“Our secular society seems to have finally found its new God: Work. As technological progress makes human labor superfluous, and over-production destroys both the economy and the planet, Work remains stronger than ever as a mantra of universal submission. This book develops a fully-fledged theory of radical atheism, advocating a disrespectful, opportunist squandering of obedience. By replacing hope and faith with adventure, The Last Night of our lives might finally become the first morning of an autonomous future.”
I did not know beforehand what would count for me as a new color. Its beauty is an analysis
of things I believe in or experience, but seems to alter events very little. The significance of a bird
flying out of grapes in a store relates to the beauty of the color of the translucency of grapes.
There is a space among some objects on a table that reminded her of a person, the way the bird reminded her,
a sense of the ideal of the space she would be able to see. Beauty can look like this around objects.
A plastic bag on a bush, moving slightly, makes an alcove, a glove or mist, holding the hill.
Time can look like this. The plane of yourself separates from the plane of spaces between objects,
an ordered succession a person apprehends, in order to be reminded.
The second interview in our series is with Alf Hornborg, who is an anthropologist and professor of human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. Hornborg is the author of The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment and the title of his lecture at our colloquium is “Does the Anthropocene Really Imply the End of Culture/Nature and Subject/Object Distinctions?” We proposed three questions to him, and he made this video in which he talks about the material conditions of possibility of the Anthropocene, among other things.
[this is a draft of a work-in-progress]
Thinking about existential finitude is one thing, solemn and practical in range, but acknowledging and then living with an awareness of the myriad of blindnesses, biases and otherwise unconscious routines and functions which generate and afford sentient experience is quite another. Increasingly empirical science is suggesting that we often fail to understand just how little we are capable of understanding. “Reason”, logic, intentionality, agency, etc., are all weak conceptual placeholders for much more complex, varied and distributed realities. Human cognition is not an organ for the bequeathing of ‘Truth’, nor the realization of extra-material value and purpose, but a relatively modular capacity that specific types of bodies have for coping with sensory information in differentially structured environments. And it is my contention that becoming aware of the embodied, “bounded” and limited nature of our conscious lives has far reaching consequences for the stories we are willing to tell about the world, how it works, and, more importantly, how we might engage within it.
For me, a move toward praxis via a post-nihilist attitude (a ‘pragmatism’ never content to be defined as such) is about attempts to instantiate varieties of what, following R. Scott Bakker (here), we might call ‘neglect-awareness’ when deploying our all-too-human knowledges. If nihilism is in large part an unraveling of traditional structures of meaning accompanied by the collapse of certainty then scientific suggestions about the limits of human know-ability and its supporting unconscious operations can only serve to intensify the nihilistic tendency. Meaning, value, truth, agency, understanding and consciousness are being exposed as ghost-objects of conceptual association, previously (mis)taken as ontological rather than functional singularities. Our hitherto waywardness in this regard has allowed us to set and accumulate confused and misguided cognitive, existential and practical tasks dangerously disconnected from the autonomous and mostly anonymous life of non-linguistic, non-intentional corporeality. Yet possibilities remain.
In fact there must be ways forward; because life goes on regardless of how we interpret it to be. We are not our semantic mistakes, nor our projected phantasies, but actual bodies in movement and affective relation enacting consequential situations. And so forward we must go into the storm of nihilistic dissolutions and mournings and reactionary impulses seeking to exist, subsist and generate places and spaces of relief for all that we are given and all that we make. We must continue to communicate, scheme, plot, scavenge and design, but only now we do so with a semblance of awareness of what we do not and often cannot know or understand. The problems that plagued our thoughts and consciences – and our practices and institutions – in the past no longer motivate our existential and social projects. We become experimental beings; as much bricoleurs as ever but now consciously so, seeking solutions not truths, assembly not meaning. We thus become post-nihilists by default and necessity.
Socrates was among the first Western philosophers to formulate a maxim around a reflexive awareness of the limitations of human thinking with his equation of wisdom with knowing that one does not know, but many profound thinkers and teachers have also set about to make ‘neglect-awareness’ a central feature of their own philosophical stories: from Siddhartha (the Buddha) and the Gnostics to Nietzsche, William James, Wittgenstein and Derrida. Their works lay among the ruins of all those edifices build by so many other rhetoricians and professional discourse elites. And so finding out what works and what no longer applies after the tyranny of meaning – a tyrannical state of affairs deposed by the logic of sensation and flesh – becomes a salvage operation lead by sadists and psychonauts whose only function now is to rouse and resonate with those huddled minorities no longer enchanted by the sorcery of language.
To be sure, there is no final liberation. We are phantasmic creatures burdened by the weight of our determining biases as much as our cognitive luminescence. And no heroes remain. Not you, not me, not Socrates, not Obama – and none waiting to be born in the clash of necessity or immediacies of human civilization. Idealistic transcenders and promethean consenters must give way to quiet transgressors and frenzied adapters who, being what they are, gather together on alternating occasions for Dionysian celebrations and ritualistic intellectual humiliation.
The past cannot hold us because the urgency of now is intensifying. And the future was not cancelled because it never existed. We creep forward with disdain for all those spoon fed fascinations and lies propping up the contemporary condition. We are the bastard children of Nietzsche – exposed, temperamental and willing to take the practical exigencies of an immanent life to radical extremes.
Bakker continuing his crusade towards dark illumination here:
A hallmark of intentional phenomena is what might be called ‘discontinuity,’ the idea that the intentional somehow stands outside the contingent natural order, that it possesses some as-yet-occult ‘orthogonal efficacy.’ Here’s how some prominent intentionalists characterize it:
“Scholars who study intentional phenomena generally tend to consider them as processes and relationships that can be characterized irrespective of any physical objects, material changes, or motive forces. But this is exactly what poses a fundamental problem for the natural sciences. Scientific explanation requires that in order to have causal consequences, something must be susceptible of being involved in material and energetic interactions with other physical objects and forces.” Terrence Deacon, Incomplete Nature, 28
“Exactly how are consciousness and subjective experience related to brain and body? It is one thing to be able to establish correlations between consciousness and brain activity; it is another thing to have an account that explains exactly…
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I wish that we would drop the term “mental” from such concerns but still worth a read:
“This research reminds us that if we are to meaningfully understand contemporary landscapes of urban distress, and the ideologies that produce and sustain them, then we need to pay attention to the biological traces that are produced through the practices and ideologies of the city. Taking up the task begun by Faris and Dunham, social scientists and policy makers will need to learn to see how the social life of the city is inseparable from the biological life of the body and the brain. It is precisely through the generation of such a ‘politics of life’ that we see the potential for more attention to biological research on social phenomena. Certainly, much refinement is needed. But we suggest that the first step is to leave behind the conceptual tools of twentieth century critique – biologisation, medicalisation – and to begin to build an analytic framework for our own century, one that can learn, again, to track and understand the mutually constitutive relationships between biology, and embodiment, and social suffering.”