The Eerie After Derrida (Part 1): The Imperceptibility of the Energetic Unconscious

Part of the difficulty of thinking through Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie is that it doesn’t feel like it’s all there. Thinking through his conceptualisations with his own words feels like a task doomed to failure. The deeper you dig, the more it falls apart.

As ever, there’s work to be done. The Weird and the Eerie calls as much for a reconstruction as Acid Communism does, with his books always being — as Robin said to me the other day — “ejecta from the blog process!” (I’ve had a few goes at this here already, focusing on various different details but always pivoting about the hard-to-pin-down descriptions of the weird and the eeries as “modes of perception”.)

In line with this suggestion, I’ve heard a number of people say that the manuscript for The Weird and the Eerie was rushed, but that’s not to say it doesn’t still contain a great deal of value, with Mark attempting to distil those questions that had plagued his thought for almost two decades, if not longer.

The book is perhaps best thought of as the latest instantiation of this thread that runs throughout all of his work — but that’s not to say that this final book was the best articulation of this thread that he had in him.

That can be a difficult thing to admit.

Today I want to think more about the “eerie”, its relationship to notions of presence and absence, and the baggage that Mark inevitably brings with him in framing the concept via these concepts — baggage of a Derridean nature.

As a number of blogged conversations from around 2010 make clear, many people writing in the blogosphere during its heydey had confessed to having complex relationships with Derrida and his thought, particularly around the time that Object-Oriented Ontology was in vogue. Graham Harman, for instance, writes in a post from 2011, which seems to instigate a debate about Derrida that would echo around the blogosphere:

I’m afraid that, now more than ever, I think it’s simply madness to call Derrida a realist. His entire argument makes sense only by identifying realism with onto-theology and hence with parousia/presence. He reads the concept of substance as the foot soldier of onto-theology.

Mark was no doubt aware of this, critiquing his own sense of “realism” in Capitalist Realism, and it seems that he is consciously seeking a way to disrupt the onto-theology of capital that has spread in realism’s name.

Futher clarifying himself in a follow-up post, Harman continues:

Onto-theology is something completely different from metaphysical realism. Onto-theology is the view that some particular being, or some particular state of things, is a better metaphysical embodiment than others of the withdrawn reality of being — so that German, for example, is treated as a language somehow closer to Sein than is Spanish. And that’s obviously a shining example of bad politics. But it’s onto-theology’s fault, not realism’s fault.

Whilst many of his concepts have nonetheless been invaluable to these bloggers — Levi Bryant wonderfully discusses his muddy relationship with Derrida in this post and, as for Mark, most obviously, we can consider “hauntology” first and foremost along with various other forms of slippery textual metaphysics, such as his “metaphysics of crackle” — many were nonetheless highly critical of the Derridean dogmatism of the academy that Harman highlights as spreading Derrida’s own form of onto-theology despite himself. Derrida, until very recently it seems, as he seems to have largely fallen out of favour, had come to dominate discourses within the academy to such an extent that the affects at the heart of many a (not exclusively) Derridean concept had been made anaemic in his name.

Mark would address this himself in a blogpost titled “Deconstruction at Pathology” in which he addresses the two main critiques of Derrida regarding his “textualism” and his “cult”. Of the former, Mark writes:

When people are refuting the claim that Derrida “reduces the world to text”, I think they are confusing two things. What is being attributed to Derrida by his opponents is not an ontological claim (the world is nothing but text) but a methodological tendency (he always treated everything he wrote about as if it were a text). … Much of what is interesting about Derrida comes from his interstitial position between literary theory and philosophy, the way that he drew philosophical implications from supposedly “literary” features of texts. I’m not saying that a philosophy couldn’t be construed from elements of Derrida’s work. But turning it into A Philosophy is already “to do violence” to it. Naturally, I welcome such “violence”. Nothing could be less Derridean than thinking that you can ignore the form in which something is written, and just render it as a series of determinate propositions.

And of the latter:

I really believe that deconstruction is a kind of intellectual pathology, and not in any interesting way. Deconstruction is sceptical not epistemologically, but in the sense that Nietzsche outlines […]: it abjures any “yes” or “no”, and makes a virtue of vacillation and equivocation. Deconstructive etiquette (which, like most bourgeois protocols, always remains implicit — a gentleman just knows how to behave) finds any strong claims distasteful. What irks about is the solemn performance of “thoughtfulness” — where “thoughtfulness” is equated with being a good reader, and being a good reader means accumulating references and ostentatiously avoiding making any determinate claims. It is a kind of negative theology of scholarship, at the same time intensely religiose and onanistically indulgent. (I do think that these pathologies find their natural home in the grey vampure zone of the academy; conversely, Derrida’s work has often been a great potentiator outside the university and its footnote-pressure: think of his role in UK music journalism). In a fabulously catty passage, Jameson argued that deconstruction is characterised “by the avoidance of the affirmative sentence as such, of the philosophical proposition. Deconstruction thus neither ‘affirmeth nor denieth’; it does not emit propositions in that sense at all (save…in the unavoidable moments of lowered guard and the relaxation of tension, in which a few affirmations slip through or the openly affirmative sentence startles the unprepared reader). ”

This is all well and good, but where I find myself stuttering in wanting to embrace Mark’s critiques is that much of what he is criticising in deconstruction has likewise been laid at the feet of accelerationism — u/acc particularly in recent months. The accusation is that it is a philosophy that makes no claims for itself, lingering in vacillation, but I don’t see it this way at all.

