I’ve mentioned before how fascinated I am with the pop-culture zombie; I think this show is the next logical step as the undead become more and more mainstream. This is a polished re-presentation of what has now become essentially the standard zombie-mythos, steeped in the emergence of disease, humans becoming nothing but the vessels of some virus or bacteria which thinks of nothing more than it’s own propagation. What’s amazing in all of this is the way that life is portrayed as evil, that it is unable to curb itself to the point of it’s own collapse at the hand of it’s own parasitic drives. Life is evil because it is excessive, because Nature cannot be domesticated, because it is ultimately unpredictable. How far we’ve come from the undead as a figure of demonic possession, beings that were simply Evil. Now, evil needs a reason and that reason is unsustainability.
Tag Archives: vitalism
There’s been some back and forth and back again between Paul and Graham largely as a result of Paul’s recent interview with Peter Gratton as part of Peter’s course on Realism. See also the exchange between Ben and Graham on Hegel and Zizek.
Paul’s been brining up Hegel for a while now since he’s “in the air” in Dublin. I have to say this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I’m not friendly to Hegel or Hegelianism and the neo-Hegelianism of the Ljubljiana Lacanians makes me equally as on-guard. The reason I’m so uncomfortable with this is the ease with with they all do away with the very real problem of the in-itself.
The in-itself is of course a long-standing issue for debate in post-Kantian philosophy and is one of the important fault lines that Meillassoux revives in After Finitude where he bases correlationist thought on the principles of correlation and factiality. The strong correlationist is the one who maintains the strength of the principle of correlation and does away with the principle of factiality (doing away with the in-itself, contingency, and freedom ultimately). I shouldn’t have to repeat this, I’m assuming people know this. By aligning yourself with Hegel (especially) you fall immediately into the Fichtean move of rejecting the in-itself (or more accurately for Fichte, making the in-itself a closeted for-us, making things-in-themselves a necessary illusion in order for the performance of the infinite ethics of the Kingdom of Ends; depending on your reading of Hegel, the same move is made though possibly for different reasons).
The same move is made by the Lacanians; the in-itself for Zizek is nothing but the “Imaginary Real,” a fantasy of a non-Symbolic realm prior to language or even humans. There is no world outside of the Symbolic for Zizek meaning there is no in-itself. This is why ultimately he favours Hegel to Schelling. Schelling of course maintains the in-itself in opposition to both Fichte and Hegel (though with the support of Schopenhauer, who is of this Schellingian strain of post-Kantian thought that finds its way into people like Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, etc.) The significant move of this strain of post-Kantianism is not only that they maintain the in-itself, but that with this school of thought the in-itself is in some sense known. In opposition to both the Fichtean line which does away with the in-itself and the more orthodox Kantian line which maintains the in-itself but also its unknowability, this line of thought (which I refer to as “Vitalist”) says that the in-itself is in some sense grasped through self-analysis (this is the importance of “intuition” for Schelling and Bergson for instance). We have access to our own noumenal existence by which we understand other existents to have their own non-phenomenal (that is, non-for-us) existence. Just as I am not the sum of my phenomenal appearance (I am unconscious, I am will, I am virtual, etc, etc.) neither are objects.
This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives. First, it allows for a pre-human and post-human world. Vitalism accepts history as a given, things existed, things happened, before there were human beings to observe them and these things are in no way dependent on our knowing to have existence. In the same way, aspects of my existence go un-actualized, remaining unconscious. This in no way means they do not exist, simply that I don’t know of them.
The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. The road to anti-realism is paved with Hegelian intentions. I don’t see how anyone could read Hegel and take a realism from it without doing some serious work (which even the Marxists have trouble maintaining, what does Nick Land call dialectical materialism? Shoddy idealism, I think). This means ultimately that I’m on the side of Graham and Grant on this one, once the in-itself is ditched, there is no possible realism. For the same reason then that Fichte irreversibly anti-realist, so too is Hegel.
