“Nihilism stands like an extreme that cannot be gotten beyond, and yet it is the only true path of going beyond; it is the principle of a new beginning.” – Maurice Blanchot
“The nihilist’s capacity to act is increased (what Nietzsche calls “spiritual vigour”) when the goals or missions that once directed you are no longer suitable; the nihilist begins as an existential exploration: discover your own challenges.” – Glen Fuller
The liberating and invigorating spaces of reasoning, acting and becoming opened up by radical negational cognition are multitude. Instead of remaining content to reiterate centuries old maladaptive semiotic commitments and social enactments the advent of radically nihilistic thought violently breaks with contemporary assumptions and social norms. It is therefore long overdue that we begin to understand and present the advent of nihilism primarily as an opportunity for emancipation, experimentation, and creativity in the search for more adaptive living.
To do better in the task of living, relating and thinking we can continue to annihilate the dominant heuristic interpretations of our time, and reject those soothsayers who seem more interested in protecting the supposed sanctity of transcendental logos than coming to grips with the precariousness of life and the unreliability of all available maps to mitigate or guide it.
The person who declaims against nihilism does not escape it. Nihilism should not be treated as if it were something we might easily reject. Or, to put it differently, nihilism should not be treated as if it were the result of a decision, a choice that might be judged and found wanting according to a set of principles. One does not become (or avoid becoming) a nihilist by a pledge of allegiance. Nihilism is not a position that is taken against morality, against society or against politics. It is the condition we live under, and it can take many forms.
What nihilism describes are the effects of living within a collapsed universe. This is not a realm of nothingness where nothing matters and nothing makes any sense. Authority, truth and morality persist. Reason still operates. But what authority cannot gather and secure are the intellectual, affective, and bodily procedures that might render truth final, and secure its domain. Morality remains, truth remains, authorities still exist, and yet they cannot be sufficiently coordinated.
We might then ask, “how can nihilism activate the latent possibilities opened by the current ambient disorders?” To be sure, ‘nihilism’ has never existed as a unified objective condition or psychological mood, but rather as loosely organizing constellations of attitudes and references resulting from the large scale de-legitimization of certain forms of knowledge and practice viz. the rise scientific knowledge and methods, and the ongoing reality of corruption by both church and government. (Ansgar Allen)
This loss of legitimacy of both standardized norms and power structures induces a creeping awareness of the ongoing dissolution of dominant modes of doxa (claims to truth, methodological faiths, social institutions, political regimes and cognitive orientations), which then further erodes our docile acceptance of traditional semantic habits.
Nihilism is thus intellectual and emotional code for a growing awareness of the limits of belief and the futility of grand narrative gestures. And in the vacuum created by the subsequent retreat of ignorance, tradition, and doxic certainty our species is afforded a wide range of novel and potentially rewarding neurally instantiated possibility spaces for more adaptive cognition and communications – and so too for action, accommodation, and creative praxis.
Nihilism provides an opportunity to develop an awareness of our proximity to that which exceeds the symbolic – and that from which there is no escape: the non-human forces of the Real, both within the embodied matrix of self (as the ‘nonhuman-in-human’) and without (in “the great outdoors”). The myth of pure representation as mediator of the Real predicated on an assumed split between cognition and nature, between thought and world, died with natural science right alongside the supposed laughing Gods.
With the decline of doxa as a general mode of cognition the various clouds of symbolic projection begin to lift, affording us opportunities to become better acquainted with the deeply visceral and more directly consequential (pragmatic) aspects of the real. Embodied experience and sensibility become reinvigorated and open up as radical sites for self-organizing being and becoming differently in the world.
The first great pitfall from which such a radical standing by experience will save us is an artificial conception of the relations between knower and known. Throughout the history of philosophy the subject and its object have been treated as absolutely discontinuous entities; and thereupon the presence of the latter to the former, or the ‘apprehension’ by the former of the latter, has assumed a paradoxical character which all sorts of theories had to be invented to overcome. Representative theories put a mental ‘representation,’ ‘image,’ or ‘content’ into the gap, as a sort of intermediary. Common-sense theories left the gap untouched, declaring our mind able to clear it by a self-transcending leap. Transcendentalist theories left it impossible to traverse by finite knowers, and brought an Absolute in to perform the saltatory act. All the while, in the very bosom of the finite experience, every conjunction required to make the relation intelligible is given in full.
