attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: Catastrophia

London riots; a year on

For defective consumers, those contemporary have-nots, non-shopping is the jarring and festering stigma of a life un-fulfilled – and of own nonentity and good-for-nothingness. Not just the absence of pleasure: absence of human dignity. Of life meaning. Ultimately, of humanity and any other ground for self-respect and respect of the others around.

– Baumann, On Consumerism coming home to roost.

It is there in the glee of the looter who, when asked how
she felt about stealing, replied, “Nobody’s stealing. It’s all free today”.

Wilful disobedience, The fullness of a life without measure.

A year on the police order enjoys full vigour, appearing vivaciously in the management of London during these Olympic games. As the engines of meaning-production fall apart they must be propped up by domesticating strategies that take the nakedness of rage, From riot to the Games.

Thesis: economic precarity, ghettoisation/gentrification, and the police order, especially the killing of Mark Duggan and dispersal zones, were not alone in providing general motivations for the riots that broke out last year. The inculcation of consumer desire in the poor and its simultaneous exclusion from purchasing power to attain consumer goods was, likewise, necessary but insufficient for the looting that broke out while London burned. Zizek [1] spoke of a revolt without revolution. An impotent fury. The transition from peaceful protest to riot mirrored affectively by that from rational anger to pathological rage.

Hypothesis: the material threat of extinction, and the psycho-affective sense of this extinction, returns consciousness to the objective nihilism of the Earth. The realm of meaning-production falls apart and those who are denied it’s material comforts (by economic precarity and the police order) are left to face this nihilism head-on. It is not that the rioters were nihilistic, but neither were they working-class heroes moving necessarily ‘from riot to insurrection’ [2]. No, they were those who pragmatically, materially, enacted the condition of the human world, and of the planet itself. They performed the material nihilism of the world by pulling away the stage-setting and showing what was left underneath; a smouldering wreckage, a virulent violence… a debris ontology.

The rioters occupied the declaration ‘No Future‘, re-activating it as a statement of material truth. Evan Calder Williams writes that

The situation to come is a different no future, the slow entropic loss of energy and profit, coupled with the state’s brutal refusals – and ways of demanding the same of its citizens and subjects – to acknowledge that the eternal present has become an eternal past.


And while he is right this is also to miss the point and to operate in the services of a Marxian form of domestication- of rendering safe the real of extinction. Just before this he invokes fears of ‘fears of global warming, flu pandemic, or peak oil’ but sees these fears as stand-ins or mere prompts for capital and the state’s actions- his brilliant book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse being a reading of various ways of imaging the ‘post-apocalyptic’. The problem here and in the book is that the Catastrophic is outstripped by the Apocalyptic. Whereas the former is a dead-end the latter is a re-fit, a re-combinatory revealing of some enigmatic meaning; a meaning that was always visible but which we couldn’t see; a meaning, in other words, that was occluded by the police order, which although within the realm of appearing was not legitimised to appear and therefore, as in the visual practice of the inhabitants of China Meiville’s The city and the city, had to be ‘Unseen’.

Evan Calder Williams’s analysis is fertile and rewarding but I take issue with the idea of the post-Apocalyptic. I do so on the grounds that the Catastrophe has already occurred. The Catastrophe was Creation. On this I remain unapologetically gnostic. Between the Creation and the end of life on earth, or omnicide, there is only the time of a countdown. The Catastrophe has already occurred but must await completion. Nothing is revealed by this except tjhat beneath the engines of meaning-production and behind every strategy of domestication there is a void, a potent nothingness, which is identical itself with matter, and with the material composition of all assemblages/objects- of Cosmos.

This seems a long way from the London riots. Except that my hypothesis is that it is the literally felt No Future of objective nihilism that resulted in the riot of 2011 being a revolt without revolution. Zizek misses the point. Zizek wanted there to be a meaning behind the agency of the rioters, wanted their to be something more than the seduction of violence and anger, of their hatred.

One of the rioters recently stated that he rioted because ‘”some [police officers] will talk to you like you’re a dog.’ Doesn’t this recall K.’s death at the hands of arbitrary authority in Kafka’s novel The Trial ? The function of the simile is to render a relationship between animality and the law. And what is the essential relation between animality and the law? It is the relation of sacrifice. To be sacrificed is to be excluded from the order of meaning-production. Yet it is precisely this exclusion which ensures the rioter’s centrality to it. The refusal to be ‘like a dog’ is the refusal to occupy the figurative space of sacrificial animality- the refusal to be a material technology for holding meaning-production in place. It is the absolute refusal of culture.* It is the refusal to Unsee what has never been hidden, not even in plain sight, what we have always Unseen:

the meaninglessness of everything.

I want to end by stating that the rioters don’t exist. They existed in a flash and were gone. They aren’t to be vilified or mourned and they have nothing to teach us. Speculation on ghosts is hardly political discourse. Baumann’s analysis of the riots was the one that reached closest to the Catastrophic core in that it was the only one that recognised that meaning was at issue… that the rioters knew just how defective and disqualified they and everybody else are.


[1] Zizek, S. 2011. Shoplifters of the world unite. LRB. Here.

[2] Bonnano, A. 1988. From riot to insurrection. Here.

[3] Williams, EC. 2010. An end without end: catastrophic cinema in the age of crisis. Here.

*In this regard it is also interesting that so many of those involved in covering the riots, when they happened and now, are interested in critiquing the right’s apparent ‘scapegoating’ of urban youth. There is a desire to draw the refusal of sacrificial animality into the very narratives of domestication (ie: if kids had more after school clubs the riots would never have happened). The youth are refusing the status being ‘like a dog’ and thereby also refusing the apparently civilised status of the police-order….of which the journalists in question are an essential component.


