attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: cosmos

The concept of ‘cosmos’

It strikes me, furthermore, that debates over whether realities are singular or multiple can be enriched with the notion of ‘cosmos’ (or imminent plane of being if you will). Cosmos is the non-container for the myriad entities, real or imagined, ‘fact’ or factish, material or semiotic that are participating in radically decentralised – i.e. emergent – ‘choreographies’ of creation and destruction. We humans, like any other perceiving entities, can only really ever glimpse a little of our own corner of the cosmos and that too only in a partial manner. We experience reality as primarily local, with reports of distant events having to undergo complex chains of translations before we can experience them – if they reach us at all… and this is despite the digital information revolution.

– Intra-Being. Here.

Cosmos is an indispensible concept, I reckon. Also intrigued by the use of the term ‘choreography’ throughout this post….dance being the materialist art form, if you ask me.

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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.

 

ambivalence

In a previous post I made a slip of the tongue. I wrote that Cosmos is absurd. What I had meant to write was that Cosmos (the assemblage of all that exists; the material set of all sets, if you like) is ambivalent.

Cosmos is ambivalent. This ambivalence is a feature of all our meaning production, or of our consciousness that our meanings are produced and therefore that they seem to lack any foundations; it is a feature of the ontological Illusion, the way in which even as Cosmos presents itself it does so only by remaining occluded; ambivalence is a feature of all things, in all times, in all places. It is the abyss that gives itself concretely as things, including ourselves.

Ambivalence is the name for the sense that Cosmos- or world as we call our experience of it- refuses to be pinned down to any particular ontological system. Ambivalence is what marks the impossibility of systematic philosophy and also the partial truth that is found in all systematic thought. Ambivalence is thus both ontological condition and epistemological concept. It is, therefore, like a fragment; complete unto itself but denying any possibility to ever being finally finished.

Being alive is a problem of addiction

A coalition in favour of death. Why did I use that turn of phrase in my previous post? Because it is impossible to be against death. All of our illusions and our self-deceptions, all our methods for safe-guarding us from suicide and self administered extinction, are impossible to maintain. We affirm death because in affirming death we affirm our drive to live. And it is being alive which is the problem, not death. Death is the solution to the problem of life that none of us wants to endorse.

I want to speak in the naive language of a child for a while.

What is the problem then? Being alive. Being conscious of being alive. So excess consciousness is the problem? Only insofar as it puts us in this strange place. But let’s not think consciousness is the enemy. It is only because of consciousness that we could develop the complex social systems required for the kind of meaning production work that we all engage in (which I am here engaged in) to safe guard us from what that same consciousness reveals. It is as if consciousness itself were an uncertain masochist.

It is cosmos that lies at the heart of the problem. Cosmos is what makes us what we are. Here I mean cosmos to designate that which has made us what we are, including ourselves and everything else we have been shaped by. But of primary concern is the fact of our evolutionary heritage, our Darwinian facticity. We evolved a while ago. Not long by cosmological standards but long enough by our own. We evolved for a world that appeared brute and hostile and that wasn’t keen on letting us live. We evolved for conditions of scarcity. We evolved as survivalists. A survivor is someone who isn’t dead yet. We are all of us not dead yet. The yet is crucial. We will die, we know it, and so we are already dead…but the organism keeps going. Living is a prelude to dying.

All this because of the initial conditions of the universe. That’s right. The cosmos, the universe, nature, that which made us and which we are a partial thing of (a thing among all the other things). Living is the problem. And so it is that cosmos is the enemy that we identify. Everything that is is an accident and an aberration. There is no need for misanthropy. Misanthropy is just the negative image of anthropocentrism; of the human love affair with itself. All that exists does so against itself.

Our illusions and self-deceptions, our constitutive ability to not go mad and kill ourselves, to wake up every morning and live the banal and mediocre lives of our banal and mediocre times, is an astonishing feat of consciousness. But consciousness is not separate from cosmos. It is cosmos itself that equips us with the tools to heroically achieve the fact of waking up, going to work, playing a video-game, wanking, fucking, getting fat or laughing with friends at something stupid.

Cosmos is the Enemy that allows us to identify it as Enemy and which proceeds to give us the ability to lie to ourselves and so achieve what we call living. Attempts at living are biologico-aesthetic triumphs of cosmos. They keep us tethered to the world. So they keep us from going mad. But what good is that when our sanity keeps us rooted in suffering?

Worst, we can’t even claim it is a cruel trick. Cosmos is indifferent to us. The natural mechanisms of evolution which resulted in our brain, with its capacities and incapacities, are also totally indifferent. It is all blind, accidental, ignorant and supremely without purpose.

Does it matter? This is what I come to with the idea of the coalition in favour of death. With this knowledge, and with the knowledge of the inescapability of this condition, we are presented with a choice. Stop living or adopt which ever lies and illusions you like. Which ones are good? The answer is none. Well then, which ones cause you (and, if you are like me, others) the least suffering.

