domingo, 21 de marzo de 2010

Notes on Nihil Unbound VII: The Truth of Extinction

The Truth of Extinction

(Notes on Nihil Unbound – Chapter VII)

7.1 Nietzsche’s fable

Life amounts to nothing; the end of thought is the end of nothing, the non-event of an arrogant illusion. Knowing-feeling, living-dying don’t make any difference; becoming aims towards nothing and achieves nothing. Beyond this nihilistic dusk, Nietzsche seeks to show how the triumph of indeterminate negation can be superseded in affirming the identity of being (identity)-becoming (difference). This way the ultimate indifference of the differential world of metaphysics and the nihilistic fall can be at once overturned in and through affirmation. But the affirmation of what exactly? The eternal recurrence, the ‘thought of thoughts’ which takes place as an intermediary historical point where the nihilistic fate of the West already points towards the possibility of its overturning. Nihilism is reached at the moment of truth’s subversion against itself, and since truth determines belief qua holding-something-to-be-true. The values of reality over appearance and of knowledge over life, as well as all known or knowable values, are subverted in truth’s self-undermining as it questions its own value. Both truth and knowledge depend on taking something to be true, so that the subversion of the true initiates a fundamental reversibility which in-differentiates all values. ‘The most extreme form of nihilism would be the view that every belief, every holding-something-true is necessarily false because there is no true world’ (1968: §15).

However, denying belief in the true world entails denying belief in the apparent world since the latter was defined in contradistinction to the former. Disbelief in a reality beyond appearances, the impossibility of belief in a ‘true’ reality, ultimately makes impossible the belief in appearance as well, since there is no truth in appearance to be separated from non-truth, no criteria to safely determine the subsisting permanence of the truth of being. Since the dissolution of the reality-appearance distinction undermines the possibility of clearly differentiating knowledge from belief, there are no grounds to posit belief can relate to anything like a ‘truth’, not even that of appearances. So that one cannot construe the collapse of the belief in the true world ultimately undermines the possibility of belief in any world possible. Yet this propels nihilism against itself, since if nothing is true then the belief that nothing is true isn’t true either. Nihilism seems incompatible with belief/knowledge tout court. The question is then how to traverse this aporia from within nihilism itself, which as we will see leads to the affirmation of the eternal recurrence; which is both the ultimate nihilistic claim and because of it also the outmost possibility for its overcoming. Through it, momentary transience is elevated into the object for an unconditional affirmation and eradicates nihilism: ‘existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness.” As we will see this implies turning transience into the object of absolute worth and unconditional affirmation.

“Becoming must be explained without recourse to final intentions; becoming must appear justified at every moment (or incapable of being evaluated, which comes to the same thing); the present must not be justified by reference to the future, nor the past by reference to the present. […] Becoming is of equivalent value at every moment; the sum of its values always remains the same; in other words, it has no value at all, for anything against which to measure it, and in relation to which the word ‘value’ would have meaning, is lacking. The total value of the world cannot be evaluated […]” (1968: §708)

But the affirmation of the eternal recurrence propels the overcoming both of metaphysical distinction and nihilistic indistinction, thereby dynamically affirming the being of becoming as non-permanence: the eternal recurrence of thought’s thought. The affirmation of recurrence is tantamount to the transvaluation, which Deleuze interprets in his Nietzsche and Philosophy as the qualitative transformation of the will to power as a differential genetic element which produces values. All the values of a culture known or knowable are functions of the negative will to nothingness as reactive forces; and the determinacy of negation as mediating over the unmediated. The eternal recurrence is will and at the same time implies the creation of unknown values in the subversion of differences in being by absolute indifference in becoming, one without even the ‘end of nothingness’: absolute apathic indifference which then claims absolute worth or value. This implies a renunciation of all meaning and value from existence, but ultimately uncovers the value of sublation as equalizing value in every moment; becoming takes priority so that not one singular end or moment of being can be heralded as valuable in virtue of truth or meaning. The old valueless transience of becoming over the absolute value of eternal transcendent being is thereby reversed in truth’s suicidal coup. Value is introjected onto the ultimate worth of the will to power’s valueless negativity and thus finally every moment/instance in transient becoming, expelled from any externality or end sought for in contemplative thought: “it is no longer possible to separate one moment from another or to subordinate the value of the vanishing present to that of a cherished past or longed-for future.” (NU: Pg: 208)

Nihilism is thus undone by the transvaluation which transforms the dichotomy between valueless becoming vs. the purposefulness of being into the value laden affirmation of an eternal recurrence as the will to nothingness. Aimlessness is affirmed in and for itself as the will to a valueless nothing which uniformly exhumes the value of being, but introduces its uniform transience as the locus of all possible value. This is what Nietzsche, poetically calls: the coincidence of ‘midday and midnight’, the apex of affirmation eternalizing transience’s absolute worth, also the negation of all purposefulness. But, like Heidegger and Deleuze underlined, this conjunction of opposites separates itself from the unifying sublation of mediation in dialectical negativity. Against the mediation of the negative, the eternal recurrence elevates the immediate by affirmation, as the coincidence without the unification that being-as-permanence confers negatively onto transcendence. The dichotomies of value/non-value, transcendence/immanence, truth/falsity are thus conjoined in their fundamental and irreducible reversibility and the de-concentration of the value of permanence. So this is truth’s ultimate ploy against itself eternalizing the absolute worth of transient becoming over valueless stasis of being in transvaluation. To risk Hegelian entangling, we could say that the eternal recurrence is the in-and-for-itself as coming-to-itself. Brassier writes then of this ‘discordant conjunction’ (non-integrated into mediating dialectical negativity) that it becomes emblematized in the attempt to turn recurrence into an ontological principle or affirmation of belief, the attempt to hold-it-as-true: “For the assertion of recurrence claims that the world is nothing but ceaseless becoming, without rest or fixity, and hence that there is no cognizable being underlying becoming, no final truth upon which belief could find a secure footing.” (NU: 208). The world is nothing but becoming, but since becoming is to deny permanence and permanence is being, eternal recurrence enacts the paradox of ‘holding-as-truth that nothing is true’ (Ibid).

This contradictory belief cancels itself out making itself equal to unbelief in a refusal to affirm the truth of anything, thus explaining how the affirmation of the eternal recurrence is the absolute nihilist culmination. The only way to hold-nothing-as-true is to render paradoxical the very possibility of belief precisely by making the belief in the permanent truth of transience impossible. Self-cancellation is the only way belief dissolves once and for all from the pretension of transcendentalize value in truth. This paradoxical belief is the only possible way of ‘holding-the-truth’ which is the truth of the repetitive will-to-nothingness; it forbids the affirmation of any ontological permanent being of becoming or truth outside the flux of becoming. It thus forbids the affirmation in the reality of appearances, since by this enforces the distinction between known/true-nothingness and believed/false-something; but this is turning nothingness into a transcendent object in the form of the void of being which seems more like the sufficient-reason of pantheistic monism. The denial of truth as permanence thus imposes the restriction of any mediating principle by way of negativity, leaving the conjoined terms suspended. The possibility of belief in nothingness is then only actualized in the impossibility of believing-in-something, even if it is nothingness which becomes positivized into this something. Belief dissolves as truth is denied in the affirmation of the being-nothing of permanence, since the latter renders the affirmation of its very truth and thus ontological positivized permanence as paradoxical. But this means that it is belief which collapses into itself as unbelief, once the possibility of truth is dismantled in the blurring of the appearance/reality distinction. The paradox of a mediating truth of a belief commensurate with the negation of the possibility of belief is nothing but the immediate affirmation of the eternal recurrence of nothing. This is why Brassier claims affirmation of the eternal recurrence is the ultimate expression of the nihilistic will, since it enacts the effacement of all belief and of all discursive hopes for ontological sense.

