“…because I couldn’t find a food that tasted good to me.”

“I’ve been a contrarian most of my life opposing stupidity, bigotry, racism, gender issues (under whatever banner), and oppression across the board never giving a shit who it was I was speaking against, but always specific and true to the people I sought to speak with not for, people who could not speak up for themselves and those who could.”

That is from a piece, Contrarian That I Am, by S.C. Hickman. I hadn’t given it much thought before, but reading that made me realize I’ve never thought of myself as a contrarian. Yet I have little doubt that there are those who would perceive me that way. I do have strongly voiced opinions motivated by a strong sense of morality. I’m not tolerant of bullshit. Still, I find no happiness in contradicting others or challenging the world, out of some sense of personal identity of opposition.

I understand what Hickman is expressing, though. He gets right to the point:

“Most of all was this deep knowing that I must go my own way, contrary to all that was dear to my people, and against the powers of church, state, and history. Something was driving to understand and know what it is that makes us so fucked up. Maybe that’s been my mission all along, to understand why humanity – this animal of planet earth is the only animal who could not accept its place in the order of things. We’ve always sought more, something else, to transcend our place in the natural order.”

Yes, to understand and know. But even that comes from a deeper sense. I don’t really know what motivates me. I often resonate with the concluding thoughts of the “Hunger Artist” by Fanz Kafka. In being asked why he fasts, the hunger artist states simply that it’s “because I couldn’t find a food that tasted good to me” — for the full context:

“Are you still fasting?” the supervisor asked. “When are you finally going to stop?” “Forgive me everything,” whispered the hunger artist. Only the supervisor, who was pressing his ear up against the cage, understood him. “Certainly,” said the supervisor, tapping his forehead with his finger in order to indicate to the staff the state the hunger artist was in, “we forgive you.” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “But we do admire it,” said the supervisor obligingly. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then, we don’t admire it,” said the supervisor, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I have to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist. “Just look at you,” said the supervisor, “why can’t you do anything else?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and, with his lips pursed as if for a kiss, speaking right into the supervisor’s ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything, “because I couldn’t find a food that tasted good to me. If had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.” Those were his last words, but in his failing eyes there was still the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was continuing to fast.

Advertisements

29 thoughts on ““…because I couldn’t find a food that tasted good to me.”

  1. Perhaps the art is less dependent on the artist, and more in his hand’s momentum. I’m also reminded of a Japanese story, where an American tourist asks an old burly bathtub carver why he spends so much effort on something that can be so cheaply purchased, in more durable forms. His response was an irritable grunt, “Because wooden bathtubs are good”.

    • Interesting thought. There is surely momentum involved, of some kind or another. We are all caught up in momentum. It’s what makes the world go round.

      We do or do not do all kinds of things because, from our view, it is or is not good, And generally speaking, what is seen as good and not good is dependent on what we do and do not do. We are what we are and we do what we do… or not.

      I find that amusing. But then again I find much of life amusing.

  2. Hickman has a new piece. It does help to differentiate his worldview from my own:

    https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/lucifer-figure-of-the-rebel-romantic-and-freedom-fighter/

    “As a rebel, antinomian, and dissenter – pretty much what a contrarian converges on, I’ve identified with Milton’s Satan as a figure of revolutionary spirit against political authoritarianism ”

    It’s not my inclination to be a rebel. I’d rather simply find a way around to the other side. I have no desire to fight for the sake of fighting. I don’t have an aggressive personality or overly masculine attitude.

    I’ve noticed that Hickman tends to romanticize what is dark and fucked up about the world, often using aesthetic language to give form to his descriptions (in the way Lovecraft makes beautiful and alluring what is monstrous and foreboding). He obsesses over it. I understand that and sympathize with it to an extent, but ultimately I have no desire to romanticize. It’s just not the way I see the world.

    Here is the part of Hickman’s recent piece that made me think of this:

    “I read philosophy the same way: make it come alive, pit it against it’s enemies, dramatize the concepts and seek out those that oppose them, pit them against each other like pit-bulls (maybe not such a good analogy!) and see which one is left standing.”

