Tag Archives: postnihilism

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.

From “Ontogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming“:

KY: In terms of the Stoics, how might their approach to “dying well” offer us some resources for thinking amidst our current scene of ecological reorganisation that is named the Anthropocene?

EG: The Stoic concept of ‘dying well’ is immensely important not only when we consider the effects of imminent social collapse on each of us and our possible responses, but also when we consider that we are placed in an immensely vast universe where the call to ‘live well, according to one’s principles’ provides us with a connection to the universe, a fully material universe, as the Stoics understand it, which is nevertheless ordered and framed by an order they call ‘incorporeal’. To live well is to live, not according to the opinions and values of others – what we cannot control – but according to one’s own rational sense of one’s place in the world, according to actions we can control. To live well is to live according to what one can control, one’s own inner states, one’s own bodily behaviour, one’s own principles. This position is fundamentally anti-egoistic: it is directed to a knowledge of the world and one’s place in it. However, as a psychical attitude – perseverance, acceptance, self-reliance – I suspect that Stoicism is perhaps not the best psychology for struggle, as the devastation of many of the earth’s resources draws closer. Nietzsche understood that in times of violence, the Stoics were immensely life-affirming in their fortitude, but that in times of peace and plenty, he prefers the Epicureans (The Gay Science #306). The Stoics affirm that we are the subjects of destiny, which is indifferent to our needs and interests. The task of a reasoned or reflective life, a life lived in according with what is beneficial to one’s nature (according to one’s own understanding) is a life able to fully affirm its destiny, a life that seeks to be worthy of what befalls it, even as it has little or no control of such a destiny.

This is a very similar line of thinking that led me to pick up and start practicing Stoicism in the first place- and what has also led me to look into radical variations of ecopsychology that lead us towards first an acceptance of the situation as it is, devoid of ideological blinkers, and thereby to being able to adapt to it and act within it. At some point soon I hope to have some drafts or outlines up of reflections on these concerns in relation to the questions of suicide, eco-catastrophe, and extinction.

Elsewhere in the interview the above excerpt is taken from Grosz links the Stoics to Spinoza and nietzsche in a philosophical counter-tradition. I would say that this is the tradition of ontological corporealism that I identify with and unsurprisingly with an ethics centred on compassion and care. To this tradition we could add Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Ernest Becker, Judith Butler and geo/eco-feminists such as Stacey Alaimo and Grosz herself.

Albert Camus wrote that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Today this must be said of the meanings and the projects of extinction.

“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”


A (non)credo for post-nihilist praxis from WOODBINE (excerpts):

Every vision of the future is one of catastrophe, of climate apocalypse or zombie hordes, of the digitalization of all life or the total breakdown of the self. These fantasies obsess us because they are not phenomenon to come, the great awaiting of melancholia; they are part and parcel of the devastation that we already inhabit, that muffled catastrophe we already feel, that already touches us so intimately…

We are living through a catastrophe unprecedented in human history in which what we’ve lost is the world. We have to face that, but we have to face up to the reality that we have also been set free by this devastation that, with a thousand voices, declares itself an expired way of life, “the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization.” There is nothing to cry for anymore. There is no use clinging to a future we were promised, which will never come anyway. There is, equally, nothing left to critique, to be outraged or indig- nant about. It is just our time, our epoch, and there is only us, here, and now…

Politics is the crystallization of this formula, the alienated meeting place of eviscerated bodies, and its various solutions always take the form of some rule, law, or idea of the ‘good’ applied onto our lives. As if life itself, in its own living and elaboration, was not always already its own end, its own law. As if we were incapable of determining for ourselves how to live. In reality, living as if we were not in the world is the disaster…

That we have lost the world is attested to most painfully by the actions of those who, in their desperate search or ways of fighting and of organizing themselves, only end up reproducing the same devastation they seek to overcome: splitting reality into discrete thoughts and actions, removing themselves from every situation to stand aside ‘objectively,’ denying our various determinations as if the world and our lives were a flat, equiva- lent space to be ordered, redistributed, whatever. It is a delirium…

For us the first revolutionary measure is a return to the world, regaining our ability to be here. This does not mean going back in time, or recovering some kind of ‘authentic.’ It means to start from what is right before our eyes, right in front of our faces, not from some fantastical projection… 

Having a strategic outlook is a constant source of determination and intelligence. This must be sustained, in the same way we kindle a fire, nurture a relationship, or replant a forest. Patience and confidence help us maintain our pres- ence of mind and not lose sight of what we are doing, whether amidst the turmoil of events or the general dulling distrac- tion of the everyday. Our strategies will be enormously complex, but remember they are not those of the military or advertising. They are an attempt at bottom to get back the world and put an end to a civilization that is beyond exhaustion. Everything is to be reinvented, everything is to be gained…

