The talk has moved in some circles to the concept of “dark vitalism,” a term which I am still unsure of. Ben has been using this term for his own emerging system (pun pun pun) of thought, along with “dark phenomenology” and I think “dark naturphilosophie” as well if I’m not mistaken. What I am unclear of is what “dark” actually adds. My understanding is that, similar to “cold vitalism,” the darker cousin is supposedly less cheerful than Deleuzian vitalism. It has been said that this vitalism is both “nihilistic” and “mechanistic/deterministic.” I have outlined what I take to be the minimum requirements for a philosophy to be vitalist elsewhere (anti-dualistic, anti-mechanistic, anti-humanistic), and I will repeat my worry of bringing any form of determinism/mechanism into what I see as essentially a philosophy of freedom. Again, I will simply ask what the modifier, “dark,” adds to a vitalist system, how this differs from what I have outlined as “bare vitalism” if you will, based on Lash’s definition.
Besides this simple definitional issue, I also wanted to touch on Kevin’s recent post on the subject of dark vitalism. While I enjoyed much of it, especially the extended commentary and explanation of slime molds. I found the following paragraph worth bringing up:
Now it must be stated that an ontology of Death Drive, at least from a Freudian foundation, is one that already assumes a non-vital basis for Substance (or totality), for if Substance itself is living, a return to it would not be a death. […] A strict dichotomy between Life (Pleasure/Joy), and Death (nil, an inorganic realm), while not conceivable for Spinoza, for Freud seems determined by the very centricity of vision, an absolute focus upon the biological organism itself as a complete boundary (from which life is attempting escape, or at least unweave itself).
I have said before that mine is a metaphysics of death drive and I feel I need to explain this further, using the above-quoted passage as a reference. First, it must be said that one of the points of my use of hauntology (indeed, my entire use of Derrida) is to do away with dichotomies such as “Life/Death” or “Being/Non-Being.” The image of the spectre provides us with the ground to rethink such things as the metaphysics of presence, and to apply this example to the whole of reality, as nothing is ever entirely present or entirely absent. In the same way, I don’t want to say that a vitalism is limited to saying “substance is alive” or even “Being is Life,” which is why I always say that “the proper name of Being is Becoming, or Life.” What Life gives us is a state between Being and Non-Being, as all living things are slowly dying, that is, they are always approaching both Being and Non-Being in their actions yet achieving neither, but maintaining a precarious balance between the two.
Why do I being this up? Because I think that we need to understand “Life” and “Becoming” not as states of being per se, but really understand them for what they are, the in-between. I mentioned recently on Kevin’s blog that I had been thinking of this is terms of Augustine. In the Confessions, Augustine defines life in terms of “unrest,” as the perpetual dis-satisfaction of our desires, which can of course never be desired. What I have said is that beings, that is, existents, have a basic relationship to reality of alienation; things want to either encompass all (Cf. Drive to Expansion) or, failing to do so, annihilate themselves from reality (Cf. Drive to Contraction).
What Kevin says above is that an ontology of Death Drive cannot be a vitalism, because it assumes a non-vital origin in the in-organic, but a vitalism does not allow such a dichotomy as organic/inorganic anymore than it allows one of life/death (all is organic in various degrees / all is alive in degrees). What I think would help clarify this is what I am tentatively calling “an ontology of unrest.”
Augustine defines life in terms of unrest, but what does this mean? It means essentially the same as Freud’s Life and Death Instincts, that we are caught in the drives between infinities, neither of which can ever be achieved. For Augustine, our desires can only be satisfied in the Infinity of God, while for Freud, as for Lacan and spectral realism, this infinite satisfaction of drives is impossible. For me it is impossible because of Time, and the important role it plays in my system (along with memory). An ontology of unrest is one that is both alive and dead all at once, as to die does not mean either to not exist (which, following hauntology, is not properly possible), or to be inorganic in the normal sense of the term (as nothing is ever really “dead” in this sense as it is always in motion). An ontology of unrest is an ontology of motility, which claims that things are always moving, that underlying the appearances of things as they seem, there is a deeper existence which defies notions of presence/absence and life/death. What once lived still lives to some degree, and what once existed goes on existing to some degree. The death drive then, at least as I read it, is the impossible drive to self-annihilation in the face of history, the longing to have never existed because it is impossible to be the only existent, which is the only condition for the complete satisfaction of desire. Faced with these impossibilities, all existents are tossed between these ends on the spectrum of becoming or life.