Endless manifesto

In the Limpid Air

Some say, look at what’s happening backstage. How lovely, all that machinery working so smoothly! All these inhibitions and fantasies and desires, all reflected on their own history. The technology of sex appeal. How lovely!

Alas, I’m passionate and always have been about the moments in life when things stop working; when things globally fall apart, like an omen of things to come, not just in the present, but like glimpses of eternity suppressed by the system. The survival instinct on its way out.

I know it’s hard to base a code of conduct on such extraordinary suppositions. But that’s exactly what we’re here for, difficult things. Right now we’re suspended in life like on the Californian mesas, those platforms spiralling high over nothing. The nearest neighbour is a few hundred metres away but still in sight in the limpid air (and the impossibility of reunification is written on everyone’s face). Right now we’re in life like apes at the opera grunting and jumping in harmony. Up above, a melody floats by.

-Michel Houellebecq, The art of struggle 

Perhaps this is the clearest expression of what I have unnecessarily been calling catastrophia; a passion for when things globally fall apart.

Catastrophia’s time

To be clear: cosmological time, which subsumes geological, evolutionary and historical temporalities within its manifold, is nothing but the working out of the original Catastrophe of Creation. The something that followed the nothing is only a symptom of the disturbance of nothing and its (anthropocentrically) slow return to itself.

Ethics: to make friends with death

Knowledge Ecology has posted a  rich, dense , and frankly fantastic audio interview with Timothy Morton that introduces the idea of dark ecology, an ecology coated in ‘shame, and horror, and disgust’. If you haven’t already, I urge you listen to it here.

The collision between human history and geological time began the ecological emergency- where we ‘directly intervened with the earth’s crust- occurs at the same time that philosophy is denying material reality and establishing human exceptionalism. Human beings remain in a state of denial; the denial that follows a grief. This ecological emergency is one of what I call situated catastrophes that follow the original catastrophe of creation, of things becoming manifest as cosmos.

What I especially like is the idea that the world has already ended. Morton states that we have this ‘uncanny sensation of angst’, of the meaninglessness of our junkward world which is already over, as the ecological emergency is already underway, has already happened.

I would be more hyperbolic than Morton. The ecological age, the ecological catastrophe, is merely the proximate situation. We are actually inside a cosmological age; cosmos itself is a catastrophe which is headed towards it’s inevitable conclusion. That is not to say that the ecological catastrophe is of no importance (or no more non-importance than anything else); we are coping-beings that by and large can’t help but go on. If it is the case, as Morton says, that the ecological catastrophe has already happened then here we have a way to make sense of my question of a politics that is a question of the self-management of extinction.

Morton doesn’t talk about pessimism in this interview but I think that his outlining of a dark or black ecology is precisely part of a pessimism. I haven’t read a great deal of Morton’s work but from this interview I feel as though I ought to.

Finally, the most important part of this interview for me, Morton states that we have already given up and that we must ‘make friends with death’. This is the essence of my idea of the coalition in favour of death. 

Crucially, Tim’s continued returns throughout the interview to ideas of fragility (I have, in the past, written about humans as ‘fragile systems’), coexistence and so on also form the kind of ethics that I am beginning to think through constantly, even if I am not writing about it. This is the idea that I first found in Judith Butler’s Frames of War where she writes about the precariousness of life as the founding moment of any ethics or politics worth its name. This is vitally important to me in my clinical practice as a psychiatric/mental health nurse and in the role I play in helping my partner to raise her child in a non-authoritarian way.

Yet Butler remains caught within the anthropocentric image of thought wherein the interdependence that reveals precariousness remains that which exists between human beings. What projects like Morton’s, and he is by no means alone in this, is illustrating and calling attention to the ways in which such an interdependence is simply not reducible to anthropic relationships. Interdependence is what all flat ontologies show us as the condition of all objects/entities in existence.

All of this leads us to the point where we can speak about pessimist ethics. The dark knowledge of extinction leads us to what I have ironically called an ‘autopsy vitalism’; a perspective from which all living things are already dead but continue to live. They still live because their death, although an accomplished fact, has not yet occurred. Isn’t this akin to Morton’s view that the ecological emergency has already befallen us? All that remains is the dying dead existing among one another. An interdependent community of dying. Beyond this, pushing it further in the realisation of life as a negative concept  (a la Schopenhauer or Thomas Ligotti) we are really a community of interdependent beings on the road to destruction, or disappearance. And this is the key to pessimistic ethics because for the pessimist the question is the alleviation of suffering. To speak in the discourse of my profession for a moment, we are the first patients in the hospital to realise that all that remains to us is the self-administration of palliative care.  I think this leads us towards the kind of sentiment based ethics of Schopenhauer. I will end on a quote that will serve merely to illustrate this connection- I have to return to the banal world of housework- a quote that comes from the latter German miserablist and pessimist but which, I feel, wouldn’t have been out of place in Morton’s interview:



The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is something which really ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instill in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of beings placed in such a situation as we are? … this … reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes.


Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, p.50.


That things ought not to exist. There is no hierarchy or preference here. All things that exist deserve compassion, indulgence. I would venture the uncontroversial claim that we can’t help but feel this all the more forcefully for other beings like us; sentient, conscious, living. An equality of being, but still an inequality of feeling. In this regard Morton’s is the ethical dictum that follows undecidability (the ethical situation as that in which there is no manual, no technique to unconsciously deploy); the cultivation of a mindful relationship with death itself.


regarding junk

The only ontology left to us is an ontology of objects and processes that knows that all objects and processes originate from the Catastrophic. As such the only ontology that remains is an ontology of what remains; a debris ontology.

objective nihilism (reprise)

This time from Michael of Archive Fire.

