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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3 responses to “Towards a Proper Introduction to Spectral Realism

  1. Pingback: Abject Strangeness: to seek strange truths in undiscovered lands… | dark ecologies

  2. Pingback: Schellingian Thoughts; or Nightspore’s travails | noir realism

  3. This is very interesting, in Chapter 5 (titled ‘Spectral Matters) of my book ‘Nuclear Futurism’ I begin to sketch out a similar idea, which I call spectral materialism. Although this is mainly through reading ‘Specters of Marx’ as part of Derrida’s wider critique of phenomenology. I don’t go so far as to being fleshing out (so to speak) the ontology of the ghost as you do here other than point back to some fundamental Kantian issues at work here. I am not sure how you can reject the noumena, which is not just any actual reality but more like a necessary idea of reality itself, while maintaining some sort of realism?

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