Epilepsy, hysteria, melancholy.

The role of medicine here was less to develop knowledge about demonic possession, and more to arbitrate the boundary between the natural and supernatural.

Johann Weyer’s De Praestigiis Daemonium (On the Trickery of Demons, 1563) – one of the few that criticizes the excesses of the witch-hunts. Weyer notes real demons do not need us to carry out their acts of will – in fact, it is the height of vanity to suppose that we are necessary. Condemns the use of torture and maltreatment of accused.

Jean Bodin’s Demonium des Sorciers (The Demon-mania of Witches, 1580) – A direct counter-attack to Weyer. “All demons are malevolent, deceiving, posturing enemies of humanity”. Bodin was a judge. A hanging judge, one assumes.

Reginald Scott’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) – If Weyer represents moderation and Bodin, the conservative retrenchment, then Scot questions the validity of the exercise altogether.

SED CONTRA

Demons underline the difficulty of defining the supernatural. To the culture of the early Renaissance, the demon presents a limit to the empiricism of the unknown, something that can only be verified through contradictions – an absent manifestation, an unnatural creature, a demonic malady. If one were to outline the poetics of the demon, one could begin by thinking about the demonic in literary representations. For example, the narrative technique of the journey as in Dante.

The same follows for other narrative motifs. There is the battle, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. Then there is the motif of the pact, the black bargain with a demon that at once liberates and imprisons the human, who sings his name in blood. (Marlowe, Faust, Goethe)

The Black Mass in Huysmans’ La-Bas (here's the audiobook on Youtube), or DennisWheatley’s The Devil Rides Out involve a whole series of sacrilegious acts expressing the sanctity of evil.

Finally there is the modern, technological motif of the magical artifact, the dark invention that signals a new kind of apocalypse. Science fiction works such as Fritz Leiber’s Gather, Darkness! and James Blish’s Faust Aleph-Null.

RESPONSIO

We should state what we have been hinting at all along, which is that in contrast to the theology of the demon, or the poetics of the demon, there is something more basic still that has to do with the ideas of negation and nothingness – hence we should really think of the demon as an ontological problem (not theology, not poetry, but philosophy).

If demonology is to be thought of in a philosophical register, then it would have to function as a kind of philosoheme that brings together a cluster of ideas that have, for some time, served as problematic areas for philosophy itself: negation, nothingness, and the non-human.
Considering the unreliability of the principle of sufficient reason for thinking about the world (not sufficient reason but a strange, uncanny insufficiency of reason), perhaps we can come up with a new term for this way of thinking – demontology.

For Schopenhauer, the nihil privativum is the world as it appears to us, the world-for-us, the world as “Representation” (Vorstellung), while the nihil negativum is the world-in-itself of the world as “Will” – or better, the world-in-itself as it is manifest to us in its inaccessibility, in its enigmatic “occult qualities”.

In a sense, the nihil negativum is not just about the limits of language to adequately describe experience; it is about the horizon of thought as it confronts the unthought, the horizon of the human as it struggles to comprehend the unhuman. Yet, as Schopenhauer notes, “such a state cannot really be called knowledge, since it no longer has the form of subject and object; moreover, it is accessible only to one’s own experience that cannot be further communicated.”

And here demontology comes up against one of the greatest challenges for thought today, and it is, in many ways, a Nietzschean one – how does one rethink the world as unthinkable? – that is, in the absence of the human-centric point of view, and without an over-reliance on the metaphysics of being?

In considering the pedigree of Cosmic Pessimism, should one include classical philosophers like Heraclitus? Works of “darkness mysticism” or negative theology? And what of the great works of spiritual crisis? Kierkegaard, Cioran, Simone Weil? Schopenhauer and Nietzsche? Bataille? Klossowski? Shestov? Perhaps the only thing for certain is if something like a demontology could exist it would not be made any more respectable because of its existence – for nothing is more frowned upon... than nothing.

***

II. Six Lectio on Occult Philosophy

PREAMBLE: On Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia

Occult philosophy is first and foremost a historical phenomenon. Modern work by Frances Yates et al has done much to place occult philosophy within its philosophical, religious, and political context. In her book The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, Yates argues that what has come to be called occult philosophy is really an amalgam of traditions that are usually in contrast or confrontation. In this mix one finds Greek natural philosophy (Aristotle), and cosmology (Pythagoras), NeoplatonismRenaissance alchemyEgyptian HermeticismChristian-Scholastic theology and Jewish mysticism.

The work of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa stands out for its eclecticism and ambitious attempt to synthesize. In his work we find Hermeticism via Renaissance thinker Marsilio Ficino, and Christian Cabbalistic mysticism via Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

Ficino was nervous of the magic, avoiding the ‘star demons’.

De Occulta Philosophia Libri (1531) is a compendium of Renaissance philosophy, theology, mysticism, science and magic. It’s had a tremendous impact on later generations, particularly in the 19th century’s European occult revival (via Eliphas Levi or Gerard Encausse) and early 20th century groups like the Golden Dawn.

Agrippa saw three worlds – elemental, celestial, intellectual – but his take on the intellectual world had little relation to our colloquial use. By intellectual he means, in Platonic fashion, the abstract, purely formal essence of all things in the celestial and elemental worlds.

The basic philosophical commitment of Occult Philosophy (the above-linked book) is that there is a basic distinction between the world as it appears to us, and the “hidden” or occulted qualities of the world, which, though they are not apparent, are all the more important in gaining a deeper knowledge of the three worlds. The book is dedicated to detailing, often in practical ways, the process of revealing the hidden essences of the world.

The hiddenness of the world, in its anonymity and indifference, is a world for which the idea of a theistic providence or the scientific principle of sufficient reason, are both utterly insufficient.

In traditional occult philosophy knowledge is hidden, whereas in occult philosophy today the world is hidden, and, in the last instance, only knowable in its hiddenness. This implies a third shift which is the following: Whereas traditional occult philosophy is rooted in Renaissance humanism, the new occult philosophy is anti-humanist, having as its method the revealing of the non-human as a limit for thought…
What follows are a series of informal readings, or lectio, which trace this theme of occult philosophy and the hiddenness of the world. We begin with a first group of lectio (lectio 1-3) that depict the use of the magic circle in literature.

The second group of lectio (4-6) ask what happens when the hidden world reveals itself without any magic circle to serve as boundary. Blobs, slime, ooze, mists, clouds… the manifestation of the hidden world without boundaries of mediation, leading us to a new kind of political theology on the horizon, one that ambivalently attempts to manage this age-old boundary between the natural and supernatural.


1. Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus / Goethe’s Faust

In his study of the cultural anthropology of play, Johan Huizinga notes how play involves a number of ritualized practices, in which play is at once separated from the everyday world and yet mirrors it and comments upon it. Play achieves this ambivalence through a spatial and symbolic motif that Huizinga calls “the magic circle”. The magic circle doesn’t actually have to be a circle. “Just as there is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the consecrated spot cannot be formally distinguished from the playground.”

In the Mahabharata, a game of dice is played among the descendants of the legendary king Kuru.
One of the most noteworthy uses of the magic circle is in the form of ritual magic, particularly the literary representations of necromancy and demonology. Not just via literal use of a magic circle, but also the political and theological aspects of the magic circle. The Faust myth provides one example.

In 16th century Germany, several books recounting the life of Faust were in circulation. These "Faustbooks" detail the basic elements of the story: Faust’s challenge to faith, his pact with a demon, his downfall and damnation. One book tells how Faust dismisses the miracles of Christ and demonstrates his ability to perform them just as easily.

In the late 16th century, these books began to be translated and make their way around Europe. In England, TheDamnable Life and Deserved Death of Dr John Faustus (1588) was published, prompting playwright Christopher Marlowe to compose the first version of his own Faust story, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604). In the story, Faustus achieves all human knowledge, but despairs. What is left for Faustus to do, seeing that all human knowledge has come to naught for him? All that is left are the Dark Arts. A magic circle figures prominently.
Now that the gloomy shadow of the night
Longing to view Orion’s drizzling look
Leaps from th’Antarctic world unto the sky
And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath,
Faustus, begin thine incantations,
And try if devils will obey thy hest
Seeing thou has prayed and sacrificed to them
[he draws a circle]
Within this circle is Jehovah’s name
Forward and backward anagrammatized,
Th’abbreviated names of holy saints,
Figures of every adjunct to the heavens,
And characters of signs and erring stars,
By which the spirits are enforced to rise.
Then fear not, Faustus, to be resolute,
And try the utmost magic can perform.
What is striking in the above is how much the way in which the “hidden world” of occult philosophy reveals itself so suddenly and cataclysmically (with planets wheeling and weather blowing) is the stuff of contemporary horror films.

Marlowe’s Faustus is not simply a black magician out to sate his desires. He is someone who does not or cannot see the distinction between the natural and supernatural. His impatience with book-learning leads him to a kind of Romantic embrace of the world-in-itself, though even in this gesture he takes along a book of magic. “Flee! Out into the open land! and this book full of mystery, written in Nostradamus’ hand, is it not amiable company?”

Goethe’s Faust, like Marlowe’s Faustus, notes the mystery of the hiddenness of the world. (This could be very relevant to Heidegger’s metaphysics, for instance, in the idea of “thrownness”). In Goethe, with his abstraction of the magic circle as that which paradoxically reveals the hiddenness of the world-in-itself.



2. Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out / Blish’s Black Easter, or Faust Aleph-Null

Dennis Wheatley’s novel takes up the traditional notion of magic as presented in the Faust stories by Marlowe and Goethe. The knowledge of black magic is – or claims to be – a knowledge of the world as essentially hidden, rather than given (religion) or produced (science). Occult knowledge is only made apparent within the topography of the magic circle.

Blish’s Black Easter explores the notion of instrumentalizing the hidden world… of taking that which by definition we, as human beings, cannot comprehend, and weaponizing it.

It’s about a science experiment gone wrong… or too well. Demons are loosed upon the world, followed by natural disasters, etc. In the panic, one figure proclaims “We’re turning out to be wrong about the outcome, but no matter what it’s our outcome.”

On one level, Black Easter is easy to understand as an atomic age allegory. We get black magic instead of nuclear bombs. But it is not a work of fantasy. The allegorical reading gives way after a point to a metaphysical one. The metaphysics of the novel lies in its evocation of the world and its hiddenness, especially when the hidden world is cataclysmically revealed through weapons that make it nearly impossible to distinguish a human-made war, a naturally occurring disaster, and a religious apocalypse (thus elucidating some of the terrifying implications left unsaid by Heidegger in his Being and Time).

3. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder / The Borderlands

Consider the “occult detective” subgenre. A style of fiction popular in the 19th century. In these stories, a hero-protagonist combines knowledge of modern science with that of ancient magic to solve a series of crimes and mysteries that may or may not have supernatural causes. Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, PhysicianExtraordinary, and Sheridan LeFanu’s In a Glass Darkly are examples in fiction, while Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned is an example of non-fiction. 

These types of stories are not only the precursors to modern day TV shows like X-Files or Fringe, but bring together science and sorcery in a new relationship. Carnacki may be the apotheosis. Using modern scientific devices and ancient scrolls (like the "Sigsand manuscript") and bizarre tools of his own invention ("the Electron Pentacle", a “steampunk” magic circle that uses vacuum tubes), Carnacki creates protective barriers against what he calls “the Outer Monstrosities”.  In stories like The Hog, the Pentacle sometimes backfires, becoming a portal to another dimension and opening a gateway to monstrous extradimensional beings.


If the occult detective genre still attempted to strike a balance between science and magic, Outer Limits episodes like “The Borderland” (see above) make a claim for bleeding-edge science as the new occultism, and electromagnetic laboratory chambers are the new magic circles. “If the lab is the magic circle, then the lab experiment is the magical ritual.”

4. HP Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” / Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

The ritual aspect of the magic circle has a wider impact, affecting anomalies in the weather, in everyday objects, or events in world history (as in Goethe’s Faust III). The supernatural begins to bleed into the natural. Lovecraft’s brief short story “From Beyond” explores the dissolving of the boundary between natural and unnatural, the four dimensional and the other dimensional. The revealed and the hidden. This is found in the works of contemporary authors Caitlin Kierman, Thomas Ligotti, China Mieville, and filmmakers like E. Elias Merhige, who incorporated "real world" Pentagon research into paranormal powers in his 2004 box-office bomb, Suspect Zero.

There is also a second transformation of the magic circle, which is that science and technology are not just used to upgrade the magic circle – they are the magic circle. This distinguishes the device in "From Beyond" from the Electric Pentacle. The latter remains a traditional magic circle. The device in "From Beyond" distills the metaphysical principle of the magic circle. Lovecraft discards the architectonics of the magic circle, but keeps the metaphysics. The center of the circle is really everywhere, and its circumference, nowhere.



This third transformation, in which the magic circle as such is diffused into the world – is the principle motif in Junji Ito’s series Uzumaki (entire manga at link), which tells the story of a small Japanese town afflicted by the symbol of a spiral. What begins as a psychological and subjective obsession becomes an objective manifestation in the world. In one episode, a potter discovers that the clay he uses seems to be imbued with unnatural capacities, forming grotesque, spiral-like forms, with hints of horrific, haunting faces deep within. In nature and art, the spiral manifests both in and as the real world.

