Monthly Archives: March 2009

Herakut / Graffiti

Beautiful works of art from Herakut. One of the things I haven’t written about on here is my love for graffiti. I think it has the power to be absolutely amazing art. My final project for my philosophy of space/architecture class in undergrad was a proposal for a vacant lot, and my proposal ended up being a graffiti park called “Open Space;” which was inspired largely by Baudrillard’s writings on the subject. Along with architecture more generally, I’d like to try to incorporate more art into this blog along with the usual philosophical writings.

Posts are going to be light for the next while, maybe a couple of weeks, as I finish up the semester. I have a lot of writing to do by the 22nd or so. I’m planning on writing an entry on Badiou in the next little while (one of the pieces I’m working on is on Badiou and politics), and as soon as the semester is done, I’ll probably have the next Bones of Ghosts piece written. Expect something on my thesis in the near future as well; my proposal should be approved soon and then I’ll feel comfortable talking about it in more detail.

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I just added the Twitter Widget to the sidebar so you can all see how dumb I am in real life (or at least in a less academic setting). Recoil from the Real, etc.

I mostly use Twitter to just be silly with friends, but do on occasion post interesting links and whatnot that don’t make it to the blog.

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Homme-Sick Animals

Watching this video this morning:

I’m so conflicted when it comes to Lacan. On a very deep level, I have an immediate aversion to his thought, I “recoil” from it if you will. It’s almost an unease, and almost disgust. And yet, on another level, I feel like there are important bits within his thought… bits of ore that can be fashioned into something better, and stronger.

Is there any hope for a true realism if Lacan is involved? Can such a strange idealist be saved?

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Darkly Dreaming Subjects (Outside Looking In)

Ben has a new post up, I’m assuming based on his reading of Grant’s book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling.

It’s the following paragraph that I want to focus on:

“The question becomes then, for Schelling, what is the new chain of events brought about by the freedom of man following from the sublation of nature, if ridden of Christian spirit? What becomes the metaphysical purchase of human extension whether symbolic, technological et cetera, if that extension is capable of warping the transcendent production of nature?”

We have to understand first of all what Schelling means first by Freedom, but also the relation of Spirit and Nature, and thus what Schelling means by Consciousness and Unconsciousness. We also need to know something about Schelling’s relation to Christianity.

Freedom is the ground (grund) of Schelling’s metaphysics, made explicit post-1809 with the publication of the Freiheitsschrift and seen in the Weltalter. In these works, Freedom appears as a drive, as the culmination in the drives for contraction and expansion. In the Freiheitsschrift, which is a theogony, Schelling explores the connections between good and evil, the Fall, and God’s emergence from the Abyss through (self-)revelation. Assuming a relationship of macrocosm and microcosm, we can see that this theogony is repeated in the human being through the birth of subjectivity as the emergence of consciousness in nature. What is important is that Schelling maintains the Kantian notion of Freedom as noumenal, that is, existing outside of space and time. Freedom in the Freiheitsschrift is the Freedom of self-creation prior to existence proper, that is, the decision (de-cision) of the self into a before (unconscious) and after (conscious). This self-creation is a throwness, launching the self into the world as either good or evil, a decision which can only ever be understood as unconscious (although more accurately, it is the decision which creates the division).

Prior to the development of the philosophy of freedom, Schelling’s was an ontology of Geist, or Spirit; the language was still of consciousness and unconscious. Schelling will say in 1803 (the new Introduction to his Ideas) that Nature is Unconscious Spirit: Nature images human freedom. The great struggle in Schelling’s early work is his attempt to understand Kant’s Critique of Judgment, specifically, the idea that Nature appears teleological, that it appears free. What Schelling will conclude in his Naturphilosophie is that Nature is a Subject (see his Introduction to Speculative Physics), but is entirely unconscious. While the human being is the product of Nature able to turn back on itself and inspect it’s freedom, the rest of Nature remains unaware. In the First Outline (and again in the Introduction to Speculative Physics), Schelling will use the Spinozist terminology of natura naturans and natura naturata, or, “nature as process” and “nature as product.” While we are able to “warp the transcendent production of nature,” we remain simply products who are aware of natural production. Nature continues producing all around us. It is not as if with the birth of consciousness in the human being, nature shrugs off all responsibility, giving it to the human being. We remain products caught in the flows of Schelling’s metaphysics. Schelling says that all products continue the production of nature in microcosm, that is, the human being is not alone in its freedom, it is simply the only product (that we know of) able to say “I am free.” Again though, this is a noumenal freedom, a freedom outside of all space and time, and therefore outside of the realm of products of nature, existing in the realm of production (I am able to shape myself, but only ever unknowingly).