– William James, ‘A World of Pure Experience‘ (1904)
We are reminded in every experience we have with finitude – with trauma, limit, decay, death, causality, affordance, pleasure, joy, and necessity – of our ontological embeddedness and kinship with-in those practical realms of affect, materiality, and subsistence which structure all that we are or aspire to be. The reality of embodied ecological life cuts through our narratives and disrupts our strategies in ways that fundamentally challenge us, while simultaneously affording us opportunities for existence. Ecology has triumphed over all varieties of Cartesianism.
“Nihilism is not the negation of truth, but rather the truth of negation, and the truth of negation is transformative.”
– Ray Brassier
The new openness and flexibility in thought afforded by the rejection of all forms of dogma and doxic cognition allow us to acquire and evolve new sense-abilities and skills for building from the ruins of our past failures and develop more adaptive ways to survive and generate joy. After nihilism we achieve deeper intimations with the real.
In the clearing enacted by nihilistic thought life and thought goes on. We must cope and make our way in the world even in the absence of all transcendent truths. We must consume and release energy and matter; we must shelter ourselves, cooperate, and procreate; we must make sense of, communicate, and navigate the world. In short, existence continues according to its own natures even in the absence of explanation and “absolute” signification.
The post-nihilist reactivation of explicit copings-with the pre-conceptual plane of immanent consistency offers a kind of zero-point realism that renders thinkable an auto-affective matrix within which all praxis operates. This matrix is the hyperreal ecological context of facticity that both pre-exists and survives all human desires for oversignification as well as the deflationary advent of nihilism.
“The fact that human cognition is heuristic, fractionate, and combinatory means that we should expect koans, puzzles, paradoxes, apories, and the like. We should expect that different systems possessing overlapping domains will come into conflict. We should expect them in the same way and for the same reason we should expect to encounter visual, auditory, and other kinds of systematic illusions. Because the brain picks out only the correlations it needs to predict its environments, cues predicting the systems requiring solution the way they need to be predicted to be solved. Given this, we should begin looking at traditional philosophy as a rich, discursive reservoir of pathologies, breakdowns providing information regarding the systems and misapplications involved. Like all corpses, meaning will provide a feast for worms.” – R.S. Bakker
There is no escaping reality. And the consequences of ignoring what it has to teach us about our own constructed and cherished commitments and values would just breed more ignorance and keep us trapped in the confusing logic of self-assuring naivety. Nihilism operates here as constant reminder and corrective to any tendency to rebuild our imaginaries, logics, and commitments in ignorance of this pre and non-discursive life.
Yet “nihilism” is still primarily just another code; it is a phantasy thrashing out signals hoping for some semblance of contact with the non-symbolic flesh of the world. Nihilism at it’s worst is a poetics of defeat and epistemic inaction, and at its most useful a temporary semantic and aesthetic placeholder allowing us to gain some traction towards integrating and synthesizing the dark insights of finitude, incompleteness, difference and ontological intimacy. Such insights force us to loosen our existential and conceptual grip on the ideological baggage following from centuries of ill-constructed narratives and begin to more readily accept the immanent challenges and opportunities of embodied ecological life.
So it is that nihilistic intelligence allows us to radically deconstruct our commitments and interests, leaving us to remake those commitments and interests in thick collaboration with the immanent (hyper)Real of pre-discursive life. The important corrective of perpetual negation and constant re-emphasis (via new sensory and cognitive registers) must be retained, however, if those makings are to provide a qualitative difference for developing more adaptive modes of existing-coping.
“‘positive unbelief’ – a provisionalizing of any reality frame in the name of pragmatic engagement rather than epistemological hesitation…” (CCRU)
Such post-nihilist sensibilities (sense-abilities) render us more capable of attaining awareness of and registering the possibility spaces that open as the various flow systems and assemblages, at both epistemic and structural levels, continue to collapse and/or transform. Nihilistic maturity is then a translating of an awareness of the limits of signification and futility of certainty in a radically disordered world-context into a conceptually open willingness to end the various games of detached self-enchantment that keep us from enacting healthier and more creative lives and worlds.
So if we cannot escape reality what are we to make of it? What are we to do after the advent and acceptance of nihilistic wisdom? That is, how are we to live as post-nihilists?
