Tag Archives: collapse

Dogen Zenji

Dogen relates the words of an old Zen master: “Formerly I used to hit sleeping monks so hard that my fist just about broke. Now I am old and weak, so I can’t hit them hard enough. Therefore it is difficult to produce good monks. In many monasteries today the superiors do not emphazise sitting strongly enough, and so Buddhism is declining. The more you hit them, the better.”

The Kyõsaku

In the Soto and Renzai sects of Buddhism the kyōsaku, the “encouragement stick” is used to sharpen a slacking student’s flagging focus, to snap attention back one-pointedly toward the practice and to do so without words “interjecting mind into the seed of awareness.” This pre-emptive concretization of what Arran elsewhere refers to as the “concussive blunt force trauma of nihilism” becomes the post-nihilist realization that there are no carrots (they’ve gone extinct) yet we still require motivation – that we caused the extinction and such extinction in return must be our ultimate stick.

The essential purpose of the kyōsaku is to arouse the “last vestiges of dormant energy” in someone sitting in zazen, to shake the foundation to test for weaknesses, to push one through the shell of self-delusion and into true Self-understanding. Used to rouse drowsy sitters, to spur on striving ones. When the body slumps and the attention loses tautness, opening the way to invading hordes of anxious computation, Bassui tells us the stick is “unequaled for raising one’s concentrative intensity” and anyone that has faced a physically painful reminder of task knows how this kind of blow has the ability to knock all such computation from the head. The dangers to one that grasps on tightly to the outcome of the task reveal themselves in the anxious spiralling feedback of believing the computation necessary is intrinsically accomplished by the individualized self-conception, and that this loss of awareness of active computation is indicative of lost control and a failing.

In this light I have begun to view socioeconomic/political/climatic currents and futures as the escalating attempts to command our attention, rising beyond dismissable events into a space in which we find ourselves “fundamentally pummeled by the lunatic potency of nature” but a nature in Timothy Morton’s words that is beyond simple ecology. A Nature of physical laws commanding infinite dissolution of all Objects into the darkest (non)matter. It is within the eye of all our future storms that I find myself most completely at a kind of strange brutal peace, at the receiving end of this prolonged, protracted, yet sharp crack of the kyōsaku in which I’m reminded that the only tool is Self and the sharpening of the tool of Self upon the unyielding stone of the Real reveals the ultimate ever-becoming/ever-being-eaten ourobouros of Mu that only appears savage because we are genetically terrified of our one true purpose as biologicals – to disintegrate.

That nature is regarded as ultimately alien by those committed to a technocratic future betrays the inconsistence of any kind of transhuman drive-to-life. When Death is considered the ultimate horizon and not simply one horizon, the inherent fear of uncertainty in the mind of one endoctrinated toward the ideal of Control embodied by Burroughs’ so-called One-God Universe (think monotheism/governmental oversight/language as dominant mode of communication/mathematical formalism pre-Cantor/Gödel/ego-driven default mode self-reflective brain operation) becomes rampant and infects all nodes of calculation with its top-down oscillatory anxiety that vibrates the entire webwork of conceptual thought. Error-correction goes offline, and the mind is evolutionarily trained to retreat to any conception of stability and safety it understands. The modern mind is uniquely mismatched against an “opponent” that is the ultimate perfect exemplar of sitzfleisch.

The kyōsaku attenuates this vibration.


The webwork becomes taut.

In the hands of a sensitive, enlightened godo, able to strike when the iron is hot, or for that matter to make the iron hot by striking, the kyōsaku intelligently applied can, without paining the sitter, elicit that superhuman burst of energy which leads to one-pointed mind becoming spontaneously realized. In the temple the heaviest blows are reserved for the earnest and courageous and not wasted on slackers or the timid. It is never administered as chastisement or out of personal punishment. The one struck raises their hands in a reverent gesture of gratitude known as gassho and the godo in turn acknowledges this with a bow in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding. “The adage that a poor horse can’t be made to run fast no matter how hard or how often he is whipped is well understood in the zendo.”

There is no denying, however, that for the Euromerican mind, unable to disabuse themselves of the notion that beatings with a stick are an affront to their dignity, the kyōsaku will always remain a menace rather than a goad. It has been said that love without force is weakness and force without love is brutality, and it cannot be emphasized enough that the administration of the kyōsaku is not a matter of simply striking one with a stick. Indeed, if the stick is to be a spur and not a thorn, the act must be of compassion, force, and wisdom conjoined. The godo in the temple must be one of strong spirit and a compassionate heart, that has undertaken to identify themselves with the deepest spiritual aspirations of those sitting in zazen.

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 Michael’s 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. No one lives here. No one survives.

“I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150-200 species we are already driving extinct. Can you relate to this grieving process?”


On Matters of Concern:
Ontological Politics, Ecology, and the Anthropo(s)cene

Adrian Ivakhiv 

Ontology is in; epistemology is out. The question is no longer how we know what we know, but what is: what are the fundamental constituents of the universe, what is their nature, how do they relate and differ, and so on. Ontology, furthermore, is political. Or so a certain glean of the intellectual and philosophical landscape might suggest. Ontology has become an issue (again) among philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, science and technology scholars, and others, in a way that it has not been for perhaps a century.