“Man can build his greatness on the nothingness that crushes him.” – André Malraux

Levi Bryant has yet another brilliant post up (here) discussing the aim of Speculative Realism (SR) in relation to nihilism and extinction more generally. I think Levi is on target with his comments about how North Americans seem to be working through our growing realization of the possibility (probability) of extinction in the face of ecological collapse (among other calamities). I believe this “awareness” is still mostly registering on subconscious levels – i.e., biologically as toxins, ecologically as climate, hurricanes, floods – and denied or obfuscated on political and ideological levels, but it is definitely becoming expressed.

The following are some key passages from Levi’s post:

Everything hinges on asking why the critique of correlationism– the most contentious and controversial dimension of SR –has arisen at this point in history. Why have so many suddenly become impassioned with the question of how it is possible to think a world without humans or being without thought? It is such a peculiar question, such a queer question, such a strange question. Why, after all, would we even be concerned with what the world might be apart from us when we are here and regard this world? There are, of course, all sorts of good ontological and epistemological reasons for raising these questions. Yet apart from immanent philosophical reasons, philosophy is always haunted by a shadow text, a different set of reasons that are not so much of the discursive order as of the order of the existential and historical situation and which thought finds itself immersed at a given point in history. Over and above– or perhaps below and behind –the strictly discursive philosophical necessity for a particular sort of thought, is the existential imperative to think something. Here the issue is not one of establishing how a certain philosophical imperative demands a response to a strictly philosophical question, but of addressing the question of why a particular question begins to resonate at all at this point in history and not in others…

…if I were to hazard a guess as to why the critique of correlationism, the thought of a world without humans, has suddenly become a burning one, then my suggestion would be that this is because we are facing the imminent possibility of a world that is truly without humans. If it has become necessary to think the possibility of a world without humans, then this is because we face a future– due to the coming climate apocalypse –of a world that truly is without humans…

Culture can be seen as a symptomatic thinking through– veiled and concealed, while nonetheless present and on the surface right there before our eyes –of the Real of its historical moment. This seems to be the case with apocalyptic films and movements in recent decades. What we seem to be thinking through is the possibility of our own extinction or, at the very least, the extinction of the world as we know it.

Speculative Realism is important because several of the authors involved seem interested in operationalizing the need for novel understandings and engagements with the creeping potencies of the nonhuman and the precarious. SR offers widely dispersed possibilities for reconsidering human thought and behavior after the hideous yet enlightening realizations of being-in-a-material-world.

My sense is that North Americans currently tend to reject such realizations and then bury the accompanying dread of finitude and animality through consumption and/or fantasy – with T.V or crystal meth no less than simply commodities – in order to sooth the pain of their existential fears and resentments. To be sure, there are variances in the manner people respond but i believe the push and pull of consumption and distraction remain paramount.

I’m reminded of Ernest Becker’s work in this regard:

“Full humanness means full fear and trembling, at least some of the waking day. When you get a person to emerge into life, away from his dependencies, his automatic safety in the cloak of someone else’s power, what joy can you promise him with the burden of his aloneness? When you get a person to look at the sun as it bakes down on the daily carnage taking place on earth, the ridiculous accidents, the utter fragility of life, the power¬lessness of those he thought most powerful—what comfort can you give him from a psychotherapeutic point of view? Luis Buimel likes to introduce a mad dog into his films as counterpoint to the secure daily routine of repressed living. The meaning of his symbolism is that no matter what men pretend, they are only one accidental bite away from utter fallibility. The artist disguises the incongruity that is the pulse-beat of madness but he is aware of it. What would the average man do with a full consciousness of ab-surdity? He has fashioned his character for the precise purpose of putting it between himself and the facts of life; it is his special tour-de-force that allows him to ignore incongruities, to nourish himself on impossibilities, to thrive on blindness. He accomplishes thereby a peculiarly human victory: the ability to be smug about terror. Sartre has called man a “useless passion” because he is so hopelessly bungled, so deluded about his true condition. He wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal, and so he thrives on fantasies. As Ortega so well put it in the epigraph we have used for this chapter, man uses his ideas for the defense of his existence, to frighten away reality. This is a serious game, the defense of one’s existence—how take it away from people and leave them joyous?” (Becker, The Denial of Death, p.58-59)

As Heidegger argues with tremendous force in Being and Time, humans are fundamentally coping-beings. By composition and disposition we seek to make-sense and understand ourselves. We are the weirdo-beings that give a damn about being – creatures required by circumstance to adapt. But what adaptations are possible for us this late in the ‘game’?

As Levi states:

It is our circumstances themselves, the material reality of our world, that has become nihilistic, not the thought of this or that thinker. Indeed, I suspect that many of us are terrified and anguished by this objective nihilistic darkness that approaches and that may very well have happened, as Timothy Morton suggests. Perhaps we are already dead and we just don’t yet know it.

I believe the task of intellectuals (and not just philosophers) today is to indulge rather than mask the nihilistic forces of contemporary life – forces which manifest in both subjective and objective ways. Partaking in the dark revelations of current ecologies can only push us further towards more earthly, or creaturely, that is to say materialist modes of thinking and doing. Thinking the visceral and consequential facticity of intercorporeality entails thinking about our intimate connections as immanent achievements (our continuity with ‘nature’) and our vulnerability (or precarity with-in ‘nature’) simultaneously. We will have to effectively integrate the facticity of matter as matter in order to generate useful and mutually understandable expressions and sentiments among participants (or at least those of us left behind, so to speak). The practical motivations of material and speculative adaptation and communicability are at the core of any possible species of ecological and humanist thought.

Of course, we could take up the lines purposed by Laruelle or Brassier, or the eliminativists, or cleanse our phantasies in the rhetorical psychedelica of Timothy Morton, or even come up with our own codes and performances capable of limiting thought and opening us to the intercorporeal facticity of life – to Life as Flesh – but even this would be just a start. The important work to be done is decidedly practical and not necessarily academic (as Levi notes above). We must build new infrastructures.