Initially, the way seems too dark to proceed. Absolute knowledge is replaced by a (more or less) confusing but immediate familiarity with wild complexes of multi-scaled forces, assemblages, and flows. Contentious temporal consensus and solidarities replace certainty, truth, and institutionalization. We find ourselves in translation and thrown into material and cognitive fields of probability and precariousness. We post-nihilists are forced to begin anew halfway upon the journey of our personal, epistemic and collective lives.
However we do so not in isolation. We are forced to move forward in the ruins of old dogmas and cultural illusions, of broken institutions and arbitrary practices, and among the scattered debris of an aberrant civilization. As we limit our dependence on and deployment of the doxas and fantasies of pre-nihilist life the retreat of superflous intentional thought and expressions, and the ideological commitments they anchor, opens up emergent possibilities for cognition and praxis.
The nihilist insights leading to any post-nihilist will to empowerment and praxis is also enacted as a type of coming to our senses: motivated by the deemphasis of representation and semantic association in favor of a re-engagement of embodied knowing and appreciation of the visceral intensities of life. And as we begin to reconcile with the Real – with the tangled creeping flesh and intensive flows of transcorporeality – we may forge new productive and enriching alliances with the potencies, affordances and opportunities of ecological life.
Whereas nihilism is a reactive negational realization entailing destruktion and dissolution, the subsequent post-nihilist move is an active attitudinal disposition and set of practices that necessitates creation. After deterritorialization comes reterritorialization – everywhere and endlessly. In order to survive and thrive the post-nihilist position is thus inherently sensitive to possibility and creation.
The practical advantages and adaptations of exploring such possibilities are too important to be explained away. Cultural commitments that have bound us to our current ecologies of practice can now be exchanged in favor of more collaborative and context specific forms of inquiry and action. The possibility of salvaging and remaking whole fields of knowledge, methodology, discourse, participation, and praxis to more adaptively align with our social and ecological needs and goals is at stake. There is an urgency with which we must respond to challenges of Anthropocene life.
“God is dead”, and yet even as many of us celebrate this development we remain intoxicated by the idea of gods. We continue to drink the electric kool-aid of ideology and concoct potent cocktails of compromising certainty. Culture-shocking drunkards stumble from town to city, from field to forest, slurring our media with toxic information and distracting images.
While others seek new intoxications that might allow them to cling to the old certainties, principles, axioms and nostalgias, those of us no longer hung over from God’s colossal wake remain content only in forging new worlds. Our species does not need more toxins, ‘isms’, nor cathedrals – even if they are coated in a soothing logic of norms and predicates.
Praxis is what always sustains us. Knowing how to find our way in the world and continue to exist has demonstrably more traction than knowing that things are they way we organize them (often mistakenly) schematically. We have been intoxicated and impaired by a unchecked commitment to the myriad of motivating and dictating stories (and all the minor and unequally distributed successes those allowed) since the beginning of sedentary culture. Now excess and abuse of those same stories and practices are finally collapsing, allowing us to confront the consequences of our addiction to ourselves. And with that change becomes possible.
The nihilist-to-post-nihilist move is an adaptive mutation of a species that has been dangerously and delusionally distracted by awkward patchworks of desire-infused semiotic feedback loops for far too long. We can mutate and become more sensitive to the myriad of ways we can better equip ourselves to resist our own ideological successes in order to confront our practical failures. What we need is a perpetual disillusionment and self-intervention that fosters brave new pragmatisms, technic supplements, and animal becomings. What we need is post-nihilist praxis.
What is nihilism? (apishungry.wordpress.com)
Reflections on nihilism as a belief system (footnotes2plato.com)
Axioms for a Dark Ontology (larvalsubjects.wordpress.com)
Nietzsche & The Death of God (volitionsphilosophy.wordpress.com)
More on Naturalism and Nihilism (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
“That’s just it; the economics of higher education now prevent the kind of interdisciplinary vision that I’m describing. I think that a literary critic’s work would only be enhanced by a more sophisticated sense of, say, evolutionary paleontology, or molecular biology, or cognitive science, or cosmology. We want to be able to ask answerable questions, but we also want to be able to situate those answers in a broader geography, an engagement of the larger human questions. And that’s how my books work; they work by saying you cannot understand a person minimally, you cannot understand a person simply as a function of his inability to get along with his wife, you cannot even understand a person through his supposedly causal psychological profile. You can’t understand a person completely in any sense, unless that sense takes into consideration all of the contexts that that person inhabits. And a person at the end of the second millennium inhabits more contexts than any specialized discipline can easily name. We are shaped by runaway technology, by the apotheosis of business and markets, by sciences that occasionally seem on the verge of completing themselves or collapsing under its own runaway success. This is the world we live in. .”