On the one hand, the spiral has no existence except as manifestation, and it is this contagious, pervasive manifestation that the characters describe as unnatural or strange. On the other hand, the spiral is more than just a pattern in nature – it is also the idea of the spiral. The abstract and concrete are inseparable – a terrifying concept, with all sorts of horrific implications. The notion that “idea” can “infect” the world at large… move from thought to flesh, from Kether to Malkuth, perhaps?

In our readings of the magic circle and the hidden world, Lovecraft’s "From Beyond" and Ito’s Uzumaki act as a hinge, between the more traditional uses of the magic circle and a different, unconventional variant of the magic circle. That type of magic circle is one in which the metaphysical principle remains in effect, but the magic circle itself disappears. It is a kind of non-human, anonymous magic without any circle to inscribe it. What would this mean? For one, it implies that any magic without a circle is also a magic without human agents to cause, control, or utilize magic

But what would magic without the human mean? What would it mean to have revealed to us the hiddenness of the world without any human to evoke that revelation?

Excursus on Mists and Ooze

Let us introduce a new terminology to talk about the ways in which the magic site – as opposed to the magic circle – creeps forth: Mists and Oozes.

The term Mist may refer to any inanimate entity that lies between the air and the ground. For instance, nephrology, the study of clouds, considers clouds not only on the earth, but on any planet where conditions are conducive – indeed, in interstellar space, where gravity fields create nebulae from dust. The etherial nature of mists means that while they may appear solid and to have distinct forms, they are also immaterial and can readily become formless.

It's the same for Ooze, which can be metamorphic and shape-shifting… related to fungus. Despite their differences, mists and oozes are two examples of the ways in which the "hidden" world reveals itself, often with strange and weird effects.

5. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud / Hoyle’s The Black Cloud / Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere

There are, of course, a number of modern novels and films that portray mists as Gothic, malevolent forces. Shiel’s novel The Purple Cloud (1940), for instance, was hailed by Lovecraft as a masterpiece. A “Last Man” motif like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826). JG Ballard’s first novel was The Wind from Nowhere (1960) and it isn’t about human characters. Rather, it's about the anonymous and enigmatic world-in-itself.

6. Caltiki the Immortal Monster – X: the Unnown – Leiber’s “Black Gondolier”

Ooze seems to always attach itself to monsters. Dripping off fangs, making them gross. But sometimes, the ooze IS the monster, as in The Blob (1958). As with much American sf, The Blob generalizes fears about invasions of all kinds – from Communists, immigrants, nuclear missiles). This is a fairly conventional inside/outside relationship (us and them) with the key to survival being the protection of the former from the latter. This implies a boundary that can be protected, secured. But some ooze monsters come not from outside, but inside.



The Italian horror film Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959, Bava), the ooze comes from the bowels of the earth. It is the earth biting back. The revenge of nature.

Another variation is the British film X: The Unknown (1956), which features modern, industrial ooze. Both Caltiki and X feature monsters that frustrate the traditional inside/outside boundary. They both feature a magic site, deep within the crusts and caverns of the planet, in which the hidden world oozes and gropes forth to the surface, threatening the human beings that inhabit the surface.



In considering ooze, there is one more step to take. To consider it not just as archaeological and geological, but also noological. Not just a biological amoeba, and not just the mud of the earth, but taking on the quality of thought itself. Fritz Leiber’s short story “Black Gondolier” (1964), one of the precursors to the contemporary landmark postmodern horror novel Cyclonopedia. The character of Dalloway notes that “oil constitutes that black and nefarious essence of all life that had ever been… a great deep-digged black graveyard of the ultimate eldritch past with blackest ghosts.” 
Oil had waited for hundreds of millions of years, dreaming its black dreams, sluggishly pulsing beneath Earth’s stony skin, quivering  in lightless pools roofed with marsh gas and in top-filled rocky tanks and coursing through a myriad channels.
In Leiber’s hyperbolic prose, oil is not the type of ooze that we see in Caltiki or X, where the ooze remains hidden beneath the surface of the Earth. Instead, in "Black Gondolier", oil is described as an animate, creeping ooze that already is on the surface, and that immanently courses through all the channels of modern industrial civilization, from the pipelines feeding the cities to the individual homes and cars that populate those cities. At one point in the story, the narrator attempts to put Dalloway’s theories into coherent form:
Dalloway’s theory, based on his wide readings in world history, geology and the occult, was that crude oil – petroleum – was more than figuratively the life-blood of industry and the modern world and modern lightning war; that it truly had a dim life and will of its own, and inorganic consciousness or sub-consciousness, that we were all its puppets or creatures, and that its chemical mind had guided and even enforced the development of modern technological civilization.
Man hadn’t discovered oil, oil discovered man!

Ooze, furthermore, breaks down the idea of non-thinking objects upon which thought is projected and thinking subject, where thought is interiorized. Oil does not simply become a big brain, as if to recuperate all thought within the ambit of human thought. The oil is both crude, material stuff, and immanent, miasmatic thought, both materially viscous and sentient. We are presented with the suggestion that thought has always been unhuman.


Addendum: On Schmitt’s Political Theology

The hiddenness of the world puts forth the greatest challenge, which is how to live in and as part of such hiddenness. Might there be a way of understanding hiddenness as intrinsic to the human as well?

One of the insights of Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology (1922) is that the very possibility of imagining or re-imagining the political is dependent upon a view o f the world as revealed, as knowable, and as accessible to us as human beings living in a human world.
All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God becomes the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure. 
Think of the concepts of sovereignty, and the state of exception.
The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.
The 17th and 18th centuries were dominated by the theological analogy of the transcendence of God in relation to the world. The 19th century a shift occurs towards the theological notion of immanence (specifically in modern pantheism and organicist philosophy), which likewise correlates to “the democratic thesis of the identity of the ruler and the ruled.”

Theological concepts mobilized in political concepts forming a direct, tabular comparison between cosmology and politics (as between god and sovereign ruler, the cosmos and the state, transcendence and absolutism, immanence and democracy).

Consider an occult political theology (or a political theology of the hiddenness of the world). To do so, we would have to avoid taking Schmitt’s  theory literally. This would not only recuperate the hiddenness of the world into the human frame, but it would also lead to rather absurd political models (in which, for instance, the hiddenness of the world would serve as an analogy for similarly hidden form of governance, or the secret society as political platform). This is clearly not the direction one would want to take. But where then? 

I mean, I suppose it may not be something to aspire to, but it sure is descriptive!

The analogical framework presumes a few key things. 
  • First, that there is an accessible revealed and ordered world “out there” that may serve as a model or guide for the development of a political system “in here”. This is arguably the basis of political philosophy itself. 
  • Next, it presumes that this analogical relation is a one-way street, when clearly there are a number of ways in which the direction is reversed (as when politics determines how and whether we intervene in the environment). 
  • Finally, it is anthropomorphic.
So, what happens when we confront a world that is radically unhuman, impersonal, and indifferent to the human, in spite of the attempts to render it as a world-for-us, either via theology or science?

