The Transcendental Object At The End Of Time

This documentary was created by Peter Bergmann. I’ll have more comments on this at some point, but for now I leave it here as something to consider. I would enjoy feedback from others.

Terence McKenna was an author, lecturer, philosopher and shamanic explorer of the realm of psychedelic states. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including metaphysics, alchemy, language, culture, technology, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness. He has been described by some as being “so far out, nobody knows what he’s talking about”, and by others as “the most innovative thinker of our times”.

To shake us out of our perceptual torpor, McKenna played the holy fool, the crazy wisdom sage. He pushed our faces in the most exotic, lurid inventions of modern science and technology. What elevated him above most other prophets was that he delivered his prophesies with a wink, an implicit acknowledgement that ultimately reality is stranger than we CAN suppose.

McKenna’s métier was the spoken word — stand-up philosophy that meme-splices Alfred North Whitehead, Marshall McLuhan, James Joyce, William Blake and many others, delivered in a reedy, insinuating voice. Available throughout the Internet with titles like “Having Archaic and Eating it Too” and “Shedding the Monkey,” his lectures are tours de force of verbal virtuosity and pack-rat polymathy, leaping trippingly (in both senses of the word) from quantum mechanics to medieval alchemy, from the chaos theory of Ilya Prigogine to the neo-Platonism of Philo Judaeus.

8 responses to “The Transcendental Object At The End Of Time

  1. I’ve been listening to Terence Mckenna most of the latter part of my adult life. I’m old enough to have been listening to Leary during the former part. Like most my age, I got into and out of and into all of this, time and again, each time a little more disillusioned.

    Like western Buddhism, ecological/psychedelic/new age radical discourse has come to nought in the face of the capitalist juggernaut. What I like about these old videos, though, is that they allow you to access the living discourse as it was fashioned in the flesh, so to speak, by unique individuals. Or at least you get a real flavour of what it might have been like. I like to look at videos of Chogyam Trungpa, Leary, Burroughs, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Malcom X… the list could go on and on… for the same reason. It helps thwart the temptation to the sterile critique that comes of the endless analysis of texts. Not that ideological critique is irrelevant, but that life ( and ideological critique) is lived on the wing, twice told, it’s true, but not a third by way of the Philosopher with a capital P..

    I went from New Age psychedelic alternative-ism, to left politics, to Buddhism, to Philosophy in that order. (think of climbing a spiral instead of walking a line ). I realised late that if we got all our philosophy from videos instead of texts, things might look up, if only because the living, flesh and blood individual in their so “two minutes ago” historical/cultural/discursive “date-ed-ness” would have to be the site of our meeting with a truth. It would put an end to the myth that the great philosophers never go out of date. It’s the cult of the text and the charismatic aura of the definitive work that allows for the illusion of the sufficiency of philosophy. Neither the cult of the leader or the cult of the absolute philosophical truth can survive for long the immediate presence of the leader or the philosopher. If only we had a video of Plato.

    How could you fall for the illusion of sufficiency in the presence of mckenna, for example? On the other hand, as the the temptation to turn the guru into a “cult of the guru” proves, the living presence of truth, in all of its idiosyncratic strangeness, will only be useful by a radical auto-deconstruction of the sort Dzogchen attempts. Which is to say, the only absolute truth is that the truth is always relative to a situation manifesting as this particular rock or this particular living being. Or, as Laruelle would put it, the living being is the condition for a truth and not the other way round.

    Strangely, this “living being” is not the being available to empirical science for inspection , although the biological/social being is the occasion of its appearance, or it’s last instance. Laruelle and Dzogchen (and likely a load of discourse I am ignorant of) insist on a unilateral real of the human, foreclosed to conceptual capture but inclusive of all attempts to do just that. No doubt if I were saying this in person you would see that what I say will never live up to the sheer “lived” of my existence. I am always one step ahead of what I say. Even stranger, I can listen to my-self speak.
    Timothy Morton, in an incredible fusion of object orientated philosophy and Dzogchen, makes the recitation of a sacred text the occasion for a simultaneous auto deconstruction of the truth of the text by way of the possibility of my being able to hear myself recite it!

    Hope that doesn’t make too much sense.

  2. Sorry it took so long to reply Patrick, but welcome to SZ. Your comment makes all the sense! I honestly couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote. For me, sharing stuff like this is simply about loosening up the neurons for discussion and unexpected awesomeness to happen, such as getting the opportunity to exchange with YOU!

    “Like western Buddhism, ecological/psychedelic/new age radical discourse has come to nought in the face of the capitalist juggernaut.”

    That’s the crux, isn’t it? All the speculation and theorizing in the world is insignificant if the ecological conditions (of generation) and modes of social production aren’t challenged and changed.