What I find most curious about Ben’s post is the “if ridden of Christian spirit.” Perhaps he can explain it to me, but Schelling, and his philosophy, is deeply Christian. While it is only made explicit by 1802 (to my knowledge), Schelling was educated by the Pietists, his father having taught the theology of Oetinger and Bengel, both followers of Jakob Bohme, whom Schelling is also almost entirely indebted to. If you can find a copy, Robert Brown’s book The Later Philosophy of Schelling shows clearly the influence of Bohme on the post-1809 work, while I am working now on the influence on the early work (although Hegel and Hermeticism is excellent for understanding Schelling’s education and religious background). What must be understood though is that Schelling is most certainly a Christian, a Christian philosopher, and a follower of Bohme. In 1802, Schelling will even claim that a proper Naturphilosophie can only be Christian and Sergei Bulgakov, in his Philosophy of Economy, makes quite explicit the connection between the two.


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On The Status of the Human in a Vitalist Metaphysics

I’m posting this as a new blog entry rather than attaching it to my last post. I’m hoping to draw together the last couple of entries I’ve written, in an effort to explain, really explain, what the point is that I’ve been trying to make. I was contacted and asked fairly explicitly, what the point of such pop-culture references, and also why I would essentially tie my wagon to a dead horse like vitalism.

What I like about vitalism, my reading of vitalism, which I don’t think has been adequately stated in any single work, or maybe even any single thinker (Deleuze is probably the closest on this front), is the possibility of de-centering the human being in philosophy. Even Bergson goes in the direction of mysticism (although I am poorly read on Bergson, I’m basing this almost exclusively off of secondary sources; also, it should be said that I am generally pro-mysticism, and don’t see it as inherently anthro-centric, but from what I’ve read on Bergson, that is the direction he goes [PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG HERE!]). I think the age of the human subject is due for an overhaul, and the vitalism gives us an interesting, and I think accurate, view of the cosmos. My posts on Swamp Thing(s) and Batcats are attempts to show the metaphysical contingency of the human subject. The subject is not the center of the cosmos, only Nature is! (Nature of course being taken as the totality of metaphysical processes and products, of which we are but tiny instances.)

The example of Swamp Thing is especially helpful here: it shows the possibility of Nature making a humanoid (a vegeman) that in it’s mere delusion of being human, becomes more than human, actually becomes more powerful than the human being it dreams of being. The Swamp Thing as Nature embodied, in an attempt at mimicking the human, surpasses the human. Both the Batcat and the Swamp Thing (along with Lovecraftian Old Ones) show clearly that the human being, while imagining itself as lord and master of Nature, of the whole cosmos, is really insignificant, and easily snuffed out.

We need not even go into (science)fiction to see this, although the examples are more vivid. Parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses all trounce humans on a regular basis, while weather and geology can ruin our greatest cultural achievements. We depend wholly on Nature and yet often forget that we are its product, and not its master. The human subject, rationality as a whole, cannot conquer the drive of infinite Nature. You can’t reason with a parasite, and for this reason, Nature always wins. That is, human reason is finite, and easily extinguishable. We should never forget this, least of all in our speculative philosophy.


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A Triumphant Irruption of the Plant in Us

Check this out: Zarathustra vs. the Muck-Encrusted Mockery of a Man!

Courtesy of BldgBlog (although actually found on his twitter).

Swamp Thing

I had never made the connection between the Swamp Thing and Nietzsche before, but remembering back to my childhood (when I was a pretty big comic book fan, one of only a few in my small town), the connection seems obvious.

– Swamp Thing is an example of the Eternal Return (going by Alan Moore’s version). There have always been Swamp Things defending The Green, and it seems there always will be.

– Swamp Thing is More-Than-Man. In the initial version, he was a human who became part plant and gained superhuman powers, whereas in Moore’s retelling, he was a vegetable-entity who dreamed he was a human. I think the latter case is actually superior in this situation. The vegeman was without human flaws (obviously, he would have his own), was quite literally infinite (could regenerate, but also could reincarnate) as his identity is not “this human being,” but “this infinite underground network of plant-stuff.” Is the Swamp Thing rhizomal-man?

I’ll have to end this here, I have a seminar on Freud and Lacan that I have to prepare for. I may add to this later when I’ve thought more about it (I feel like I have a lot to say about this “plant in us”).

Title taken from Deleuze/Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.