Philosophically speaking, the enigma we face is how to confront this world without immediately presuming that it is identical to the world-for-us (science and religion) and without simply disparaging it as an irretrievable and inaccessible world-in-it self.


III. Nine Disputatio on the Horror of Theology

The following 'essays in miniature' deal with the way that supernatural horror mediates between life and death, often by evoking some concept of life-in-itself that hovers between the domains of science and religion, biology and theology. It is in this in-betweenness that one discovers supernatural horror as a way of thinking about life beyond either the subjective (life experience) or the objective (life science) definitions.

What if horror has less to do with a fear of death, and more to do with the dread of life? Death is simply the non-existence after my life, in a sense akin to the non-existence before my life (a poste parte and a parte ante). These are mirrors of each other.

But what is life? No other concept has so preoccupied philosophy, with such divergent opinions on what is or isn’t the essence of life.

So the question really is: Can there be a philosophy of “life” that does not immediately become a concern of either Being or God? To what extent is “life” as a concept always situated between a non-ontological “life itself” (science) and an onto-theology of life beyond the living, or “afterlife” (religion)?

1. After-Life

There is no better guide to the after-life than Dante, whose Commedia is a political theology, rigidly structured yet coursing with masses of bodies, limbs, fluids, fires, rivers, minerals, geometric patterns, light. Perhaps, then, one should begin not by thinking about any essence or principle of life, but of thinking about a certain negation of life, a kind of life-after-life in which the “after” is not temporal or sequential, but liminal.

2. Blasphemous Life

But there is also a kind of Medieval biopolitics in the Inferno. The strange conjunction of sovereignty and multiplicity does not demand the punishment of souls, but instead requires a mass of animated, sensate, living bodies, in some cases resulting n an almost medical concept of the after-life. The sowers of Discord are meticulously dismembered, dissected and anatomized. In tandem with a sovereign “shutting down” we have also a kind of governmental “letting flow”, indeed, at several points the Inferno seems to imply their isomorphism.


Blasphemy can be viewed in this regard as the assertion of living contradiction. In its modern variants it strives to become an ontological principle as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “weird biologies” of HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (Shoggoths). In Lovecraft’s prose, the Shoggoths are the alterity of alterity, the species of no species. The biological empty set

At the center of blasphemous life is this idea of the living contradiction. Blasphemous life is the life that is living but should not be. In logical terms, the assertion that there are true contradictions is often referred to as “dialetheism”. But with Lovecraft we have a twist. The Shoggoths are bizarre examples of dialetheic biologies, contradictions that are living precisely because they are contradictory or blasphemous. The very inability to think “life” at all. Blasphemy is here rendered as the unthinkable. To account for such blasphemous life, one would have to either compromise existing categories or entertain contradictory notions such as “living numbers’ or “pathological life”.

3. Ambient Plague

Some disasters are natural, while others are not (some can be prevented/controlled, others cannot). In the US, the two-fold conceptual apparatus of “emerging infectious diseases” (naturally-caused) and “biodefense” (artificially caused) cloaks a generalized militarization of public health. It has become customary to view epidemics in light of post-germ theory, “autoimmunitary” boundary disputes. There is a more fundamental problem articulated in the pre-modern concept of plague and pestilence, where biology and theology are always intertwined. The motif of the angry God recurs in both fiction and non-fiction. It forms the key framing tool for Boccaccio’s Decameron, is a motif in Piers Plowman, and shapes the sub-genre of plague pamphlets in England. Biblical plague, such as the Ten Plagues of Egypt, are of this tradition. Another common reference among Black Death chronicles is apocalyptic. Revelations. What is noteworthy about the pre-modern concept of plague and pestilence is not only its blurring of biology and theology, but he profound lability that the concepts have.


The divine sovereign doesn’t simply pass judgement, it weaponizes life. And turns it against the earthly life of the creature, itself a product of the divine will. 

4. Nekros

What is the target of the living weapon if not the living target – that is, the corpse? Nekros names the singularity of the departed life, or of life recently departed from the body, leaving behind a corpse. But the corpse retains something residual of life. Nekros names not only the dead man, but the thingness of the corpse. It oscillates between the body-in-us-life and the thingness of the corpse, the latter approaching the domain of the purely non-living. The so-called material continuity debates among Patristic thinkers highlights the problem of time in relation to life and after-life. Paul lays out the basic anatomy of the corpus mysticum as constituted both by the natural and supernatural, earthly and divine.

If the corpse is devoured by worms and beasts, and those beasts are in turn devoured by man, how can the parts or particles of the body be re-assembled for resurrection? (One can imagine a solution to this problem offered by Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu). Tertullian shifts the emphasis from matter to the form, so that continuity could exist through change. Cannibalism thus does not negate continuity, and thus the living dead can also be the eaten dead

Insofar as the afterlife is related in some way to finite, mortal life, it obtains a certain familiarity that enables thinkers such as Origen to talk at length about growth and decay in a theological context. But insofar as the after-life is a supernatural phenomenon, it remains outside the scope of philosophical and even theological inquiry.

How can life be situated at such a point of inaccessibility? In his classic 1923 text On the Holy, Rudolf Otto (an exhaustive summary here) examines religious experience in a broad, global context, through his concept of the “numinous”.

The numinous is the limit-experience of the human confronting the world as absolutely non-human, the world as “wholly other”, a “mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.” A contradictory experience of horror and wonder encapsulated by his phrase: mysterium tremendum. The “overpoweringness” of tremors or terror play into Otto’s theory of religious experience. Otto notes that the confrontation with the unhuman world may manifest itself as the various demons, ghosts and creatures that populate the mythological and cosmological framework of different religious traditions. 

We might also add that this confrontation with the divine as horrific is also a leading theme in the 18th century Gothic novel. Here, the numinous is ephemeral, and can either be revealed to have natural (The Mysteries of Udolpho text/audiobook) or supernatural (The Castle of Otranto text/audiobook) causes, or a decent into damnation (The Monk text/audiobook).

The word “numinous” is etymologically akin to the Kantian term noumena. Kant’s own re-affirmation of the split between phenomena (the world as it appears to the subject) and noumena (the inaccessible word-in-itself) tended to draw his analyses towards the former and away from the latter (as in his antinomies of pure reason).