The reference to ‘coping-beings’ and to the work of Ernst Becker (and in the Terror Management Theory that is inspired by his work) are particularly interesting. This is the direction I’m moving in as well, albeit in a way that is more willing to immerse itself in that nihilism. The new infrastructures that Michael is talking about are, I think, the materiality of the self-conscious meaning productions that I discuss as coalitions in favour of death here.

Of course I am quite happy to state that any attempt at the coming work that Michael talks about as both philosophical and practical is just another coping-mechanism. The thought of extinction is a coping with the possibility of extinction, a rendering it into the relative safety of a fantasy cognition. In the language of TMT the new infrastructures Michael is calling for would be called cultures and in my terms it would be machines of meaning-production. Yet part of me keeps on hearing the question; why cope? why go on? And, as I repeat again and again, the only answer I can come up with is a certain human addiction to living. My temptation is altogether more Schopenhauerian, more ‘literally eliminativist’: what if the only work left to us weren’t recovery or salvage but merely the possibility of a self-managed extinction? Only those who still refuse the truth of our possible extinction could regard this question as horrific.

This might not be horrific but I think we are constitutionally unable to follow such a program. Indeed, what we have essentially hit on in all this talk of culture, infrastructure or meaning-production has already been hit upon before. To add to Michael’s list of Heidegger and Becker, and to my own addition of TMT, we should really add Peter Wessel Zapffe’s concept of anchorings. In order to grasp the concept of anchoring I quote from Zapffe’s essay ‘The Last Messiah’ at length:

Anchoring might be characterised as a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness. Though typically unconscious, it may also be fully conscious (one ‘adopts a goal’.) Publicly useful anchorings are met with sympathy, he who ‘sacrifices himself totally’ for his anchoring (the firm, the cause) is idolised. He has established a mighty bulwark against the dissolution of life, and others are by suggestion gaining from his strength. In a brutalised form, as deliberate action, it is found among ‘decadent’ playboys (“one should get married in time, and then the constraints will come of themselves.”) Thus one establishes a necessity in one’s life, exposing oneself to an obvious evil from one’s point of view, but a soothing of the nerves, a high-walled container for a sensibility to life that has been growing increasingly crude. Ibsen presents, in Hjalmar Ekdal and Molvik, two flowering causes (‘living lies’); there is no difference between their anchoring and that of the pillars of society except for the practico-economic unproductiveness of the former.

Any culture is a great, rounded system of anchorings, built on foundational firmaments, the basic cultural ideas. The average person makes do with the collective firmaments, the personality is building for himself, the person of character has finished his construction, more or less grounded on the inherited, collective main firmaments (God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future). The closer to main firmaments a certain carrying element is, the more perilous it is to touch. Here a direct protection is normally established by means of penal codes and threats of prosecution (inquisition, censorship, the Conservative approach to life).

The carrying capacity of each segment either depends on its fictitious nature having not been seen through yet, or else on its being recognised as necessary anyway. Hence the religious education in schools, which even atheists support because they know no other way to bring children into social ways of response.

Whenever people realise the fictitiousness or redundancy of the segments, they will strive to replace them with new ones (‘the limited duration of Truths’)- and whence flows all the spiritual and cultural strife which, along with economic competition, forms the dynamic content of world history.

The craving for material goods (power) is not so much due to the direct pleasures of wealth, as none can be seated on more than one chair or eat himself more than sated. Rather, the value of a fortune to life consists in the rich opportunities for anchoring and distraction offered to the owner.

Both for collective and individual anchorings it holds that when a segment breaks, there is a crisis that is graver the closer the segment to main firmaments. Within the inner circles, sheltered by the outer ramparts, such crises are daily and fairly painfree occurrences (‘disappointments’); even a playing with anchoring values is here seen (wittiness, jargon, alcohol). But during such play one may accidentally rip a hole from euphoric to macabre. The dread of being stares us in the eye, and in a deadly gush we perceive how the minds are dangling in threads of their own spinning, and that a hell is lurking underneath.

The very foundational firmaments are rarely replaced without great social spasms and a risk of complete dissolution (reformation, revolution). During such times, individuals are increasingly left to their own devices for anchoring, and the number of failures tends to rise. Depressions, excesses, and suicides result (German officers after the war, Chinese students after the revolution).

Another flaw of the system is the fact that various danger fronts often require very different firmaments. As a logical superstructure is built upon each, there follow clashes of incommensurable modes of feelings and thoughts. Then despair can enter through the rifts. In such cases, a person may be obsessed with destructive joy, dislodging the whole artificial apparatus of his life and starting with rapturous horror to make a clean sweep of it. The horror stems from the loss of all sheltering values, the rapture from his by now ruthless identification and harmony with our nature’s deepest secret, the biological unsoundness, the enduring disposition for doom.

We love the anchorings for saving us, but also hate them for limiting our sense of freedom. Whenever we feel strong enough, we thus take pleasure in going together to bury an expired value in style. Material objects take on a symbolic import here (the Radical approach to life).

When a human being has eliminated those of his anchorings that are visible to himself, only the unconscious ones staying put, then he will call himself a liberated personality

Anchoring is thus a term for all those means by which we protect ourselves against meaninglessness that the threat of extinction opens up in this historical period and, of course, the joint threat of a very real extinction actually taking place.

So I agree. We shouldn’t turn away from the objective nihilism of the world, nor should we allow that nihilism to crush us into the ‘dust of this planet’. But if we are to build, to create, then we can only do so based on the knowledge of the emptiness of all our constructions, whether those things- and all the other things that compose the cosmos- are potent agents with their own agenda or not. The issue confronting humanity isn’t one that can be lost or won in debates about realisms or objects or concepts of life either. It is only one that can be won by openly admitting a cosmological pessimism, a materialist pessimism, that is self-conscious of the nothingness of which is partakes and generates.


