attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: nonhuman

material vulnerabilities

I want to do two things in this post. First, to explore the idea of ‘ontological vulnerability’ a little, and second, to look at absolute and contingent withdrawal in object-oriented philosophy. I want to do this in order to try to get a grasp of Michael’s problems with Harman and Morton’s version of OOO, and to make a start on answering questions about pan-correlationism.

Michael rejects the idea that objects are absolutely withdrawn from one. Instead, Michael suggests that all objects are’ ontically open to one another in such a way as to establish an ‘intimacy’. This would also be the grounds of possibility for the intelligibility of alterity: how could we speak of alterity if things never encountered one another at all? The point is that if objects were absolutely withdrawn they would recede from any point of access whatsoever. In such a world no thing could ever be touched, held, burnt, used, left, ignored, known etc. In a bid to revalorise substantiality in a world seemingly obsessed with flux, we give discover the undiscoverability of the in-itself and remain forever imprisoned within the for-us of our own delusive experiences. Absolute withdrawal is a thesis of absolute autonomy of every substance from every other substance to the point where all and every thing vanishes. But that isn’t the world we live in. We live in a world of violence and suffering, of bullets and bombs, of fast food and big screen TVs, of kissing lovers, and 4 year old boys who refuse to let you write blog posts. We live in a world where we’ve gathered a fair bit of knowledge. Hard knowledge garnered from natural science. In other words, it seems that the claim that objects are absolutely withdrawn is false.

As a psychiatric nurse I know that such a claim is false. I use drugs synthesised by psychopharmacologists that, once injected into the flesh, directly do things to the patient’s nervous system. Conversation and phenomenographic accounts of patient experience also relate how this can profoundly alter the way patients couple to their environments. This leads to the enaction of profoundly different worlds. Thinking on such an example is illustrative. I can only do my job because people have had direct if partial access to things. I can only do my job because other things have direct access to still more things. The generation of and radical difference between my experience of an episode of medication administration and my patient’s is only possible because of the specific ways in which we and the things involved in that situation are open to each other. That openness constitutes the kind of intimacy that provides us with experiential evidence of the impossibility of absolute withdrawal. Instead, situations or worlds are produced by the unique ensemble of interoperating operations of uniquely relating substances. Onto-specification is the product of multiple coexisting intimacies, or intermatrices.

We should note here that what I’m calling intermatrices pertain to ‘contact’ between objects. Intermatrices are simply the ensembles that produce effects that we typically call things. Just as for the Stoics,objects are both cause and effect. The point to note is that it is only because of intermatrices that we have access to things at all, and that such interoperability is fundamentally a matter of enaction. That is to say onto-specification is the activity of the ontic co-determination of substances by those substances. There is a sense in which we can say this is an eroticism: things enact worlds by touching each other. As such, absolute withdrawal would constitute an auto-erotic atomism in which touching is mediated via the metaphorical screen as in cyber-sex. In Levi Bryant and Ian Bogost’s expression, the object-oriented ontology is a promiscuous ontology.

So objects/ensembles/etc are able to touch one another only partially but nonetheless directly. This means that something is always going to be absent in their touching, even if that absence is not absolute. Here, the split in an objects identity, the heterogeneous admixture preventing total autonomy, means that their is a porosity to the object’s membrane. The membrane might be thought of as that fuzzy boundary between what remains withdrawn aspect and what is touched-touching. Much like skin, the object’s membrane is porous, permeable, otherwise it would be either fully actual or fully virtual. What this also means is that with any specific object/ensemble the porosity of the membrane will differ. As such, rather than absolute withdrawal across all objects there is a continuum of withdrawal, degrees of absence, a mobility between presence and absence. I will return to this later.

So what is this ontological vulnerability? It is precisely what has been discussed above. Yet as human beings we are a particular kind of thing, and we have put ontological vulnerability into play for other reasons. For us, this kind of vulnerability is part of our facticity. We are the species that is composed of individuals that know that they will die. We are the kind of being that is always exposed to death and which has complex affective and cognitive responses to that awareness. Ernest Becker is among those who has posited that human civilisation is in fact a huge coping mechanism composed of other elaborate coping mechanisms. By identifying with a heroic system, such as religion, the individual attempts to transcend their own mortality, fraught as it is with uncertainty of time and manner of arrival, by being part of ‘something bigger’. Becker joins in that chorus of voices that declare that such means of pretending at immortality, of avoiding death, have been undermined by modernity’s disenchantment of the world. The cultural-subjective nihilism that accompanies the desacralisation of the world by instrumental/administrative reason and the rise of industrial capitalism has eroded the possibility of sustaining our various heroisms. (I have a sense that Heidegger’s being-toward-death is really little more than his attempt to make the absence of heroism into a heroism).
The point here is that we are left without any kind of affective or intellectual defence against our awareness of our mortality and that this is paralysing. For some this means that we put all our efforts into sequestering death (Mellor and Shilling 1993, The sequestration hypothesis: modernity, self-identity, and death), hiding it from view through the operation of a taboo just as under the repressive hypothesis power was supposed to operate an effective taboo on sex. For others (Christopher Lasch) this degenerates humans into narcissists obsessed with youth and beauty, terrified of ageing and any form of commitment whatsoever. It is a fairly familiar story, one we don’t need to completely retrace here. We have always been exposed to death and we have always attempted to attenuate that exposure.

Importantly, ontological vulnerability has been discussed by Judith Butler (Precarious Life; Frames of War) as our corporeal vulnerability to others because of the way our being is constituted by, remains dependent on, and is finally extinguishable by, other corporeally vulnerable beings.Just like with Becker’s hero-systems though, there are those who attempt to make themselves appear invulnerable (Butler identifies the USA and Israel as examples). In trying to be invulnerable these objects are hiding their vulnerability from themselves, turning away from it, and simultaneously increasing their vulnerability. Our lives are precariously interdependent and this exposes us to violence, possibly to death. The logic is similar in Becker, for whom civilisation is a massive system of meaning-production that attempts to give death the appearance of sense, to domesticate it’s dark absoluteness, and to make us feel like we are ontologically invulnerable. In both instances, attempts to evade such vulnerability actually intensifies it by building up defences that can’t do anything but fail.