Let us consider a conceptual portmanteau between the Gothic numinous (the horror of the divine as absolute otherness) and Kantian noumena (the unhuman, anonymous world). In what sense is the nekros as “the dead”, also a kind of numinous life? A numinous life would have to articulate a conceptual space that is neither that which is lived outside of discourse (the Gothic numinous) nor that which is reasoned within discourse and yet unlived (the Kantian antimonies). We could call this a “horror of life” if such a phrase did not bring with it unwanted anthropomorphic and even existentialist connotations. Perhaps we can say that if the life-after-life is a numinous life, it is because it elicits a noumenal horror that is the horror of a life that indifferently lives on

5. The Spirit of Biology

The relationship between theology and horror in the West invites a number of superficial comparisons: in the Eucharist there is both cannibalism and vampirism, in the Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions, the realization of the City of God always entails resurrection of the dead, and in numerous instances the New testament portrays the demons and demonic possessions that elicit the healing powers of the messiah. One could argue that genre horror is a secular, cultural expression of theological concerns.

If we look more closely we can see that in many instances it is a concept of “life’ that mediates between theology and horror. We can imagine theologians carefully watching the classics of horror film. The relation between the natural and the supernatural (Aquinas watching The Cabinet of Dr Caligari), the distinction or non-distinction between human and beast (Augustine watching The Wolf Man), the coherence (or not) of the corpus mysticum (Paul watching Dawn of the Dead). 

But one need not imagine such scenarios, for many art horror films deal with such issues, from David Cronenberg’s “tissue horror” films to Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, to Dario Argento’s ThreeMothers trilogy. If both theology and horror deal with the concept of life, then what exactly is this life that lies at the limits of the thinkable? There is an “ensoulment” or animation that takes place in hylomorphism, a process through which life is literally formed (or in-formed/de-formed).

What theology implicitly admits, horror explicitly states: a profound fissure at the heart of the concept of “life”.  We see it in natural philosophy and the attempts to account for teratological anomalies and aberrations.

With the living dead, the exemplary figure is of course the zombie. Its allegorical mode has changed over time, but it is most often that of the uprising of the underclasses (the mob, the masses, the working class). The zombie can manifest in many ways, as multitude (Land of the Dead) or as contagion (Fulci’s Zombie). With the living dead, the guiding metaphysical principle is “flesh”.


By contrast, the undead has its exemplary figure in the vampire. Its allegory is not with the rising of underclasses, but with a decaying, romantic aristocracy. The vampire’s metaphysical principle is “blood”.


The demon is an amalgam (partly material, partly not) whose exemplar figure is itself an amalgam – that of demonic possession. As it frequently involves attacks on the Middle Class, its allegorical mode is mostly bourgeois. The demon’s metaphysical principle is “meat”.


Finally we have the phantasm, whose exemplary figure is the ghost. Whereas the three previous figures dealt with the allegorical modes that reflected class dynamics (zombie-working class, vampire-aristocratic, demon-bourgeois), the ghost deals with that strange and unknown governance after-life or (secular) of memory. The ghost’s metaphysical principle is “spirit”.


Each of the above are living contradictions.

6. Univocal Creatures

One of the peculiarities of Aristotle’s DeAnima is that, while it opens with the stated aim of inquiring into the principle of life, it quickly bypasses this in favor of analyzing the natural world, the senses and the intellect. Beginning as an investigation of bodies, (zoe) it ends as an opaque meditation on thought (nous). It is as though Aristotle discovers that the question of life can only be ontological if it ceases to be a question of life-as-such.

The Aristotelian framework was surpassed by the growth of natural history and the field of biology, but while the modern life sciences have analyzed the domain of the living down to the smallest molecule, the Aristotelian  concept of a “life principle” remains contested terrain. In particular, one issue left unresolved in the De Anima has to do with the concept of psukhe itself – the life that is common to every instance of the living. 

The different positions of biocomplexity, developmental systems biology, and the various branches of cognitive science today also raise these questions.

It is Aquinas who both synthesizes the various positions and attempts to wed Aristotelianism with Christian doctrine. What is the relation between the created and Creator, between the living and the divine Life that makes the living possible? Aquinas sets up a dichotomy between two approaches; equivocity and univocity

In the first, there is no relation. In the second – univocity – there is a relation of continuity between the creature and the Creator, such that, in extreme cases, the latter can be said to be co-existent with the former. 

The problems with each, from Aquinas’ position, are easy to see. While equivocity forecloses any possibility of thinking or experiencing the divine, univocity makes it too easy, in effect flattening the divine onto nature. 

As is well known, the solution offered by Aquinas is that of analogy. Between no relation (equivocity) and pure relation (univocity), there is partial relation, or analogy. Thus the creature is analogous to the Creator, their difference articulated in the form of degrees of perfection (proportion and proportionality). The creature is the life that is less-than-divine, the Creator is the life that is more than the living. Life is not the same as the living.

We can perhaps say that, for Aquinas, the living are analogously related to Life. This negative conception of life is ontologized along two axes. 

The first is predicted on ontological difference, positing a distinction between life and the living. De Anima posits psukhe as a general life principle, but at the same time distinguishes it from instances of the living in plant, animal and human life. 

The non-concept of life is also aligned on a second axis, on which it is predicated on a distinction between a principle of life and its corresponding boundaries of articulation. But it always makes possible one or more boundary relations that, when applied to the domain of the living, reaffirm the principle of life as essence. Such boundaries include that between the living and the non-living. Secondary ones include the division between the organic and inorganic, between human and animal. 

7. Extinction and Existence

The individual life can die. But what of “life” in general? This is the question posed by disaster.
“The disaster” writes Maurice Blanchot, “ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.”

In our era we are continually invited to think about humanity in relation to its real, hypothetical, or speculative extinction, Are we the cause, either partially or wholly, of this extinction (Dr StrangeloveDay after Tomorrow)? Or what about when human causality is absent – the cataclysmic effects portrayed in the film 2012 seem to just happen, in scenes that are textbook examples of the sublime, in the Kantian sense of a mixture of horror and wonder. Extinction begins to take on a mystical and apocalyptic tone, with only vague and ancient prophesies as indicators of the possible meaning of extinction.


In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Georges Cuvier published number of archaeological studies that established extinction as a scientific reality, culminating in his multi-volume work, Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossiles de Quadrupeds. As Cuvier provocatively notes, behind the revolutions of nations there lies another type of revolution, that of the planet, itself: 
The ancient history of the globe, the definitive term towards which all research tends, is also in itself one of the most curious objects to have captured the enlightened mind; and, if one allows oneself to follow, in the infancy of our species, the nearly invisible traces of so many extinct nations, one ill also find there, gathered in the shadows of the earth’s infancy, the traces of revolutions anterior to the existence of all nations.
Extinction also presumes an ontology with respect to the emergence and passing away of life forms. This ontology is predicated on a division between the life of the organism and the life of the species. Can one have organism without species, or vice versa? 

The life of the organism is not the same as the existence of the species (insofar as the death of a single organism does not indicate the extinction of the species), but the concept of the organism presumes a prior concept of species.