From pickling workshops and biointen- sive farms to hack spaces and reoccupied native territories, we have opened a vast wave of experimentation with skills and techniques… Finding ourselves tethered to a civilization that is on its way out only adds to the urgency of our experimentation. Inhabiting our epoch requires facing up to two simple facts 1) most of us know next to nothing about what it means to actually make up a life, and 2) our power and our autonomy is dependent on our material ability to make another form of life actually live…

Techniques allow us to give form to our lives, and form connects us to the world, to what we are made of. They come from life, they address life, they overturn life, and open up the possibility of a new one. In the same moment that they illuminate the impoverishment of the one we live and the separation it demands. They also tell us something about materiality, how worlds are revealed and built, and how much experimentation is going to be necessary…

Experimenting with techniques immediately and practically elaborates the means and measures of the revolutionary process, our generalized, diffuse, global attempt to break free of the age. As such what is carried in these gestures is not qualitatively different from what happens to us in an insurrection, but perhaps there is a certain slowness to them, which tells us much about the different revolutionary cadences it is possible to inhabit. Our taking up of the question of how –no longer the question of what or who— speaks to our threshold moment wherein what is to be decided is everything; where everything is up for grabs and where everything is at stake..

Autonomy speaks to our becoming powerful through the weaving together of the necessary links between us, building up and in fact becoming the territory. Territory emerges out of a collective acting together, and disappears when that ceases. As such it requires care, attention, creation, and organiza- tion. Like love, territory is not a state. It is not something that is just there. Territory is an act, it is to be built…

Our starting point is clear. This is the end of a world, and if we are to raise ourselves up to the height of the disaster, to truly confront the devastation in progress, it s up to us, everywhere, to build the new worlds that will replace this one. Not worlds like the old worlds, not worlds like this world, but —beginning from where we are, using all our available means— new, sensible worlds that will take on their own particular shapes…human beings are and have always been capable of so much more than this.

From New Books in Critical Theory:

In her book, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Indiana University Press, 2010), Stacy Alaimo approaches the concepts of “science, environment, and self” in an extremely novel and inventive way. The central concept in Alaimo’s work is that of “trans-corporeality” which she describes as a way of theorizing the relationship between humanity and the world at large as not being clearly delineated and separate, but as fluid. As this relates specifically to nature and the environment, Alaimo’s intention is for the reader to reimagine questions of environmental ethics and environmental practices as not isolated issues but rather deeply personal as the environment and our material selves are bound up with one another in a deeply intimate manner.

I found Alaimo’s central approach with “trans-corporeality,” theorizing the human as being “already in the world,” extremely refreshing when compared to the idea of human agency in postmodern studies. In this way, Alaimo provides an alternate framework for conceiving of human agency, and thus an “out” of sorts, a release, from the bounds of postmodernism’s isolated and castrated human agent. Alaimo calls this novel direction, “New Materialisms.” With this concept, Alaimo offers new insights into feminist thought and theory. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self is sure to appeal to many students and scholars of literary studies and critical theory.

 Interview with Stacy Alaimo [ 49:53 ]: Stream | Play in Popup | Download

An excellent and compact outline of some differences between posthumanism and transhumanism from David Roden here:

Posthumanists may, but need not, claim that humans are becoming more intertwined with technology. They may, but need not, claim that functions, relations or systems are more ontologically basic than intrinsic properties. Many arch-humanists are functionalists, holists or relationists (I Kant, R Brandom, D Davidson, G Hegel . . .) and one can agree that human subjectivity is constitutively technological (A Clark) without denying its distinctive moral or epistemological status. Reducing stuff to relations can be a way of emphasizing the transcendentally constitutive status of the human subject, taking anthropocentrism to the max (see below). Emphasizing the externality or contingency of relations can be a way of arguing that things are fundamentally independent of that constitutive activity (as in Harman’s OOO or DeLanda’s assemblage ontology).

So I raise Kevin’s thumbnails with a few of my own.

  • A philosopher is a humanist if she believes that humans are importantly distinct from non-humans and supports this distinctiveness claim with a philosophical anthropology: an account of the central features of human existence and their relations to similarly general aspects of nonhuman existence.
  • A humanist philosophy is anthropocentric if it accords humans a superlative status that all or most nonhumans lack
  • Transhumanists claims that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim (all other things being equal). So the normative content of transhumanism is largely humanist. Transhumanists just hope to add some new ways of cultivating human values to the old unreliables of education and politics.
  • Posthumanists reject anthropocentrism. So philosophical realists, deconstructionists, new materialists, Cthulhu cultists and naturalists are posthumanists even if they are unlikely to crop up on one another’s Christmas lists.

For more, see my forthcoming book Posthuman Life and my post Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism.

 I’m left wondering what David thinks of a possible ‘inhumanism’ and how it might impact all of the above?