    What speculative/aberrant thought does, however, is open up cognition a bit from socialized habitual thought for those seeking ways forward. In order to motivate and navigate social and economic problems we have to have enough alternative-seeking imagination to motivate, communicate, and rationalize our behaviors and actions. Humans are semiotic creatures and without mutating the linguistic and neural habits we can not instantiate practical meaning. This speculative pragmaticism is, i think, where this website/collective is heading – and why “patchwork” as strange attractor for thinking and deliberating and gathering tools in ways that can be mobilized into a living, functioning alternative is so very important.

    THIS is exactly right, and what SZ is all about:

    “the living presence of truth, in all of its idiosyncratic strangeness, will only be useful by a radical auto-deconstruction of the sort Dzogchen attempts. Which is to say, the only absolute truth is that the truth is always relative to a situation manifesting as this particular rock or this particular living being. Or, as Laruelle would put it, the living being is the condition for a truth and not the other way round.”

    Would you considering writing a guest post on this topic of “radical auto-deconstruction”, Dzogchen, and “the living being is the condition for a truth”??? That is what is crucial to the SZ project, and something we could use more perspective on from someone outside our immediate circle.

    Please 🙂

  3. that would be interesting, isn’t Dzogchen about achieving some state of perfection tho, or do we just drop that part as leftover from an earlier era?

  4. Hello James,

    Thanks for your appreciative comment and your invitation to write here.

    I like this site, and have benefited much from your writing and Dmf’s too. I will think about writing something but don’t hold your breath. I’m plagued with dissatisfaction.

    I try to read and write in the spirit you express here.

    “That’s the crux, isn’t it? All the speculation and theorizing in the world is insignificant if the ecological conditions (of generation) and modes of social production aren’t challenged and changed”.

    My practice follows Deleuze’s simple observation :

    “There are, you see, two ways to read a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers … And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first, or containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and on. Or there’s the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is “Does it work, and how does it work?” How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or its doesn’t. It’s like plugging into an electric circuit. . . . This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a flow meeting other flows, one machine among others, as a series of experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do with books, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other things, absolutely anything . . . is reading with love.”

    No doubt academics are very familiar with this quote and the attitude it implies. I only read it recently and was astonished to find it validated a non-academic practice that could use philosophic material in relation to one’s life and preoccupations. So this is what I try to do.

    Such an admonition, seriously taken up, would have revolutionary implications for the academy, pedagogic practice and those deprived of further education by an outrageously unequal distribution of resources and power. Instead, of course, it produces scholastic scholarship in a context where, mind, a neo-liberal regime is being imposed on the academy to completely destroy the very notion of a university and the possibility of applying Delueze’s vision to a wider field that would include the “outside” composed of the majority of human beings.

    Which, for me, implies that one should try to practice a non-academic thought that uses materials in a direct way according to the one’s felt need. What is missing, of course, is a collective context, something along the lines of Glenn Wallis’s “Incite Seminars”. One of the crucial insights of his non-Buddhist critique, largely dependent on Laruelle, was the addition of an affective dimension. He uses two key concepts – ancoric loss and aporetic dissonance — to describe the affects experienced by anyone thrown into existential crisis by the discovery of an aporia in the philosophical/religious discourse into which they have been interpellated. This affective dimension is an outside, the existence of which is fanatically expunged by scholastic philosophical texts, severing the connection between cognitive enquiry, desires and needs, and the bodily/familial/social context in which we find our selves. In the context of dissonance one needs a collectivity in which to pursue what is a necessarily collective project, if only because it is in the mirror of another’s reaction that we find reflected all of the ways we grasp at various alluring objects, chief among them whatever philosophical stance we currently take on the Real as such.

    Anyway, what this long winded aside is trying to express is my sense of isolation, and my equal sense of aversion to academia and the gross betrayal of the human which it represents. All of which might have something to do with my reluctance to write in public. That said I am very grateful for the invitation.

  5. Hello Dmf,

    Thanks for the question. There are some presuppositions that need to be in place, I think, before you could make any use of Dzogchen (or any other ancient discourse/ practice for that matter). These have been well explicated in Glen Wallis’s text “ Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism”, especially in the heuristic at the end. If you are interested in the possibility of Dzogchen practice you would find his text a rich resource.

    Dzogchen practice and the long philosophic tradition in which it is embedded, needs to be brought into conversation with an outside in order to test its postulates and rid them of their sufficiency. This sounds terribly technical but is, in reality, a holistic process in which one will experience dissonance (resistance, boredom, incredulity, annoyance, confusion, in fact a whole range of affects, positive and negative ) precisely because the sufficiency of Dzogchen philosophy is engaging with whatever conceptual system one happens to be interpellated into (scientific naturalism say, or Marxism or any other “ism”, including the rejection of all isms.)