Who is the witness of extinction?

“Extinction is real, and yet not empirical, since it is not of the order of experience.” Ray Brassier, encapsulating Kant, in his seminal work of Cosmic Pessimism, Nihil Unbound.

Even the principle of sufficient reason slips through our grasp, putting us in the difficult position of not even being able to assume a reason for the world as such. Extinction as a biological concept is different from the death of the organism. But philosophers such as Heidegger also differentiate this death of the organism (which for Heidegger is “perishing”) from Death, the latter related to the Being of beings in their temporal being-in-the-world (“Dasein”). Extinction can only imply “life”, then, to the extent that a claim is made for the life of the species as a whole (its growth in numbers, its territorial expansion, the speciation or evolutionary adaptation it goes through).

“Extinction is the non-being of life that is not death.

8. Life as Non-Being

In the attempts to ontologize it, “life” becomes an always-receding horizon. Life is nothing precisely because it is never something. It is always more than one thing. Philosophical thinking about life borrows heavily from the tradition of mystical theology.

Eriugena’s Periphysean (The Division of Nature, ca. 866/867 AD) is deeply influence by the apophatic approach of Dionysius theAreopagite. What happens when the concept of life detaches itself from the concept of “the living”? In a modern context, the Process philosophy of Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead (as well as the Process Theology of Chardin and Steiner) likewise reach a zone in which Life becomes convertible with Being – even if the name of Life is process or becoming or flow.

For many, this is a false problem. The opening sections of Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) provide the clearest statement on this point. Heidegger effectively glosses over the fields of anthropology, psychology and biology as fields which must presume being in order to begin their inquiries about man, mind and organism. While each of these fields deals in some way with Life, none of them are capable of posing the question of Life as an ontological question:
…in any serious and scientifically minded “philosophy of life” (this expression says about as much as “botany of plants”) there lies an inexplicit tendency toward understanding the being of Da-sein. What strikes us first of all in such a philosophy (and this is its fundamental lack) is that “life” itself as a kind of being does not become a problem ontologically.
Where Heidegger leaves off is at the question of whether Life is a species of Being or whether the ontology of Life in effect transforms life into Being. His final utterance on the topic is opaque: “Life has its own kind of being, but it is essentially accessible only in Dasein.”

The problem of nonbeing is not simply that of a fear of nothingness or the vacuum. Rather it is the Gothic fear of a something whose thingness is under question. The pinnacle of this type of horror – really a kind of concept horror – is the evisceration of all noological interiority: “horror turns the subjectivity of the subject, his particularity qua entity, inside out”.  What is the “there is” of Life? Is the concept of life already a “there is” enveloped in the Gothic horror of absolute otherness and anonymity? Does this mean Life is really Life-without-Being?

9. Anonymous Horror

There is a certain absurdity in asking about the non-being of Life. But horror is replete with examples that point in this direction. The unnameable creature is also the unthinkable creature. It is without form, without matter, existing as pure demonic spirit, an inverted theophany. In Fiend Without a Face, human beings are besieged by immaterial brain-stem-like entities, suggesting telepathy as a form of contagion. And then of course there is the brilliant linguistic virus terror of the low-budget Canadian film Pontypool, perhaps the first ever Wittgensteinian horror movie.


Films featuring unnameable creatures contextualize the monster in terms of ontology (form-without-matter, vice versa) or in terms of onto-theology (spiritual abject, oozing abstraction). They point towards a life after life that highlights conceptual aberrations.

Life is what is denied of Being. Life bears some minimal relation to non-Being. The non-Being of Life can be situated either above or below the scale of the human. This non-anthropomorphic or even misanthropic quality of Life sustains itself with a certain inaccessibility. Even as Life is able to assert its self-sufficient character, it also puts forth its noumenal qualities. Kant’s statements concerning the teleology of the natural world would have to be qualified. It is because Life is noumenal that it is teleological (has an end goal). But this means that the ends of life are also ANONYMOUS.

Any question of the possibility of an ontology of life would have to consider “life” as a particular intersection between a biology of a non-conceptual life itself and an onto-theology of transcendence, eminence, and immanence. 

The issue at hand is not that Life cannot think its own foundation. Rather, Life as a concept must always presume a further question concerning being. The infamous question “What is Life?” appears to always be eclipsed by “What is Being?” And yet the very idea of Life-without-Being would seem to be an absurdity for philosophy… though, as we’ve seen, not for horror.


“The Subharmonic Murmur of Black Tentacular Voids”

Prologue

Can there exist today a mysticism of the unhuman, one that has as its focus the climatological, meteorological, geological world-in-itself, and, moreover, one that does not resort to either religion or science? One that does not imply a mysticism of the Earth, or nature, nor of the human subject or “humanity”, much less a mysticism of something as grotesque and vague as “life”?

The post-script or coda of professor Thacker's In the Dust of This Planet contains a not very good “anonymous” and “mysterious” poem that was obviously written by Thacker, himself.  In the context of ostensibly deciphering this "mystery poem", Thacker explores issues relating to the 16th century Christian mystic’s ambiguous view of empiricism, and the interface between self and world that ultimately determines all experience, mystical experience included. So it remains worth parsing.

What John of the Cross and other mystics call mystical experience is an oxymoron. Spiritual darkness extends the empiricist theme of sensory darkness further. Its primary concern is with idealism

What prevents mysticism from becoming idealism, which needs no empiricism (sense data) a contemplative practice of pure thought, purged of all sensory and phenomenal attributes? As Kierkegaard wrote: “for the intellect faith is also like a dark night.”

Thacker notes from his poem “the motif of the divine as dark due to its excess and exuberance, and the notion of the divine as dark, a limit for thought and experience. Also, an articulation of the paradox at the heart of mystical experience: the manifestation of that which is an absolute limit (for experience, for thought, for the human), which in its manifesting is also a vacuousness, a dissipation, a receding into shadows and night. This is the contradictory movement evoked in later thinkers such as Georges Bataille: “Here darkness is not the absence of light (or sound) but absorption into the outside.”

Too much light will strike anyone blind.

Something about blackness, darkness, the lack of light… a negation of sensory “data”. Seeing this sense data, this “experience” on top of raw existence as intrusive and obstructive. To put it into an auditory analogy, it is the howling smash and din of modern life (or maybe all "life") that obscures the pure, underlying, substrate “tone”… the eternal and universal un-sound of silence that will remain when all the experiential trappings of “living” fall away, due to the blood no longer flowing to those parts of the brain that allow the sensory organs to collect and analyze sense data. 

For the second part of the poem, Thacker explores the concept of “unground”. German mystic philosopher Jacob Bohme became involved in mystical theology largely as a result of his own mystical experiences (one of which included a vision of the structure of the world encapsulated in a beam of sunlight on a pewter dish).