In the pessimistic understanding of vulnerability we are talking about an exposure to death that renders suffering senseless, arbitrary, our world a dangerously vertiginous swirl of risk. The very fabric of social and institutional life is endangered by the cultural nihilism that sweeps through liquid modernity because death is revealed to be ‘the absolute other, an unimaginable other…an absolute nothing…the end of all perception’ (Bauman, Mortality immortality, and other life strategies). Ontological vulnerability is the threat of a dissolution so complete as to be unthinkable, unimaginable, an horrific alterity that the individual (and increasingly the collective) can’t domesticate. Death is perfectly unthinkable.

Our ontological vulnerability is ultimately rooted in a carnal vulnerability, and this should tell us something about ontological vulnerability in general (although we must be mindful of onto-specificity). First, ontological vulnerability is openness. This openness does not merely point towards the partiality of withdrawal but also points towards the exposure of objects to dissolution. Secondly, in humans (and probably other animals) this dissolution is death. Thirdly, it seems as though the first two claims follow from openness of objects, from the incompleteness of ensembles, their plasticity. Fourth, partial objects mean that all objects are interdependent rather than autonomous. All objects may be agencies that act, but they do so within the constraints of the worlds that are available to them to enact. Fifth, if death is unthinkable then absolute withdrawal is unthinkable. In this way, absolute withdrawal would pose itself as a limit to thinking, to what could be thought. It could be countered that this is precisely where the speculation in speculative realism steps in but I feel that the positioning with death is telling. What it tells us is that to go beyond this limit, to speculate on what is absolutely withdrawn and so is an unimaginable other, an absolute nothing and the end of all perception, is to produce a supernaturalism. Specifically, a commitment to the absolutely withdrawn would seem to be a kind of mysticism.

As we have seen, what is partially absent is not necessarily absent. Objects are capable of change, the cosmos itself is capable of change. What is now withdrawn may be put forward, what is now touched-touching may be withdrawn. In other words, what remains withdrawn only does so contingently. There remains the possibility of some other part of the object’s latency being manifested. There is the ‘distinctive presence of that which withdraws or has withdrawn’ as Alva Noe has it in Varieties of Presence. Drawing on the example of a baseball player’s glove, or Heidegger’s example of the craftman’s hammer, Noe talks about the withdrawing of these objects as alive in the sense that a straight up absence as not-presence is not. If something is not-present it is of no concern. Other possible ways of thinking absence might be related to occupation. If something is occupied it’s space has been filled by something not-it. This clearly isn’t what withdrawal is referring to. Alva Noe suggests that we think of a kind of absence that is a presence, a presence-in-absence. He asks us to imagine a tomato. When we perceive the tomato we see it as a whole tomato. Asked to describe it we would list its visual perceptual properties. But we would probably exceed what was actually presented to our eyes. We would say that it had a back and even if we couldn’t see that back we would not doubt that it existed. We would display a kind of perceptual faith, in Merleau-Ponty’s words. For Noe, this isn’t because we make a cognitive inference about the tomato but because the tomato ‘looks to have a back. It looks solidly three dimensional’. There is no actual seeing of the occluded portion of the fruit but there is a relation to the fruit that is undeniably visual in which it’s having a back, it’s being the thing it is, is obvious. In this sense, the back of the tomato (the back of a house) shows up. This showing up is its being as a presence-as-absence. No sooner has Noe stated that the back of the tomato is absent and present to human perception than he generalises this to every instance of human perception. ‘Consider the front of a tomato. You see it. But do you see all of it’? For Noe, every object of perception is ‘hidden’ in the sense that my experience of it, my embodied perceptual engagement with it, is always fragile and incomplete. In other words, it is always open; always ontologically vulnerable.

Noe’s access to the presence-in-absence that is everything, or as he put it access to ‘the virtual all the way down’, is based on carnal ‘sensorimotor integration’ with the physical environment. The point is that while everything is hidden it can nonetheless be accessed practically through the structural coupling of the organism with it’s environment. By turning my head, by casting my eye, my changing my posture or walking a few footsteps, I alter that coupling and achieve a different angle of access. Our access to the withdrawn, and what remains withdrawn, is dependent, at least in part, on our practicality and virtuosity.

This might still both Michael. It remains within the pan-correlationism that attaches cognitive powers to all object-object relations. The kind of virtuosity that I have talked about is the kind that has been sketched in terms of human perceptual capacities and intentional agency. Hairdryers and clouds are unlikely to be just these kinds of virtuosos. Yet if part of all of this has been to call attention to the onto-specificity of ensembles then we ought to recall that the human is precisely that ensemble that grasps the world in a fully corporeal sense. We are that kind of ensemble for whom cognitive, affective, and embodied capacities are utterly enmeshed together. As I hope my mentions of death showed, our corporeal vulnerability and our ontological vulnerability are of the same kind. The being of beings has to be understood as corporeality. If it is the case that ‘nothing incorporeal exists’ then there is nothing that lacks materiality, nothing that can’t be made to show up. Mind can only emerge out of the complex intermatrises that enact it, and it can’t be reduced to its human side or to the brain. Perhaps the pan-correlationism or panpsychism that Michael is wanting to avoid is something that shows up in OOO because it is spread across all relations that we can look at. We can never look anywhere where mind is not. This is not the same as to say that we can never look anywhere that the human is not, or where discursivity, or power is not; instead it is to suggest that each and every object that the human touches, every human-human/human-object relation (and the object-object relations that those depend on) are the corporeal mechanisms of the logos spermatikos of mind. The point would be that mind or ‘mind-like’ encounters between objects would be neither something that belonged to humans or to nonhumans but to the cosmos itself. Rather than a panpsychism this might resemble a material pantheism. At the same time, we might consider that practicality and virtuosity might not be traits that only humans engage in.

This hasn’t even begun to get at Michael’s point or to answer it. As ever, I stumble onward in my dilettante contributions. Maybe this one will be expanded on.

Beasts of the burden of death

I am late in recieving the news that on  July 7, 2012 a series of neuro-experts from the field of cognitive studies gathered together in order to announce that

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from
experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the
neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with
the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that
humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-
human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also
possess these neurological substrates.