Brassier reminds to us here of the Folk-Psychological rebuttal against those who criticize its appeal to psychological notions such as belief. The belief that there are no beliefs is only paradoxical and has no productive worth if one thinks beliefs must be necessarily implied in denying their being; in the assumption that a belief is necessary to affirm its denial. In Churchland’s criticism of FP, we observed however how introducing the reality-appearance split to phenomena allows one to separate phenomenal belief from its psycho-biological reality. In particular, we saw how belief could be construed not as a representational term describing propositional attitudinal directions-of-fit to the world, but as a mere functional activation of neuronal vector paradigms. In Nietzsche’s case, the belief in holding-to-be-true of the non-being of truth does not merely reproduce truth-as-permanence mediated by transcendence, but affirms immediately the absolute worth the will to nothingness in becoming. Belief is thus construed outside negativity in its affirmation of the non-being of truth, and the bilateral being of becoming and the becoming of being, the fundamental reversibility of the two dissolving the paradox:

However, Brassier is swift to remind us that Nietzsche ended up reproducing the array of psychological descriptions he sought to eradicate in denoting the impasse of the FP construal of rationality. This takes shape in the ultimate metaphysical surrogate which is the ‘will to power’; exacerbating the descriptive poverty of the psychological register it sought to overcome. This happens by way of a self-sufficient metaphysical transfiguration of the quality of the will in which belief takes place pathologically (NU: 209). In willing eternal recurrence, the will casts off the yoke of truth, which bridled it to those transcendent values that depreciated becoming, and is transformed into a will capable of embracing illusion: ‘the lie – and not the truth – is divine!’ So this qualitative transformation of the will would be finally the metaphysical supplement to guarantee the split between the being transient-becoming and the non-being of truth as permanent-being. This is what Deleuze’s analysis of the thought of recurrence as locus for the transformation enacted by the will: there is a ‘knowable’ aspect of the will - ratio cognoscendi – and the aspect in which is exists as being’s innermost essence, or ratio essendi (Ibid). It is the will to power, which underlies the will to nothingness, which subsists in Nietzsche’s account as the ratio cognoscendi, the knowable aspect of the will from which all values derive.

“Nihilism – including Nietzsche’s own active nihilism, insofar as it proceeds by unmasking existing values the better to expose the will to power which produced them – renders the will to power knowable to us, but only in its negative aspect as will to nothingness. This is why for Deleuze’s Nietzsche, the history of human consciousness (and a fortiori, of philosophy) is the history of nihilism understood as the triumph of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic ideal.” (NU: Pg, 209)

Nevertheless, there is a decisive break when the will to nothingness turns truth against itself disassociating from knowing and thus of the reactive forces imposing truth/knowledge as guarantors of value. This moment represents for Nietzsche a definitive subversion against the realm of transcendence. Recurrence forces the willful thought oriented towards knowing no longer into a knowable aspect but towards that which is, i.e. it’s becoming. This will be thereby the source for the transformative and creative aspect distinctive of the absolute elevation of eternal recurrence. Since for Nietzsche the ‘will to power’ is the conflict of forces in chaotic multiplicity, then the will to power is another name for ‘becoming’, for the perpetual-flux of being of a repetitive inconclusive coming-into-itself where itself is finally nothingness’ self-estrangement repeated in-and-for-itself. In short, to think the being of will as the being of self-differentiating becoming is to think the essence of the perpetual flux; its knowable aspect ultimately amounts to nothingness. There is nothing in the will-in-itself for the affirmation of recurrence to correspond; the affirmation of nothing is concomitant with the being-nothing of the knowable aspect, of the ruptured link to the true-as-permanence or the true-as-something; what it knows is nothing. So the apparent dichotomy in granting a minimum of discursive intelligibility in the denunciation of reason which splits the will’s knowable and unknowable aspects is dissolved once it is understood that the will that affirms recurrence does not affirm the being-in-itself of becoming independently of affirmation; the will affirms itself only without aim. The will to power itself will the rupture with transcendent purpose and endows every instant with the equal worth of willed nothingness in every instant. It seems thus that eternal recurrence does not imply a selection on the basis of a typology of human kinds, i.e. weak/strong, noble/base, etc.

Rather it seems that the crucial selection is between the will directed to extrinsic ends and the will that wills itself. Dialectical negativity vs. the affirmation of eternal recurrence. The will that wills itself distinguishes itself in lacking any of the subordination of the present means to the future ends. Thus the unconditional affirmation of the presence is incompatible with all human conscious ends as well as organic functioning – the latter being indissociable to the utilitarian exchange of pleasure for pain, gratification and survival, etc. The will that wants itself wants self-overcoming, intensification, expansion, without proportion between pleasure-pain, means and ends; it wills itself eternally and so with it everything that is again and again, insofar as everything has equal valuable in its transient becoming:

“Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to all woe as well. All things are chained and entwined together, all things are in love; if ever you wanted one moment twice, if ever you said ‘You please me happiness, instant, moment!’ then you wanted everything to return! […] For all joy wants – eternity! (Nietzsche 1969: 332)

Insofar as the desire for itself is the desire for that which eternally repeats as the will to nothingness, the will that wills itself qua the eternal return of transient becoming is tantamount to the will to the joy of the return of everything that is, insofar as everything has the equal nil value affirmed by the will itself. The entire gallery of being is willed uniformly and indistinctly insofar as the transient moment consummates the will that aims for its perpetual self-separation. As Brassier says, the transvaluation in the affirmation of eternal recurrence entails the moment of joy entails excruciating torment; the thwarted will which sees the prevalence of the ascetic elevation of static being. But of course, Brassier notes that the underlying premise is that the transient joy of becoming will always overcome the prolongation of woe. Furthermore, there is indeterminacy with the normative claim about the nobility of the will that affirms all woe as opposed to the will that doesn’t. Joy’s limit opposed to the limitlessness of pain is ungrounded: “Indeed, the assumption that humans possess a limitless sensitivity to physical pleasure, or an inexhaustible capacity for psychological enjoyment, is an unfounded spiritualist conceit. In this regard, Nietzsche’s insistence that ‘joy is deeper than heart’s agony” (1969: 331). The affirmed recurrence of the joy of transient presence inexplicably transcends the psycho-physical constitution of the organism in which “finite lunar joy transcends boundless solar pain” (NU: Pg 212) Nietzsche instead seems to tether this transcendence to a vague power/strength inherently superior in the character of will. In fact, this superiority of will being cashed out in term of traditional virtues (fortitude, resourcefulness, resilience) differs from Judeo-Christian spiritual superiority based in suffering or dolorism. This is explained in the reinstitution of an economy of ends and means circling around the endurance of suffering for the elevated joy within the past remembrance and future expectation of bliss. Since Nietzsche aimed to overthrow this register it seems incompatible with the goal. Additionally, the supposition of the resilience of human spirit seems to suggest suffering ‘means’ something; conforming to the manifest image of man and its values, which reinscribes woe into a ‘spiritual calculus’. Affirming the meaninglessness of suffering on the hand challenges the manifest image, as we will see below.

The second questions concerns the generality of the distinctness of wills vis whether the sanctification of joy/against pain is confined to the individual or to that of others. The former option opens the affirmation of recurrence to any epicure or hedonist, and makes it just as plausible to assign it to the last man’s feeble surrender to pleasure and joy as to the overman’s saluted self-overcoming. Brassier is here at his best: “Nietzsche seems not to have envisaged the possibility that the noble individual might not be the only one capable of welcoming the ‘demonic’ hypothesis of recurrence; he did not anticipate its potential appeal to the bovine hedonist, whose coarseness effectively inures him or her to the demonic aspect of the thought.” (NU: Pg 214) Thus the selective appeal to the ethico-psychological reading of recurrence should be directed to the acceptance of suffering of self to avoid the appropriation by the sadists and other ignoble monsters. However, ambiguity persists, since the proportions of joy and woe seem appropriate to measure the magnanimity to distinguish nobility. Indeterminacy undermines the psychological-ethical constriction of electiveness to the individual level, even is its elevation by Deleuze to a paraphrased categorical imperative: ‘whatever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return’. In the end, Deleuze and Heidegger are correct, in Brassier’s estimation, to read the differentiation in the eternal recurrence as epistemological/ontological rather than psychological/anthropological. It doesn’t distinguish noble and ignoble varieties of will as much as between the will subordinated to means-end evaluation from the will that wills itself only; the latter is the will of recurrence as the joy that wants itself (Nietzsche 1969: 332). Overcoming its own will to know, the will that seeks itself in the eternal recurrence breaks from truth/knowledge – dissimulating its cognizable essence (ratio essendi) and creating itself by overcoming its own will to know, willing becoming the recurrence of everything. But the will can only will everything insofar as the transvaluation levels and absolutizes the worth of its transient nothingness; the worthlessness of anything as static (being) is the absolute worth of everything as transient (becoming):

