Nietzsche’s Bastards

Picture Sun

[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.

14 responses to “Nietzsche’s Bastards

  1. I think, following Bakker’s reasoning closely (and I could be wrong), the kind of cognition/metacognition required to believe oneself to be “neglect-aware”/to have “neglect-awareness” is itself as much a symptom of informatic occlusion/medial neglect as the “consciousness” that contains the aforementioned awareness. But I prefaced this with “I think”, which is also a symptom of deep deprivation/maladapted heuristics…all I know is that there is a part of “me” that appreciates poetry that appreciates attempts to delineate post-nihilist praxis, but I don’t know that it’s the same part of “me” that appreciates post-intentional (anti?)philosophy of mind. I don’t know what the synthesis of those parts is, but I suspect it’s yet another blind dip into a non-existent pool!

  2. Yours is an interesting point but I think there is a difference between knowing that our cognitions are limited – and as a result that many of the questions we ask about the world are absurd – and know directly how this is so. We cannot ‘see’ our own ‘blindness’ any more than we can taste our own tongue but we can be somewhat aware of the said ‘blindness’ in ways that help us deploy ‘seeing’ in a new way. That is, we work with our limitations (necessarily) on new projects rather than try to outmaneuver them via less reflexive projects.

    My motivation here was to provide a statement capable of resonating with those readers who are emendable to post-representation action-orientations so as to push the conversation towards an appreciation of the corporeal nature of praxis, as enaction.

    The ‘synthesis’ or, rather, overlap between post-intentional theories of cognition and post-nihilist sentiments is precisely in the move to deconstruct and reevaluate our understandings of ‘meaning’ and ‘value’ and ‘agency’ – viz the physio-psychological apparatus that generates often superfluous and maladaptive cognitions. Nihilism is a intensified by a the scientific image of sentience. We can’t run from the implications of neuroscience anymore than we can from what ecological science demonstrates. Our traditional understandings and worldviews are collapsing under the weight of new knowledges. I simply want to pick up the pieces and kludge some kind of nuanced praxis in the aftermath.

    • and we can develop trusting/mutual relationships with people who can help us see what we cannot, less than perfect to say the least but what’s the all-too-human alternative?

  3. Yes Dirk! I agreed, the importance of swarm intelligence, networks of sentience and sapience and nonhuman intelligences forming dynamic meshes of adaptivity and resilience cannot be underestimated. It is said by some that the ‘next Buddha’ will be a collective.

    In many ways networked intelligences are what we have been building up to all along. Thompson and company talk about extended minds, Kevin Kelly talks about the symbiotic nature of technium, and we are starting to see convergences between technology, biology and existenz with nano-technology, synthetic bilogy and the like, that completely obliterates the distinction between nature and culture. What becomes possible in the mix and mangle of life and technics and politics in a new infrastructural ecology where fleshy and informational sense-ability plays off each other and is enhanced by high-powered computing and multiple perspective-taking. Highly complex social matrices can thus augment our powers and reorganize/reassemble existing limitations to generate emergent and more adaptive properties and capacities.

    The problem becomes will our species be able to achieve anything approaching the kind of stratified swarm sentience I suggested above before this civilization drives us to near extinction? As H.G Wells wrote, “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

    • heh I think that the news of the day tells us that catastrophe has won the race but as long as there is human-life we can keep doing what we can, one thing I appreciate about RSB’s work is that he helps us to get a better grip on what we can’t do so that we can get off those dead-end paths and do otherwise (or at least tho of us who have eyes to see can, the vast rest will keep doing what they have more or less always done).

  4. “Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain (except the mind of a pedant), perfection is the mere repudiation of that ineluctable marginal inexactitude which is the mysterious inmost quality of Being. Being, indeed! – there is no being, but a universal becoming of individualities, and Plato turned his back on truth when he turned towards his museum of specific ideals.” – H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905), Ch. 1, sect. 5

    • yes very good, would appreciate a sort of thick example of the kind of thing you are gesturing towards in this post as time/interest allows, thanx

      • Thick example? It’s hard to know where to start or where you would like more meat Dirk. Perhaps if you probed a bit more and asked for details or a specific example about a particular aspect of what I wrote?

        As I expressed on twitter, for me the post-nihilist impulse is not a postnihilism. What I’m suggesting is not a doctrine or an objective event/movement in the world. What I’m suggesting is the enaction of a cognitive reorientation made possible through a suspension (but never elimination) of all conventional-operational semantics viz. axiomatic negation and accelerated nihilism. And all this only in relation to existing personal, social, historical and ecological conditions and challenges. Such a reorganization of signs, significance, sense and sensibility requires an intensification of our attention to corporealist praxis through bodily and infrastructural reorganization. Post-nihilist praxis [or ecologistics], then, seeks reflexive methodological, tactical, heuristic and technologic experimentation and advance in an effort to generate adaptive responses and pro-actions within ecologically degraded and ideological incoherent (noise) social contexts rife with massive systems crisis and varied ‘opportunities’.

        This said, what kinds of examples are you looking for?

  5. hey m, i get stuck myself on trying to imagine/enact how we can actually be more effective in organizing people into productively reflective/reflexive organizations/coops ( ) so something you have worked-on/lived-out (or are just starting to sketch out) about what
    “requires an intensification of our attention to corporealist praxis through bodily and infrastructural reorganization” would mean as a next step/experiment. that we might start tinkering with, not unlike perhaps a case-study or such, does that help?

  6. it seems to me that if we were to develop the more generative forms of social organization you guys are rightfully grasping towards, we have to first embrace the inherent serendipity of individuation. there is no indication the infrastructural ecology you speak of serves emancipatory emergence, and could just as easily herald more intricate forms of control in del’s terms

  7. always astonished at how uninformed as to other cultural world views the average socialist is. “We are actual bodies…..” No, we are not actual bodies, but the explanation would be opaque to you based on your information pool. You are wrong about so many things it takes to much energy to work up a sigh. Really. Grow up. Along with most of the poster here you are infantile thinker. Keep reading. Try to think a little less and watch a lot more.

    • “Grow up”? Sure thing grandpa lol.. WTF are you even talking about?

      How are we not actual bodies? Are we ghosts?

      And who mentioned anything about socialism???

      And what about other worldviews? I think of “worldviews” and habits of cognition operating based on particular informational and heuristic ‘content’ with particular to general biologically mediated imagery and referential semantics. So if you refer to other people who use other languages, embody different modes of cognition, enact variable perceptual ratios, and act in relation to alternative conventions than YA I know about those, I’m an anthropologist – I had whole theologies and traditions of ‘cultural’ diversity beat into my brain over a long period of time. But what’s your point? Do you have one?

      Either explain your troll dung or be off to find your local Koch brothers funded anti-science or hate-mongers-are-us brigade.

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