For a long time it was the end of history. People coped with this by reinvigorating the past or making a virtue of the banality of living in the present or, at it’s most inane extreme, ‘the moment’. Others still claimed to live for a future that couldn’t arrive. History didn’t end. It woke up. It went on. Today it isn’t possible to live some imagined history or in the temporality of the Instant and instantaneous. Every temporality that isn’t that of a future already occurred and occurring are anaemic. Today it is only possible to live after the event. History continues but it is now headed to one place: the Catastrophe, imagined on whatever scale you want. Psychically, it has already happened. Here we are then in the nihilistic wastes of history that have not yet come. The present is vampiric on a future that has ended and casts its shadow back on to us. The objective nihilism of the world: everything that is, is debris. Today we are the self-conscious wreckage of all things come apart. It is in this sense alone that we are post-Catastrophic, that we live after the future as nobodies nowhere, embodied and here and now.

A coalition in favour of death

Bluntly: my rebellion is a faith to which I subscribe without believing in it…since the Absolute corresponds to a meaning we have not been able to cultivate, let us surrender to all rebellions: they will end by turning against themselves, against us . . . .
– E.M Cioran.

What politics can the pessimistic regard? All human political systems are centred around a coalition against death, an organisation of violence and the means of subsistence that seem to inevitably favour those who are doing that organising. Anyone who wants a politics based on man’s innate capacities of rationality, morality and sociability has overlooked history. It is not for no reason that Emile Cioran, a through-going and witty pessimist, through of all political convictions after realising the horror that his foray into fascism assisted in producing. Cioran was a member of the Iron Guard, a Romanian fascist organisation of the inter-war years that embraced ultra-nationalist ideology, coupled with a ruthless antisemitism and a variant of Orthodox Christianity that invoked a stupid glorification of death. Their central ideologue Codreanu wrote that ‘A Legionnaire loves death, for his blood shall cement the future Legionary Romania’. Blood and soil and God. Death squads sprang up to destroy enemies of Romania, from citizens considered undesirable to political leaders. It is remarked that the Iron Guard’s Christian element, which also served as a central organisational form, marks it as among an historically unique bunch of political monsters.

Yet if religion has any power beyond that of vital lie and self-deception (of meaning production) it is in its ability to organise individuals, groups, masses, objects, texts and discourses. Religions are capable of getting vast numbers of people in one place, wearing the same symbols, reading the same books, repeating the same refrains…and these people may have very different lives and interpretations of the doctrines of their faith (structure production). Thinking of the Catholic churches of my childhood I remember the clear and obvious hierarchy that was in place through the Priest, the deacons, the altar boys, and volunteers. I remember the rows upon rows of people shaking hands in the sign of peace who might feel repulsed or unnerved at the thought of touching one another if encountered on the street. Indeed, me and my childhood friends all regarded religion as a very nice story, full of bloodshed and lust with a pretty cool antihero at its core and were fascinated by the demonology and heretical traditions that sprang up around it but we were only in that church, among those people, doing religion through hymn singing, prayer, providing responses in mass praying, shaking hands, consuming the host and being nodes in the technology of confession, as was illuminated by Foucault, because we went to a Catholic school. We were made to go to church as part of the school day. To get into this school it was necessary to lie about going to church regularly and to have a priest be willing to lie in confirmation of that lie.

So religion doesn’t just structure it’s own buildings and regulate the behaviour of the inhabitants of those building both within and without its wall; religion structures extra-religious, secular space as well. My education was, in no small part, structured by Catholicism. We could go on to discuss how the American Christian right or the Islamic extremists have also played their mutually reinforcing role in dominating the shape and tenor of geopolitical conflicts and led to the kind of security state that has been analysed by Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. We might also go on to discuss the amount of intellectual time wasted by the debates surrounding the vulgarity of certain New Atheists. All in all, the point is that outside of the realm of ideation and delusion, of ‘wheels in the head’ [1], religions are behavioural and social structural producers and regulators that evince their potent agency from brick and cement, to the neurology and physiology of their believers, to the voting patterns and intellectual concerns of the day.

All in all, far from just another empty psychological crutch for the weak, organised religions are virulent material operants.

As such the idea that the Iron Guard was one of a few strange politico-religious experiments is erroneous. All organisations share the virulent materiality that I have sketched above. What is shouldn’t be lost is the materiality of the organisation of belief, the harnessing of the generic human capacity to commit to larger ontological units, and the subsequent re-direction of human actions in the world. Crucial in this is the fact that religious moral systems usually function by way of the manichean dichotomisation of light and darkness, good and evil, sheep and goats, and the need, therefore, to order populations into the categories. Here are the true believers and here are the sinners. Or, more simply and more importantly, religious morality operates by way of the identification of friends and enemies.

The famous friend/enemy distinction originates in the political theories of Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt [2] and it pertains to what Schmitt perceived to be the bald empirical fact that politics only worked on the basis of this primal distinction. In other, adolescent, words; it’s Us and Them, baby. This distinction does not operate as an interpersonal regulator but as the real decisional principle that regulates antagonisms between collectives. That is, the friend/enemy distinction is an architectural feature of the rupturing of assemblages that hold themselves together in that rupture. Us and Them is an irreducible confrontation wherein two elements of a system are caught in disequilibrium, one element seeking to purge another from that system. For Schmitt it is not necessary that this conflict actually occur but only that it remain a constant background fact. The potential for violence and brutality is what produces the need to have a concept of the Barbarian, either at the gate or already within the city walls. Having related the friend/enemy distinction to religion it is important to add that for Schmitt this distinction is primordial and cannot be reduced to good/evil but the latter pairing may be generative of the former. This is the deeply pessimistic view that politics is always about violence. It is about isolating the enemy and seeking to destroy it. Political strategies are thus threats and allusions.