“Thus the only aspect according to which the will (becoming) is is that of affirmation. Consequently, for Deleuze’s Nietzsche, it is no longer a matter of affirming what is (in the manner of Zarathustra’s braying ass), but rather of creating what is affirmed. Or as Deleuze puts it, it is not being that is affirmed via eternal recurrence, but the affirmation of eternal recurrence that constitutes being.” (NU: Pg. 215)

At this general level, some all-too obvious observations follow. First, it is unclear why the resilience for joy capable of enduring pain does not reintroduce a value-laden qualitative character into the allegedly neutral will to nothingness. Since the virtue of the will remains entirely encoded in the classical virtues which constitute the manifest image, it seems Nietzsche’s purported support of becoming in the will to nothingness is more fundamentally sustained in a will that is equal to itself only in the pursuit of transient joy. However, from the point of view of the latter, it becomes not only difficult to clearly demarcate the exercise of the authentic virtuous will which wills itself from feeble figure of the hedonist, the sadist, and other monsters of out time. Perhaps more fundamentally it appears that these ‘pathologies’ of the thwarted will vitiate the affirmation of recurrence without appeal to a properly meta-physical level, which for Nietzsche is ethico-psychologically underwritten by the heroic evolutionary narrative leading to the overman. The positive affirmation of the will which fully potentiates a creative overhaul of the frustrated tradition and endlessly mobilizes history beyond man’s pathetic surrender to guilt’s indictments is ultimately betrayed in Nietzsche’s account; the latter seems incapable of discerning between virtue and vice without relapsing into the psychological register proper to the metaphysical tradition it sought to supersede, along with the array of terms inherent to the slave-morality of Judeo-Christianism. Finally, Nietzsche’s attempt to traverse nihilism from within itself is jeopardized by its support in the evanescent joy which gratuitously returns, finding its sufficient reason within the moralistic delivery to traditional values.

7.2 The Turning Point

Nihilism’s affirmation of the eternal recurrence privileges creativity over knowledge by affirming indifference or vainness iteration. The will that wills itself enacts the reversal from being-in-itself which defines the incessant ends sought for by the knowing negativity of the will to nothingness, to the being-in-and-for-itself of creative affirmative becoming. In this expulsion of the negative will which affirms itself as an end, the separation obtains between difference-indifference, creativity-knowledge, and active life from reactive death. This enroots Nietzsche’s claim that since life preconditions valuation the value of life cannot be evaluated: no transcendent cognitive criteria awaits life to grant it its worth; every evaluation of life reveals the kind of life of the evaluator: strong/weak, health/sick. The negative will turns against itself to affirm meaningless life in-and-for-itself: “the life that affirms being is itself the locus of being, and the affirmation of self-differentiating life (will to power) expels everything that constrained life (reactivity, ressentiment, bad conscience) in what effectively amounts to an autocatalysis of vital difference.” (NU: Pg. 216) This challenges the common perception of nihilism as a ‘debilitating weakness’ capable of jeopardizing the entire stock of existential vocabulary, including the difference between life and death. For Nietzsche, negativity in itself is turned against-itself as it exhaust the will to nothingness’ destruction of difference (the transcendental sublation achieved dialectically). It thereby conditions the potentiation of creative affirmation, a power of differentiation which is outside all metaphysical dichotomies or appeals to a higher principle. However, as Brassier points out, Nietzsche’s success, as well as that of his successors, hinges on whether this difference does in fact escape metaphysical differentiation, or whether it unwillingly reproduces it. How does this affirmative creation opened by the embrace of meaningless becoming make a difference that makes a real or truly productive difference, one that furthermore Nietzsche thought could split the history of mankind into two?

According to Nietzsche, the overcoming of nihilism by affirmation redeems past time and wills the recurrence of and everything past, present and future. Inverting will backwards, it shifts resentment towards the past (it was) to a positive ‘thus I willed it’, which redeems it and stops the vengefulness of the ineluctable presence of that which has been. The past can’t be undone; one embraces it redemptively in unconditional affirmation. Conditional affirmation ‘I will’ recurrence if x’ still motivates the will by revenge. The negative will thinks itself capable of selectively splitting to affirm becoming in joy over woe, good from evil. But this makes it incapable of affirming becoming unconditionally as an indivisible whole, since it reinscribes the dialectic of means and ends on the basis of interests and not of becoming for itself. The affirmative will on the other hand separates active forces from reactive ones unconditionally affirming all becoming, and refusing to select joy at the expense of woe. Against the singular sacrificial and vengeful frustrated will, the eternal recurrence affirms becoming as a whole, and thus the value of all joy/suffering as a whole as well to that its active vitality exceeds boundless suffering. It thus dismantled the will to nothingness’ subordination of means to end. This should provisionally seem to rebut Brassier’s prior criticism signaling how the affirmation of the eternal recurrence threatened to draw hedonists and other specters. The embrace of all woe in affirmative non-subordination is supposed to overcome the partiality of subordination so that the hedonist who pretends to exclude pain is in fact not yet affirming ‘neutrally’ recurrence, but once again subordinating means to end. However, the eternal recurrence implies an unconditional affirmation of all becoming which still seems to justify the superiority of its will by appeal to a universal joy, itself marked as superior on the inventory of classical values we examine above.

Brassier notes there is a tension in affirming becoming unconditionally and at the same time claiming that it constitutes the distinguished movement in history which splits it in two evacuating the shackles of teleology. By what distinctive qualitative right does the very movement which renders all movements equal nonetheless avoid making itself a uniquely privileged moment which transforms all the rest. Since Nietzsche has disposed of the hypothesis of an in-itself, the will seems incapable of being in-itself, so that in the end what realizes the will’s ratio essendi reflecting onto itself affirmation. So if becoming only is essentially as self-reflective affirmation it remains entirely condensed in a singular moment, so that the expression of becoming in thought redeems it, symmetrically to the Deleuzian logic. This makes becoming depend on evaluation in cognition, world on thought. Affirmation cannot orbit against becoming in danger of needing metaphysical realism. Becoming as a ‘libidinal motor of evaluation’ is opposed to being as object of knowledge, but doing so it replaces the epistemological inadequacy to truth with an ‘axiological crisis inviting a transvaluation which knowledge is a symptom of the will to nothingness. Nietzsche deposes this in the name of a genealogy of values in which the will to power guarantees the correlation between evaluation and world insofar as it exists as evaluated. The will is both evaluating and evaluated, agent and patient. When the will exposes truth as one more value transforming itself into the affirmative and evaluative will to lie which draws upon the absolute worth of transient becoming.

“Our ‘new world’: we have to realize to what degree we are the creators of our value feelings – and thus capable of projecting ‘meaning’ into history. This faith in truth attains its ultimate conclusion in us – you know what that is: that if there is anything that is to be worshipped it is appearance that must be worshipped, that the lie – and not the truth – is divine!” (Nietzsche 1968: §1011)

This movement resorts on an ‘irrealism’ which denies the autonomy of becoming and being and which breaks history free from the negative consummation of nihilism from within. However, why should this split designate a ‘before’ and ‘after’? The act of affirmative self-reflection whereby becoming evaluates itself. But this presents Nietzsche with unsurpassable obstacles. First, because the neutrality of all moments in becoming which depend on their affirmative expression for eternal recurrence, so that the idea of a non-expressed becoming, or becoming in-itself remains meaningless. For the same reason, to speak of a ‘before’ and ‘after’, occasioned by the split of becoming jeopardizes the neutrality of all moments and obviates the need for affirmation, which is an ‘eternal now’ (NU: Pg. 220).

