Following on from yesterday’s post…
It seems the jury is still out on Nick Land’s latest essay for Jacobite. Is it further evidence of his return to serious philosophy? If it is, recent Twitter activity has nonetheless ensured his contemporary reputation sticks firmly in place.
However you want to think about Nick’s conduct online — I’m in the camp of “a succession of (nonetheless grotesque) masks” — there’s no denying the impact on the rest of his genuinely interesting work which doesn’t go in for trying to upset as many people as possible.
I say this only because I’ve been interested to read more responses to this latest essay which seem to read Land’s Twitter personas into his conclusions even when they’re not there. Personally, I found “@Outsideness” totally absent from this latest “Nick Land” essay, and enjoyed it all the more for it. (More @UF_blog with @deadliner subtext.)
Nevertheless, I was reading @lainofthewired’s write-up on it this morning and had some further thoughts about it. Lain writes:
Land talks about the homogeneity that entropy brings to a system, he talks about the smothering of it, and from there builds an argument for what it actually is [–] isolationism, in defense of diversity. It is duly just a defense, by magical words and a misunderstanding of thermodynamics (it is all a metaphor, until it doesn’t work as metaphor), of some sorts of nationalism, apparently without racism, or not your usual kind of racism.
Lain’s critique of Land’s grasp of thermodynamics aside — I don’t really see how “the universe is too broad and unbounded a system for me to care about so I’m going to reintroduce the parochialism Land was originally critiquing back into his metaphor” works as an argument — this reading of its apparent isolationism seems like a complete misreading of what the essay is drawing on. It is precisely the isolationism of “reason” that Land is attacking here.
I think a better understanding of Land’s critique of entropy can be found through a consideration of his prior geophilosophy.
We can begin, as so many do, with a cliff face — the strata of civilisation rising high into the air, everything compressed into a rigid and monolithic geological system.
Then we have entropy.
Entropy as a force and a process can take many metaphoric forms but for now let’s call it the sea. It encroaches on the land, disintegrating it — the land that Kant calls “the terrain of pure understanding”.
Land would quote Kant on the sea and this terrain in The Thirst for Annihilation. Kant writes that:
This domain [of reason] is an island, enclosed by nature itself within unadulterable limits. It is the land of truth — enchanting name! — surrounded by a wide and stormy ocean, the native home of illusion, where many a fog bank and many a swiftly melting iceberg give the deceptive appearance of farther shores, deluding the adventurous seafarer ever anew with empty hopes, and engaging him in enterprises which he can never abandon and yet is unable to carry to completion.
Land infamously responds to Kant’s isolationism as follow:
Is not transcendental philosophy a fear of the sea? Something like a dike or a sea-wall?
A longing for the open ocean gnaws at us, as the land is gnawed by the sea. A dark fluidity at the roots of our nature rebels against the security of terra firma, provoking a wave of anxiety in which we are submerged, until we feel ourselves drowning, with representation draining away. Nihil ulterius. […]
Reason in its legitimate function is a defence against the sea, which is also an inhibition of the terrestrial; retarding our tendency to waste painstakingly accumulated resources in futile expeditions, a ‘barrier opposed to the expenditure of forces’ as Bataille describes it. It is a fortified boundary, sealing out everything uncertain, irresolvable, dissolvant, a sea-wall against the unknown, against death.
The sea, for Land, and countless others, is most representative of the death drive. It is what Sandor Ferenczi called that “thalassic regressive undertow”. It is from whence we came and where we will eventually return.
It is here we see exactly why Land is rejecting the “closed system” of reason that Lain is calling for. Even the closed system itself, from Land’s cosmic perspective, is (or will one day be) redshifted into unreason. Lain’s reasonable restrictions are just such a sea-wall, and it is precisely the false reason of this sort of attempt to stay in the middle ground that demands a critique of the leftist paradox of a differential universalism.
To return to our geological metaphor, the conditional welcoming of the entropic sea leads to the breakdown of the monolithic cliff-face. Molecules break free. The great compression breaks apart and atomises. Each grain is free to roam but is not free from the cycles of entropy that freed it in the first place. Individual grains of sand, each unique and destratified, nonetheless gather to form a terminal beach. Entropy leads to homogeneity — a homogeneity that is arguably even more homogeneous than the jagged strata from which it came.
If we’re to think of the sea — as perhaps Land does himself — as being analogous to capitalism-as-critique, we can see why Land likes it. The void on the other side of capitalism becomes far less interesting than the process of disintegration in itself. His loyalty lies, forever and always, with the sea itself, rather than the potential beaches it might create.
This is, likewise, in line with the patchwork of Deleuze and Guattari, for whom “the sea is the spatial field par excellence that brings out smoothness and striation.” How a contemporary subject can navigate such a space and remain in tact remains unknown — it may even be impossible.
Elements in a quantal world:
The terminal beach.
The terminal bunker.
The landscape is coded.
Entry points into the future=Levels in a spinal landscape=zones of significant time.
August 5. Found the man Traven. A strange derelict figure, hiding in a bunker in the deserted interior of the island. He is suffering from severe exposure and malnutrition, but is unaware of this or, for that matter, of any other events in the world around him…
He maintains that he came to the island to carry out some scientific project — unstated — but I suspect that he understands his real motives and the unique role of the island… In some way its landscape seems to be involved with certain unconscious notions of time, and in particular with those that may be a repressed premonition of our own deaths. The attractions and dangers of such an architecture, as the past has shown, need no stressing…
August 6. He has the eyes of the possessed. I would guess that he is neither the first, nor the last, to visit the island.