I have gone through this simply to show the proximity of religious and political thought and organisation. How one may lead to the other. This is nothing new. It is known that the Enlightenment was little more than the secularisation of theological concepts. All I wanted to do was explain why it is that Cioran abdicated all commitment after the horror of his fascist identification with the Iron Guard. For Cioran the danger lay not in the Iron Guard but in commitment itself, in faith. Faith itself generated the nightmares of the 20th century. No politics could ever be worth committing to because commitment is always to one’s Friends and, therefore, it is potential and/or actual barbarism against one’s Enemies. As Cioran explicitly states politics involves ‘the passion to reduce others to the status of objects’[3].

In the face of the politics the pessimist can only shrink into quietude, to mocking derision and sardonic laughter at the stupid naivity of all those flesh bags who are so keen to pierce the flesh of others and to risk having their own flesh cut, shot, irradiated or otherwise destroyed. Politics is always death. As such, it isn’t simply the Iron Guard’s Legionnaire who loves death, it is anyone who identifies an Enemy.

Yet isn’t Cioran doing the impossible? Doesn’t the pessimist who flatly rejects politics as an idiot’s game forget one of the pessimists central convictions? We are all idiots. We are caught inside of politics whether we like it or not. One is always a Friend or an Enemy. Further than this, as the existential threat of death is always on the horizon we will always be compelled to form groups… to commit to the coalition against death.

A pessimist can only ever see religions and political movements as what they are which is, in partial agreement with Schmitt, machines of meaning production. Previously having traced an outline of the materialism at play in this it should be clear that I don’t mean to say that is all these systems are. However, the specificity of their genesis (of religion rather than phalanx, for instance) lies in their functioning as these machines of meaning production. In doing this these machineries are intended to quiet our existential fears of death and catastrophe. What is the green ecological movement if it is not a fearful response to the impending possibility of (multiple) species extinction(s) coming up on the nonhuman horizon? Meaning and value and purpose provide us with the psychological ability to continue, to go on in spite of all that we have come to know.* We can’t go on, we must go on. What Cioran misses is not just the materiality of our always already being implicated in politics and the political but also that it is impossible to withdraw from politics.

The pessimist is in a bind. He knows that politics is barbarism. He understands that commitment and faith produce civilisation and can also result in atrocity. He plays at denying politics while we also knows that one can’t escape politics. The paradox is another form of suffering such that appears before the pessimistic gaze as transparent and horribly opaque. The cynical say I see through it all; the pessimist says I see that I cannot see through it all. Paulo Virno, Italian Marxist philosopher of the autonomia tradition of Negri, wrote that the two prevailing political affects today are opportunism and cynicism. He gives illustrative example of this contemporary cynicism as ‘atrophy of solidarity, belligerent solipsism etc.’ which results, above all, in the cynic as a figure who ‘dispels any illusion of prospects of egalitarian “mutual recognition”‘[4]. The cynic sounds a lot like the pessimist. But the cynic is stupid because he believes that one can give in on the political front. The cynic wants a quiet life. The pessimist also wants a quiet life but he understands that human nature is constitutionally abhorrent of quietude. The pessimist might see this as tragic or simply as a stupid fact (I am more inclined to seeing it’s stupidity)^. The pessimist is all too aware that no matter how much she might want to get out of the political she is always already embedded in its terrible nexus of demands, deprivations, inequalities and injustices, its bland transformation into a piss poor media image of itself, its transformation of believers into citizens into consumers whilst we remain ever more deluded believers. The difference comes down to this: the cynical are fooled by politics, the pessimistic detest it.

Perhaps at this point I should confess. I am not very political. I have always loved theory. When I was a philosophy students and still played at being a philosopher I consumed all the correct radical philosophers, as well as some deeply unpopular ones (the question of popularity is one that academic philosopher’s largely miss, despite constantly erecting and tearing down their own particular hero’s…with so much hero worship going on, is it a surprise that so few women enter or succeed in academic philosophy?). I, along with a handful of comrades, considered myself a radical, a revolutionary. I don’t any more. I have renounced that particular affectation. Not because a revolution wouldn’t be a good thing but simply because I have adjusted myself to a more modest measure; the achievement of each day. And so I have confessed my bad faith, my apostasy even. Even so, working in psychiatric care I am embedded in politics. Living in Scotland, I am embedded in politics. Playing a small role in raising a child, I am embedded in politics. Being a consumer, I am embedded in politics. And I hate it. I relished the images of chaos during the London riots and I relished the insurrectionist texts. But always with a sense of spectacle and poetry. So I am a bad political subject. As one of my old comrades would say, I am post-political. Although, look how well I am able to confess it!

Returning to the problem then, what politics can a pessimist call her own? First, the little aside above is far more than an aside. I ended it after describing myself as post-political. This is because there is often a conceptual confusion between post-politics and anti-politics. According to a slew of radical philosophers (Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere) post-politics centres around the denial of antagonism, the common/generic and the inability of particulars to properly express the moment that exceeds their particularity and renders visible a truly universal articulation. Examples the denial of antagonism are those senses of politics as essentially about the management of consensus such as liberal democracy. Examples of the denial of the commons can be found in the, until recently, naturalisation of capitalism as economic form and end of history, or in the way parliamentary democracy is considered as the only possible way for civilised nations to conduct the management of the state. Examples of the inability of particulars to articulate universality is the way in which identity politics, or the proliferation of ‘the politics of x’ have occluded the possibility of formulating a politics that exceeds the situation that those who speak it find themselves in. This post-politics then is the ‘annulment of dissensus’ and ‘the end of politics'[5].