Second, since becoming has never begun or stopped, then how can there be a ‘turning point’ in history? This moment must have also recurred and always occurred. This argument seems potentially naïve, insofar as the affirmation of recurrence, of the equal value of moments, even if it correctly implies the equal worth of every moment in transience, there is no strict criteria to analyze the transient void in its becoming. The split’s reflective corrective as an act of thought, however, it should noted, simultaneously enacts becoming as affirmed for itself and marks the timelessness of becoming. This seems to eternize thought and thus the correlation Nietzsche thought to suppress as man’s arrogance. So we couldn’t exactly say this moment must have occurred infinite number of times since nothing knowable ever happens: becoming is not of the order of being, but thought’s self-negating dissolution of the static being of transient becoming. Finally, Brassier asks why does being as the recurrence of difference needs its self-reflection to reach maximal potentiality, if it is already self-differentiating, and productive, active, affirmative; rather that representational, negative, or reactive (Ibid).

Moreover, why does affirmation need to make a difference between identity and difference if being as such is nothing but differentiation? The answer to both questions, as we have already suggested, is a direct corollary of Nietzsche’s irrealism: becoming requires affirmation because it is nothing until it is reflected into itself via the intercession of an affirmative act” (NU. Pg. 221)

This justifies Brassier in saying that Deleuze’s characterization of Nietzsche inverts the Hegelian absolutizing of the negative only in converting difference-in-itself to difference-for-itself. But because it requires a hybrid of reactivity and positivity (thought’s ploy against itself); but it becomes impossible to account for the necessity of this hybrid, cancelling thus its own precondition as the recurrent unity of becoming. Brassier’s conclusion is that being-in-itself should not be construed in terms of affirmation any more than negation, but as the degree-zero of being or being nothing. So the becoming that aims at nothing and achieves nothing is neutral, neither affirmative not negative, but the identity of difference and indifference. This is the structure characterized previously as adequation without correspondence, which doesn’t make a difference in becoming but identifies the objective matrix of order/disorder while unbinding the synthesis to them which reduces them to correlates of thought. It is the endangered ‘life of the mind’ which lies behind’s vitalism’s resort to thought’s expression. Brassier insists on the resisting the spiritualization of death, the indivisibility of space-time and finally assert the non dialectical identity of difference and indifference, of negentropy and entropy:

“However, if knowing undercuts the difference between life and death, it is not by reducing the former to the latter, or by privileging entropy over negentropy – a metaphysical gesture as arbitrary as its vitalist antithesis – but by identifying difference and indifference, life and death, without synthesizing them ontologically, as Heidegger and Deleuze do through finite transcendence and psychic individuation respectively… Thus, there is a knowing of the real (objective genitive) which repudiates the subordination of knowledge to vital and/or organic interests, but also the need to redeem or otherwise justify reality in order to render it compatible with the putative interests of reason – or ‘rationality’ – as construed within the bounds of the manifest image” (Ibid: Pg 222)

Brassier proposes to broach these movements through two questions: “How does thought think a world without thought? Or more urgently: How does thought think the death of thinking?” (Ibid)

7.3 Solar Catastrophe – Lyotard

Two horizons: a collapsed metaphysical one cryptically announced by ‘the death of God’, and the terrestrial one which Nietzsche warned we should embrace truthfully. Lyotard’s question in his Can Thought go on Without a Body? becomes an attempt to clarify how humans are related to this quasi-transcendental horizon, which has historically taken different shapes: the ‘originary ark’ in Husserl, the ‘self-secluding’ (Heidegger), or ‘the deteriorialized’ (Deleuze). This horizon too is bound to disappear, however, once the sun extinguishes in the catastrophic (kata-strophe) disappearance of the sun which eradicates the human horizon which rendered the possible of our existence and thus destroys what made philosophical questioning possible too. Disintegrating ontological temporality’s horizonal relation to the future, solar extinction is catastrophic. But this is one catastrophe which has already happened, since it does not simply lie awaiting at the end of this horizon; the solar catastrophe is described as terrestrial life’s detour from stellar death, earlier than the first unicellular organism and later than the last multicellular one. This relation of the earth to the sun marks a time prior and later to life, initiating and terminating the life known by philosophers. The prospect of solar extinction leads Lyotard into presenting two opposing perspectives on the relation between thought and embodiment (NU: Pg. 224):

1) The a) inseparability of thought and its material substrate requires b) separating thought from its rootedness in organic life general and particularly the human organism. This is linked to the idea of extropian functionalism.

2) The irreducible separation of the sexes making thought inseparable from organic embodiment, and human embodiment. This supports the idea of phenomenological feminism.

Brassier seeks to examine the differend between the two contrasting principles by focusing on the first, in that it suggests that the extinction of the sun challenges the prevalent phenomenological conception of death leading from Heidegger’s analysis of ‘dying’. It does so by severing the bond which encodes the distinctiveness of human existence in its purported privileged relation to the future. The extinction of the sun is not construable in terms of the existential possibilities given in the human relationship to death, but not because speaking of the death of the sun would constitute anthropomorphism. But rather because human beings don’t have a privilege relation to their own inexistence: men are bonded to death exactly like the sun is bonded to extinction. The latter notion is to be conceived not as the biological extinction of a species, but as “…that which levels the transcendence ascribed to the human, whether it be that of consciousness or Dasein, stripping the latter of its privilege as the locus of correlation.” (NU: Chapter 3) This disarticulation of the correlation in transcendence thereby overstep the internal limit or constraint that the correlation (at least since Hegel) imposed on thought, interiorizing what was supposed to be exterior to it. However, the extinction of the sun is not a limit for or of thought, which abolishes the relationship between philosophical thought and death:

“With the disappearance of earth, thought will have stopped – leaving that disappearance absolutely unthought-of. It’s the horizon itself that will be abolished and, with its disappearance, [the phenomenologist’s] transcendence in immanence as well. If, as a limit, death really is what escapes and is deferred and as a result what thought has to deal with, right from the beginning – this death is still only the life of our minds. But the death of the sun is a death of mind, because it is the death of death as the life of the mind.” (Lyotard 1991: 10)

To make death conceivable univocally, we must separate the future of thought from the fate of the human body:

“Thought without a body is the prerequisite for thinking of the death of all bodies, solar or terrestrial, and of the death of thoughts that are inseparable from those bodies. But ‘without a body’ in this exact sense: without the complex living terrestrial organism known as the human body. Not without hardware, obviously.” (Lyotard 1991: 14)

The idea here is that even though this leveled death or extinction has a material support, thinking this support requires breaking the relationship between the demise of the human organism from thought: thought is more fundamentally materially supported than merely human. And by finding support in univocal organic materiality it becomes possible to no longer think of the human embodied relation to death as that entity or existence which explains the latter. Rather, death being leveled to solar extinction binds thought to materiality while enveloping humanity and indistinguishing its experience death. This is what Lyotard names ‘thought without a body’, still rooted in material reality which supports it:

“Thought without a body is the prerequisite for thinking of the death of all bodies, solar or terrestrial, and of the death of thoughts that are inseparable from those bodies. But ‘without a body’ in this exact sense: without the complex living terrestrial organism known as the human body. Not without hardware, obviously” (Lyotard 1991: 14)

Thought of the future must be wrested from its organic habitat to inhabit another support system which could make it survive after the terrestrial collapse guaranteed by solar extinction. Lyotard suggests that thought’s morphological complexity would achieve transition to an alternative material support independent of organic transition as a visible tendency ever since life’s emergence on earth. The history of technology overlaps with the history of life in the originary synthesis of techné and physis. In the end matter’s intrinsic self-organization is irreducible to either side, but evolves to ensure that the negentropic momentum of life will survive the entropic threat of extinction. The self-perplication towards complexity is assigned to the evolutionary history provided by vitalist eschatology, one which is vulnerable, in Brassier’s estimation, to Stephen Jay Gould’s criticism of the fallacy of reified variation: “…the privileging of an idealized average at the expense of the full range of variations in a whole system” (NU: Pg: 226). Next we will analyze Brassier’s careful reconstruction of the same and evaluate his objection. Evolutionary variation distinguishes between mean, median and modal values of variation (Ibid). In symmetrical distributions all three values coincide (as in the bell curve), but many actual distributions are asymmetrical, including that of evolutionary complexity. These asymmetrical distributions are affected by a limit in their potential spread in one direction which can be logical/empirical, while remaining ‘free’ to develop in another direction[1]. In the case of life, these are physico-chemical constraints; producing a left or right skew in the variation depending on the direction where it is less constrained. The distribution of complexity over evolutionary history is measured comparing the degree of complexity (horizontal axis) vs. its frequency of occurrence (vertical axis). The abovementioned physico-chemical limit or minimal complexity of the point of origin for life can thus be charted as a left-point in the horizontal axis. This suggests that the only direction open to life is to the right of increasing complexity.