Swamp Thing


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The Horror of the Unknown

One of the reasons I feel such a kinship with vitalism is the ability to account for the horror of the unknown; vitalism is by necessity an incomplete system, and as such, it is always able to account for new discoveries in both the organic and the inorganic realms. Examples of this can be seen through out science, but I think the real test is (science) fiction. Take for example the video for Mogwai’s song Batcat:

Such a horrifying organism can be easily accounted for under a vitalist system. Actually, to perhaps put it better, vitalism can never be surprised in the usual sense, because vitalism is a philosophy of surprise. The vitalist is never truly horrified because they are always anticipating novelty with an understanding that the new or novel is entirely unpredictable. The distinction lies here I think, between an anticipatory philosophy, and a predictable philosophy. An anticipatory system would be an open system, whereas a predictable system is closed. What this means is that the latter will take new evidence or data and format it for the system, whereas the former is always readjusting to the new.

As soon as you de-privilege the human being by accepting that Nature is active production, with no final cause (save the impossible, cf. my final section on Messianism in “Towards a Proper Introduction to Spectral Realism”), then the human being becomes just a product among products. The human is no longer the apex of the system, as there is no Final Product. As soon as this move is made, you allow for the non-human to surpass the human. You allow, with this small move, for Lovecraftian Old Ones, for Batcats, but also for inorganic structures the ability to destroy the de-privileged structure of the human subject. Such a system appears horrific to the subjectivist, but to the vitalist, it’s simply the structure of the cosmos, a parade of horribles.


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On my use of the term ‘hauntology’

Kevin has a post up in response to my latest post, where he says:

“I have some difficulty with the prevalence of the idea of “hautology” on the internet thesedays, as the word seems to operate as something of meme, without coherent conceptual content (no determinative defintion, with all kinds of phenomena being grouped under its heading). And perhaps the word “ghost” can be seen as symbiont to it. And I can’t see where the idea as it is loosely used is much improved from Benjamin’s concept of the Angel of History…”

The nod to Benjamin is appreciated, as Part II of my “Bones of Ghosts” posts is actually about Benjamin, his “Berlin Chronicle” specifically, which is another piece in the puzzle of how I came to Spectral Realism as I see it today. Benjamin is someone who I have not read systematically, but in bits and pieces, but have always enjoyed as he is a beautiful writer.

On my use of the term “hauntology” however, I have to say that I was actually surprised to see its prevalence in the tubes. I have taken the term directly from my reading of Derrida. That is, I see it much like Graham Harman’s reading of Heidegger; where he found a “lost road,” a potential path in Heidegger’s writing that had been overlooked and in some cases directly covered over, I am attempting to make a similar move with Derrida. When Derrida says that the situation of the “spectre” poses a problem to metaphysics of presence, I think he’s misreading the situation. The spectre is not the exception to the rule (it is not a “problem” to be solved), but is rather to be seen as the prime example of metaphysics: it is a (non)being, pure and simple. There is no “spectral dilemma” in the true sense of the term, where we must categorize it as either a being or a non-being, as it is both and neither. Just as Graham extends the example of tool-beings to all objects, reading the hammer analysis into the experience of all objects and the experience that those objects must have with each other, I read the Derridean problem of the spectre as a quasi-being (a holy spirit) into all beings.

In this way, I do not use the term “hauntology” simply in reference to a philosophy of history (as it is mostly known) or in terms of musical genre, but as I think Derrida intended it: Hauntology is true metaphysics in the face of the dichotomy enforced by Ontology proper. Hauntology, as I read it, takes the spectral situation seriously, and as I am attempting to further it, sees that the spectre as viewed by Derrida isn’t exclusive to denominated or delineated “spectres” but is rather the truth of all (non)beings, or what I call “ghosts.”

More on this soon, I hope.


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The Bones of Ghosts 1: Hauntology and Architecture

A month ago, an architecture blog that I read called Life Without Buildings was looking for a definition of Lo-Fi Architecture. I knew immediately that I had to talk about hauntological architecture. I first started expressing my current hauntological views in the context of a course on the philosophy of architecture during my undergrad. Actually, what I was interested in in the context of this course was an “architecture of impermanence,” specifically looking at Baudrillard’s writings on graffiti and comparing them to some McLuhan (I was interested in spaces defined by their participatory and malleable nature).

In this course, I had the chance to meet with two internationally renowned architects, Brian MacKay-Lyons and Talbot Sweetapple of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.