This post-politics is the situation that some would say we have been in for a long time. Some would argue that Occupy changed all that. Yet I see nothing in Occupy to mark it out from any other media image of revolution, just the latest form of the spectacle of politics (which is at least bloodless). Can we recognise the pessimist as falling for this shit? The pessimist naturally detests post-politics as she does politics proper. The rejection of post-politics is best summed up by Frank Zappa when he declared that ‘Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex’. This is what politics as post-politics essentially means; bad art. What the radical philosopher’s reveal, none more so than Ranciere, in their discussions of post-politics is precisely that politics is always aesthetics. And this accords with the pessimist’s view.

All politics is bad art.

So it seems the pessimist is in a bind. There is no politics that the she can accept except anti-politics. As far as utopian thought goes, Cioran is again quite clear that

Utopia is the grotesque en rose, the need to associate happiness — that is, the improbable — with becoming, and to coerce an optimistic, aerial vision to the point where it rejoins its own source: the very cynicism it sought to combat. In short, a monstrous fantasy.


The emphasis in this quote is my own and I have added it because, against appearances, Cioran is not rejection fantasy per se but is rejection the fantasy of utopia because it is monstrous. Radicals once claimed that ‘another world is possible’ and it is this kind of thinking that Cioran is scathing as monstrous. A betrayal of this world and a false hope that suffering can be entirely expunged from human existence, a kind of thinking that instrumentalises people and drives them towards the kind of glorification of death that he saw first hand in his idiotic and unforgivable love affair with the Iron Guard. In the same text Cioran writes that ‘Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness'[7]. He condescends to the multitude but must realise that he, viewed from outside himself, is also part of that multitude. As such, he too must have utopia. None can escape from the subtle seduction of utopia. The radical and the fascist, the liberal and the conservative. All must have their madness.

The pessimist is against politics but must have her madness. This is the condition. What politics can the pessimist regard? None. But as a living being possessed of consciousness the pessimist must be political because she is political. Elsewhere, I forget where, Cioran declares that ‘freedom can be manifested only in the void of beliefs, in the absence of axioms, and only where the laws have no more authority than a hypothesis.’ This certainly sounds like antipolitics, the only politics that seems consistent with the pessimist’s convictions about the danger of convictions. But what kind of antipolitics? This is the of politics that holds out no hope of another world, that doesn’t even desire another world, a politics that is entirely and thoroughly negational. It would be an athiest political theology. This world is a burning heap of wreckage and the pessimist’s politics can only be one in which that world itself is identified as the Enemy. Nothing will be constructed and nothing will be healed. Politics as therapy is just more post-political bullshit. Perhaps we are speaking about something akin to Evan Calder Williams’ concept of ‘

salvagepunk: the post-apocalyptic vision of a kaputt world, strewn with both the dream residues and the real junk of the world that was, and shot through with the hard work of salvaging, repurposing, détourning, scrapping’


Williams’s notion of a post-apocalyptic world bears a family resemblance to my own notion of catastrophia, and the idea that the catastrophe has already befallen us (except that in the post-apocalytic optic some truth can be seen in all this). A terrain of catastrophes: the catastrophe of living; the catastrophe of consciousness; and the catastrophe of late capitalism. If politics had the vanguard and post-politics had the media performer then a pessimistic antipolitics has the suicides that refuse to die and the necromancer who speaks only to the living. If we must choose a madness then we should agree with Ballard’s statement that after the death of politics ‘the future seems to lie with competing systems of psychopathology'[9].

If this conclusion seems vague and (barely) poetic it is because I am this pessimist, just as I am sure many others are. Being so close to the problem I can’t see a way through it. It is also because politics is another machine for meaning-production and the pessimist is deeply ambiguous about meaning. If meaning is produced, if it is an illusion or a lie, then the result is nihilism. But the pessimist is also aware that machines of meaning-production and their products are necessary to being able to be alive. The pessimist’s antipolitics is thus ambiguous or even ambivalent because it cannot escape the virtuous and/or vicious circle of consciousness of the human place in and the nature of the cosmos. Politics becomes a petty and small. Perhaps the best option would be for the pessimist to act out this ambiguity in their politics. What that would look like I don’t know. Antipolitics remains a kind of political rejection of politics. It echoes the title of a Marxist text from the 70s ‘This World we Must Leave’ but knows their is no other world and that all we can in this one is minimise suffering. The pessimist has always dissented but how does one dissent against the whole fucking thing? The problem all along has been, in the absence of faith, is it possible for politics to take account of the truths of pessimism? Is it possible to have a truly secular politics? The answer has to be a shrug of the shoulders. In the mean time we get on with the micro-politics that surround us…that there is no way out of. Perhaps all we can settle on is a kind of ‘hyper- and pessimistic activism'[10] that knows, in the last instance which has already come, that no politics is good enough. One last provocation; maybe the pessimist’s antipolitics, knowing that all politics are coalitions against death, would be that politics which made death its principal, not in order to glorify it but to undermine the human strategies of self-aggrandisement.It might involve the passion to elevate objects to the same level that people have always enjoyed. A coalition in favour of death that rejected the Iron Guard’s strategy as just more suffering, just more stupidity, just more cosmic nonsense. A coalition in favour of death, a faith without faith; what would that even mean?

End Notes 1: references.

[1]. Stirner, M. 1995. The ego and its own.
[2]. Schmitt, C. 1932. The concept of the political.
[3]. Cioran, EM. 1998. History and utopia.
[4]. Virno, P. 2001. General Intellect. Here.
[5]. Ranciere, J. 2001. Dissensus: on politics and aesthetics.
[6]. Cioran. Op. cit.
[7]. Ibid.
[8]. Williams, EC. 2011. Combined and uneven apocalypse.
[9]. Ballard, JG. 2005. Now Parliament is just another hypermarket. Here.
[10]. Foucault, M. 1983. On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Second Edition With an Afterword by and an Interview with Michel Foucault

End notes 2: further distractions.