A coalition in favour of death might be seen as that which is post-catastrophic. It’s already happened. We exist. And unable to cease in our meaning producing labours we can’t get out of existence. I myself even work in a field that involves stopping other people from getting out of existence. I am a cruel and vicious monster who tethers those who can’t go on to the world.

The coalition in favour of death is identical to the coalition against death in everything except it’s self-consciousness. It is in this way completely absurd, occasionally tragic, but is nonetheless willing to endure depressions and anxieties for what episodic bursts of joy there might be. Why? I can’t answer that question. I remain only capable of stating that we are addicted to living.

And I stress, this is all the result of cosmos…all the result of material processes that are quite nonhuman and quite indifferent to the fate of human beings. The accidental self-organisation of matter in just such a way, forming and reforming itself, and you get a human mind in-capable of perceiving the horror of existence.

I say terror, and I say horror, but isn’t this little bit of writing another attempt to domesticate the cosmic forces. A friend of mine puts it in this way: we live in a universe which is really just a stomach dissolving itself. What’s more there isn’t even a stomach separate from the things inside it. Everything is a dissolving stomach. But I am still sitting here, about to watch a film, anticipating my girlfriend getting back from holiday. I am addicted. I know I am addicted, but I cannot get clean.

Wikipedia: classic hallmarks of addiction include: impaired control over substances/behavior, preoccupation with substance/behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial.

Therefore: classic hallmarks of Addiction include: impaired control over being alive, preoccupation with being alive,
continued living despite consequences, and denial that being alive is wrong.

Some people advocate strategies of getting clean, of detoxification and finally emancipating ourselves from our condition as junkies. I’m not sure this is possible. Even the suicide affirms that the horror of existence is meaningful enough to end their life. And all that is gone is there consciousness and there being alive. Existence rumbles on.

A coalition in favour of death is a coalition against death that is self-conscious. It sees that all we have is the dream from which we can’t awake and so decides to dream lucidly. Play with it. Salvage something. Being alive might be the problem but being dead isn’t much use. It is Emile Cioran’s old joke; why kill yourself, you always do it too late.

A friend of mine told me that I didn’t really think nonexistence would be better than living. I told him he was wrong. What he failed to understand is that the recognition that nonexistence would be preferrable is not identical to the desire or nonexistence. Having been born I am addicted. Just as addicted as he is. I am simply aware that my pleasures and my joys are elements of my addiction. I don’t want to be rid of my addiction, although lots of people do.

I’m not sure anyone ever came up with an argument that proves it is wrong to kill yourself… but likewise I don’t think anyone has ever come up with an argument that proves it is wrong to stay alive. Life is wrong, living is just living. Or rather, living is just attempted living.

Am I trying to take the teeth out of pessimism? No. Because pessimism and nihilism aren’t the same thing. I am a pessimist, that does not mean I am a nihilist. Although…

In fact Addiction has always been a metaphysical condition. Neurobiologically speaking, a substance misuser develops a chemical dependency on a given substance. This is why psychiatry now speaks of alcohol dependency rather than alcoholism. The alcohol dependent person has an illness which is treatable, whereas the alcoholic is a kind of being that that person has. This, at least, is the linguistic idealism behind the change of name, as if people were not dynamically related to the categories that medicine might want to impose on them.

There are people who are addicted to behaviours, who do not have the problem of substance dependence. This is closer to what it is to be addicted to being alive, I think (although this is all intuition). Addiction refers to something to do with the will, whatever that concept might refer to…whether it is something which is free or is not. All I am trying to show here is that dependency is a medical concept whereas addiction is metaphysical. It is about a pathological state of affect…of having formed excessive attachments to particular things despite those things being detrimental to the addict.

Neurophilosopher Alvoe Noe has written on addiction. He wrote that

For the addict, everything becomes a means to an end, and nothing can be an end in itself. Other people, situations, work, family—these become mere opportunities for self-regarding adventure.

Let’s reformulate that again.

For the person addicted to life, everything becomes a means to an end, and nothing can be an end it itself. Other people, situations, work, family- these become mere opportunities for being alive. We live in order to live. We’re addicted.

What does that even mean? It looks like nonsense.

But that’s the point. Being alive is meaningless. All those things above can’t be ends in themselves. That is Kant’s Christian vision.

But more to the point, the meaninglessness that is revealed is nonsensical and because of that meaninglessness is shown itself to be meaningless.

The threat of meaninglessness, of nihilism, that dawns on us when we realise our dearest ideals are all deceptions that we can’t shake we, is dispersed like cigarette smoke when we also realise that given that meaning is generated by us and is not secured or anchored in the cosmos then it doesn’t actually matter if they are deceptions.

We create them. They are created. Just the same as the cosmos created us. Because we were created by blind and stupid drives of the cosmos doesn’t make us any less real.

There is the surface of meanings, aesthetics of meaning. The coalition in favour of death enjoys the creativity and malleability this implies. It sees the ruins of meaning and plays inside them.

I seem to have strayed. I contradict myself. I’m not sure I’m right about any of this. But if I am right, then I don’t have to be… I just have to keep going.

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.