What does this have to do with hauntology? Well, Brian MacKay-Lyons runs an annual architectural experiment called Ghost Lab. Each summer, a group of architecture students get together on his expansive property in southern Nova Scotia and within a couple of weeks they design and build a Ghost structure (or more). The buildings are “ghosts” in that they are usually not permanent structures, but also “ghosts” because they are built on old sites often using materials from these ruins, some of which are upwards of 400 years old. I think the hauntological aspect becomes apparent now. We have structures as ephemera, “the bones of ghosts,” in that they are built simply and not intended to be solid structures but to change with their surroundings. Also, they are deeply connected with the ruins of their context.

The best example of this is probably “Simon and Wilson,” aka “Ghost 6:”

These towers were built on the same locations, occupying the same space as the first two settlers of the area, two brothers name Simon and Wilson.

We have impermanent structures, rooted deeply to the past, make essentially of the corpses of long lost entities, made with and in the spirit of these pasts. These are ghosts brought back. Architecture as necromancy. This shows exactly what I mean by the possibility of ghosts returning in a Spectral Realism, the idea that their bones could reassemble, perhaps not in the same way, but in the same spirit. In this way, a ghost can never achieve the perpetual peace of absolute non-existence, but is always only “almost dead.” No ghost is ever entirely here, nor are they ever entirely absent. The referent in “Ghost 6,” the ruins of past lives, and the context of life happening in southern Nova Scotia… this is all memory, this is all an assemblage of ghosts, from the fallen trees, to the brothers, to the builders, it is a complex network of spectral interactions, not all of which can ever be known. It isn’t necessary for a ghost to ever show itself, but when it does, it is always appears that the ghost was dormant, that in every event, a resurrection. A ghost is always possible.

Read an interview with Brian MacKay-Lyons about Ghost Lab.

“Close your eyes and imagine a foggy mid-summer’s night. Imagine the glowing, translucent ghosts of archetypal buildings on the ruins of an abandoned village at the edge of the world.”


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Towards a Proper Introduction to Spectral Realism

This is probably more for me than for anyone else reading it, but I have received some criticism (not in the antagonistic sense!) towards my emergent Spectral Realism. I think it is mostly a question of clarity, people obviously don’t have all the information on such a view, since I find myself scrambling internally to make sense of such a thing, thus, people simply don’t know what’s going on here. I’m going to write out some important facets of Spectral Realism, to try to get more information out there and to try to solidify what I’ve been saying. I’m sorry if this only complicates things, and I of course welcome any helpful criticism towards a more thorough understanding of this. This will not be a formal paper by any means, but more of a stream of conscious writing to try to elucidate my position.

That Which Is and That Which Has Been (Of One Or Many Drives):

I agree with Schelling that objects are ephemeral, that they never reach static presence, but strive for it. I take Zizek’s reading of Lacan’s death drive seriously here, and actually I take the Freudian death drive seriously here as well! Objects never reach absolute existence, which would be eternality and immutability, or absolute non-existence, which would simply be having never existed in the first place. That is, a thing that is or has been never reaches immortality or nullification, but has only, and will ever, only exist as ephemera. I call this ephemera “spectrality,” and so, ‘objects’ are replaced in my terminology with ‘ghosts.’ A ghost is a quasi-being, never entirely present, and never entirely absent (a faint shadowy semblance; an unsubstantial thing). By virtue of having existed, that thing can never have not-existed, and will never be an entirely non-existent object. There is no noumenal thing (in-itself) behind an apparition or phantom-thing which is eternal and unchanging, there is no form. Things are only ever ghosts. This also, while seeming as such, is not a Metaphysics of Presence, as there is no inherent value with that which is “more present,” if anything, this is a Metaphysics of Absence, since nothing can ever Exist for me as Absolute Presence. This is why I call it a hauntology as opposed to an ontology. This also allows for there to be beings with MORE existence, that is, which are more present than humans or base matter (I feel a need to allow for the possibility of Old Ones!).

Following Schelling, I insist that there are drives which make up the deepest level of reality. These drives are the two death drives, the (Freudian) drive for absolute negation (the will to have never been), and the (Lacano-Zizekian) drive for immortality (the will to have always been, and to always be). Perhaps ghosts should be thought of as curves on a graph that never reach the lines of Existence or Non-Existence (in the absolute sense of the words). (Would they reach both in Infinity?) There are perhaps degrees of existence, in that, there are gradations in terms of relations. My dead mother is more existent for me than she is for my neighbour. I want to insist here that this is not a human-centered philosophy, I think non-human objects (both organic and inorganic) exist in relation to each other, and exist as ghosts (that is, as ephemera). As such they too participate in the drives for existence and non-existence. A drive of course is not necessarily an anthropomorphic “willing,” but a “propensity-towards” or perhaps better defined as “a movement.” Things are always moving in one of these directions, but will never achieve either. These can (and should) be compared with Schelling’s insistence on the primary drives for expansion and contraction.