Here I don’t see how it follows from the fact that there is a minimum complexity that there is no possible reversal from the current state of complexity to a lesser one which nonetheless is still within the limit; or that the right side must be open. I thus don’t understand how it must always tend towards complexification, rather than stasis or reversal. Furthermore, I don’t quite understand how this annihilates the possibility of inorganic physico-chemical processes and variations outside evolutionary history could not simply destroy the tendency to complexification by rendering life extinct. Assuming the evolutionary variation over history is limited on the original point of life, this still does not target the effects of non-evolutionary material variations potentially conflicting with its tendency in variation. In any case, Brassier’s objection seems more subtle in that it not only denies the priority of evolutionary processes, but claims that not even these display the purported survivalist increase in modal complexity it would require to support the idea of negentropic life extending beyond the entropic threat. This is because even if the mean of complexity is surely higher and thus ever more right-tilted over evolutionary history, the modal frequency remains more or less the same tilted to the left limit of minimal complexity – both in frequency of occurrence and variation:

“Thus, Gould argues, although life’s mean complexity may have increased, as represented by the development of increasingly sophisticated multicellular organisms, its modal complexity, as exemplified by bacteria, has remained more or less constant. Yet the latter outstrip the former not only in terms of frequency of occurrence – total bacterial biomass continues to exceed that of all other life combined – but also in terms of variation.” (Ibid)

So the total mass of unicellular bacteria exceeds multicellular forms, just as they exceed them in genetic variation. Brassier’s summary of the scientific details here is illuminating:

Thus, out of the three most fundamental evolutionary domains, Bacteria, Archea, and Eucarya, two consist entirely of prokaryotes, which are the simplest unicellular organisms, devoid of nuclei, mitochondria, and chloroplasts. Moreover, the third domain, which is that of the eukaryotes (cells that do possess nuclei, chromosomes, etc.) comprises 13 kingdoms, among which are the three kingdoms that include all multicellular life – fungi, plants, and animals. More significantly, the extent of genetic diversity exhibited within the unicellular domains simply dwarfs that exhibited in the multicellular realm. Thus, the former comprises 23 kingdoms in all, while the latter consists of only 3; yet there is as much genetic distance between a cynobacteria and a flavobacteria as between a carrot and a zebra.” (Ibid, Pg. 227)

The progressivist evolutionary biology ignores that the right-tail disposition leading to complexity entails a tiny minority of the total number of species, and that it also represents a discontinuous evolutionary lineage: the complexification of species does not occur over a genetic progression, but an abrupt consequence proper to a blind, random evolutionary process which is bound to end with the same indifference that it began. It is a randomly separated from simplicity and not directed towards advantageous complexity. So vitalist eschatology evades the leveling force of extinction. The solar extinction which entails everything is already dead is thereby understood alongside Nietzsche’s the will-to-nothingness’ compulsion to be equal to the in-itself. The will to live opposes the will to know; vitalism wants to do away with the will nothingness. It compels towards this depositing trust on creative evolution capable of superseding solar extinction’s temporary setback by shifting its material support. But this is all threatened by the imminent extinction of all sentience in matter or cosmological ‘asymptopia’ enacting an empty universe of decayed matter, a universe without atoms and in which only the inexplicable gravitational expansive work of ‘dark energy’ will plunge the gravitational dive into a nothingness without vestiges associable with life.

This diagnosis by Brassier, however, seems to invite a few critical observations. For even if he has laid credence to Gould’s suggestion that evolutionary history does not present the negentropic guarantee of victory, it also seems that the assumption of it’s inevitable reduction to failure in entropic catastrophe goes a long way into the territory of speculative physics. Given the utter obscurity of dark matter’s entropic dissolution of not only life but all possible material sentience in such a prolonged frame of time, Brassier seems ill-equipped to guarantee that the negentropic increase of complexity is bound to meet that end, although it must be admitted that it currently represents the fate that theoretical physics imposes on matter. The point thus seems to be in the end, that in the framework that contemporary physics presents it is radically impossible to envisage the transition of complexity into ever more suitable material supports as capable of superseding the collapse of matter announced not just in solar extinction which eradicates all terrestrial support, but the possibility of any such support commensurate with thought.

Yet as unflinchingly modest and demystifying as this gesture may appear, it also seemingly rests on an all too unsatisfying picture of the decaying physical world that is immutable from its present state and thus which would have to remain encoded in precisely those areas where it is most obscure. After all, it seems a little naïve to seek to prove the unavoidable extinction of thought by reference to the imminent collapse of matter underwritten by forces utterly inexplicable but productive in physics itself (the presumed ‘dark matter’ which would guarantee the eventual depletion of sentience from atomic matter within an ever-expanding gravitational force of negentropic extinction). Thus quite a bit of faith is necessary to secure grounding in this appeal to science, innocently referred to by Brassier as the ‘currently inexplicable’, since it gratuitously introduces the lack of explication into the explanatory network as a venerable force to secure the physico-cosmological belief in imminent extinction. Yet it doesn’t seem for the same reason threatened by the potential overhaul of the entire field by virtue of scientific advances identifiable with thought; it safely disassociates how research into scientific phenomena opened by scientific advances always changes to thought as it develops in thought. If moreover thought is correlative to the emergence of a negentropic tendency which points towards an increase in the mean of complexity in the physico-chemical universe, Brassier then also presupposes that thought could not find itself in the dynamics of dark matter or in whatever else theory may revamp in our descriptive apparatuses. For nothing guarantees that the obscurity of this dark matter cannot be finally commensurable to explanation via the identification with parcels of reality which require morphologically complex systems which would subsume both negentropic and entropic change. And nothing guarantees such an identification would be insufficient to avoid the imminent extinction of thought and the victory of nothingness according to the diagnosis of present scientific speculation. Brassier thereby makes of this ‘dark matter’ something of an ineffable stupid and life-quenching God to guarantee the unavoidable apocalypse of entropic collapse, and along with it the vitalist’s readiness to the possibility of reintroducing thought at the non-individual actualization of Idea correlative to specific points negentropic exchange. The only guarantees the fabled extinction is that thought can’t change its ‘hardware’ by virtue of dark matter’s ineffability or the belief that even if subject to understanding it could resist thought’s purchase in a required preservation of morphological complex systems.

