Tag Archives: Bohme

On Drive

Kevin has asked me to clarify the nature of drive in spectral realism, namely, how I can have two drives that are really one.

In Bohme and Schelling, there are two drives which I have adopted, expansion and contraction (though the early Schelling will claim there are potentially infinite drives, these are the only two which are discussed and taken up in the later works). What I have added to these two drives is the impossible telos, with the goal of expansion being Being qua Being (as infinite presence or occupation), and that of contraction being absolute Non-Existence. No thing exists infinitely, that is, eternally across all time and infinitely across all space. Conversely, no thing has absolute non-existence, for if it did it would never exist or ever have the possibility of existing and we would be unable to even speak of it. Both Being and Nothing exist as absolute non-possibilities.

What then of the drives? All things that do exist are the result of the tension between these two drives (the early Schelling makes the same argument, which I have discussed here and will further qualify in an upcoming post tentatively titled The Tension of Temporary Existence). Essentially, drive is the process of Nature, which is always moving towards the impossible ends, Being and Nothing (impossible because the existence of finitude precludes their possibility; because of the accident known as Becoming, these ends cannot be achieved, but are always infinitely distant). This leads me to posit the spectrality of objects and conclude that hauntology is first philosophy (ontology being impossible as it’s object of study being impossible, likewise with me-ontology). All things (ghosts) are eternally moved towards these impossible ends which has lead me to the bizarre conclusion that nothing is ever gone in the sense that anything that ever has been or could be exists within the same reality as those things which seem to have the most existence, that is, temporary presence. If all presence is temporary, then we must conclude that it is possible for all absence to be equally as temporary, in other words, anything can come to be, any ‘thing’ is possible.

There is however a qualitative difference however between presence and absence as we know them. Those things which once had more presence do not affect us as they once did, hence my turn to “mourning,” which we can understand as the closest we have to phenomenology within hauntology. It must be understood that mourning is used in a specific sense, as I have discussed previously.

What must be understood for this explication of drive is that things are continuously moved towards these impossible extremes. Does this mean that there is a fundamental dualism however? No; the drives to expansion and contraction, while seeming to have entirely different goals, achieve the same end: collapse. When a thing expands or contracts too much, that is, is taken from it’s precarious position of existence as we know it, it essentially disintegrates in the sense that is it no longer linked to other ghosts in the same way. This is the end that all things achieve at some point, their own elimination from this network we are a part of, the network of haunting and mourning. This is why both drives are ultimate death drives, as they both achieve death, in one form or another, in their drive to infinity.


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What kind of realism is this anyway?

From Graham:

“For me it is individual objects that are real. And what’s becoming more important to me is this question: for all those positions that call objects a useless fiction, what are they granting reality in its place?

On the one hand there is what I called, in Bristol, the “undermining” approach to objects. In other words, objects are superficial encrustations or actualizations. What is real is either a boundless apeiron, or a churning matter laced with cryptic forms, or a primordial flux, or a topological pre-individual realm.

On the other hand there is what we could call, by analogy, the “overmining” positions. For such positions, the object is not a superficial encrustation, but a pseudo-deep and spooky fiction that explains nothing, since reality is much more evident. Reality is how it manifests itself to us. Or it is a thing’s relational involvements with other things. Or it is just a bundle of qualities. And so forth.”

It would seem on first glance that a spectral realism is part of Graham’s first group, the “undermining” of objects folks. I think this is wrong though, as is the alternative. As Graham has presented these position is flawed in a particular way that I think excludes both my own position, and my reading of Schelling (Bohme would fall into this category as well), that is, what I call the Hermetic position.

As Graham puts it, on one extreme objects don’t matter because they’re really just their set of relations or maybe reality is just “how it is given to us.” The other extreme is where I think he would put me, the end which claims that objects don’t matter because what has primacy is either the whole of the cosmos before we chisel it up with perceptions and ideas, or the idea that reality is just a primal flux with objects forming as clots. In the middle of these two extremes stands OOP, the only group that says objects are themselves that which makes up reality (it’s objects all the way down), but also the whole of reality would itself be an object. In other words, for Graham and OOP in general, reality is simply an infinity of objects.

So what’s the problem for spectral realism then? I’ve said before that reality for me is simply drive, or to be even more specific, the twin drives of expansion and contraction (what Freud called the life instinct and death instinct, respectively, and which Lacan clarified in his maxim that all drives are death drives, which of course all comes from the middle period Schelling [the Freiheitsschrift and Weltalter, although part of my thesis is trying to show that it’s already there in the early work] and which originates in Jakob Bohme). Reality as drive means that all objects are temporary stabilities on the road to collapse. The problem arises however when this is taken to mean that objects are somehow not real, or “less real” than drive. For me, and I would argue this whole lineage I’ve linked myself up with, there is no “more real” or “less real,” because the Hermetic tradition has a very simple maxim: As above, so below; this is the microcosm/macrocosm relation of all reality. When Schelling writes a psychology of God (which Bohme did as well), he’s not “anthropomorphizing” as Zizek claims, but making a valid Hermetic move: all things in reality are basically the same, but not in the Neoplatonic sense of “All is One,” but in a very weird way, that if one object in reality is really understood, this knowledge is applicable to all of reality. By understanding the human mind then, we not only understand ourselves, but all of reality. This was the secret of Hermetic science, the goal of which was divine knowledge (as in, knowledge of the divine) and the method was natural philosophy, learning of the cosmos (which is why the Hermetics were so keen on things like alchemy and astronomy). When Bohme came along, he took this principle and began to understand psychology as it had never been understood before, the heritage of this work being not only Schelling, but all of psychoanalysis.

What this means for Graham’s distinction is that spectral realism also occupies a middle position, one that claims all reality is drive, but all objects are manifestations of drive, that at bottom what an object is, is drive. But all of the parts of this object are also drive, and so is the whole of reality, and so is God. It is not then that there is a churning pool of drive and then it freezes up in some parts and these are objects, rather, the relationship is one of microcosm and macrocosm: there is only drive, only becoming (in the sense of no static being and no absolute nothingness). Objects have reality, no more or less than anything else, but this reality is their drive.

Then, from Levi:

“Braver then goes on to distinguish between trivial dependent entities like beliefs and real independent entities. Attitudes towards this distinction actually define something of a fault line among Speculative Realists. Speculative Realists like Ray Brassier, Nick Srinicek, and perhaps Quentin Meillassoux (I can’t speak to Iain Hamilton Grant’s Position here) would wholeheartedly endorse Braver’s description. To be real, for these realists, is to be independent of humans. Object-Oriented realists such as myself, Graham Harman, and Bruno Latour adopt a more egalitarian ontological position. Our view is not that the puff of matter on the other side of the universe is somehow more real than the United States (an entity dependent on humans). Rather, the Object-Oriented Philosophies are united around the thesis of a flat ontology in which there is no hierarchy of being or modernist distinction between culture and nature. There is just being. Being is pluralistic and differential, coming in many kinds and flavors, but it is no less real for all that.”

I think it follows that by Levi’s distinction as well, spectral realism occupies a similar position to OOP. Nothing is more or less real than anything else, whether it is a property of civilization or nature, because all is nature; there is nothing artificial about reality. I would add though, again, that Being (qua Being) is always only an impossibility for spectral realism, that it is this perfect Being that the first drive is always striving for, while the second drive strives for the Nothing (though metaphysically, the drive for contraction, the latter of these two drives is first; there is always contraction before expansion).


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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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