The claims are often very much affirmative and clear: there are forces at work which we cannot attend to — but these forces are nonetheless considered (admittedly more rigorously by others than myself) via readings of the histories of philosophy, technology, geopolitics and economics.

As such, U/Acc has never been a claim towards a belief in an occulted supernaturalism — although this aesthetic form is far more powerful, libidinally, than many of the texts under studious consideration. It is rather that there are limits on knowledge and action and an affirmation of those limits may allow for more rigorously speculative philosophies beyond them — Weird Realism over Onto-Theologism.

As Mark wrote on his K-Punk blog, following the Weird Realism symposium of 2007, exploring the use of realism within the irreal works of H.P. Lovecraft:

Here we can see the necessary relationship between realism and the Weird. In a characterstic piece of overstatement, Houellebecq argues that ‘[t]he rejection of all forms of realism is a preliminary condition for entering his universe.’ (57) Lovecraft himself often wrote disdainfully of realism. But if Lovecraft had entirely rejected realism, he would never have emerged from the Fantasy realms of Dunsany and De La Mare. It would be closer to the mark to say that Lovecraft contained or localised realism. In a letter of 1927, he makes this explicit: “Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown — the shadow-haunted Outside — we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.”

And, later, in a follow-up post, cementing these concerns within the now also maligned sphere of Speculative Realism:

There is a sense in which even Kant would himself have granted the theoretical ‘precedence of the inhuman’ over the transcendental. (Moreover, as the structural preconditions for all human experience and cognition, the transcendental is itself inhuman.) His claim, let’s remember, is not that there is nothing beyond the transcendental, only that it is not possible for human beings to experience or cognize this Beyond. Rather than being the prosecutor of a ‘deflationary realism’ which reduces the universe to a human construction, Kant can appear as the defender of the ultimate alienness of an Outside which necessarily resists any human attempt to grasp it.

The dispute between Speculative Realism and Kantianism turns on both the question of the reality (non-ideality) of space-time and on the possibility of a knowledge radically alien to phenonomenal experience.

This is the torch that U/Acc continues to carry forwards — albeit attempting to retain far more of its libidinal Lovecraftianism than make him some sort of model for an academic philosophy — presenting rigorous explorations of “realities” but also knowing when it is best to leave these explorations at the door…

“The door was always a threshold, leading beyond the pleasure principle and into the weird.”

As Amy wrote recently, as many nevertheless continue to mistake accelerationism for a fully-blown Romanticism, in the most pointed of subtweets:

A new resurgence of the superficial pop reading of acc — the attribution of a feverish socioeconomic bloodlust: “make everything worse so it can get better quicker!” — is forever infuriating.

Who the fuck has ever said that? 

It seems to be that there is an epidemic of internalised takes that have come from nowhere. The pop reading of acc is an interpretation that is seemingly devoid of origin, betraying a distinct lack of engagement and understanding of the core arguments as they actually appear.

(I know that, along with Mark’s criticisms of Derrideans, I have also been known to dismiss some of my more asinine critics with the suggestion that they are bad readers, or that they fundamentally can’t read, misunderstanding in unbelievable ways the messages that are being articulated. In my own personal experience of occasionally being mean to critics and not wanting to suffer fools, people try to make me fight them on terrain I don’t proclaim to stand on. Under such circumstances, I’d rather squarely punch someone in the Twitter jaw with a belligerent and arsey tweet than palm off straw man after straw man. And so this then comes off as cultish and bloodyminded in the face of apparently “reasonable” critiques…)

The point is this: what Derrida has been routinely been accused of — a tendency to water down imperceptible forces rather than fully account for them — is a tendency that is all the more diffuse these days. You will likely find this at work within the academy without hearing mention of Derrida’s name once, but any reading of discourses in recent decades suggests quite clearly that he is the useful idiot responsible for much of what has been lost.

I began thinking about all this earlier in the week whilst working my way back through Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation for the first time in about two years.

I used to carry the book around with me everywhere when I first got down to London, along with all three volumes of the Summa Atheologica, in my then-rampant Bataille fever, but this was before the great Fascism Scare of 2017. I did this without a care and without questioning — little did I know about the controversies of modern Land at that point. I knew Bataille vaguely from my undergrad days and here was a book about him that dripped with the energy I found so enticing in the works of Nietzsche and Bataille himself. Nowadays, I must admit, I worry about getting it out on the bus.