Here in fact we can remember Badiou’s suggestion, often quoted by Zîzêk, that a system’s point of impossibility is often integration to grant coherency to the entire field of positive differentiations; or the preponderance of the inexistent void in any given ‘world’ which invites the event. However, just as with the square root of -1 in mathematics, this positivized incorporation of the impossible point into the explanatory framework reintroduces the possibility for mathetical productivity beyond its ‘rational’ limit. Thus the contemporary status of dark matter as a resistant background or residue of the registering electromagnetic radiation (inferred from gravitational effects) allows one to stipulate the expansion of the gravitational field destroying the entire physical field of negentropic forces definitively and the sentient life which permeated through atoms, photons and neutrinos. Indeed it seems rather unlikely that physics and science won’t undergo another such overhaul before the trillion, trillion, trillion years until the catastrophe happens which changes the coordinates of understanding yet again. Nothing guarantees that a necessary life-span will be issued for morphological complexity capable of penetrating dark matter; or introducing thought into a relational field incommensurable to the dichotomy between entropy and negentropy, life and morphological complexity. Perhaps the question that Brassier does not yet raise is: what if thought can transcend the ineffability of dark matter and think not only the end of life or conditions for its life, but a time beyond these conditions, or a reality without time; and thought, but which translates thought in disassociation from its minimal condition for morphological existence, and thereby find itself as non-existent as it thinks the asymptopia of all that came before it. But enough of these speculative excesses, which furthermore risk of reproducing the cliché of men becoming Gods exceeding their humanity even as they exit the flesh by thought’s own efforts to discover a heretofore unfathomable future. Gauging the acts of faith needed by settling for this just opens hastily the philosopher’s holiday season, where it can leave all work to scientists while they merely wait on the latest development to surreptitiously introduce thought into it. This gesture must exceed in religiosity the modesty of surrendering to its present conditions; while it remains a real difficulty for Brassier to provide a theory of scientific theoretical change and its relation to the indissociable space-time ultimately marked by the fate of entropic extinction. For to simply say the present state of science exhibits this imminent collapse must entail either that all scientific revolutions have happened, or that no revolution could alter the fate of life, morphological complexity, or indeed sentience. In short, it resists thinking of a non-sentient scientific productivity. But then Brassier must be willing to say the asymptopia explained by the collapse of sentience is either ineffable tout court, or that it is thinkable somehow without reproducing the correlation which finds thought as thinking outside its own conditions but without the poverty in resources to explain the dynamics of this differentiation beyond the pale appeal to ‘being-nothing’ or the sterility of the stellar void. That is, if philosophy is to have something to say beyond the triumph of the nothing in the wake of solar extinction. The former option requires the belief that the end of sentience represent the absolute impasse for science, something which somehow arrogantly seems to stipulate that we are at an ‘end of history’, reproducing something like a Hegelian reaching of the in-and-for-itself in Nietzsche’s will to nothingness turned against itself. As we will see, Brassier seems fond of this option when he stipulates the impossibility of an intellectual intuition of the posterity of extinction. The second option, rejected by Brassier, but which to somehow pass from the neutrality of the void into a new productivity which is not tantamount to transcendence; but neither to the paleness of a void from which being-nothing is preserved in contrasting the apocalyptic limiting objectivity of agonizing physical matter. Perhaps we should propose that the physical universe sunk in void should not be construed as the spiritual cycle stitched by the philosopher’s declaration of the being of the nothing.

It is true, it must be said, that for all the speculative excesses required to endorse Brassier’s account, it is by the same token true that relying on the assumption that thought can somehow always fill the gap of the unexplainable is effectively to enact an noomological pantheism with a precise origin; but one which nevertheless seems destined to always procrastinate its end after its emergence, effectively eternizing the correlation, as we saw in Chapter 3; and without thereby relying on the distinction between physical time and anthropocentric time which makes thought’s finite support and temporal transcendence the precondition. This it does by making thought finally equal itself to every nothingness or lack in the chain of being and being-nothing itself; eventually overtaking being’s supple randomness into an immortal logocracy[2]. Thus we seem affected by two kinds of theistic possibilities: the ineffable gluttony of an ever expanding dark matter which risks physicalist determinism, or a pantheistic potentiation of noomological arrogance making thought inextinguishable. Brassier and Badiou? In any case, let’s proceed with Brassier’s argumentation.

Brassier indicts the vitalist’s attempt to restrict the scope of extinction by extending the horizonal reserve for thought from the terrestrial to the global scale. Seeing the impending demise of the universe, expanding the horizon for creative becoming from the terrestrial to the cosmic is evidence of the spiritualism behind vitalism’s claim for the impossibility of physical annihilation. Since the continuation of life won’t be threatened by the termination of physical existence, it must resort, to spiritualism. First, to the extent that cosmic extinction is a factum every bit as certain as biological death, whatever reserve guarantees the preservation of the horizonal deployment of thought will be finite by necessity. Of course, this is under the (correlationist) hypothesis which sees thought’s primacy in the primacy of existential time over space. Brassier challenges thought’s perpetual striving for reserves constrained by temporal parameters which require embodiment:

“A change of body is just a way of postponing thought’s inevitable encounter with the death that drives it in the form of the will to now. And a change of horizon is just a means of occluding the transcendental scope of extinction, precisely insofar as it levels the difference between life and death, time and space, revoking the ontological potency attributed to temporalizing thought in its alleged invulnerability to physical death…

Extinction portends a physical annihilation which negates the difference between mind and world, but which can no longer be construed as a limit internal to the transcendence of mind – an internalized exteriority, as death is for Geist or Dasein – because it implies an exteriority which unfolds or externalizes the internalization of exteriority concomitant with consciousness and its surrogates, whether Geist or Dasein. Extinction turns thinking inside out, objectifying it as a perishable thing in the world like any other (and no longer the imperishable condition of perishing). This is an externalization that cannot be appropriated by thought – not because it harbors some sort of transcendence that defies rational comprehension, but, on the contrary, because it indexes the autonomy of the object in its capacity to transform thought itself into a thing.” (Ibid: Pg, 229)

Brassier then characterizes extinction as a symptom of the posteriority which compliments ancestrality as described in Chapter 3, which by themselves were insufficient to demote correlationism. This was the case, we saw, since the irreducibility between ancestral and anthropomorphic time relies on a chronological framework which can be appropriated by the correlationist which converted anteriority into anteriority-for-us. However, the posterity of extinction teaches that no matter how proximal or distant its position in within space-time, it already disposes of the sufficiency of the correlation and without appeal to intellectual intuition by conditioning it: ‘after the sun’s death, there will be no thought left to know its death took place’ (Lyotard 1991: 9)

Extinction turns the absence of correlation into an object for thought, at the same time making thought an object. There is no intellectual intuition of posterity for Brassier, since extinction cannot index a posterior reality which would be subject to reincorporation to the correlation and its distinction from intuition which can remain intractable. Extinction is the thought of the absence of thought, the objectification of thought as such. This is the case since the difference between the object of thought and thought itself is not a function of thought or transcendence, but the object as immanent identity in the unilateralizing force which renders the non-dialectical identity (or non-relation) of the distinction between relation (objectifiable transcendence/and unobjectifiable immanence) and non-relation (the real as being-nothing). The objective difference from thought is given without correlational synthesis or the need for an account of the genesis of this difference. This remains inaccessible to intuitionism and representationalism as the latter must do so converting this difference into a function of thought. Let’s recall Brassier’s words from Chapter V to recall the unilateral duality in which thought passes from transcendence as occasional cause to the identity-in-the-last instance with the being-nothing of the real. In it we see that thought finally declares the immanent disjunction between unilateral duality and objectifiable dyad of representation/immanence (the ‘non-philosophical non-decision’). Thought objectifies itself and disjoins itself immanently in the making itself identical-in-last-instance to the real but only by thought’s own effectuation of ‘axiomatic ultimation’:

“In other words, at the deepest level of analysis, the unilateralizing force (or non-dialectical negativity) proper to Laruelle’s ‘non-’ does not merely consist in separating X’s unobjectifiable immanence from its transcendent objectification in the form of a unilateral duality, but more fundamentally, in separating the objectification of the dyad ‘objectifiable/unobjectifiable’ from the already-manifest unilateral duality separating dyadic objectification from unobjectifiable duality.” (NU: Pg, 142)

To close this section; Brassier reiterates brilliantly the results of the objectivization of thought in its privileging relation time:

“Consequently, there is a basic asymmetry in the relation between anteriority and posteriority: whereas the disjunction between ancestral time and anthropomorphic time was construed as a function of chronology – on the basis of the empirical assumption that the former preceded and will succeed the latter – there is an absolute disjunction between correlational time and the time of extinction, precisely insofar as the latter is not just a localizable spatiotemporal occurrence, and hence something that could be chronologically manipulated (although it is certainly also this), but rather the extinction of space-time. Thus, it is not so much that extinction will terminate the correlation, but that it has already retroactively terminated it. Extinction seizes the present of the correlation between the double pincers of a future that has always already been, and a past that is perpetually yet to be. Accordingly, there can be no ‘afterwards’ of extinction, since it already corrodes the efficacy of the projection through which correlational synthesis would assimilate its reality to that of a phenomenon dependent upon conditions of manifestation. Extinction has a transcendental efficacy precisely insofar as it tokens an annihilation which is neither a possibility towards which actual existence could orient itself, nor a given datum from which future existence could proceed. It retroactively disables projection, just as it pre-emptively abolishes retention. In this regard, extinction unfolds in an ‘anterior posteriority’ which usurps the ‘future anteriority’ of human existence.” (NU: Pg, 230)