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Wonderfully written, Michael! I wish I could follow you on this, and I know I garnish the appeal of my own position by appealing to the possibilities of reinvention post-intentional thought promises, but this is way too Promethean for my sensibilities. The thing to remember about the madness of intentional philosophy is that it *falls organically* out of intentional cognition. Freeing ourselves of this madness does nothing to change the fact that we are being wrenched inside out, situated in a way strangles our native sense-making capacities. There’s no boot-strapping, here, no overcoming, and certainly no liberty apart from the theoretical (useless) kind. To be honest to nihilism, I think, is to be honest to horror, abjection, and turmoil.
this is more or less my take on life in the ruins, maybe Michael can give us some mode/praxis to test?
The way to test is simply: are any such language games and practices (modes of existence) conducive to life (survival and continuance), and a “good” (pleasurable, fulfilling, joyous) life at that? Let us not forget the insights of the Greeks, Confucius, etc. Life has its own basic imperatives that can be enhanced and tweeked. Hook this basic priority of living into an awareness of the existence of our our circuits of empathy (and how they too mix in with a “good” life) and the knowledge that stability only occurs within balanced and moving equilibriums and you get a full suite of social-ist, communalist priorities as well.
There are various practices and strategies for coping and living from the ruins that can be deployed. Permaculture, co-opts, earthships, transition villages, guerrilla gardening, group therapeutics, solarpunk tactics, psychedelics for cognitive health, polyamory, local markets, etc, etc, etc – many of which have been posted here too. I plan on featuring more practice solution-focused coping stuff here as we go along, but the tools already exists to life the “good” life, we just have to start using and enacting them.
seems to lack context, literally I mean, there is no exit from the titanic collapses of our times, so how to bear them?
I’m not sure what you mean about a lack of context? The context is anywhere humans exist. Our species always seeks to survive and increase pleasure.
I mentioned some ways to bear life within collapse: drugs, permaculture, collaborative art projects, local food production, re-vitalization of communal living spaces, polyamory, weaponry, etc.
Maslow gave us the broad outline long ago.
Building up the necessary capacities and situational scaffolding for coping – say in your town or home or individual life – must be stacked via 1-2-3.
The question we must ask is do our language games and practices afford the stacking from 1 to 3 inclusive of imperatives operating at the biological, social and existential registers?
The difference in coping-styles between pre-nihilist modes like religious fundamentalists or neo-liberal capitalists and a post-nihilist praxis is a) in the level of commitment to extra-logistic principles (ideological cognitive anchors like “freedom” or “duty” or “race”) which drive behavior in terms of dispositions towards acceptance of perspectives or information, or willingness to act, communicate, and b) an ability to deliberately revise both thought and actions according to the open responsiveness of our bodies and the agencies of nonhuman assemblages, both in our immediate awareness (phenomenology) and the extended perceptions via tools (techno-scientific methods). In a word, humility. Humility supplemented by deliberate inquiry in the service of enacting nonzero outcomes.
What are you looking for exactly in terms of context and tools?
Give me a situation where actual humans are having to cope with actual collapse and we can identify strategies and available resources for coping in that context. Let’s do a case study!
I’m asking how one avoids the degradations under and poisonous excretions of the powers that be, platform capitalisms, anthropocene, etc. Humility might keep me from banging my head against a wall but not from the wall falling on my head.
Pick anyone you like finding reasonable housing, food, work, healthcare, etc.
A case study would be good might give me some sense of how what yer suggesting works.
Thank you Scott. I’m confused why you think its too Promethean when it seems to me that your whole model is about re-cognizing our limitations for some sort of subtle personal intervention into our own mental life and actions; to use our illusions differently.