That consciousness is not confined to humanity won’t shock most people (any pet owner for instance will be entirely unsuprised). This declaration is important though in that it marks that the evolution of consciousness, with all its affective states, is nothing unique to human animals as a peice of scientific truth. From now on, those who speak of conscious beings can’t confine themselves in all good faith to speaking about that mammal that builds cathedrals and crafts pop songs. If ti is the case, as I contend in agreement with the pessimists, that consciousness is a disease, an aberration that was once a useful adaptation which, in developing surplus to environmental needs and in part thanks to its guiding ability in humans to help sculpt environment and be sculpted through it in return, then we must acknowledge our fellowship with other mammalian, avian and cephalopod life. The question of suffering is no longer theoretical, as the animal studies have always maintained, and it is undeniable now that such nonhuman lives be recognised as suffering lives. Again, for a good deal of people this is not a revelation.

But it prompts certain questions. That human and nonhuman lives share ‘primal affective qualia’ tends towards asking after the emotional life of nonhumans. I wonder at the idea of activities of practical necessity, like nest building, being or becoming (at least in possibility) a way of coping, a way of surviving. It makes me want to think of the maybe not so remote possibility of a cephalopod ethics and a form of life, a particular coalition against death, arising in an animal less evolutionarily biased toward developing an ocularcentric culture. Is it the case that more or less developed (from whose perspective?) nonhuman cultures abound around us, cultures that are radically nothing like our own. I remember being present at a horse being euthanised (he had a neurological problem that meant he had gradually become unable to swallow) and how in the blaze of the high Andalucian sun the vet had depressed a peice of plastic and a poison had inocuously flowed into the circulatory system of that horse. He stood upright for a moment, seized and then fell. He lay dead as the vet cut into his throat to examine the mechanics of the problem, a biological engineeer examining a poorly constructed machine, as the lorry backed up on the blood stained dust to whinch and carry the corpse away. The other horses, gathered in a lower paddock of soft sand transported from beaches, had stood in a silent circle. At the time I had wondered if they knew what death was, what it failed to mean, whether they were huddled in fear or a more blunt sense that this wasn’t normal, wasn’t right. Do nonhuman animals shudder at abjection? Might the activity of ants building colonies be aesthetic as well as pragmatic? Is it possible to imagine a psychiatry for nonhuman lives? Why not? After all, psychiatry deals with problems with living…and the problem is living itself.

Of course the scientists haven’t declared that these other animals have this kind of consciousness. There isn’t any reason to think that sharing the material substrate for consciousness means developing the same form of consciousness. That said, what it does do is show the unhuman nature of consciousness. Thomas Ligotti in The conspiracy against the human race (p.79):

One would think that nature was trying to kill us off or get us to suicide ourselves once the blunder of consciousness came upon us. What was nature thinking? We tried to anthropomorphize it, to romanticize it, to let it into our hearts.

We would have to generalise this state of affairs to those nonhuman animal lives that this declaration has deemed to share consciousness with us. Consciousness exists across the old distinction of nature/culture, of animal/man, and obliterates that mark. If specuations about existential horses or artist ants and a psychiatry for octopus seem ridiculous it is perhaps only because of the desire to keep the anthropic machine productive of that cleavage between man and beast. The point of such speculation is to go against the idea that we again find expressed in Ligotti that aside from man, who is the conscious animal, ‘[f]or the rest of earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. They live- they reproduce- they stop living’ (p.8). The idea of a psychiatry for nonhumans is silly (even though the use of psychopharmacology to prove the existence of the substrates of consciousness is in a direct and banal sense the everyday practice of psychiatry). Ligotti’s insistence that it is only we humans that can grasp life and death- his rearticulation of the problem of Dasein– has the power of an intuitive truth for us. Yet this intuition is the very product of our consciousness without any material evidential support; it is precisely the superstition that scientific truth either confirms or denies. If we are going to stay faithful to Ligotti’s line then we have to extend it to humans as well…why not? We too are uncomplicated animals who live, reproduce and stop living. This is factually accurate, even if it seems to us to leave a lot out of the picture…how dare this idea not delight in the complexity of my mood swings during football matches, my fear that if I ask that question in that auditorium I’ll look like a moron. Even Ligotti can’t allow for the notion that these intricacies of character and life story (that I once sat next to Kevin Keegan at a wedding and that he gave me a garish pink tie that for some reason I still keep hold of) are irrelevant differences that make no difference. That would be nihilistic.

So we have that option. And it is powerful. Or, we have the option to believe that other animals don’t live utterly uncomplicated lives. That is the Cartesian picture of the soft machine. But if nonhumans have consciousness then it is at least possible that they too can enjoy all the glory of Daseinification; of being beings that fail to cope, that fail to survive. Yet that these are nonhuman animals that in some instances have no relation to the kind of being that Heidegger describes in Being and Time means that we ought to be cautious to run to familiar themes. In the end Heidegger seeks to domesticate death. The domestication of death renders the concept of death sterile and clean or personal and possessive, small and somehow intimate. Death domesticated is death as it is concieved in the romance of existentialism. It is my death…full of pomp and sense and purpose. That consciousness is unhuman means that death is never mine alone, that the thought of death is never the thought of my death.

The question of whether those horses in the sand paddock understood death, whether they were existentialists, is a nonsense in precisely the same way that asking whether we understand death is nonsense. Making meaning out of death is precisely what we do in order to domesticate it. What is to understand? Isn’t that why we have psychiatry, clinical psychology, rituals of grief and mourning…why we make arbitrary decision about what lives are injurable and mournable? It is because there is no meaning that meaning has to be made…even though its absence haunts its presence. Marc Bekoff, ‘the emotional lives of animals’ here

Sea lion mothers wail when watching their babies being eaten by killer whales. People have reported dolphins struggling to save a dead calf by pushing its body to the surface of the water. Chimpanzees and elephants grieve the loss of family and friends, and gorillas hold wakes for the dead. Donna Fernandes, president of the Buffalo Zoo, witnessed a wake for a female gorilla, Babs, who had died of cancer at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. She says the gorilla’s longtime mate howled and banged his chest; picked up a piece of celery, Babs’ favorite food; put it in her hand; and tried to get her to wake up.

I once happened upon what seemed to be a magpie funeral service. A magpie had been hit by a car. Four of his flock mates stood around him silently and pecked gently at his body. One, then another, flew off and brought back pine needles and twigs and laid them by his body. They all stood vigil for a time, nodded their heads, and flew off.

What is new in the declaration isn’t what it declares but that it has been declared by this group of people as such, that it is a declaration- with all the linguistic-political tones and shades that that brings.