This paper arises from an entanglement of conversations in ecologically informed philosophy. Most specifically, it emerged from debates within the movement of “speculative realism” around the subspecies of that genre known as Object-Oriented Ontology (“OOO”) and its defense of an ontology of objects rather than processes. More broadly, the paper attends to conversations in the “ontopolitical” milieu of contemporary social, cultural, and environmental theory, a milieu in which posthumanism, critical animal studies, actor-network theory, assemblage theory, critical realism, agential realism, nonrepresentational theory, enactive and embodied cognitivism, post-phenomenology, multispecies ethnography, integral ecology, and various forms of “new materialism,” “geophilosophy,” and “cosmopolitics” fashion themselves as intellectual responses to the predicament indicated by such terms as the ecocrisis, the climate crisis, and the Anthropocene.

One of the lines of debate to which this paper responds is that between those who believe we have lost a sense for the objects that make up the world and those who believe that what we need is a more nuanced account of processes, both those encompassing human-nonhuman relations today and those encompassing all dimensions of the knowable universe. Object- oriented philosophers, like Graham Harman (2005, 2009, 2011), Levi Bryant (2011, 2014), Ian Bogost (2012), and Timothy Morton (2013), begin from the premise that the best description of the world is one that attends closely to the objects that make it up. This is their “realism” more broadly, and their “objectivism” more specifically. While this premise sounds, at first blush, not unlike phenomenologist Edmund Husserl’s call “back to the things themselves,” the difference is that Husserl approached those “things” through the human perception of them—to which Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others added an emphasis on interpretation, language, discourse, embodiment, decision, and other contextual determinants of human experience. Object-oriented philosophers are more interested in decentering human perception and experience, so that it is no more valued in principle than any other kind of experience. In part, this is out of a desire to account for a world that, as Bryant (2010, par. 1) has put it, “far from reducing the number of existing objects as alleged by reductive materialisms, has actually experienced a promiscuous proliferation and multiplication of objects of all sorts.”

This desire to acknowledge the proliferation of objects is a valuable step for philosophers insofar as it returns us to a concern for the world, and not merely for humanity. Yet it is important to recognize that this proliferation results, in large part, from the tremendous proliferation of commodities in a capitalist world-economy—the most productive economy the world has seen, whose productivity relies on the extraction of substances from their processual relations to produce things that appear to have no such relations—objects that are simply there, for us to admire, desire, purchase, and use. The “objectivity” of these objects is a product of a set of relations; it is illusory, or partial in any case, to the extent that these objects are not simply objects as such, but that they, for all their specificity, arise out of certain kinds of processes (extractive, productive), give rise to others (consumptive, waste-producing), and entangle their owners in relational ecologies that are morally imbued, materially generative, and dramatic in their effects on the world that is passed on to future generations.

The approach I advocate in what follows shares object-oriented philosophers’ goal of a metaphysical realism, but approaches it from a direction that is in some respects the polar opposite. It begins from the premise that, in an ultimate sense, there are no objects, only events, and that what defines those events is a relational encounter in which subjectivity is central. This does not mean that it begins as a “revolt against substance,” for the world of relational process is as substantive as any world of objects can be. It begins, however, from the subjective encounter. It begins, following Alfred North Whitehead (1933), Martin Heidegger (1962), Bruno Latour (2003), and Isabelle Stengers (1997), from matters of concern, and it does this because it is such matters that we are always in the midst of. It begins with a refusal to extricate the “knowing self” or “subject” from the relations that constitute it. This article proposes an evocation of what a “process-relational” ontology entails at its phenomenological and hermeneutic outset: a beginning from matters of concern, yet a beginning that allows a reaching outward to others who are similarly bound up—openly and not deterministically—within their own matters of concern.


Seminar introducing John Foster’s new book ‘After Sustainability’

with discussion by Prof Jonathan Wolff, Philosophy, UCL, and Prof Albert Weale, Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL


Dangerous climate change is coming. It has been clear since Copenhagen that the political will to make adequate cuts in global CO2 emissions isn’t going to be generated in any foreseeable future. The international attempt to shift the world by agreement onto a “sustainable” trajectory, always half-hearted, has failed.

But denial is not confined to those who refuse to see the serious environmental damage we are doing; it extends equally to those who refuse to see that we have missed our chance to stop it. The roots of such embedded denial lie in progressivism. Exorbitant resource consumption is the form in which this mindset has caused environmental damage in the first place; latterly, it has manifested itself as wilfully self-blinded technological optimism.

But what if we stopped pretending?

Environmentalism is about what is wrong with us here and now, not only what that might mean for the future. Our environmental situation is tragic in the full sense. Tragedy entails losses which can’t be mitigated or compensated, but it can also reveal us to ourselves in ways from which we may be able to learn.

We can’t really predict what will happen on the ground as global economic and ecological systems unravel. We must build existential as well as economic and social resilience, arming ourselves with recognition, insight and flexibility rather than with plans or blueprints. If we approach what is coming with a realism thus grounded in genuinely non-optimistic life-hope, we may here and there come through it.

Also check out:


“It’s a speculative accelerated realist bootleg throwdown! This episode features STEVEN SHAVIRO and ALEXANDER GALLOWAY discussing their recently published books THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS: ON SPECULATIVE REALISM and LARUELLE: AGAINST THE DIGITAL. DOMINIC PETTMAN introduces and EUGENE THACKER moderates this conversation that took place AT THE NEW SCHOOL IN NOVEMBER 2014. An additional recording of Shaviro discussing the #Accelerationism movement in JUNE 2014 AT PRO QM IN BERLIN appears at the end of the episode.

The sound quality is a bit buggy from start to finish–difficult to hear on occasion, encoding hiccups, cell phone interference and more–reminders from the Real of objects’ permanent permeability, as well their ineludable availability to disruption and translation”