The Work of Mourning (The Many Sides of Haunting):

I call the relations between ghosts “hauntings” as defined as a “following” with the inability of avoidance (stalking). Since all things are moving towards either Existence or In-Existence, that which exists to a lesser degree and which is related “follows behind,” it haunts. Let us suppose there are two ghosts, A and B, one of which (A) has materiality, and the other (B) which does not. We must also assume for the sake of this example that these ghosts have at some point existed in relation to one another. I would then say that to define their present relationship, B haunts A, while A mourns B. Mourning does not require mind, or forethought. It is a hauntological position of relation between ghosts. It is not necessarily a grieving, and it certainly is not a choice. It is the inability on the part of A to escape the relation with B, while B in its striving for more existence (while also being pulled in the opposite direction) projects itself (again, unwillingly) towards all of its relations to various degrees. That is, in order to exist to a greater degree, it haunts that which exists to a greater degree.

In following the human-de-centered view of this system, I think one of the best examples of my hauntology is SOUND, specifically, I like the example of the Big Bang as Zizek uses it. As we all know, contemporary physics and cosmology tell us that the universe is expanding due to the force of the Big Bang. The edge of the universe is therefore always moving. But what is this “edge of the universe?” The edge of the universe is to be thought of as infinite noise, this noise being the repetition of the “bang;” “they [the noises] are the remainders or last echoes of the Big Bang that created the universe itself” (Slavoj Zizek, “The Lamella of David Lynch” in Reading Seminar XI, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink, Maire Jaanus (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), 207). This repetition, projecting oneself continually as a striving for more existence is itself “haunting.”
(Perhaps a ghost which haunts should be thought of as a poltergeist, a being without materiality but which has causal implications on the universe.)

Hot and Cold Vitalism (Affirmation and Negation of Ghosts):

I’m not sure if it’s entirely evident why I consider such a position a Vitalism, but I do. It’s because I put the processes of coming to be and passing away (fading in and fading out) at the center. It is not a mechanistic (causal) relationship, but an organic process, quite like Neo-Platonic emanationism. Instead of thinking of a creative drive as in Bergson or Deleuze, we can think of this as the antagonism of two drives, the drive for creativity on the one hand, and the drive for destruction on the other.

I think this antagonism may problematize the dualism of Hot (Warm?) and Cold Vitalisms, since a Spectral Realism is both and neither. While there is perhaps no obvious Deleuzo-Nietzschean ethic of evolutionary domination, it is also not an entirely heartless system, as there is perhaps an ethic to be found in the relations of individual ghosts. This is something I have yet to really think about (the Ethics of Spectral Realism), although I have certain inklings I’m not ready to divulge just yet. What I do know is that I’m not comfortable with there only being two Vitalist options, because I can’t give myself over to either. I simply can’t agree with the idea that what is more existent is better, because as an infinite process it would be a system of endless domination which does not work under a model whereby hauntings have causal power (a world where an empire can crumble because of a memory). On the other hand, it is not an entirely cold system either where there simply are machinic assemblages which come to be through force with no ethic to be had at all. I’ll be thinking more about this as I flesh out the hauntological details more and more (as they are the meat of the position, it has always been a metaphysical position first in my mind).

A Future Never to Be (Why Time Is Forever Out of Joint):

The chief problem for such a system is not, as has been said, the problem of heat death, or a universe entirely evacuated of existence, as it holds that by virtue of having existed, a thing in some sense will always exist to some degree from the position of cosmic time. No, the chief problem is time itself. There is a certain Messianism at the heart of this view as a continual projecting-forward and a certain hopfullness to go along with this projecting. On the other hand, there is also an inherent nostalgia both for that which has been and that which could have been (and that which could perhaps never have been). This is one of my many debts to Derrida’s hauntology. Time is out of joint for Spectral Realism, as there is no linearity (in the absolute sense) but a continual turning back on itself, with the possibility of the past re-emerging in the future. Perhaps Spectral Realism is first and foremost a Messianism, as it states that that which was could always come back, while also stating that there is always a future to come that we cannot imagine (the impossible). Of course, this Messianism is not necessarily for absolute presence, but the longing for both absolute immortality and also the egoistic drive for complete annihilation (Apocalypticism). There is then a circular eschatology, continually driving toward both impossibilities, while achieving neither.


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