All of this begs a question. Let me rehearse some conclusions already reached on this blog. Being alive is a problem because it is generative of suffering. Consciousness is a problem because it is through consciousness that we come to suffer. All life on earth faces extinction (entropy, solar catastrophe etc), and many species, including our own, face extinction due to climate change (for one example among many, see here). It is better that we do not continue procreating (the anti-natalist proposition) and that our projects for the future- whatever political orientation we prefer- must involve the self-management of extinction, a kind of palliative care of the planet. Given these conditions what possible animal rights emerge? What animal politics? Would practices of conservation not paradoxically become modes of prolonging the suffering of conscious beings? Or would it be the opposite tyhat conservationism becomes an ethical injunction…that we extend a kind of protection of nonhuman lives from pets and zoo animals to those in the wild?

Of course, that nonhuman animals have consciousness isn’t really established by this declaration. The authors do not define consciousness at all, and they also posit proof of consciousness in the form of an assertion regarding what they consider to be the ‘material substrates’ of that consciousness, but it is glaringly obvious that a substrate of a thing is not that thing entire. They also state that this substrate, already conflated with the thing, is generative of the thing without explaining how. Thus, they posit a physical material that somehow produces a nonphysical thing…as if there were some ghost in the Cartesian machine.

Further notes on becoming-noncorporeal

Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism– H.P Lovecraft, The Tomb.


For Deleuze becoming-animal is also the becoming of a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between man and animal’ [1]. This undecidability means that one cannot isolate and fix the separation between man and animal. The spectator, who might be the living reversal of the image subject to such spectatorship, is unable to separate the low from the high, the dirty from the clean, the brute from the humane, the instinctive from the rational. In becoming-animal all dualism that extracts the human from the animal or subtracts the animal from the human collapses whilst remaining in fraught operation. I cannot say that I am this or that; I am both and neither, the point at which I cannot speak through the logic of identification. This undoing of molar surfaces is the undoing of the engine of meaning-production [2] that Giorgio Agamben has termed the anthropocentric machine [3].


The anthropocentric machines carves out human from animal and as such serves as the motor for those political philosophies that seek to delineate regimes of humanity. A regime of humanity is at once this system of meaning-production, or anchoring* in Zapffe’s nihilistic formula, that separates man from his other and elevates him ‘above nature’ and is also what allows for the creation of an aesthetic regime of degrees of humanity. As such the Jew is conceivable as nonhuman animal, the woman is conceivable as something to be tamed and domesticated- turning her wild sexuality into the regulated affection of the pet-, and the slave before both is conceivable as just within humanity. This anthropocentric machine is properly engine of meaning-production that gives humans the sense that they are other than nature and which serves as a self-reproducing system of domination that paints itself as nondomination. Anarchism responds to the effects of this system without always having the balls to attack it’s basis. For the mythological ‘classical anarchist’ this wasn’t a problem because the world had not yet been revealed as catastrophic.


Becoming-noncorporeal operates based on an engine of meaning-production that takes the body as it’s site of operation. As Deleuze writes ‘The body is the Figure, or rather the material of the Figure’ which must not be conflated with the ‘material structure in space’. For Deleuze the body is not reducible to the biological matter of physiology and anatomy. The body remains material without suffering from this reduction. How? Elsewhere Deleuze is engaged in a discussion on the body in Spinoza when he remarks that the latter’s God, which is a substance to which all attributes belong (a pure virtuality of which all actualisation is an expression), is ‘the speculative figure of immanence’ [4]. If the body is not identical or reducible to biological matter but remains material then this materiality is the materiality of the virtual.The actual body that we talk about when we talk about embodiment, about corporeality, about conditions of health and sickness, is dependent upon but never coincides with the virtual body. Zizek understands this as the ‘incorporeal/immaterial’ real of the body but this does Deleuze a disservice [5].


The materialism here is the materialism of affect, of affection, of the virtual’s potency to condition, to alter, to perturb, to disrupt, to delimit or delineate the actual in any number of given ways. Deleuze goes on to state that For Spinoza ‘the individuality of a body is defined by the following: it’s when a certain composite or complex relation (I insist on that point, quite composite, very complex) of movement and rest is preserved through all the changes which affect the parts of the body ‘ [6]. A body then is virtual and all actualisations of this virtual are expressions of the that virtual. A body also only appears through relations of movement and rest- we might say of being moved and of resisting being moved- by other bodies**. There are ‘all sorts of relations which will be combined with one another to form an individuality of such and such degree’ so that ‘the body’ is not the material structure at all but the Figure. How to understand the Figure? As the combinatory relations that solidify into distinct objects that can then appear to the spectator. As such it is not an immaterialism but an immanent materialism under which organisation is the self-organising performances of the engines of matter. The human body of anatomy and physiology is the actualised dynamic encrustation of the powers of the virtual body to act and be acted upon. The Figure is the name of this virtual-actualising body that differs from itself without being separable from itself (no physicalism without virtuality). This is what I mean by the skin of the world; it is an encrustation, a dead form, that is nonetheless dynamic and constantly in performance.


The materialism of the virtual implies a virtuosity of the body. To return to the sense of the lived body of embodiment- the dancing body, the fucking body, the eating body- this tells us that what a body does is to constantly make itself actual in such and such a way. The Figure is constantly Structuring. From moment to moment the substance of my body only continues to exist due to the immanent performances of each degree of individuality. This is revealed in the body of the clown. The clown’s is that body which purposely refuses its own virtuosity- it is the body in deliberate failure to perform and constantly catching itself before that refusal becomes total. The dancer also perfectly puts in motion this virtuosity; the dancer’s relation to choreographic space is always one that is modified, adapted and corrupted by degrees of physical inability to perform such and such a motion just so but also by way of her body’s idiosyncrasies and her own improvised insertions. Choreographed space becomes corrupted space and the priority given to one over the other is no longer maintained. At the same time the hierarchy of the choreographer, the choreography and the choreographed (the dancer) breaks down into a ‘zone of the indiscernible, of the undecidable, between’ the dancing and the danced. Becoming-dancer and becoming-clown are modes of immanence being put on display, and of the strategic assembling and disassembling, of positions in space and spaces in position of being obviated. The dancer and the clown are privileged Figures for me. I watch them move and I watch the entire skin of the world; the surface that is its own depth.