Of course I agree there is no escaping the intentionality inherent to enunciationary cognition. Every expression or statement is an over-code, or an informatic game embedded within other games. We can no more escape this “wrenching” than we can do without it at this point in the life of our species. Sapience is hooked to how our difference-engine-brain’s use our token-able capacities to navigate affordance-scapes.
Yet, what I think the explicit post-nihilist move can do is shift the cognitive emphasis – and thus our action-orientation interests – from the products of intentional-symbolic expression (with all the manifest images) to the process of coping, adapting and living. Nihilism is simply the emotional and intellectual (and cultural) symptom of the collapse of doxic semantics. Post-nihilist pragmatics/praxis (PNP) mutates intentional thought by rebooting and then building a strain of perpetual negation into its very deployment. If we can stabilize PNP in various discourse regimes, in whatever form, then we can reform our existential and social priorities in ways more conducive to more adaptive flex-low communications and coordinations of praxis.
With every dissolution (nihilism) comes reformation (post-nihilist) necessarily. This is just how nature (as one-in-all) seems to work at the most basic ontic level. We need to incorporate our awareness of this process in our ways of being and knowing. We can either evolve (in the classical adaptivist sense) our ways and learn to enact our being and becoming differently or we can attempt dwell in one particular mode and stagnate and fail to adapt. Nihilism is but a mode of apprehending and coding the incomplete, impermanent, finite, differance, chaotic, “empty”, and perpetually changing nature of things. But unless we are all going to commit suicide then we must live after nihil, and with it, and in its possibility spaces. We are already post-nihilists as soon as we acknowledge the horror and turmoil inherent to Being and then still decide to keep living. Choosing to dwell in the emotional and intellectual modes of nihilist thought is choosing to be attached to yet another doxic psycho-semiotic complex. Instead, PNP advocates a radical break with doxic cognitive habits towards open experimentalist orientations to living that deintensify our psychological dependence on certainty (closure) and ideological commitments, while intensifying our bodily and adaptational (open) engagements with the world. Such enacted open orientations are animated by a pre-ideological concern with the self/species-justifying projects of survival, connection, joy production, and communal flourishing.
The take-away here is the difference between operating as human agents in a closed mode or in an open mode. PNP operationalizes the insights of nihilism for the local and non-transcendentally justified project of living in more open and adaptive modes. Nihilism is an opportunity for becoming different and not an end in itself.
“With every dissolution (nihilism) comes reformation (post-nihilist) necessarily.”
except there is no such necessity to history/evolution and certainly no neo-hegelian logic of sublation, species reach dead-ends as will the biosphere at some point.
this might be of interest:
I’m not appealing to “progress” nor dialectics Dirk. I’m taking a broader ecological view here. Species come and go but their absence creates opportunity for a new species to flourish. Re-formation happens in a new way. I’m not saying humans will survive the various collapses, what I’m saying is that biological life itself evolves and adapts. Life’s imperative or inherent tendency is to perpetuate and adapt not remain static. Death, dissolution, disassembly are all events and the evental and flowing nature of energy and matter never stops. Any theory or position that privileges dissolution as finality is a theology of death, a thantanologistic rejection of the basic knowledge of how matter and energy never cease to flow and assemble and disassemble in various ways. We don’t actually know where the universe is heading in terms of the longest trajectory, but I have never encountered a natural system that just vanishes without somehow enriching its local environment with its remnants allowing a reterritorialization by other means.
That caveman strategy stuff is great too. PNP can never be committed to a particular aesthetic or suite of tactics for living. Acceleration to techno-utopia (zoom) or complete collapse (doom) are both possible, as is so much mangle in between. Definitive answers are set aside for working out (salvaging, creating, designing, etc) what works for any given assemblage of humans, things, and flows to perpetuate. The values we assign to any of it can only follow from life-imperatives mixed with a negotiation our adopted secondary interests.
Of course, much of the discussion of strategy or values hinges on a consideration of the complex role empathy plays in our animal personality structures re: our seeking towards eudaimonia, and thus political posturing.
Hi Michael. I guess I’m not sure how your reply doesn’t illustrate my point. To understand the biology of cognition, I would argue, is to understand there is no ‘post-nihilism,’ only post-semantics–or post-intentionality. On my view, applications of intentional *cognition* are unavoidable so long as we remain on this side of the posthuman. “Intentionality” is a deliberative metacognitive mirage, what happens when we try to solve for intentional cognition via intentional cognition.