Unground means a lack of ground, of ground as itself a ground or a superior or superlative ground.
Unground, in this case, could also mean “underground”.

The divine is “neither light, nor darkness, neither love nor wrath, evil nor good”. That is, it is precisely that which is neutral to the humanmoral and metaphysical attributes of the world. Less so in terms of neutrality and more so in terms of negation. The divine is nothing and all, the Divine Abyss. God is Abyss not because the divine passes beyond the human world of morality and metaphysics, but because the divine subtracts itself in an act of self-negation, from its very intelligibility as such.

The divine is indifferent to the human.

Bohme relies upon a fairly standard theological exegesis combining the Neoplatonic emanation of the divine with the Trinity as its mode of manifestation, resulting in the world as manifestation of divine goodness (the mysterium magnum), animated by an equally divine and beneficent principle of life (the spiritus mundi). Bohme’s religious commitment to a highly moralized natural philosophy ends up compromising the ambivalence in his idea of the Divine Abyss. The world is both unsurprising and disappointing.

Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation takes up and modifies the Kantian distinction between the world as it appears (phenomena) and the world in itself (noumena). For Kant, the last idea is a philosophical necessity, but can never be known as such. In the Kantian framework, the word-in-itself guarantees that all thought does not reduce to idealism. Schopenhauer grants to Kant the world as it appears to us, which he terms Vorstellung (Representation). 

Nietzsche, one of Schopenhauer’s greatest advocates and sharpest critics, notes that Schopenhauer can only make this claim by a poetic intuition, by definition it can never be proven definitively.

In attempting to describe the "Wille" as the world-in-itself, Schopenhauer variously resorts to the language of forcefluxflowprocesspower and dynamism, thought none of this language is used consistently.

It is the oscillating experiences of suffering and boredom that come to form this paradoxical ground, relying on the poetic intuition of the mystic more than the logical syllogism of the philosopher. There will always remain, as an insoluble residuum, a content of the phenomenon which cannot be referred to its form, and which thus cannot be explained from something else in accordance with the principle of sufficient reason. A longstanding foundation of Western philosophical thought, the principle of sufficient reason states simply that everything that exists has a reason for existing. It is the very bedrock the very ground of philosophy.

Thus, in our rejection of this ground, we carefully approach the limits of philosophy, the hinge upon which mystical thought operates.

Commentary on Planets

In The Congested Planet (1958), GeorgesBataille attempts something unheard of in mystical traditions: to conceive of a non-human mysticism that would also refuse all forms of anthropomorphic personification. Depicting a planet congested by death and wealth, Bataille evokes an anonymous, impersonal scream that pierces the clouds. In these clouds and on this planet – literally speaking – “knowledge is the agreement of the organism and the environment from which it emerges.” It is the accommodation of the environment to the organism that, in the last instance, constitutes knowledge. “The way of knowledge opens two paths”. 

First, instrumental knowledge. Bataille nuances this as both a philosophical and mythical need for a correlation between organism and environment (which is really the accommodation of the later to the former). Knowledge only arises by virtue of the conversion of the impossible back into the possible. Hazardous flight becomes wise calculation.

Conventional leftist reading of Bataille views it as a critique of global industrial capitalism, but that’s part of the picture. Bataille notes that the wise calculation of the human world is not always the same as the planet.

Awareness of the fragility of the human, the ungroundedness of the ground, the disjunction of the planet from the world, the world-in-itself from the world-for us – all of this evokes an experience that would in an earlier epoch be called mystical.

The more we learn about the planet, the stranger it gets to us. Learning about climate change is a real mind-blower for some. As it should be. “Beyond our immediate ends, man’s activity in fact pursues the useless and infinite fulfillment of the universe.” (TheAccursed Share).

The economy, in its conventional and narrow human-centric meaning, in the last instance dips down into the bowels of the viscous planet, which itself can only be known on the radically non-human level of Deep Time. What would a non-human, planetary economy look like? Cosmic economy?

Economy Conventional contra Economy Cosmic

A general or cosmic economy is the view of the Deep Time of the planet, its tectonic shifts and atmospheric transformations, all of which takes place indifferently to the human-bound interests of the restricted economy. Conventional economy, our language falters, opting for either the poetic (the ebb and flow of life) or the scientific (fluid dynamics, laminar flow).

The failure of Bataille’s project was, interestingly, to insinuate that a better appreciation of the general economy could lead to a critique and even transformation of the all-too-human restricted economy, especially when the latter is by definition indifferent to the hopes and desires of the former.
The best he could do – which the later chapters of the Accursed Share detail – is to simply document the ways in which we as human beings unknowingly participate in the general economy through the ambivalent rituals of festivals, war, and luxurious squandering.

Theory of Religion again evokes the problem of mystical experience, and in particular the mysticism of the unhuman. His starting point is our twofold status as situated, living beings: on the one hand we exist in the world, viewing the world as a world-for-us as human beings, with particular needs and desires. Our existing in the world in this way is predicated on a basic separation between self and world, which in turn is predicated on a minimal notion of individuation (I am not you, you are not me, get out of my space, etc.).

On the other hand, we also exist as the world itself, in as much as we are living beings indelibly bound to the world just as much as are the rain, buildings, internet. Our intimate binding to everything gives us the impression of our interconnectedness and of the interconnectedness of all things, human beings being only one type of thing. Bataille uses “continuity” and “discontinuity”.

Sometimes we prefer to keep our distance. Other times we seek out not just belonging, but a confirmation of this continuity at the basis of the world-in-itself. This everyday experience is the crux of the mystical dilemma. The experience of continuity (existing as the world) that can only take place on the precondition of a basic discontinuity (existing in the world). Bataille refers to this dilemma, with all its negations and contradictions, as Divinity.

The divine character is of an impersonal, indistinct and immanent existence. This sense of an unhuman, indifferent planet can only be expressed in us as a powerless horror. This horror is ambiguous. Its ambiguity is that which Bataille attempts to get at in his earlier texts, such as Congested Planet. How do we as human beings impact – negatively or positively – the geological status of the planet? To what degree is the planet indifferent to us as human beings, and to what degree are we indifferent to the planet?

Stanza IV – Commentary on Nothing

The poem explores concepts of depth and dormancy (sea and ice), opening the problem of mysticism. What kind of mysticism uses science (exclusively) to explore its nature? (this is all commentary on the “mysterious” poem). We may think of mysticism as a vague feeling of wonder that may or may not involve drugs, or nature hikes, or blissing out. We can also think of it as enabled by a scientific instrumentality, in which the Earth is the divinely sanctioned domain of the human, even and especially in the 11th hour of climate change. Neither of these is what we mean by mysticism here. Whether it is of the political left or right, whether it is the affectivist hippie mysticism or the eschatology-of-oil type, it is a human-centric and human oriented experience. It is always a union “for us” as human beings.