7.4 The seizure of phenomenology: Levinas

Levinas’ ‘absolute alterity’ inaugurates the idea that the passivity related to the ‘immemorial trace’ of ‘the other in me’ is connected to the ‘impossibility of possibility’ which disables intentional apprehension (Husserl) and ekstatic projection (Heidegger). Levinas seeks to challenge the traditional ontological fixation with sameness and identity; by describing in Otherness a site immune to appropriation by the horizonal opening of temporal projection in finite transcendence, or the intentional directedness through the object in a coalesce of noesis and noema. The impossibility of possibility is thus something of a fixed point in experience which remains irreducible to any time of ontological appropriation; lurking in the background as the trace of an resistant trace of absolute alterity. And yet we must be sure not to grasp this trace as bound to the Other qua pre-conditioning entity; it has no intrinsic temporality and thus no strict causal connection to thought’s submissive restraint to identity. This allows Levinas to posit a site which, much like negative theology’s appeals to the ineffable seeks to describe not so much the distant operation of a self-sufficient entity; but the point of impossibility of a Real outside all objectification, and which delivers thought to an pure ethical responsibility before the Other. This radical Otherness which resists appropriation to the dyad of given apprehension and temporal projection condenses the Other as resistant to the Sameness of traditional ontology and metaphysics, thereby radicalizing Heideggerean description of Dasein as being-guilty into a principle which altogether escapes the requirement of a situatedness within temporal projection. As we saw in the previous chapter, this fundamental attempt to reconcile temporality and time became irresolvable for Heidegger, precisely at the point where fundamental ontology was supposed to escape the representational straightjacket by describing a time independent of Dasein’s ekstatic projection. Levinas’ absolute Other thus alleviates the burden by positing a lack or trace pointing to a radical alterity beyond the reach of temporal projection, without thereby positing this Otherness has a time of its own, or that it functions causally preceding finite possibility. We have thus something like the depuration of the relation between temporality and time by making the crucial dyad rather ontological Sameness against the background of ethical Otherness. And this point is concentrated in the ‘death of the Other’ which remains the unfathomable possibility which does not index the totalizing of my temporal projection, but that which is the Other’s absolute closure from my apprehension. It is this nebulous void in the Other which alters absolutely from the realm of possibility opened by temporal projection, and which remains ‘my time’.

But Lyotard’s ‘solar catastrophe’ transposes this ‘impossibility of possibility’ into the natural-scientific register; where it is no longer just the death of the Other which dethrones consciousness, but the sun’s extinction. Brassier notes that this happens during the historical sequence whereby those (‘continental’) philosophical discourses began to flirt with elements of the scientific as they challenged the manifest image. As we have seen, this is true particularly in those phenomenological accounts, notably through Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, concerned with ‘embodiment’ as predetermining our finite access to the world. But it also concerns the phenomenological/vitalist insistence that death, either ours (Heidegger, Deleuze) of that of the Other (Levinas), radically constrains the organic self, which is the support for representational conceptions, and delimits the ontological status of all objectivity to the temporal opening granted to thought in experience. Death indexes an anomalous zone against our everyday experiences, while extinction resists the philosophical transcendentalizing of the infrastructure of thought into the descriptive resources of the manifest image. In the trajectory to resist positivism and naturalism thus philosophy finally opened the way to resist the correlational mediation through the transcendental priority of temporal projection or subjective representation. In this regard the concept of extinction emerged only in the diagnosed tension between the manifest and scientific images, where it is not possible to generate it solely from within the latter; it predates on the manifest’s image most sophisticated resources and turns them against its phenomenological self-understanding. But Brassier wants to exit even the phenomenological self-effacement which nevertheless limits or constrains description to only envisaging the exit through a eschatological phenomenology; and seeks to deploy the philosophical depuration of the correlational specters to revitalize the possibility of a metaphysics which is commensurate to the results of the natural sciences and establishing their priority without the precedence of any correlational agent. Brassier’s prescription at this junction is that philosophy should resist the image of a) the metaphysical conservativism of scientific naturalism, and the b) reactionary authoritarianism of manifest normativism. Instead it should use its resources to mobilize a non-synthetic exchange between conditions of transposition, within the speculative anomalies emerging from phenomenological manifestness and the metaphysical troubles in science’s challenge to the manifest image. Extinction crystallizes the exchange between the two registers:

Thus, the equivalence that obtained between the existential-phenomenological characterization of death, and the natural-scientific phenomenon of extinction, is reiterated in the reversibility between the phenomenology of trauma and the extinction of phenomenology, so that the catastrophic nature of extinction, its overturning of origin and end, empirical and transcendental, follows directly from its being at once a naturalization of eschatology and a theologization of cosmology.” (NU: Pg 232)

That ‘everything is dead already’, the leveling of organic death with inorganic extinction, is thus the material destruction of horizonal temporal chronology as the destruction of the preponderance of temporality over space. This is described in an eschatological phenomenology, centered in the preconditioning cosmological extinction as capable of subverting the fixation on death qua opening for temporal transcendence. For Brassier, the hyperbolic phenomenology proper to Levinas’ emphatic exasperation, searching for meta-ontological grounds, traversing beyond ‘being’, provides the descriptive resources to describe extinction as a ‘traumatic seizure’ of phenomenology. This method alone can give the ‘sense to sense’ to the non-ontological inquiry into the ‘wholly’ other; the wounding of subjectivity which announces the impossibility of possibility in the Other’s death. More clearly perhaps, we could say that the sense of violence onto the Other’s reduction to mere otherness (within Sameness) which ontology inflicts through temporal opening, can only be given sense within infinite alterity as a wounding of ontology itself, traumatizing phenomenological appropriation. It is thus the impossibility of possibility which targets a double impossibility in being (it does not fall under the ontological umbrella of the Same, submitting the self to the unending responsibility against the ‘infinitely Other’), and the impossibility of being (the utter impossibility of making the impossibility in being into an ontological principle, in the thought of the death of the Other’s as the impossible death which is the impossibility of being). This makes being unable to persist or generate itself from itself, in its ‘own being’, and marks the two senses of impossibility: impossibility of ceasing to be (the Other’s radical alterity, impossibility of being) and the impossibility of beginning to be (of finding termination against our responsibility; the impossibility in being) (Ibid: 233). This is the conjunction of the phenomenal horror of sense (the infinite ethical interruption of being, which makes it impossible for us to ever be; the wounding transcendence of illeity[3]) and the epiphenomenal horror of ‘non-sense’ (which persists in being’s incapacity to escape itself and traverse the absolutely Other; the ontological limit of the wandering ‘il y a’). Subjectivity becomes dispossessed of itself as it is traversed by the Other’s alterity, which ‘always already’ has prevented it from being as well as the marking the impossible death:

“As though encumbered and blocked by itself, suffocating beneath itself, insufficiently open, forced to unburden itself of itself, to breathe in more deeply, to the limit of its breath; forced to dis-possess itself until it loses itself. Does this loss have the void, the zero-point and quiet of the grave, as its term, as if the subjectivity of the subject signified nothing? (Levinas, 1990: 175)

It is precisely the equivalence between that which persists in the Other which turns alterity as the nucleus for traumatic dispossession, and the nothing, which resists inscription within the causal theodicy of the logos. Difference between the for-the-other and for-nothing, Other and the Same, must be ‘the same within being’, to ensure the ‘chance’ of ethical sense and ontological non-sense beyond the return of the sameness of being. But Brassier condemns Levinas in embracing the ‘good beyond being’ as finally the something that grants the disavowed meaning to the alleged irreducibility of alterity: subjectivity finally has a meaning in that it necessitates an ethical goodness intrinsic to the void, which allows a dubious fixation on this point for action.[4] So the phenomenology of trauma obviates that the subjectivity link to the Other through ethical duty has already been made impossible by its own demand: the extinction of all phenomenological and ethical sense. This is why extinction is conceived as a transcendental trauma, in which a physical phenomenon undoes phenomenology’s capacity to give meaning through the manifest image, wounding subjectivity.