But the only way to proceed in such cases is to compare the theories of meaning/cognition involved. What is your theory? How does it naturalize (materially explain or explain away) semantics? Shoot me some links! For my own part, the bulk of heuristic neglect theory can be found in my JCS piece, “On Alien Philosophy.”
Hey Scott. I think my reply embodies your point. And your point that there is no escape unless we are to go posthuman is valid and great as far as it goes. I just think you might be missing the nuance of my supplement to your point. There is a difference that makes an operational difference between a) pre-nihilist thought (Piaget’s concrete operation cognition) where we take the ‘objects’ of intentional thought as concrete reality, b) nihilist thought (possible with what Piaget termed formal operational cognition) where we become concept-aware and reflexive via a “loss” (deflation) of blind faith in our ‘intentional objects’, and c) post-nihilist praxis (PNP) where perceptual sophistication better integrates with relativistic and dialectical (ecological) reasoning to establish a different orientation to the world. It is a process of getting out of our heads, so to speak, and coping with-in the world differently but not of getting “beyond” intentional cognitions. That is why I shy away from talking about post-nihilist “thought” which would be inconsistent with the spirit of the discourse and instead shift to the term praxis to signal the emphasis on how cognition is used as opposed to what the intentional contents are. All thought and volition is entangled in semiotic networks. And, as you say, there is no getting beyond, only enacting new kinds of deployments.
So PNP looks to use cognition and intentionality differently, by working with and against cognitive biases, and by working with-in ecologically rich contexts to enact more adaptive modes of being, knowing, and relating. One way this is done is through what I call axiomatic negation – a perpetual zero-ing down and constant negating of doxic commitments. Notice it’s the negation of the commitment to the products of our intentional thought not of intentional thought as such, which is impossible. PNP interventions seek to reconfigure the fleshy circuits of attitudinal and habitual (sub-cortical) cognition and not primarily at schematic-information (intellectual) levels to instantiate hyper-reflexivity. Such interventions are biological, social, technological, infrastructural, etc., but never exclusive to discursive play. We apply intentional cognition differently to affect different modes of awareness and relating.
At this point I could say more on how nonhuman media, A.I, architecture, nanotech, and chemical assemblages can couple, supplement and augment the human to create new ecologies/regimes/matrices of action and awareness but that would be extending the argument past what we are addressing here.
PNP is first and foremost a kind of praxis not simply a semantics. The whole point is that the semantic apocalypse destroys our ability to commit to dogma. Even a dogma of PNP. This deflation (not cessation) of the intentional realm offers a subsequent deintensification of our infatuations with ourselves such that a re-ordering of perceptual priming – in a very McLuhanesque sense – and habitual interests become possible such that new relations with nonhumans become possible.
When you say, “’Intentionality’ is a deliberative metacognitive mirage, what happens when we try to solve for intentional cognition via intentional cognition”, I’m tempted to ask what you think might be solved? I’m not attempting to solve the problem of intentional cognition. I’m suggesting that there are different kinds of intentionalities available to us as assembled cognitive agents that are more conducive to more adaptive and enriching modes of existence. I’m suggesting that the nihilistic insight is that we are all delusional and biased, and so the post-nihilist insight is that we are capable of creatively experimenting with those delusions and biases to reorientation ourselves toward more adaptive modes. Nietzsche famously argued that “man” is but a transitional stage towards something more interesting. I believe that to be true should we have the courage and en-courage-ment to choose it and work towards it.
You said previously that my take on this is too promethean for your liking. I would like to use Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus as an illustration of a point. In it archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw travels across the galaxy in search of meaning and purpose she believes to be found in the “messages” from the Engineers. What does she find? A nihilistic black ooze that overtakes and mutates the flesh and intentionalities of all who come into contact with it. She meets the monstrous and silent Engineer who is utterly indifferent to human concerns or questions. She has her meaning-full delusions crushed by the black oozing weight of a cold harsh world that is beyond her comprehension yet readily available to destroy and obliterate her and all the wonderful stories she wants to tell about purpose and love and whatever else. Welcome to the ecosystem of the Real. Hello nihilism.