I wanted to write something on ontology and politics since it’s been going around. I haven’t had a chance to read the posts by Ben and Reid regarding this issue, so this may be painfully out of date and for that I apologize. I always worry when a hot topic goes around and I know that both Ben and Reid have commented on the issue that I will simply be repeating them. This comes largely as notes on Nina’s original post and Nick’s follow-up. It is not meant to be conclusive, but simply a statement of belief regarding the relationship of ontology and the political.
I can understand the theory that brought these ideas forth, I have even made similar arguments against someone in my department (a post-Marxist who draws on Deleuze and Negri and insists that ontology is inherently political). What I am concerned about is more of an epiphenomena of such a critique. I accept Nick’s claim that Being (and it’s study) should not be hindered by one’s politics; monarchists have just as much access to reality as Marxists. I do however worry about what such a sharp divide does for ontology.
One of the things I very much dislike about Badiou is that for him philosophy is very much reactionary. It is always the result of someone working within one of the conditions and then applying such advances, discoveries, or beliefs to philosophy. It strikes me that this is what is at root of both Nina’s and Nick’s writings on the relation of politics and ontology. It seems very much like a Reese’s problem, as if the history of thought said: “you got your politics in my ontology,” “you got your ontology in my politics,” and now we are looking to separate the two. I don’t think ontology is inherently political, reality is not conservative or liberal or capitalist or communist, it is what it is. That being said, I don’t think the division can be stated so strongly. Politics are a part of reality, as part of humanity they are an emergent property of the real, that is, Nature. There is nothing artificial about politics. One of the points of Nina’s original post was that there is a necessary split between politics and ontology, even if it is entirely artificial. There is no such thing as artificiality. All is Nature. As such, we must consider politics as entirely natural. I am very much an Aristotelian in this way (or perhaps a pre-modern or anti-modern), we should look to Nature in order to understand our own political struggles. This is exactly why I have proposed a loose outline of survivalism, a form of ethics and politics that takes the health and well-being of systems as its goal.
It is not then that politics have infected metaphysics, ontology is not in itself political. What is the political though? I think it can be defined as essentially “the development and maintenance of systems of things and relations.” At it’s most basic politics are a complex system of relations. Ontology as I understand it, the study of Nature (the only realm of existents), is also relational. It would follow then that the study of one will necessarily involve the understanding of the other. We must be clear however that I grant no sacredness to the political the way Nick seems to, politics are the logical extension of a thing able to act on those systems which generated it, just as ontology and ethics are studies which develop from specific things in reality (complex animal organisms), so too is the political able to act on on its own ground. This is consequential of the outgrowth of consciousness in Nature: organisms can now act rather than simply react. In this sense I grant politics to all relational organisms, or rather, all organisms able to act on their own systems of relations. This means, again, that politics are not sacred. I see nothing special in human politics except that we are more partial to them because we are implicated in their development and decisions. I’m sure if the politics of bees had an impact on me I would be much more concerned with their network of workers and queens, but as it stands the system of human relations are just another system. Certainly I would not stand for political decisions that I see as unethical or unjust, but that does not make such systems holy, only of more concern for my wellbeing. To repeat, I see Nature as inherently relational, and I see the political to be nothing more than a complex system of relations. It follows then than we should, following Aristotle and many others, attempt to understand the political through an understanding of Nature-itself.
While the colors and shading are artistic additions, the image templates are actual colonies of tens of billions of these microorganisms. The colony structures form as adaptive responses to laboratory-imposed stresses that mimic hostile environments faced in nature. They illustrate the coping strategies that bacteria have learned to employ, strategies that involve cooperation through communication. These selfsame strategies are used by the bacteria in their struggle to defeat our best antibiotics.
Disgustingly awesome video of a swarm of ants taking on a crab. I hope I never experience what’s it’s like to be eaten from the inside out.