Initial thought on Prometheus

The theological readings proliferating in critical columns does a disservice to a film that is, by turns at least, a metaphysical treatise of ontogenesis and the groundless nature of the Creator-Creation relationship. Prometheus is less an action-horror peice of ponderous mysticism and more an elaboration on the indifferent contingency of the construction of reality.

All scales of the cosmos are brought into the narrative, and it is a narrative that at times makes no sense without falling into nonsense- the criticism of the failures of plot in this sense is also a critique of the philosophies of access, of anthropocentric epistemologies. In Prometheus the nonhuman is horrific, remote, uncanny because so similar.

The question is no longer, as it was for Bishop in the Alien films, what it is to be human but what it is to be nonhuman, for the human to be a mere accidental appendage. In this way, the character of David is so central because he too is an ‘engineer’, another cold indifferent aspect of the real.

If any theology remains in the ‘search’ it is a Gnostic theology in which God, or the Absolute Origin of things, is infinitely withdrawn.

The very figures of the ‘Engineers’ and the various monstrous hybridisations of the alien and human life forms is also a perfect cinematic aesthetic of the speculative nature of the real.

Also, I enjoy the sense of the Scottish landscape as extra-terrestrial.

Thesis on radical denial

A capsule form of the radical denial, a proposition:

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to destroy it. This is the road to an (ir)realism that confronts us with the malignant indifference of cosmos.

Cosmic pessimism and addiction

So, while Schopenhauer himself was a curmudgeon, and while he does state that this is the worst of all possible worlds, his philosophy ultimately moves towards a third type of pessimism, one that he never names but which perhaps we can christen: a cosmic pessimism.x For Schopenhauer, the logical endpoint of pessimism is to question the self-world dichotomy that enables pessimism to exist at all. But such a move would entail a shift away from the relation and difference between self and world, human and non-human, subjective attitude and objective claim. Instead, it would entail a move towards an indifference, an indifference of the world to the self, even of the self to the self. Cosmic pessimism would therefore question even the misanthropy of moral and metaphysical pessimism, for even this leaves us as human beings with a residual consolation – at least the world cares enough to be ‘against’ us. Schopenhauer’s cosmic pessimism questions ethical philosophy’s principle of sufficient reason – that there is an inherent order to the world that is the ground that enables reliable judgements to be made regarding moral and ethical action. It also questions the fundamental relation between ethics and action, whether of the Aristotelian first principles type, the Kantian-axiomatic type, or the modern cognitivist-affectivist type. Cosmic pessimism seems to move towards an uncanny zone of passivity, ‘letting be’, even a kind of liminal quietism in which non-being is the main category. In cosmic pessimism, this ‘indifference’ is the horizon of all ethics. As an ethics, this is, surely, absurd. And this is perhaps why Schopenhauer’s ethics ultimately ‘fails’.

– Eugene Thacker, ‘Philosophical doomcore’. Read in full here.

No self-world relation, the impossibility of such a relation. Under Schopenhauer’s gaze the question of whether the shark should eat the child makes no sense as it is part of this self-world (the child is the image of ourselves, the shark the image of the world). If there is but one Will in Schopenhauer it would be a question of the individuated wills (shark-child) being phenomenal instances of the noumenal  Will. The question is thus should the Will eat the Will? A question then of a kind of cosmic suicide of the real. Should the real be allowed to consume itself? What would it mean to answer negatively, except that one hasn’t paid enough attention to entropy?

Lurking everywhere: undermining and idealism.

But, the Will operates like a death-drive integral to objects in this cosmic pessimism (cosmos is a term I’m using more and more instead of nature- it denatures nature quite nicely). The temporality of all objects leads to this same result: death, disintegration, disappearance. Autopsy vitalism sees the living object as if from the perspective of it’s disintegration and knows that the apotheosis of all things is catastrophic. If Schopenhauer undermines objects (operatives/operations) that is because deathdoes undermine objects. Not out of viciousness but out of the law of existence, its sole irrevocable law. This is the meaning of Inevitability. All cosmological things are constructed, be it by evolution or the processes in physics and chemistry, the written or spoken articulation of concepts (as in dynamic nominalism), by research, poetic experience, and so on. All cosmological things are subject to catastrophe. In this sense all things are subject to the law that Paul Virilio reserves for technological objects that the accident shows us the truth of the substance and, in this way, that ‘the accident is “invented”, it is a work of creation’ [1]. Destruction reveals those powers, those capacities or operations, of an object that would otherwise remain withdrawn and, simultaneously, reveals that the catastrophic moment was always nascent within that object. As such, destruction and creation are conjoined and can’t be surgically or magically separated.

If Schopenhauer’s ethics fail perhaps it is because, when scrutinized, all ethics fail. Yet, as the strap line of this blog contests in it’s Beckettian reiteration, we can but fail again and again, failing a little better every time. Why? There is no reason why. The best I can think is compulsion, need, and, as I have written elsewhere, addiction. But perhaps addiction should be raised to a metaphysical principle. The cosmos: take it or leave it. That’s what it boils down to. And if you choose to leave it, you’re still right there.

[1] Paul Virilio. Interview in le Monde. Here.

Life from collapse