In social media the body is lost. The temptation is to experience the body as lost. The hyppereality of social media obliterates the body leaving nothing behind. The body as structure, as organisation of organs, is what is lost in this. The hyperreal of social media stimulates the production of a hyperreal identity- an identity that increasingly comes to precede my IRL identity and which does not rely on my IRL identity for its truth. This is the point of critiques of social media activism, of critiques of social media as digital dividuation, as the disorienting proliferation of plastic identities, of ‘trolling’ and of the use of the use of social media as a predictor of human political behaviours. All of these phenomena, really epiphenomena of the internet itself, are coming to be seen as the real of our society. It forms the core of critiques of media technology such as those launched by Sherry Tuckle that are based on a dualism between the physical universe and the digital universe. As Tuckle has it

‘texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right. [7]

Tuckle’s major text, Alone Together, has a string of dualist claims. She states that “If Facebook were deleted, I’d be deleted…’ and ‘Second Life gives me a better relationship that I have in real life’. These two short quotes show that Tuckle is involved in another dualist machine such that Deleuze’s becoming-animal wanted to undo. This is a dualism for which facebook deletes the body, edits the flesh, in which Second Life- the online world- is literally a second life detached from the physical realm. There is the physical and the digital and while they may interact they are fundamentally different. Indeed, the thrust of Tuckle’s criticisms of media technology is that the digital and the physical are incompatible, antagonistic towards each other, and that they compete against each other for us- (why they would do this and where the agency comes from, I don’t know).


Tuckle thinks I edit myself online. That this online persona is an obliteration of my authentic fleshly self. I am nothing but body but that body is gone and all that remains is the simulation of a self on the shimmering desolate whiteness of the screen. The body edited, deleted, I am nothing. But this is to fundamentally miss the point of the ontological virtuosity of immanence. As I have hopefully shown to some degree of competence, the body is not identical to its physical organisation. Materiality does not depend on flesh and blood and if it did then anything that was not subject to the law of evolution, any nonorganic matter, would not be real. If this seems a hyperbolic claim and one that is unfair to Tuckle then let me illustrate further. If her problem is that I can edit my appearance online then she misses the point that I can edit my appearance in flesh and blood as well, and in more or less extreme forms; I can have my haircut, change my style, tattoo permanent cosmetic improvements onto my face, I can ‘delete’ parts of my body through extreme elective surgical procedures or other interventions, such as the incredibly common removal of fatty tissue. I can also add to myself, making myself excessive of my ‘authentic self’ and therefore destroying myself in the opposite direction. All that Turkle has discovered is that there is a good degree of negotiation surrounding identity and that such identity appears as the metastable resultant of a combinatory logic of identification and disidentification (of movement and rest) that makes identities more or less malleable, more or less fixed, more or less corrupt, multiple or singular. Indeed, Turkle has discovered that we engage in interpersonal strategies through which we perform our personhood through both our bodies and our ability to present ourselves in digital spaces. There are practices of the self which are practices of embodiment and those which do not seem to be practices of embodiment.


This kind of digital dualism is hung up on the moment where practices ‘do not seem to be’ those of embodiment. This seeming is the seeming of the separation between the physical and the digital. It is the distribution of the sensible of the new social that social media are generative of; the spectral electronic social that disavows and dreams of a liberation from matter. Turkle’s analysis is in fact part of this social insofar as it is part of this dream: it is the dream in its wish-fulfilment function. The social of noncorporeality. [8].


The practices of the body that do not seem to be of the body are nevertheless only playing at not being of the body. I mean this in both the sense of the being of the virtual body and the actualisation of that body as it is experienced as embodiment. First of all, the body is affected by and affects the digital. The digital sphere is not one in which I am passively caught up as a victim and it is not one in which we are necessarily ‘alone together’. Banal examples proliferate: last night I was at a birthday party that had been organised entirely through Facebook, I met new people I would not have otherwise met because of the digital. In my previous post I focussed on agitation. The problem that Turkle talks about when she talks about techniques of communication having supplanted the art of conversation (the eternal conservatism of this is ringing) is really that of a diminution of social relations. This can only be a problem for Turkle if the techniques of communication and the art of conversation, the former belonging to the digital and that latter to the physical, are mediations of some plane of immanence. To phrase this differently, there can only arise a concern that two modes of interaction that exist on two separate and separable ontological domains are relating with each other in such a way that one does harm to the other if they are not finally separate or separable at all. The digital dualist’s critique can only make sense if it fails to make sense.

Another example: my eye. Deleuze uses the eye as an example of a body in his lecture on Spinoza and states that the eye is a born out of the complex relations between it’s own parts and the parts of other objects that surround it, which it is affected by and which it in turn affects. The eye is set in the orbit which is a structural feature of the skull which sits on top of a spine which forms a part of a skeletal and nervous system that are protected and moved by a muscular system which is coated by a dermal system which is a threshold traversed by bacteria, food, air, blood, itself, and that touches and is touched, and that sits in front of a computer which is itself a body formed microchips, plastic molds, wires, nickle atoms, light and so on and so on. In order that my eye see the computer there must be a light source- thus the sun or some artificial means of lighting are brought into the equation of my sitting on Facebook or Twitter and being able to be disembodied. But my eye also relies on other eyes for its existence. My eye is not ex nihilo but is the eye I have inherited from the genetic information of my parents and all less immediate evolutionary ancestors. The computer had to be built by men and women in factories and laboratories, which had to be built with tools and by people who had received training, and the computers themselves had to be built with tools and by people who had to be trained in how to do build computers and so that I could post this post on my WordPress blog there has to be telephone lines and streets and engineers and and and and and and

a vast material network of bodies.


This is the what I am saying when I say that the social of social media is ‘the spectral obliteration of materiality through the simulacrum which leaves the material in place’ [9]. The ontosclerosis of the social generated by social media is one in which we leave the body without leaving the body behind; a disembodied embodiment. Noncorporeality is never achieved. It is neither a utopian nor dystopian condition although it has the potential to be either of these. Noncorporeality is neither actual nor virtual but the demand that we shed our physicality and dive headlong into the digital. It is the demand that we do something impossible. Yet it is at the same time precisely what exposes and undoes the digilogical machine. Becoming-noncorporeal is a becoming precisely because it is a zone of indistinction, undecidability. It is also a becoming because it is this impossibility of its own completion.


All this points to the notion that bodies have always been products of simulation. The simulacrum never engaged in any procession but was always already. Bodies, objects; these are always already simulations.

As soon as behavior is focused on certain operational screens or terminals, the rest appears only as some vast, useless body, which has been both abandoned and condemned. The real itself appears as a large, futile body [10]’.