(In 2017, I remember hearing stories from friends about getting publicly challenged over their wearing Hyberdub club bags, all because they say “Outside In” on them, which is just one example of the kind of ideas that are dragged down into the well of hysteria — Nick might have used the phrase for his Xenosystems blog but I know Mark used it himself on a number of occasions. Anyway, Nick’s current reputation aside,…)

I’ll forever defend The Thirst for Annihilation as a masterpiece regardless, and as an invaluable primer on those occulted currents that are so often missed or mischaracterised by academicised discourses and, in particular, it seems, by the Derrideans of the 2010s…

The first chapter of The Thirst for Annihilation, titled “‘The Death of Sound Philosophy'”, charts the ways that that which is beyond but nonetheless helps to constitute experience — the Kantian noumena, the Bataillean sacred, et al. — has been made “anaemic” by successive apperceptive neutralisations enacted by the canonising conveyor belt of academia. In orbit of a variety of dismissals of the ways that the state and its universities absorb and neutralise that which is written intentionally outside of their bounds, Land writes of the nihilisms of Nietzsche that would go on to inspire Bataille so fiercely:

It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide Nietzsche with a philosophical tap-root, but rather Schopenhauer. With Schopen­hauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive.

This is likewise what we can see in Fisher’s diagnoses. His discussions of the eerie as a failure of presence and a failure of absence are notably not phenomenological in this way, in the context of his wider writings, but it is perhaps the methodological slippage that makes The Weird and the Eerie so hard to pin down.

Land continues later, setting the scene for what Fisher would later draw on in his “Gothic Materialism”:

For Nietzsche, life is thought of as a means in the service of an unconscious trans-individual creative energy. Mankind as a whole is nothing but a resource for creation, a dissolving slag to be expended in the generation of something more beautiful than itself. The end of humanity does not lie within itself, but in a planetary artistic experiment about which nothing can be decided in advance, and which can only be provisionally labelled ‘overman’. For overman is not a superior model of man, but that which is beyond man; the creative surpassing of humanity. Nietzsche read Christianity as the nadir of humanistic slave­ morality, the most abject and impoverishing attempt to protect the existent human type from the ruthless impulses of an unconscious artistic process that passed through and beyond them. The mixture of continuity and discontinuity connecting Nietzsche’s atheism with Schopenhauer’s is encapsulated in Nietzsche’s maxim, ‘man is something to be overcome.’

From here, having relaid the foundations of the energetic unconsciuous, his fanged noumena, Land begins to explore the ways that this sense of an “outside” has been discussed by those who are, in their own ways, enemies of the very critiques being espoused — Hegel, Derrida, et al. Those academics who have taken up the writings of Kant and Nietzsche and made them function in harmony with the work of the university and, by extension, the state. Land could not be clearer in articulating what has been lost here when he writes:

There is an immense gulf between Nietzsche’s aggressive genealogies that wreck unity on zero, and Derrida’s deconstructed phenomenology that interminably probes the border between presence and absence.

It is here that Fisher’s eerie reveals itself, perhaps, in the immediate context of The Weird and the Eerie: undeveloped but nonetheless falling, for better and for worse, between the gaps between the academy and its outside.

As such, you’d be forgiven for interpreting the eerie, in this context, as being functionally deconstructive, in line with Derrida, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Mark took the fight, perhaps ineffectively, to the door of Derrida’s own terminology. His use of Derrida’s term “hauntology” — put to use in such a way as to re-inject the problematic of origin into a term that Derrida has constructed to remove it — is frequently misunderstood as a result of this proximity.

We might consider the eerie to be Fisher’s contemporary attempt to rupture Derrida’s terminologies. Whilst Mark uses his own word for his conceptualisation, he nonetheless allows it to remain anchored in Derrida’s broader lexicon of presence and absence, spectres and traces. In fact, we might even consider the eerie to be an even more cryptic conceptualisation of the Derridean “trace” — that “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent presence” — complexified anew.

As such, it seems to me that the eerie is, rather, a diagonal cut through Derridean deconstruction, utilising his intellectual work whilst attempting to let this energetic unconscious, this outside, back in.

But, if this is so, then how does it function? Is this, too, imperceptible? How does Fisher utilise the eerie to dash the subject against and away from itself, to “wreck its unity on zero” or on capital or any other viciously noumenal entity? What does this achieve for thought?

I think what is worth clarifying here are the ways that, despite his apparent continued relevance, Derrida consistently misses out that which is most important to many a proto-accelerationist argument. His texts do continue to work with much of that which is discussed in the various spheres of acc and SR, but only in the sense that they are blanket terms which generised the actual noumenal shape of the forces at play in our various analyses. They’re the cliched bedsheet over the abject horror of the imperceptible.

So, with all this in mind, to what end is Fisher invoking questions of presence and absence in The Weird and the Eerie and how might we better account for them?

Continued in part 2…


6 thoughts on “The Eerie After Derrida (Part 1): The Imperceptibility of the Energetic Unconscious

  1. I wonder if the problem with Derrida is in taking him seriously. More than most he’s a product of his time. Hauntology and the trace are already contained in Benjamin and Spectres is an oblique apologia for his mistaken and, arguably, craven withdrawal from commitment.


  2. I share this ambivalent relationship to Derrida that you comment on here. The title of my PhD ‘The Metaphysics of the Deconstructive text’ conveys that pretty directly, I guess. Yet, as brilliant as Land’s book is, there’s something a facile about his dismissal of Derrida for buying into his favoured ontology, which is never far from a kind of snuff vitalism.


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