I’ve written about Michael Pollan before; I think his work “from the plant’s perspective” could (and should) be a great resource for both Object-Oriented Philosophy as well as Neo-Vitalism. Now my favourite of his books, The Botany of Desire, has been made into a documentary for PBS and it looks really good. Here’s a preview:
As some of you know by now, I’ve taken something of a pet interest in the Speculative realism Wikipedia page. This isn’t because I feel like I’m any sort of authority on the subject, but I’ve read a lot of the material and basically no one else was chomping at the bit about it. Actually, as both Nick and Graham mentioned (though it was Nick who brought it to my attention), the page was basically stillborn, with so little there that people were threatening to delete it.
So I fixed it up a bit and added subsections and publications and mentioned some of the presses that have shown an interest and I think it’s a pretty decent little page now. It certainly fits the criteria of something worthy of being on Wikipedia. So now we’re out of the woods, we’re not in danger if dying of exposure without a wikipage.
I’ve decided to share another text. This one isn’t as relevant as the last piece I shared, but someone might still find something of value in it. This is a lecture I gave last January on Levinas. Here’s the scenario: I was in a course based on the annual faculty colloquium, where each week a faculty member would present a paper, with all of the papers being variations of a common theme. The theme this past year was “responsibility.” So each Tuesday, a professor would give a public lecture, and two days later, a student would give a response to it. I was responsible for the first response of the year, responding to a paper which basically outlined Levinas’ ethics of the Other, infinite responsibility, etc, etc.
The lecture I gave is titled “The Desire of the Other (Null and Void)” and was written largely immediately following the Tuesday afternoon Levinas lecture, cleaned up a bit the next day, and presented essentially as you see it the day after that. Minor changes have been made since then, a couple of references had to be tracked down, and some of the wording was different, but this is basically the lecture as I delivered it.
As for the substance of the piece, I critique Levinasian ethics from three different perspectives, beginning from my anti-humanist (vitalist) perspective, moving on to a metaphysical critique, followed by an ethical critique. The last of these comes from my background as someone who was at one time much closer to Levinas, having been swallowed up by the whole “theological turn” in phenomenology and hermeneutics for a time, while the other two are perhaps closer to my current views (the first critique, the critique from vitalism, being the one I am most confident in). Feel free to respond to this piece. It is pretty short, as I had to allow for not only the response to my response from the professor of the initial paper, but also for a shared Q&A session on both of our lectures. It is also probably the only piece on Levinas to contain references to Barrack Obama, The Simpsons and The Fly!
In one of Reid’s recent posts, he linked to the following TEDTalk given by Michael Pollan:
There is so much I love about this Michael Pollan piece. First is his claim of coevolution and his disdain for Descartes. I also appreciate his “from the plants perspective” methodology which I shared with Graham some time ago as a potential OOP-pairing. Though I wonder now if it isn’t closer to a vitalism than OOP would like. One of my problems with OOP has been with its lack of conatus, will, or drive. While Graham has gone to great lengths to explain how change can occur, arguing against the changeless relationists, he provides no reason why change occurs. This is why I begin with a system of drive, with the idea that things perpetuate themselves. Reid’s recent posts on genes, memes, and temes (a general theory of memetics) are helpful here.
Repetition, perpetuation, is a property of existence.
This outlines exactly what I was trying to convey in my recent post on Camazotz. As I have said numerous times before, I am an avowed anti-humanist, both in the sense that I am against the essentialism of humanism (that there is a fixed human nature), but also in the sense that I do not accept that humanity is the height of nature. The example Pollan gives of rice is excellent in this respect; we are not “more evolved” than rice simply because we have consciousness (indeed, the idea of anything being more or less evolved is ridiculous).
There is no “top” to nature, no king of the hill. This is why an ethic of domination (a la Nietzsche and the stereotype of vitalism in general) is inadequate and simply empirically wrongheaded. A true vitalism ethic would be one of mutual survival, not a species-centric will to power. It is for this reason that I have provisionally dubbed such an ethic survivalism. Of course, the term is already in use, though not philosophically. From Wikipedia:
Survivalism is a commonly used term for the preparedness strategy and subculture of individuals or groups anticipating and making preparations for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order.