And bodies, or their actualised portions, are these operational screens and terminals. The inexhaustibleness of bodies and, for humans, the potentially inexhaustible ways of being a body means nothing. The nostalgia for the body which has has not been lost, the nostalgia for a unitary solely physical body belies the nostalgia for the soul. It is not the body that is in question in becoming-noncorporeal if the question is a loss of materiality. I have emphasised throughout that this loss of the material, this destruction of the real, is an effort that is incomplete and impossible. That every time we deny the real that is precisely when it is resurgent; this is what makes radical denial a strategy of realism, and why one can state as fact that reality itself is speculative [11].


The real is a large and futile body. This is a nihilistic truth. That the body/real is futile means that it is without purpose, without telos, without justification. This is perfectly in keeping with a naturalism that takes Darwin seriously. There is no point or purpose to anything in nature and nature, via selection, mutation, heredity and all its other materialist magic tricks, has always been a process of artifice, of recomposition, of experimentation, of the production of doubles without origins, the generation of bodies that are not copies of some original: that nature has always been simulation. If being a body means nothing then the Spinozo-Deleuzian question of what a body can do becomes the question of a post-nihilistic pragmatism***. It is not what bodies mean but what they do that concerns us. In the breakdown of the anthropological machine, the digilogical machine and all the other machines of meaning-production we are left with transparent meanings that although real have lost the sufficiency to motivate us. Meaning now suffers a failure. We built it up and it was there but now that we know that we built it it appears as a ruin. The body itself, our body, can no longer be identified and held in place by being fixed in an image of itself… not its physical image or its digital one.


There are massive problems with social media, with electronic culture being plugged into our nervous systems…it produces anxieties, agitation, unrest, insomnia, an inability to concentrate, a kind of traumatisation and so on… but these are problems of immanence and not dualism. They are problems of ‘the advent of hyperstimulated man’ [12], changes in speed and quantity rather than ontological quality of being. They are problems that can only be problems, dangers that can only be dangerous, if the physical and the digital are not antagonistic categories of being that we must choose between. The choice is not between brains and clouds but to see where brains are situated within clouds. This is not the place to go into those problems or to trace the braincloud machinery.


In all of this there are competing images of the body and of embodiment. The image is what fixes the body in place. Ontology is an aesthetics; actualisations are the surfaces of a depth; the skin of the world; the self-organised displays of matter. Becoming-noncorporeal is indifferent to binary distinctions and forces us to think of a spectral kind of embodiment and the possibility of such a disembodiment that we might adopt instead of react against. If becoming-noncorporeal obliterates materiality and leaves it in place, if it is a simulation that teaches us that everything is simulated, then it is also an invitation to address the Image afresh. What is at stake in these notes on becoming-noncorporeal is the body and its images; the withdrawn depths and the ways we access those depths. What is at stake is the prospect of leaving the mirror stage behind us without mourning the unitary body and finding instead that we have always been bodies without images capable of life after and inside of the catastrophe.


Dancers and clowns are of the debris of the catastrophe, the seducers and satirists of things falling apart- artists in love with catastrophe. The body without image represents only that there is nothing to represent, that the only ethic is one falling, faltering, tumbling.

References and apologies

[1]. Deleuze, G. The body, the meat, the spirit: becoming animal. Here.

[2]. Meaning-production is my own term. I discuss it here, here, and here.

[3]. Agemben, G. 2004. The open. Man and animal. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[4]. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza. Here.

[5]. Zizek, S. 2007. Deleuze’s Platonism: ideas as real. Here.

[6] Op. cit. Deleuze, G. On Spinoza.

[7]. Turkle, S. 2012. The flight from conversation. In the New York Times. Here.

[8]. See my notes on becoming-noncorporeal. Here. The current work forms a second part to this set of much shorter notes.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Baudrillard, J. 1983. The ecstasy of communication. NonPDF. PDF.

[11]. This is my idea of the Radical Denial which is taken from a more sustained engagement with Baudrillard and object-oriented philosophy. Essay 1. Essay 2. Aphorism.

[12]. Virilio, P. Future war: a discussion with Paul Virilio. Here.

* Anchoring is the “fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness”. The anchoring mechanism provides individuals with a value or an ideal that allows them to focus their attentions in a consistent manner. Zapffe also applied the anchoring principle to society, and stated “God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future” are all examples of collective primary anchoring firmaments. (text taken from wikipedia).

** In this connection, it is a shame that the dromology of Paul Virilio isn’t read in an ontological light. Deleuze is framing his assemblage theory materialism as a materialism of movement and rest that is dispersed, as all Deleuze’s antibinaries are, on planes of intensity. The language for measuring these intensities that exist in the interstitial space between movement and rest is speed or temporality. It should be recalled that Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of deterritorialisation is inspired by Virilio’s use of the same term.

*** I owe Michael of ArchiveFire entirely for this phrase which I liked so much I’ve stolen it.


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.

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.

Child-eating sharks galore!!! Ethics, objects, death and Darwinism

Thus, when people obtain the right to life, the fact is that they are no longer able to live. – Jean Baudrillard [1] 

 There have been all sorts of things posted about flat ethics recently. My previous post was on the same topic but I’m peripheral to the whole thing, just an interested observer. I particularly like this point though, made by Alex Reid:

In [a] soccer match, those ethical relations are mediated by a grass field, white lines, goal posts, nets, flags, a soccer ball, uniforms, shin guards, cleats, a whistle, a timing device, etc. They are also mediated by language,which is also nonhuman. In fact, one could (and often does) say that one must compete not only against the other team but field conditions, weather, ref calls, and so on. So in imagining ethics, a flat ontology requires us to see that there is no such thing as “human” ethics. All ethics are nonhuman in the sense that “human” refers to a particular modern, ideological context. As such perhaps it is better to say nonmodern ethics than nonhuman ethics.

I also like Jeremy Trombley’s point:

I don’t have a clear answer to this dilemma except that I would consider the ecology of relationships that are involved – the relationships between myself, the child, and the shark, as well as those that extend beyond this specific spacio-temporal interaction.  What would the child’s parent’s think if they knew I could have saved it, but chose not to?  What would the court system think?  Is the shark an endangered species?

(emphasis added)

 All ethics are nonhuman ecologies in which humans may appear.