It should obviously be noted here that Levinas would probably argue that the alterity assigned to the phenomenon of the Other’s death is precisely not the physical death described by the natural sciences, insofar as these remain coated as spatial relations which are relative to temporal presencing. It rather conceives of this Death as an externalized null point rather than rehabilitate the preponderance of physico-natural entities. In fact, Brassier seems to acknowledge that this ‘ethical imperative’ triggered by the traumatizing persistence of ‘il y a’, must remain empty:

“Consequently, the difference between the ‘for the other’ and the ‘for nothing’, or between the Other and the Same, must ‘come to the same’ (revenir au même) within being precisely in order to ensure the possibility – or what Levinas calls ‘chance’ – that the difference between ethical sense and ontological non-sense may not ‘return to the Same’, but rather point beyond being.” (NU: Pg, 233)

Yet Brassier’s wager here is that the phenomenon of extinction allows us to level the relation between space-time, so that their ultimate identity allows us to assign no preceding privilege to temporal transcendence, but use it to describe a undifferentiated disjunction between objectifying transcendence and the unobjectifiable immanence, and the identity between the being foreclosed of the object as equivalent (in-the-last-instance) with being-nothing. In this regard, the anti-correlationist move invoked through the phenomena of solar extinction and the arche-fossil can be used to eliminate any purported prioritizing of temporality and relativization of the spatial. Levinas finally betrays his purported reversibility of the for-the-other and being-nothing in stipulating the meaning of the ‘good beyond being’: the phenomenology of trauma is also the trauma for phenomenology itself in the eradication of sense. This reversal of empirical and a priori reiterates the Freudian trauma at the origin of life, which we will see next.

7.5 The trauma of life: Freud

Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle proposes to analyze traumatic neurosis as ‘the compulsion to repeat’, reiterated in the subject’s psychic life in the repetition of the incident in his/her dreams. However, here psychoanalysis runs into a seemingly incompatible pathology against the background of what the pleasure principle describes: striving towards the diminution of excitation and the minimizing of displeasure. This is so because the repetition of lived trauma seems to increase excitation and thus displeasure. Freud argues that this repetition gathers anxiety to fulfill a successful binding of the excessive excitation released by the trauma. This is understood as an attempt by the unconscious to relive the trauma in order to buffer it by anxious anticipation, thereby ailing the impotent shock of the excessive excitement from the wound inflicted by the trauma. This is what lies beyond the pleasure principle: it is instinctual (Triebhaft) and clarifies the nature of drive (Trieb). Freud provides his account here of the organism’s striving to ‘return to the inorganic’:

“It seems then that a drive is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces; that is, a kind of organic elasticity, or, to put it another way, the expression of the inertia inherent in organic life. […] It is possible to specify this final goal of all organic striving. It would be in contradiction to the conservative nature of the instincts if the goal of life were a state of things which had never been yet attained. On the contrary, it must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or another departed and to which it is striving to return by the circuitous paths along which its development leads. If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons – becomes inorganic once again – then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’.” (Freud 1991: 309–11)

Life will eventually contract back into the zero-degree of decontration, not in the purely Aristotelian sense in which death would designate a telos for life, since the latter presupposes life, while the direction of life is towards that which precisely is presupposed by it. The prior existence of the inorganic supports the reality of the death-drive. Death as ‘aim’ cannot be presupposed as an internal condition in life’s development just as the inorganic is not a function of the organic; the death-drive is not relative to its past or future, but an originary purposelessness which compels all organic and psychological reality. This way Freud reverts Nietzsche’s will to power by making of it a mere contraction of the death that wills nothing, and that is masked by the metaphysics of the will. Not susceptible to reincorporation to temporal projection, the only time proper to it is the anterior posterity of physical death against organic temporality. It is only registered as a dysfunctioning of the organism deposited in the unconscious which strives to repeats itself and breaks consciousness down. This is the unconscious wound of trauma, in which the excess of excitation exceeds the binding capacity of the ‘perception-consciousness system’ since consciousness arises instead of a memory trace.

Freud provides an account of the origin of this filtering mechanism in organic individuation: primitive organic vesicles may sacrifice part of themselves to shield the excess excitation and effecting a separation between organic interiority and inorganic exteriority: in making itself partly inorganic it becomes immune to the excess excitation. The organism’s filtering mechanism which triggers consciousness implies the compulsion of the organism to mimic the inorganic, making itself immune to it. It thus first becomes capable of distinguishing itself from the inorganic outside, by surrendering a part of itself to it in order to filter the excessive receptivity of stimulus:

“If the death-drive qua compulsion to repeat is the originary, primordial motive force driving organic life, this is because the motor of repetition – the repeating instance – is this trace of the aboriginal trauma of organic individuation. The death-drive understood as repetition of the inorganic is the repetition of the death which gave birth to the organism – a death that cannot be satisfactorily repeated, not only because the organism which bears its trace did not yet exist to experience it, but also because that trace is the marker of an exorbitant death, one that even in dying, the organism cannot successfully repeat.” (NU: Pg. 238)

In this way, this ‘aboriginal death’ which marked the definitive passage from the inorganic into life cannot be mimed since it targets a reality prior to its very possibility, its repetition is driven by the failure to mime this original death (which is why Zizek insists on the preponderance of failure in the drive’s compulsion to repeat). The death-drive is thus the trace to a death outside its confines, which urges to render commensurable the very contract between the organic and inorganic which rendered the consciousness proper to organic memory. The scission between life and death thus remains perpetually unbound in order to make life possible:

“Decontraction is not a negentropic starting point to which one could return, or an entropic terminus towards which one could hasten. Its reality is that of the ‘being-nothing’ whose anterior posteriority expresses the identity of entropic indifference and negentropic difference, an identity which is given to thought as the objective reality that already determines it. This determination occurs through philosophy’s binding of the trauma of extinction, which persists as an un-conscious and un-bound disturbance of phenomenal consciousness, fuelling the will to

know.” (Ibid, Pg. 238)

7.8 Unbinding Extinction

Finally, Brassier closes with this concluding remarks, which deserve to be quoted in full:

“Extinction is real yet not empirical, since it is not of the order of experience. It is transcendental yet not ideal, since it coincides with the external objectification of thought unfolding at a specific historical juncture when the resources of intelligibility, and hence the lexicon of ideality, are being renegotiated. In this regard, it is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction. Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely privative; they represent a gain in intelligibility. The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the ‘horror’ concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being becomes intelligible. Thus, if everything is dead already, this is not only because extinction disables those possibilities which were taken to be constitutive of life and existence, but also because the will to know is driven by the traumatic reality of extinction, and strives to become equal to the trauma of the in-itself whose trace it bears. In becoming equal to it, philosophy achieves a binding of extinction, through which the will to know is finally rendered commensurate with the in-itself. This binding coincides with the objectification of thinking understood as the adequation without correspondence between the objective reality of extinction and the subjective knowledge of the trauma to which it gives rise. It is this adequation that constitutes the truth of extinction. But to acknowledge this truth, the subject of philosophy must also recognize that he or she is already dead, and that philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction.” (NU: Pg 238-239)

[1] These references to ‘spreading’, ‘walls’ and ‘free development’ remain totally obscure in Brassier’s account.

[2] One in which, furthermore, one can argue whatever one wants, since anything that presently appears true to the sciences could in principle be subject to such an unforeseeable event; even the mortality of men.

[3] In a sense, the ipseity of the ego, the selfsameness of myself, is called into question by the ethical, intersubjective relation: to look in the face of the Other leaves no Self unchanged and unsettled. This transformation of the self, which is an ongoing event demanded by the efficacy of the socio-ethical relation, not only uproots a certain ipseity of the self but also establishes an illeity (literally based on the Latin for ‘he’) in the self, a sort of third-person position that is coterminous with the I.” – (Ipseity and Illeity, or Thinking Ethics without the Other of the Other -

[4] It could be said at this point that we find something similar in Badiou’s conception of fidelity to the truth event and his all too obvious preference for the militant subjectivity of the faithful subject. As much as he encodes the revolutionary potential of this figure through the passage into existence in the forcing of the generic subset, it nevertheless remains ontologically dubious whether his phenomenological description of the faithful subjectivity can be always granted the ethical priority Badiou seems to index to the faithful production of truths. See Being and Event, meditations 30-35; Logics of Worlds, Book I.

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