    One could say that a world is colliding with a world in the biological/social/spiritual actuality of our experience.

    As a result Dzogchen and whatever philosophy one aspires to are changed. Of course both Dzogchen and one’s prior Philosophical stance remain inviolate in their philosophic sufficiency, inscribed into a myriad of texts, practices, oral traditions, institutions etc who’s function is precisely to preserve and consolidate. The Buddhist practice lineages and philosophical schools function in the same way as the western academy, with all of the consequences I know you are familiar with from your writing.

    The Dzogchen that changes is the Dzogchen inseparable from one’s existence as a unique, manifestation of empty interdependence, or what classical Dzogchen texts call The Great Perfection” or in tantric parlance, the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra. Laruelle’s names it the foreclosed real, Deleuze, no doubt, has some other name for it. In Dzogchen too there are different names depending on the historical context, an insight which Buddhist philosophy thought essential. In fact the notion of the historical relativity of philosophical systems and the way our view is mediated by systems of representation were the chief tools of a deconstructive process to which the Dzogchen practitioner was subjected by the Guru, often with unrelenting and sadistic zeal, as a preliminary to non-conceptual practice.

    Needless to say this is a huge subject. I think Wallis’s work will usher in a third phase in the interaction between western and eastern philosophic systems and spiritual practices, following the demise of the humanist/ new age/ human potential/discourses of the postwar era. In the age of globalisation, capitalist hegemony, and ecological collapse, Non-Buddhism might be one contribution among the many we will need if we are to find a way out of the impasse in which we find ourselves as a species.

    My final point is a question central to Dzogchen, asked by one living sentient being of another (symbolised by the situation of the “seeker after truth” putting a question to the Guru) rather than as a rhetorical question posed within a philosophically sufficient system, which in any case abhors questions asked from an outside.

    How, once you discover an insight into the Real, do you bring it into engagement with a World. What happens to the insight and what happens to the world?

    This question preoccupied Dzogchen, in one form or another, for a thousand years or more. It fuelled the controversy which runs like a red line through the history of Buddhist thought– what is the real relation between language, conceptuality, the world and the Real?

    The answer is always a non-answer, beyond useful and useless.

    “Because it calculates not, spirit shines in lonely glory in what is beyond the world. Because it knows not, wisdom illuminates the mystery beyond mundane affairs. Yet though wisdom lies beyond the world, it stays ever within it.

    In case anyone thinks the Buddhist discussion is couched in terms of pithy aphorisms, there is this from Tsong Kapha’s dissertation on relativity and voidness “ The Medium Length Transcendent Insight”

    “Here there are two chief points of resistance that obstruct the realistic view. One is the reificatory view or absolutist view that has a fixed orientation toward truth habits that hold to the truth status of things. The other is the repudiative view that goes too far by not appreciating the measure of the negatee and becomes incapable of incorporating into its system the certitude of cause and effect within relativity…”

    Laruelle grapples with that question in his own way:

    “I distinguish the real from existence, from essence or from being. If we assume that the real exists, then it is no longer the real, it is reality….It is very difficult to find a category in which to define the real… the real no longer puts up with these categories, it cannot be said in terms of World, History or Truth… as soon as I give a definition it is a failure. We must refuse the temptation or appearance of a definition. Man-in-Man is not a psychological subject or a political subject. This is the presupposed , the condition, which negatively determines in-the-last-instance a subject for all the games of giving definitions and predicates that drive philosophy. I can’t say it or un-say it any other way.”

    Why is such a seemingly obscure question important or even vital to our survival. Maybe because it is a question that mutates while staying the same precisely because it is a question inscribed into the flesh of living beings, rather than a scholastic question atrophying as a sufficient philosophical postulate.