But notice too Shaw’s reaction to all these events. Is she content to just stay put and dwell in the meaningless of her trip, or tuck tail and revert to her old ways and fly back to earth? No. Shaw decides to create her own meaning and forge new possibilities by going forward and travelling to the Engineer homeworld. Even when she removed the alien foetus she did so because she was adapting to circumstances and wanted to survive. Shaw’s local purpose is to not give up but to strike out beyond the known and experience raw whatever may come her way. She creates her own destiny. Shaw is the prototypical post-nihilist. She faced the horrors of the shade and continued on exploring.
In fact, that is what we love about horror stories: they remind us of our ontological vulnerability, and of the pre-discursive dangers of the Real. And they remind us that through sheer will and luck and affordances we can sometimes survive the dangers.
And this is what nihilism taken to its conclusion is about as well. There is a non-discursive order and “agency” to things that registers above and below intentional cognition, and that can intervene in the coping-stories we tell. Nihilism can deflate the spectacle of intentional thought and allows a reconfiguration of our bodily activities such that our actions and intentions might be expressed differently. The post-nihilist move is not a final getting beyond intentionality it’s a coming to our senses in our bodies to evolve new strains of intentionality without the pathology of dogmatic commitment. My appeal to PNP is simply a gesture toward engaging the sheer possibility spaces for creating and installing practices and strains that afford new kinds of relations and projects for living.
As far as my theories of meaning and cognition go, I will need some time to gather those links. I’m pretty sure whatever I would be willing to reference would be quite close to your own view. In general we’d be looking at a fairly uncontroversial acceptance of certain streams of cognitive neuroscience combined with the more defensible arguments coming from bio(social)semiotics, tinged with Gibson’s theory of affordances and your own BBT. I think an empirically supported theory of sense-making and meaning-generating animal cognition is pretty straightforward.
Again, my concern is with how we are cognizing and to what effect, rather than activating some truth-complex within a particular semantic regime. Humans can kludge together whatever neural dispositions and semiotic commitments that tickle there fancy as long as it enacts and installs more adaptive and joyous modes. My opinion based on the evidence gathered is that this is best done through some version of nihilist thought (axiomatic negation) – that is available within a wide range of cultural complexes (such as Buddhism, Kabbalah, Native American sweat-lodging, etc.) and then some activation of an ecology of post-nihilist practices.
“‘Knowledge for its own sake’–that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more.” – Nietzsche, BG&E
“Naturalists, materialists and posthumanists should … require that our theories of intentionality be compatible with some gradualist explanation of the development of intentional systems from non- intentional ones – in this instance, that norm-instituting powers cannot have appeared fully formed but must have emerged gradually from the scum of sentience.” – David Roden (in press)
Roden’s always interesting.
“The familiar classical conceptions of ‘subject,’ ‘object,’ ‘epistemology,’ and ‘ontology’ find no fully coherent mapping onto these recent advances in quantum physics, apart from their casual, practical application. In the same way that the causal and logical orders are treated as mutually implicative in these modern interpretations of quantum physics, so too are the pairings of ‘subject and object,’ ‘epistemology and ontology.’” – Michael Epperson
did I miss a unifying theory of physics and aren’t “causal, practical applications” what we’re after?
no, and yes. That is my interest in this quote. The murky waters of quantum living and the language games we have. Choose our illusions, non?
we certainly are making things up as we go, but the particular affordances and resistances of differing assemblages matter if we are going to try move from the page/screen to the other activities from life, otherwise one gets into the sorts of mystifications one sees in that recent video of Zizek and Harman making the rounds, at least that’s my sense of it.
Agreed in full Dirk. Discourse matters for orienting people, especially re: commitments to projects. I just think there’s space for scrapping some traditional academic notions in favor of some other connections and motivators. My purpose with that quote was to keep thinking loose. The old cognitive tricks are stifling.
What did you dislike about the H/Z encounter specifically (I haven’t watched it)?
oh yeah i’m for scrapping anything that doesn’t work, what bothered me about that video (and the work around Barad and all) is that it tends to take the limits of our grasps and turn the yet unknown into something Mysterious and Spooky, too much theo-logizing for my tastes.
Haraway, Bennett, Stengers, and all tend to be much more careful/explicit when they cast things with a poetic eye and don’t usually fall into some kind of unintentionally ironic scientism.
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