*Don’t suppose I mean to say that the green ecology movement, or any other, is therefore pointless. Although I am exactly saying that everything is distally pointless (pointless-in-the-last-instance) this would be to entirely miss the point about what meaning production does. It stops us going mad and mutilating ourselves en masse, prevents us from committing anthropocide. This is not a moral issue in this post because I consider such as a situation we may cogitively appreciate without being affectively able to step outside of. Pathology is in our nature, to find a cure would spell our destruction. What these insights can allow for though, is that we consider ourselves already post-catastrophic. The end has already come. All that remains is the equal absences of meaning and meaninglessness on the skin of the world, behind which lurks the occult world of withdrawn and inaccessible substances. If we only have the skin of the world, surely it is better to commit to green ecology than it is to the Iron Guard. Personally, I sit uncomfortably with green ecology because of its often romantic view of beautiful and ‘good’ Nature. This is only partially the truth and is born from a perceptual system that cannot always witness the dark, bloody, and viciousness of nature and which is often unable, or unwilling (for good reason) to fully comprehend the indifference of nature to our survival or flourishing. I prefer a concept which takes in all scales of ‘nature’ and reflects back the same indifference, favouring neither beauty nor horror, and as such takes its frame of intelligibility as everything from sub-atomic particles to cars to forests to galaxies. This is why I prefer to speak of ‘cosmos’ instead of ‘nature’.

^ In this way I am almost tempted to characterise pessimism as a philosophy of stupidity. Not a stupid philosophy but a philosophy that regards the cosmos and it’s beauties and sufferings as ruthlessly stupid. We can’t help but feel the tragedy of suffering, especially our own, but what makes that suffering even worse is it’s cosmological stupidity.


Let’s be clear. This isn’t asking why one should become political, what might motivate political action. Rather it is asking which politics the pessimist could recognise pessimism in.

The radical denial reprised: skin of the world.

The radical denial of reality, crystallised in the declaration that ‘reality itself is speculative’, does not end in a species of idealism or deconstructive deferral of some real-to-come.Instead it is to assert the real of the Cosmos understood not as in the overmining concept of Universe-as-Totality or Nature as a distinct realm from the cultural but as the in-itself thingliness of which each thing keeps hidden as it gives itself to-us. Cosmos is the virtual source, the withdraw aspect, the generalisation of the Baudrillardian concept of the ‘objective Illusion of the World’, the empty space of the in itself indifferent even to itself. This dark and hermetic real, this Gnostic real, is exactly what the radical denial affirms. The everyday, quotidian reality of phenomenal experience and perception is an epidermal world. It is the ongoing production of the space of Illusion.

Yet Illusion is not a deception. What it produces is real. And what Illusion is productive of is only this epidermal layer. Biology makes no ontological problem of the relation of the skin to the bone. If we got rid of Illusion there would be nothing to conjure that layer of reality that we come into contact with- the Aesthetic Real.

In this sense, all reality is Illusory. The Illusion of reality is what exceeds our intelligibility and what generates that intelligibility, what is and what we can’t represent to ourselves. To deny reality is to affirm this sense of reality-in-itself, approachable perhaps only in Catastrophic instances (or, in computational terms, glitches). Reformulated in poetic and nontheistic sense, the death of God, the nonexistence of God, and the presence of God are all of the Illusion of God.

Virilio once wrote of a new stereo-reality produced by mediatic technologies that generated intense anxieties and ontological disequilibrium, maps that substituted themselves for territories that can’t disappear. What if, instead, this stereo-reality is merely an expression of what reality has always been?

Anxiety. Panic. Doubt. Truth. We only see the skin of the world.


Catastrophe is an action bringing ruin and pain on stage, where corpses are seen and wounds and other similar sufferings are performed

Aristotle, Poetics

Whoever writes, no matter the form that writing takes, is pushed on by some kind of obsession, no matter what intensity that obsession reaches or fails to reach. What is mine? I survey the history of my productions and reproductions.

Short texts on obliterated sculpture, wastelands, abandoned and decaying spaces, deserts- an aesthetic of urban collapse;

depressions, schziophrenia, epidemics of anxiety and panic being produced by the excessive demands of capitalism’s infosphere, the post-traumatic subjectivity that becomes hegemonic in these last days of capital’s reign- the neuropsychological collapse of eviscerated minds;

the Inevitable, both proximate and distal in the forms of the perishing of the individual organism in human death and in considerations of entropy, heat-death of the universe, and ecological catastophe- the intimate and cosmic levels of material collapse.

I seek out films about the end of the world, and the destruction of populations. I seek out body-horror and science fiction, zombie films and, although less so now, the cold music of inhumanity and monstrosity in industrial and blackmetal. I read widely but return again and again to the catastrophic novels of Ballard, Kafka and Houellebecq, to the linguistic excess and overload of Ieonescu and Steve Aylett. Philosophically, I can’t and haven’t ever been able to dissociate myself from the first adolescent truths that dawned on me. I remain entrenched in a philosophical pessimism.

What then is my obsession?

Some are driven by a love of truth and they are called philosophers. I am not driven by such philosophia. The truth is abject and indifferent and entirely in-itself. Who could have such passion for such a passionless thing as truth?

No. I am driven by the catastrophic thought, by an obsession with the wound and the ruin, the collapsing and the ecstatic, the obscene figures of human and nonhuman suffering, the withdrawn core of things concieved of as the thing in itself that doesn’t simply remain hidden but which actively resists actualisation. The end of the world as it’s apotheosis.

My obsession, in a word, is a catastrophia. This is why I return to the question of life, the question that that of death is really asking. Life concieved as objectively catastrophic, accidental, horrific.