Yet I think it is crucial to remember that in the first quote the key word is that the ethical relationships between players of a football (soccer) game are mediated by nonhuman operatives. Likewise, a trip to the zoo is mediated by the animal feed producers, train operators, railway lines, animal handlers, money, the machinery used to produce a ticket handed over at the gates… but would we say that a trip to the zoo consists of these things? Or rather, would we say that the ethics of a trip to the zoo consisted of these things?


I think we would. If the ticket-machine were produced by a corporation who exploited workers in order to  produce that machine, or some other of its product line. We might feel the same way if the animal feed being given to animal X were made out of intensively farmed animals of the same species as animal X. Yet while we might say they are agents within an ethical ecology, that they are composite operatives within an ethical system, I doubt that we would ever suggest that  either the ticket-machine or the animal feed are ethical agents in that ecology. To risk a paraphrase of poor taste, they really are ‘only following orders’; the banality of evil become the banality of the object. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to say that it is wrong for the animal feed to allow itself to be fed to animal X.


I suppose the thing I’m getting at is that an ethical relationship is much like the love relationship that I believe (I think I remember) Levi Bryant theorised a while ago on his blog; a third, independent object. There is me. There is my partner. We do not fuse into a singular object (two does not become one) but both of us remain autonomous, nested within the third object called the relationship. While we are busy talking about ethical relationships we’re forgetting that each particular ethical ecology is singular (which is the point in Trombley’s quote). the point here is that the ethical ecology is an ontological ecology and not an ecology of ethical actants. In the original shark-child relationship nobody thinks to include the ocean, the sand on the sea floor, the moon and it’s capacity to effect the tides, sea-going vessels.


It appears absurd to me to include these things in an ecology of ethical operatives even though they are ontological units involved in the original ethical ecology, playing a part in determining the shark’s behaviour. Likewise, we might consider why the child is near the shark. Is this a holiday bought by its parents? Should we then include the travel agent that sold the holiday in the ethical ecology, or at least as an operative that aided in the sculpting of process of causality that arrived at that juncture? I suspect we wouldn’t.


That there is a flat ontology does not necessarily imply that all the things that build or generate a particular situation should be considered being ethical agents. I suspect that because things exert an influence on each other, that is because they have powers or capacities to act and act in concert with each other to generate the situations in which ethical problems arise, it is easy to be led to think that they too are subject to ethics. To labour the point let’s return to Alex Reid’s example. There is a football game. A problem of ethics arises in the playing of this game. This ethical problem is mediated by nonhuman things, including language. Here was the ethical problem:


Last week, we found ourselves winning 6-0 about 15 minutes into a 70-minute game. I pulled our strongest players, but we were still up 9-0 at half. In this league, goal differential is a potential tie-breaker for determining the champion, so I suppose there is potential motive for running up the score. But that’s just not something you do with 11 year-old boys. At half-time a instructed the boys that only those who had not yet scored that season should really try to score and that otherwise their job was to make good passes. Again, I kept my best players mostly on the bench, and the final score was 11-3. It probably could have been 22-0. And I’ve seen scorelines like that in my time as a coach, though our team has never been on either end of one.


The question is over the ethics of competition and whether it would have been unethical to give the opposing team a thrashing. Reid suggests that in part this is done out of respect for the game of football. To have won the game by 22 clear goals would be to play football ‘out of the spirit’ of the game, to disrespect football as ‘an emergent object’. Yet why would football care? It can’t care. Here Reid alludes to a kind of spirit and to respect. A sense of fair play and tradition then? I don’t understand why one would need a flat ethics to highlight two pretty standard reasons for playing the game without taking the piss. (A far more compelling reason might be that if you keep playing games where your team- Reid is the coach of child’s football team- constantly embarrassed other teams- composed of kids- you may risk losing having anyone to play with).


Reid is the coach of this football team and he writes about what he can do to have an impact on the emergent object of the game in order to highlight how we can have an ethical relationship the thing called ecosystem:


 As a player or coach, I can’t affect the game directly. As a coach I can put players in different positions, suggest tactics, and prepare players in practices. As a player, I can make decisions about how I play. Those decisions participate with others to create the game experience. I can modify my decisions in response, but there isn’t a direct relationship with the game only with other actors in the game. The extent to which I realize that whatever decisions I make to win require that the overall game continues


Neither Reid, nor myself or any body else, can have a direct relationship with the ecosystem wherein they can directly affect that ecosystem. Instead, Reid might be able to affect petrochemical companies through lobbying against them by joining a lobbying group with other people. You might organise a coalition of environmental or ecological activists to carry out direct actions ranging from tree-hugging, to consciousness-raising, or from occupying an airport to committing acts of ‘ecoterrorism’. I might simply be the kind of person who refuses to recycle and thereby assists in the mass anonymous effort of building the giant debris filled landscapes of landfills (which, I must admit I do find aesthetically pleasing and intriguing). None of these decisions and actions will make direct contact with the thing called ecosystem (things are withdrawn), nor could it ever do so in a unilaterally determinative manner (just as the coach is within the football game, so I am within the ecosystem), and finally because the ecosystem as a thing is emergent from all those other things that we have made contact with (other people, lobbying organisations, parliaments, airports, just as much as trees, oceans, clouds, frogs, catfish and children and sharks).


In Reid’s example we ought to act in a way that allows the game to continue, so by extension we should also act in ways that allows the ecosystem to continue in order to consider ourselves as being ethical in relation to the ecosystem. For Reid these considerations mean that  ‘I am engaged in an ethical relationship’.


A couple of brief problems before returning to the ethical. First, I’m not sure if we can say that winning a game of football 22-0 would mean we were no longer playing a game of football. Playing by the rules and regulations, associated objects (a football etc), the people required (players, coaches, referees and linesmen) are all that are minimally required for us to consider ourselves playing a game of football. In the absence of any of these elements we are not playing football; these are the things in the assemblage that minimally form a game. If we play outside of the spirit of the game, if we do not respect it as an emergent object, we are still playing football but we are playing badly. The second point is whether Reid is talking about a specific game or the game of football itself (is there a ‘the game of football’ that exists in any other form than metaphor? Surely that would be a kind of ideal game or ur-game?)


