Survival, in the sense Desert suggests it to me, is something completely different, for in it any social group or kin network, as it attempts to live on, cannot draw significant lines of difference (of identification, therefore) between itself and others. It melts into a humanity collectively resisting death. Needless to say this is something entirely different than the revolutionary process as it has been imagined and attempted. There is no future to plan for, only a present to survive in, and that is the implosion of politics as we have known it- Alejandro de Acosta, Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism.
The wilderness of unknowing
In the short text Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism we see a step towards the development of a speculative and survivalist anarchism. The author of the text states that Desert, a pessimistic essay on the catastrophic future, was dismissed by most anarchists who read it as being entirely depressing. The same author holds out little hope for their own writing, predicting that it will be met with ‘revulsion’ by most readers. I regularly describe myself as an anarchist…so what do I mean? How can anarchism sit with post-nihilist praxis without retaining an attachment to one of those 19th century ideologies that would serve only to blinker us to the present and to the conditions now being born… the wasteland of the future?
‘Green nihilism’ really gets going when it sits Desert alongside Eugene Thacker’s In the dust of this planet in order to discuss the unpredictability and the unknowability of the real:
As Desert invokes the present and coming anarchy and chaos, it admits the weirdness of the future (for our inherited thought patterns and political maps, at least); when Dust of this Planet gestures to the weirdness and unthinkability of the world, it invokes the current and coming biological, geological, and climatological chaos of the planet.
As the Alejandro de Acosta, author of Green Nihilism, notes there is a slippage, a movement, a reciprocity between these two positions. One takes climate science as the lens by which to know the world whilst also asserting that any linear continuation of the present coordinates of understanding and anticipating the world are in the process of being shattered; the other reveals the world-without-us that Thacker names the Planet and this corresponds to a non-image of the world in itself in its withdrawn and inaccessible state, a name that stands only to represent our cognitive inability to penetrate the real all the way down.
Our scientific discourses capture aspects of the Planet and freeze into an image- what we might call the Scientific Image of the Earth- that is made accessible for human endeavors and finally must be shackled to such. We generate scientific knowledge always for ourselves, to maximise our capacities, to make better interventions into the materiality of the flesh, so we can power our machines, extract ore from the crust, sail across oceans or fly between continents or escape the atmosphere of our little blue and green speck, and, of course, to make life both easier with labour saving technologies, and harder with their consistent meshing as part of the machinic interfaces of capitalism. So we measure, we record, we make an impression of the environment and the ecologies we are structurally and existentially involved in the processes of coping-with, and in doing so produce all our fields of knowledge, chief among them, in terms of our access to the matters of materiality, being the natural sciences.
Thacker names this Earth the ‘designation we have given something’ that reveals itself to thought by way of the scientific method. It corresponds to an anthropocentric view of the real and to a strong anthropic principle that states that the cosmos necessarily had to give rise to the kind of creatures that could make such observations and recordings.
In the language of the moribund speculative realism this Manifest Image belongs to a variety of correlationism: being and thought, the structure of things and the means to access them, coincide and must always be taken as part of mutual circularity from which nothing is excluded in principle. The strong anthropic principle holds that “Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being”- the presence of the observer and the presence of the real are logically coextensive.
Thacker counters that there is also the Planet:
By necessity there are characteristic that are not accounted for, that are not measured, and that remain hidden and occulted…this remainder, perhaps, is the “Planet” (Thacker, 7).
The Planet as remainder is both the excessive and the residue that denies the supremacy of the observer and proclaims that the Planet is neither for-us or for-itself but “occult”, an abyssic dimension that refuses us knowledge- it is the world passed over into silence, that about which we cannot speak.
It is what Michael has called the wilderness of being and which is characterised by its autonomy from the low-res improvisational field work of human cognition and is marked by ‘spaciousness, ‘wildness’ (precariousness, chaos)’ and partial knowability. Impersonal, anonymous, appearing on the horizon like the inverse image of God derived from mystical negative theology, except that this is still a register of the real that we have contact with, simply it is a dimension that can’t be described or made to appear to phenomenality.
With this notion of ontological wilderness we have the sense of the fullness, the density, the complexity and richness of entanglement that images of a truly wild green space conjure in our imagination; but the term ‘remainder’ is altogether more stark, more austere, and distinctly less vibrant. In fact the Planet is the obliteration of all terrestrial horizons- there is nothing here that could form the horizontal limit for a finite subjectivity. The Planet is dispenses with subjects and objects.
There is a sense in which the remainder, a concept we could unpack almost endlessly, can be framed against the wild-ness of wilderness as the gleaming whiteness of the skeleton beneath the flesh of the soft knowable and experiential organic body. The skeleton, that physical memento mori, speaks of a durability that exceeds our soft tissues, our sensuality , and opens us up to coming-undone of our illusions, reveals the temporary aggregation of the ensemble of our body, which is our being, and so to the existential territories that coagulate into our worlds. The Planet serves in our cognitive matrix embodied in synaptic operations and text on the page and screen as an exercise in the coming-to-be of ourselves and our worlds, the passing-away of ourselves and our worlds, and thus recalls the carnal, machinic, and ontological vulnerabilities of both.
It short, the Planet outlasts us, came before us, and exists beneath us, without us, in abject indifference to us (as such it could be called evil: what is evil except absolute indifference?).
If Thacker’s work goes towards an atheist mysticism this isn’t simply an inheritance of philosophical pessimists like Schopenhauer and Cioran; it is because humanity is still a “theological animal”, thanks to our heuristics for building representations of the world, and even more than this it is because the real itself is, to mutate a mystical term, a wilderness of unknowing. This is the planetary and cosmological ecology of the real: a ruined vibrant darkness; an austere wilderness.