I have adopted this term because I think it is rather fitting. Vitalism is a system of order, of systematics themselves. Survivalism as the preparedness and anticipation of chaos or disruptions to order would work in much the same way philosophically as an ethic of networking, of rebuilding order in chaos, or conversely, could likely become more widespread in the sense of becoming a political tool for sustainability. This would be an ethic of creativity, productivity, repetition, and growth. It would be inherently anti-fascistic in the sense that by taking nature as its example (since it is an outgrowth of nature), it must be cooperative (nature is an egalitarian system of flows, no one is on top).
This of course is entirely natural, though it may seem to go against standard human behaviour. We see such systems of cooperation in nature all the time. The above photo of the bee provides one of the most obvious examples. Though it is human-made, my favourite example of cooperation (though I don’t know why…) is that of the Three Sisters (beans, squash, and corn), who form their own tight-little-system of cooperation and mutual prosperity. Native Americans found these foods desirable and also found that through companion planting, the three plants all benefit each other. Not only that, but the combination of the three benefits the human caretaker by providing him or her with a balanced and healthy diet. Survivalism could be exactly such a system-building system, one which seeks out sustainability and grows more nature.
The cult of Camazotz began around 100 B.C. among the Zapotec Indians in what is the modern-day Mexican state of Oaxaca. The cult of Camazotz worshiped an anthropomorphic monster with the body of a human, head of a bat (though the exact proportioning varies with account). The bat was associated with night, death, and sacrifice. This god soon found its way into the pantheon of the Quiché, a tribe of Maya who made their home in the jungles of what is now Guatemala. The Quiché identified the bat-deity with their god Zotzilaha Chamalcan, the god of fire.
There is some evidence to support that the Camazotz myth may have sprung from actual large, blood-drinking bats of the Mexico, Guatemala, and Brazil areas. Evidence is in the form of fossils of Desmodus draculae, the giant vampire bat. There have also been skeletons of D. draculae found which were sub-fossil, of very recent age. These sub-fossils suggest that the species were still common when the Mayans civilization existed, and may still be in existence today, though it is doubtful. Alternately, Camazotz may have originated from the Spectral Bat, a large carnivorous bat native to Central and South America.
The thought that has been circling in my mind for the past several days is the relation between an evolutionary or process form of metaphysics and the general concept of the parasite. Typically when one is presented with a vitalist system, it is a system of fitness. This is simple enough in someone like Nietzsche, where dominance, will to power, is the rule. Emergent forms are par for the course in a vitalist metaphysic, and it seems entirely possible that they rise to dominate. Is this the case though?
One of the basic structures of any vitalism is a metaphysics of flow. This seems to work much better with a general parasitological view of life, of things in general. Beasts don’t rise up to smite lesser creatures for the sake of dominance, but through feeding off of them.
All forms of nature are variations of the verb “to eat.”
Human sacrifice, agriculture, eating, reproduction, aging, death, fertilizing, growth and decay. The flows are endless. There is no top, no bottom. We are all someones food. We flow into each other, use, abuse, each other. We sacrifice to our gods, we are worshiped, we all eat and sleep. The gods need us. We all sleep sometime. The will to power is the ideal, the lie we live. We are all weak. We are all powerful. We are all-week… we are all-powerful. We are all Bat-Gods to someone.
[ADDENDUM: One could also raise the question of the relation between the Bat-God, as a god who feeds, with the Christ, another god who feeds (I love the play of the word 'feeds' here). It is perhaps this relation that I am most interested in, the one who takes and gives only in death versus the ones who gives, and somehow continues to give in even death. The interplay of giving and taking, giving and taking and persistence. What is the relation between the parasite, the Eucharist, and vitalism as a metaphysics of perpetuity?]