This reveals the actual problem of the ethical here. Each ecosystem, including that planetary ecosystem as a whole, must be considered in it’s singularity. Isn’t that the point of object-oriented strains of philosophy? If we treat all ecosystems the same, and if we treat ecosystems the same as games of football/the game of football then aren’t we performing a kind of reduction of the singularity of each to the abstraction of all? The pragmatic deployment of Reid’s metaphor might have a material impact on how we conceive of the ethical relationship we have to the ecosystem in a way that draws attention to the complexity and partiality of that relationship but I still don’t see that this is something new to an object-oriented approach or that is inaugurated by a flat ethics.


The original question was whether or not the shark should eat the child. This question is the question of the shark’s ethical relationship to the child, of whether it can be considered an ethical operative. Is a shark the same as a football or a football player? A shark is no more the same as these things as it is the same as a ticket-machine or a batch of animal-feed. The point I’m making at some length is that it makes no more sense to say that the shark should or should not eat the child than it does to say that the goalpost should or should not be an obstacle to scoring. And there is a very good reason for this that Alex Reid hits on: the ethical relationship is one burdened with decision. A shark cannot be said to count within it’s capacities that of making an ethical decision. This is not to say that no animals can make ethical decisions, it is probable that many of them can. This is also not to say that no nonhuman nonanimal things can (or could) make ethical decisions. If we listen to the technoevangelists and transhumanists it might soon be possible for AI to make such decisions, or to simulate them so perfectly as to baffle these considerations even further.



I believe that the entire issue of whether we should let the shark eat the child is centered on this mistake. A shark cannot be held responsible. It can only be held accountable. We can say ‘the shark is going to eat the child’ or ‘the shark ate the child’ but the should has no place in anything. (The question of whether we should kill the shark for what it has done is a separate issue).


A further point emerges from Trombley’s quote- and from others- regarding evolution. Levi Bryant has written in the past about how we have failed to take Darwinism and the lessons we have learned about evolution seriously. Nature, all of nature (and there is nothing that is not nature) is utterly pointless. That is, it is without ultimate purpose. Nature, life, existence, is useless. I think that Levi Bryant hasn’t taken this lesson in fully either. I don’t think any of us can really. We are nature…the pointlessness of the cosmos and of the subatomic particle is the pointlessness of arranjames who is sitting here typing. All ethical problems arise in this context, to those species that have an evolved moral sense…a moral sense that is, in impossible last instance, useless. Yet because the final cause of ethical decision making is pointless does not mean that the affective life of the one making the ethical decisions are pointless; they are immediate and do not require much of a point beyond themselves.


Should the shark eat the child? From the ontological position there is absolutely no reason why the shark shouldn’t eat the child. It would upset me, that is all. Human ethics boil down to ‘this is good, this is bad’.


So it is that I agree with Bryant’s assertion that there is no nonanthropocentric ethics. It is always humans judging what it is that they consider ethical, making their ethical decisions. Other animals might also make such decisions and so might other beings in the future- thus it might not be a human ethics that remains human for all time. The separate question of whether we should kill the shark is really asking whether we should hold that which cannot be held responsible responsible. Why would we do this? I think because, in some sense, our ethical attitude to other things arises from the blind, stupid, pointlessness of the evolutionary processes that compel us to fear death and reproduce. The question of whether we should kill the shark is really asking whether we should pretend to ourselves that their is a meaningful, ordered universe. The clash between the stupidity of nature and our desire for a meaningful (or just) nature is what produces the question of the shark. The shark eats the child because it is a shark; we kill the shark because we are terrified of a cosmos in which children can be eaten.


Like Levi Bryant I don’t think the shark has a right to live. At the same time I don’t think that the child has a right to live either. Bryant’s concern is with the way neoliberalism has deployed rights-discourse, and one could also point to Deleuze’s concerns over rights-discourse being a (non)political sleight of hand where the rabbit is pulled out of the hat only to disappear in a puff of cigarette smoke [2]. I am not concerned here with rights discourse as such but specifically with the idea of a right to life. Life is something that simply happens. As Thomas Ligotti [3] has cogently argued, it is also a phenomena that doesn’t always get off the ground (abortions, miscarriages, still-births, mother and neonate dying during labour). It is imaginable that some process in the Big Bang could have failed or that the Earth did not exhibit the conditions required for the emergence of life. That a conscious operative, capable of making ethical decisions, were somehow to survive a possible Earth swallowing blackhole created by the CERN particle accelerator, could we really imagine that being bemoaning the right to life of all that died and was destroyed? I don’t think so, but I’m sure it’d be extremely upset. There is nothing new in claiming that the right to life is little else than a hangover from a society still enthralled to Divinity; the shark and the child’s right to life are equally fictions pertaining to the sacredness of life that is directly contradicted by the science of evolution; the right to life is a Sacred Left-over. And here, in the divine, lives are considered something inaugurated for a purpose, given a purposeful function, guided and developed…in short Created by a Creator. An ethical Creationism.


It is possible that the ethics we set up, as we necessarily will and do, are rooted in our fear of death, our evolutionary heritage, and our emotions. In the mixture of all these elements. It is a question of finding ourselves with questions about our conduct, questions that are often immediate and in no sense hypothetical (I’d take this juncture to remind people that I’m a nurse), where we don’t know what to do but know we must do something. As such ethics remains a human problem…for now. It is a human problem that is intricately bound-up with (often radically) nonhuman beings.  It is even possible, I am spontaneously inclined to the thought- the feeling,  the sense- that our ethics are a kind of therapeutic aesthetic; a production in the Ballardian sense of a real that finds its reality as a stage-set that may be pulled away. The therapeutics of ethics in this sense would be that ethics are that production that codifies our monstrous awareness of suffering, of ontological vulnerability, of the Inevitable; the disavowed denial of the metaphysical truth of Darwin. None of which prevents there being better or worse ethics, and none of which prevents the production of ethical truths being real or any more or less worth holding on to. It is just the case that in this instance we realise ‘a definitive recognition of nature as waste’ [4], and there is nothing that isn’t nature. To borrow from an earlier post by Alex Reid not concerned with all these sharks and children, it is possible that ethics are a therapeutics that we deploy in order to fix the glitches of reality.



All ethics are human problems embedded in fragile nonhuman ecologies. 








A disclaimer: if I misrepresent anyone’s positions, any ideas or arguments I take fully responsibility for that.






[1] Baudrillard. 2007. Darwin’s Artificial Ancestors and the Terroristic Dream of the Transparency of the Good. Read here.

[2] Deleuze. 1996. On Human Rights. Read here.

[3] Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the human race.

[4] Baudrillard. Ibid.