Consider mysticism in its historical context. The study of mystical writing was begun in the 20th century by Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’sSpiritual Consciousness (1911). She elucidates the logic of mystical thinking, particularly as a systematic practice. Also the psychology of mystical experience.

In the West, the intermittent flowering of mysticism is explained via historical context. In Germany, mysticism flourished in the 14th century, with Meister Eckhart being an important philosophical mystic of the era. This was a reaction to the hyper-rationality of the Scholasticism and its predilection for logic, nominalism, and Scriptural exegesis. 

In Spain, it flourished in the 16th century in the persons of John of the Cross, Theresa of Avilla, and others. At the core of their writing is the problem of suffering in the world – indeed the extent to which suffering is the very relation between self and world. John: “the darkness and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo… are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately.”

Many mystics posit some type of effacement or union of self and world as the resolution to the problem of suffering. This then places one – to the extent there is a “one” any longer – in a position to experience a further effacement or union, between the earthly and divine. This is the benchmark of nearly every text in the tradition.

The motif of light – light mysticism – the divine topologies of light and radiation in Plotinus. It is an affirmative mysticism. But it is compromised in several respects, including a highly anthropomorphized God with which one enters into a disturbing paternalistic embrace. For other mystical thinkers, the very inconceivability of this union with the divine meant that any possible knowledge of it, and any possible description of it, could only take place by a negative means (the divine is not-x or not-y, x and y denoting earthly, human-centric attributes). Hence, the preferred motif is NOT light.

This too has a long tradition, extending back to Dionysius the Areopagite, the via negative or path of negation as the way to divine union. Negative theology / language, logic, philosophical argumentation demonstrate the aporetic unknowability of the divine, and that of darkness mysticism, in which poetry and allegory are used to suggest the ways in which the divine remains forever beyond the pale of human thought and understanding. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” is, along with the anon 14th century text “The Cloud of Unknowing, are key texts in the darkness mysticism tradition.

Darkness mysticism is not only figuratively but historically the dark underside of mystical thought. It is mystical because it refutes the habit of human beings to always see the world as a world-for-us. Evelyn Underhill writes: “unless the history of the mystics can touch and light up some part of this normal experience, take its place in the general history of the non-human, contribute something towards our understanding of non-human nature and destiny, its interest for us can never be more than remote, academic, unreal.” So, what does mysticism mean to us, in the ordinary non-mystical sense? Underhill says the history of mysticism “is vital for the deeper understanding of the history of humanity.”

Retain her question, jettison her answer. See the darkness mysticism tradition in a new light, which is that of our current geopolitical imaginary of climates, tectonic plates, tropical storms, sedimentation of oil fields and primordial life. 

In a contemporary context, we are constantly reminded of the planetary (cosmic) frailty of human beings, and reminded in ways that appear to be utterly indifferent to the history of humanity. Floods, earthquakes, famine, etc. But in the context of these unhuman phenomena, perhaps something called mysticism can have an unexpected meaning. Rudolph Otto suggests this in his exploration of the ambivalent “horror of the divine” in religious and mystical experience. Such experiences, in which the human confronts, in a paradoxical state, the absolutely unhuman, can only be thought negatively. 

In the West, Otto argues, there have been two major modes in which this negative thought has been expressed: SILENCE and DARKNESS. To these, Otto adds a third: EMPTINESS or EMPTY DISTANCES (or VOID).

Hence our opening inquiry – a new darkness mysticism, a mysticism of the unhuman, which is really another way of thinking about a mysticism of the “without-us” or really a dark mysticism of the world-in-itself. This sentiment is expressed in the world of the Kyoto School philosopher Keiji Nishitani, who repeatedly turned to the modern “tendency toward the loss of the human.” 

Nishitani is part of a generation of Japanese philosophers equally versed in Western philosophy and Mahayana Buddhism. He studied with Heidegger in the 30’s and engages with Western thinkers like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Eckhart. For him, the insight of mystical thinking is to have revealed the core problem of nihilism, in which some thing is revealed to be nothing, in which some locus of meaning or value is revealed to be illusory and empty. For Nietzsche, it was the waning of the credulity of religious belief. For Nishitani it is the two-fold waning of religion AND science. “The nihility that one becomes aware of at the ground of the self and the world.” Without a foundation, the modern nihilism finds itself confronted with nothingness.

Our response, argues Nishitani, should not be to rediscover new ground for giving meaning, nor should we be satisfied to wallow in despair at the loss of meaning, the “abyss of nihility”. Instead, we should delve deeper into this abyss, this nothingness, which may hold within a way out of the dead end of nihilism. The only way beyond nihilism is through nihilism

In contrast to the relative nothingness of modern nihilism, (privative, ontology predicated on the absence of being), Nish proposes an absolute nothingness, purely negative, a meontology predicated on a paradoxical foundation of non-being.

“Emptiness in the sense of sumyata empties itself even of the standpoint that represents it as some “thing” that is emptiness. Nothingness beyond nothing, emptiness beyond empty. Nish turns to planetary, climatological, cosmic tropes to describe his absolute nothingness: 
Just as nihility is an abyss for anything that exists, emptiness may be said to be an abyss even for that abyss of nihility. As a valley unfathomably deep may be imagined set within an endless expanse of sky, so it is with nihility and emptiness. But the sky we have in mind here is more than the vault above that spreads out far and wide over the valley below. It is a cosmic sky, enveloping the earth and man and the stars that move and have their being within it.
In Nish’s interpretation of absolute nothingness (sunyata), that through which everything exists and subsists is not itself an existent, nor is it an existent foundation for all existents – it is nothingnessemptiness. Everyone and everything is nameless, unnameable, and unknowable. … and this cosmic nihility is the very same thing that distances us from one another. “On the field of emptiness that absolute breach points directly to a most intimate encounter with everything that exists.” 

This is of course the most difficult thought. There is no being on the side of the world, nature, the weather. We are not on the side of the world. The world is against us. But even this is too anthropocentric. It is more accurate (and horrific) to say that the universe is indifferent to us. Nothing could be more insignificant than the human (although we do hold some surprises up our sleeve, eh?).

If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed… IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET!!!

***
I hope you enjoyed this concordance for Eugene Thacker's In the Dust of This Planet. I urge you to support professor Thacker's work by purchasing his book (and its two sequels, Starry Speculative Corpse and Tentacles Longer Than Night), whether you're interested in contemporary philosophy, "art horror", or both. I'll be doing similar concordances for both, barring the receipt of cease and desist letters from professor Thacker's lawyers. Purchase his books through the links provided, and I get a shekel or two in my beggin' cup. Thanks! And keep watching these blogs! - Jerky

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