Pop Nihilism and The Dust Of This Planet

From RADIO LAB A conversation with Eugene Thacker on the truth, beauty and post-goodness of pessimism (nihilism?)

Eugene Thacker is an author and associate professor at The New School in New York. Thacker is known for his writings on philosophy, media theory, music/sound studies, and writings on the horror and science fiction genres. His work is often associated with the philosophy of nihilism and pessimism. Thacker’s most recent books are the Horror of Philosophy series and After Life, and he also writes a column called “Occultural Studies.” He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, Seattle, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Rutgers University.

In his ongoing series Horror of Philosophy, Thacker explores the idea of the “unthinkable world” as represented in the horror genre, in philosophies of pessimism and nihilism, and in the apophatic (“darkness”) mysticism traditions. In the first volume, In The Dust Of This Planet, Thacker calls the horror of philosophy “the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility.”

Horror, fashion, and the end of the world … things get weird as we explore the undercurrents of thought that link nihilists, beard-stroking philosophers, Jay-Z, and True Detective.


As DMF says the cool kids are into nihilism, but its MORE than that! Pop nihilism is the slime that oozes from the deep cracks of our demolished hopes and dreams. And for the better. Black is the new everything baby! This world is made of mad accelerations and disintegrating veneers so why not keep it real and lay our flesh upon the earth in a final inhuman reckoning of all that we are and could have been? Confront those horizons of possibility head-and-heart on..

SO what come after we lose our illusions? We still need to live. And I for one refuse to curl up and just cry myself to sleep (although that does happen). I want to go down fighting. But how can we say YES to such an ancient NO? What kind of post-ies are we willing to tolerate, to build, to salvage and demand? The revaluation of values, of practice, of course – but how are we going to arm ourselves and with what? Please discuss.

10 responses to “Pop Nihilism and The Dust Of This Planet

  1. I’m not sure this weirdness is anything new, maybe it is ancient though. I suppose since we don’t really want to pout anymore over our disillusionment, one would have to say ‘yeah, that was weird’. But I guess we now are confronting ‘this’ weirdness of ‘after-now’; I wonder if it’s just weird because were hanging on to our (dis) illusion? And if we are now accelerating, I would think it is only in reference to our previous ‘drunken stupor’. Pretty weird. I think we were accelerating; now were just anxious, so everything seems fastSounds cool though. Gotta make a living on our agency. That seems sure.

  2. We could expect it not to be new, precisely. Civilisations collapse all the time. It’s banal. This, if anything, is part of the point. How anxious are we? I was recently at a consciousness raising group about anxiety and someone said to something like how having a panic attack, actually inducing one, was relief from a general pervasive one. Maybe we’re going about complaining about anxiety the wrong way. Maybe we aren’t using our anxiety properly. Fight or flight. From what? This isn’t just our civilisation; its the organic preconditions for any civilisations. You don’t fight that shit. Do you take flight from it? Well, why take flight from? Isn’t there some French guy who used to talk about lines of flight that were actually paths deeper into a problem? So what is the line of flight into nihilism? Well, maybe that is a question it takes a degree of intoxication to ask. Not that I’m intoxicated. I swear it.

  3. What’s new are the cognitive resources with which to think the unthinking, and not be so caught up in its thinking. Which is to say, a re-cognition of the weirdness is but the first, albeit most important, step towards more adaptive attempts at living-with a kind of illusionment that never ceases even in the face and reach of a myriad of nonhuman potencies, forces and assemblages. Humans are myth-making creatures. That is how we reckon with the world, and it’s not going to go away. But the manner in which we deploy our coping-myths matters in consequence and motivation, and with regards to coordinating action and our relation to non-discursive powers. If we can mutate the way we make our myths such that reflexivity and humility are core operating tendencies we can begin realign priorities and diffuse intense and petty ideological commitments. There is no-where to run? We are enmeshed in a cosmic sense.

    But egoic-bodies can be composed differently and anxiety can reconfigured – used in new ways as Arran suggests. What affective states can we attain if we changed the frame, and the contexts of their expressions?

    IMO, nihilism is not a line of flight at all. At its best it is the dissolution of the desire to flee and the sense of liberation that brings. At its worst it is chalice for a type fatal hope and resultant sad-bastardism that hijacks our affective circuits and weakens our resolve for being and becoming. I see the post-nihilist impulse as a stark raving alternative to auto-theology and transcendence mongering. Sure the cosmos is nasty, brutal, deep, and short on soothing metas, but here we are; fuck it – let’s see what we can make of it.

  4. I’m not sure I disagree with that; I’ve never understood a line of flight as a line away, a going-to, a leave taking. You take a line of flight “into” where you are- by “lodging yourself on a plane of immanence”, by attempting to be a sensible part of the choreographic mess of the exuberance of cold matter. Some of the best dance performances I’ve seen are determined by the cold rhythms of mathematical precision- and it is precisely that which makes them hot.

  5. Pingback: A Moment in Kitsch Nihilism | this cage is worms·

  6. “I am a nihilist. I observe, I accept, I assume the immense process of the destruction of appearances (and of the seduction of appearances) in the service of meaning (representation, history, criticism, etc.) that is the fundamental fact of the nineteenth century. The true revolution of the nineteenth century, of modernity, is the radical destruction of appearances, the disenchantment of the world and its abandonment to the violence of interpretation and of history.”

    – Jean Baudrillard, “On Nihilism” in Simulacra & Simulation

  7. Reblogged this on Kafka's Ruminations and commented:
    Although I think the discussions (on podcast) still lack depth, it’s still worth listening to. Pop nihilism is certainly a symptom of what’s going on deep in our civilization. But insofar as the source of this symptom is to be found beneath, way beneath, I think Ben Woodard’s book “On an Ungrounded Earth” complements Thacker’s in many ways.

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