    • thanks I’ll look into that podcaster, afraid I’m allergic to talk of the Real or anything else that we are supposed to be able to get in touch with that doesn’t exist or is radically Other, world shattering, etc
      I wish this “No doubt academics are very familiar with this quote and the attitude it implies” was the case but probably less than 1% and even there they then tend to go with their socialization as academics and do the encyclopedic thing or worse yet employ Deleuze and company as if they were scientists making discoveries, I’m with the late Richard Rorty and what he makes of Donald Davidson on “living” metaphors that aren’t representatives of something else (something already in existence or worse deep truths) but rather spurs and sparks that nudge us in a new direction something not more of the same,what would it be (what would it take) not to try and program the future but to be open to these tiny but significant impulses?
      Here is Rorty talking in a kind of developmental mode but of course these experiences can happen later in life as well
      ““In the Davidsonian account of metaphor, which I summarized in Chapter I, when a metaphor is created it does not express something which previously existed, although, of course, it is caused by something that previously existed. For Freud, this cause is not the recollection of another world but rather some particular obsession-generating cathexis of some particular person or object or word early in life. By seeing every human being as consciously or unconsciously acting out an idiosyncratic fantasy, we can see the distinctively human, as opposed to animal, portion of each human life as the use for symbolic purposes of every particular person, object, situation, event, and word encountered in later life. This process amounts to redescribing them, thereby saying of them all, “Thus I willed it.” Seen from this angle, the intellectual (the person who uses words or visual or musical forms for this purpose) is just a special case – just somebody who does with marks and noises what other people do with their spouses and children, their fellow workers, the tools of their trade, the cash accounts of their businesses, the possessions they accumulate in their homes, the music they listen to, the sports they play or watch, or the trees they pass on their way to work. Anything from the sound of a word through the color of a leaf to the feel of a piece of skin can, as Freud showed us, serve to dramatize and crystallize a human being’s sense of self-identity. For any such thing can play the role in an individual life which philosophers have thought could, or at least should, be played only by things which were universal, common to us all. It can symbolize the blind impress all our behavings bear. Any seemingly random constellation of such things can set the tone of a life. Any such constellation can set up an unconditional commandment to whose service a life may be devoted – a commandment no less unconditional because it may be intelligible to, at most, only one person. Another way of making this point is to say that the social process of literalizing a metaphor is duplicated in the fantasy life of an individual. We call something “fantasy” rather than “poetry” or “philosophy” when it revolves around metaphors which do not catch on with other people – that is, around ways of speaking or acting which the rest of us cannot find a use for. But Freud shows us how something which seems pointless or ridiculous or vile to society can become the crucial element in the individual’s sense of who she is, her own way of tracing home the blind impress all her behavings bear. “
      not unlike the non-theology of:
      https://syntheticzero.net/2016/06/24/jack-caputo-on-the-inconceivable-unprogrammable-event/

  6. Dmf,
    I share your aversion to words like “real”, truth etc, although you wouldn’t think it from my pontificating way of putting things, more a matter of my lack of academic training than an inflated ego, although I probably own one of those too. Trained academics always try to disown their concepts by finding them in an innately philosophisable reality out of which their favourite concepts pop as discovered ontological truths, a sly way of pontificating if ever there was one. An even slyer way is to have your cake and eat it by disowning certain concepts, negatively deploying them as the conceptual horizon against which you are rebelling, a favourite game of post-structuralist philosophers who are rightly trying to deflate the power and prestige of totalising postulates of one sort or another. A lot like trying to disown your inflated ego by liquidation into the nebulosity of another concept like emptiness, no-self, interdependence, or processional continuum.

    I take it as given that any concept is only true on certain occasions, in certain contexts, under certain conditions, with certain provisos etc. Even when used to communicate scientific laws, concepts exhibit this sort of insufficiency, both in relation to other systems of concepts and towards the real, or what exists, or the world, or reality, or the empirical, or whatever designation you prefer to use.

    When I use the word “real” I am making my own set of meanings out of raw material I find scattered about my environment in various states: systematic, incoherent, decaying, highly structured, loosely combined- whatever. As Rorty describes, I can have a fortuitous relation to a object, be it a shoe, a star or a concept, using such material to create meaningful assemblages in ways that might be meaningful only to me. No doubt those objects I come in contact with in my early years will make a lasting impression, but such experiences are soon overwritten as language is acquired and I plug into the vast world of available concepts, a sort of ecosystem of thought I must somehow survive in.

    As with the biological organism I also am, this survival is a process of recreating my self in the moment, using materials found in a particular niche. I consume the outside to establish and conserve the limit of my felt self-system. Unlike my biological condition, my social/cultural condition is a more plastic affair in which I can re-establish my identity at various levels by adapting myself to other niches, changing skins as it were, although the tendency is almost always conservative rather that innovative, for most of us, most of the time. Stretching the biological analogy to the limit you could say that, in the beginning at least, a newcomer to a particular conceptual niche will go for the more obvious bites available. The more seasoned will indulgently smile, knowing that the more satisfying and nutritious food is less easily found. Basically you adapt to the niche by learning the agreed language and receive the reward of a particular sense of oneself as this or that type. Since concepts are usable but insufficient, unstable and nebulous, ones life as a member of a particular conceptual niche is precarious, as every professor knows. The best way to survive is to become a big fish.

    Still, useful things are discovered and the ball is kept in play.

    • sounds good my only possible quibble is that I don’t think we are free to adopt any thing/position that we like (tho we can go thru the motions to get by) someway or another things have to strike us as true/attractive/etc tho we can of course consciously undertake courses of action (to experiment, study,practice, etc) that may well give rise to new associations/assemblages, so there is a sort of depth/archetypal psychology at work, see the related work of :
      https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/jung-deleuze-3-re-naming-purging-and-imaging/
      I’m taking a break from the blogosphere but wish you happy hunting, cheers

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