On Spectral Realism

Some interesting posts up, the first being Reid’s outline of Dark Matter, the second being Levi’s response. Like Levi, I think it may be helpful, at least for me, to talk about these issues, putting it into my own language so as to navigate this terrain in order to better understand my own thoughts.

First I want to talk about the trace. Derrida speaks of “the trace” in terms of proto-linguistics, as that which is prior to language. I use it in terms of my reading of Schelling however, as that which is proto-ontology, that is, that which is prior to Being. I don’t mean that there are things before there is Being, but that there are pseudo-things before there are real, complete things. I mentioned this briefly in terms of ontological retardations, places where the process of becoming-actual is impeded in some way and beings emerge deformed. I also refer to these things as ghosts, in that they are quasi-beings.

It should be clear from this that I am not simply speaking of an epistemological problem, it is not that these beings are not fully formed because of a problem with cognition, but rather, because there is a problem in some sense with Nature itself. This is an ontological problem in that Being itself, which is only ever a process of becoming, of actualization and aspiration, gets “stopped up” and stunted.

Reid speaks of

dark matter as a non-conceptual symbol effectuating within existential judgment the real suspension of such judgment, or the foreclosure constitutive of such judgment, we propose a shift from ontology in general, as a philosophical determination, to something like an anontology (anon-tology or an-ontology), a material ontology or ontology as material for (non-ontological) thought. This is not a variant of ontology or species of ontology so much as a kind of ’state of exception’ of ontology, in which the ontological law is suspended while the force of this law is still in effect. In such a suspended state, there is no specification of ontological materials or of existential values, but rather a general anonymity of materiality regarding its existential specificity. Anontology is a kind of crypto-ontology, liberating the force of ontological thought from its self-imposed criterion of sufficiency to the Real.

I think that a proper hauntology could actually accommodate such a scenario. If we accept my above outline of ghosts as quasi-real entities, then it becomes possible to take this to its extreme and accept ‘dark matter.’

We must first understand that Being is itself susceptible to stunted growth, and as such, that there are gradations of Being. (I would argue, as mentioned above, that Being as such is actually only ever an aspiration, that Being as static presence is itself impossible.) If we assume that there are gradations between Being as impossible perfection (static presence) and Nothingness (as entirely absent presence) then what is to stop us from continuing down the slope of existence? Could there not be ontological voids or black holes? Could there not be entities that are entirely vaccuous to the extent that they deny Being to those entities around them, that is, that like black holes, actually exist not only as void in reality but destroy existence itself?

If ‘dark matter’ is that which is a nothing without context, that is, not a simply empty space in reality, I think the comparison to a black hole is fitting. My ontological black hole not only exists as void, but denies its very context and exists to annul its context in the universe. It is not a quasi-being, not a ghost, but a voided void, an absolute denial of existence.

To connect this further to my work: I’ve written previously about the Abyss (Ungrund) in Schelling (not here, but maybe I’ll post some of my essays in the future), saying that after the act of creation, that is, after the expansion of Being (exhaling, or, the actualization of the second potency) that the contraction of Being (inhalation, or, the actualization of the first potency) remains (albeit spectrally). That is, annihilation is a spectre haunting creation, the order of existents is haunted not only by the possibility of being destroyed, but with the ontological awareness that creation emerged ex nihilo. This is what Schelling refers to in the Weltalter as “the Past which was never Present” or, those memories which seem eerily real, but never really were.



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10 responses to “On Spectral Realism

  1. reidkane


    I really love what you’re doing with Schelling here, and for the most part I think our work is quite convergent. Anontology is largely a product of my own critical struggle with Derrida’s hauntology, and is in a sense only a slight modification thereof. I’ll post more on this in the future.

    The one rejoinder I would have is that anontology is not philosophical, it is not an ontology, but rather a (non-philosophical) theory for ontology. As such, it can’t make direct claims about Being, proto-Being, or the genesis of Being. It can only create the conditions in which such claims can proliferate and ‘communicate’ across incompossibility, by way of becoming equivocal materials for thought.

    I do really like your talk of ‘black holes’, which I think could link up to the Freudian navel and the Lacanian hole in the symbolic. The point here is that dark matter is a product or effect of foreclosure (as with the two aforementioned concepts), and as such is a point at which existentiality or ontological conceivability breaks down. (When I say product, it has to be taken with a grain of salt…more on that later).

    In any case, at least we can piss off a whole lot of physicists by stealing their terms!

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  3. Thanks for clarifying the relation between your anontology and ontology Reid, I appreciate it.

  4. Derrida speaks of “the trace” in terms of proto-linguistics, as that which is prior to language.

    I wonder if you could elaborate on this – I always read Derrida as suggesting that there’s really no “prior to language”…

  5. The early Derrida (Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference) speaks of the trace as the absence within writing that is always-already there (that which makes a text [self-]deconstructable).

    In its absence, it indicates both a past and a future that have never, and will never, be(en) made present. In this way, in this “never present past,” it appears as the absence from which language emerges. The trace is the void which haunts the text and is the ghost of that which was prior to language but never present (but only ever a ghost).

    This means that while nothing prior to language was ever present, the ghost of the ‘never present’ IS present (almost).

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  7. mo.

    I would agree with this.

    Derrida never defines explicitly the notion of trace (I guess Spivac does this more than Derrida himself).
    In my opinion Derrida sees trace as a paradoxical supplement always in consistency with his deliberate strategy to avoid a certain sort of metaphysics. I believe the same happens with language as well.
    Language for Derrida is the non-boundary/boundary of existence. It is something he sees as a closure that in fact does not produce absolute closure, but only closure towards openness.
    Indeed, if someone observes closely his texts, words like differance, arché-writing, pharmakon etc, carry an identical meaning but they are/can never be exhausted in terms of language while at the same time they do not necessarily belong to a certain type (closed) of language.

    As Derrida mentions, in Of Grammatology, the trace can be anticipated as an always-already contingent term: a mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present.

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