    There is almost a Social Darwinian view of ideas being expressed in those words. What if the main enemy is ourselves, not some dramatized force of pure evil? What if there is no stark opposition but instead a disturbing intimacy? What if the struggle is anti-climactic, with the threat of a whimper rather than a bang? What if no idea will ever win and the stakes are to be found elsewhere? What if radical imagination is more powerful, more relevant, or immediate than any dark romanticism?

    Hickman seems to want to set up a great enemy to have something great to fight against, so as to inspire a worthy sense of purpose. To my mind, evil is so often mundane and unimpressive, nothing great about it. It isn’t about which of us is right about how to portray the problems we face. It seems more fundamental at a psychological level, not something either of us consciously much less rationally chooses. Hickman apparently doesn’t know how to not be a contrarian, just as it is hard for me to imagine myself as a contrarian.

    For me, being a contrarian sounds depressing or even self-defeating. If contrarianism is all we have available to us, then what is the point? But to Hickman, it isn’t about there being a point, for it is “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.” Hickman’s stance expresses an old Western vision of the heroic individual, standing strong against all odds even if it means fighting a lost cause because at least then one maintains a sense of nobility and pride. I must admit that decades of depression has made such sentiments meaningless to me. I’m a slug in the muck looking up at the world, not a proud eagle soaring above.

    Being in the muck, however, does allow for a different kind of radicalism. It doesn’t oppose but simply works from below, typically unseen and unfelt.

    • Ha, it may be the lack of coffee or sleep, but I read that as “the Old Western ” vision of the heroic individual fighting a lost cause. As in spittoons and clanking bandoleers at high noon. Now I see you writing that about an Achilles figure, or is it Hector? The tragedy in that struggle was the fall and desecration of two persons of nobility, not as a rank or a badge to be given at birth, but as their stance towards life. Achilles’ rage ironically united the opposing sides in disgust, and he didn’t lose his honor, but perhaps his nobility , that day in the dust.

      I find your comparison of Hickman and Lovecraft interesting. The most annoying Oscar Wilde quote for me is in the preface to “Dorian Grey”, (Art is never morbid. It delights in all things) . The book in front of me has a more interesting line though- “To call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear”. I sometimes feel that way about Lovecraft.

      Someone once inquired why I’d have such interest in Lovecraft’s stories ( an aside- I find Ligotti and his Eastern European influences closer to my soul’s cellar ) , since he was, y’know, racist and probably the originator of the worst visual crimes of anime, exxxectracide. I replied that while I enjoy his creeping terrors and depictions of chaos, it’s also worth the collected weight of every tentacled star-beast to slog through any purple’d prose to his depictions of sunsets and city streets.

      “What if the main enemy is ourselves, not some dramatized force of pure evil? What if there is no stark opposition but instead a disturbing intimacy? What if the struggle is anti-climactic, with the threat of a whimper rather than a bang? What if no idea will ever win and the stakes are to be found elsewhere? What if radical imagination is more powerful, more relevant, or immediate than any dark romanticism?”

      I like your writing because you ask fruitful questions. The thought of an idea “winning” is quite odd, since the nature of ideas is often to lead to more ideas.
      Perhaps what I wasn’t clear about when I mentioned Paglia is her view of cultural struggles as cyclical ( her chapters on Blake, De Sade, and Emily Dickinson are the best, its a massive tome, and she’s purposefully, artfully obnoxious, like extreme metal guitar solos ) . Radical imagination loosed from any discipline necessarily leads to the dead ends of dark romanticism.

      Another Wilde quote- “Nothing is more dangerous for the young artist…than any conception of ideal beauty– he is constantly led by it either into weak pettiness or lifeless abstraction”. Her view is that the Western imagination, from antiquity on, and hypertrophied at the advent of French Romanticism, is an enlargement and then plummeting into the depths, and one can’t stay the pendulum. That line about fighting decadence– her idea is that the quality to be celebrated is the one that embraces decay and freezes it into beauty. Anarchistic types like Hickman want a pandaemoniac Arena for the world , which would make for a decent video game or fictional series, I’ll admit.

      • I don’t have a clear opinion on many such things. Maybe that is why I fail at being a contrarian.

        I see perspectives to be explored. I could fight the empire, but I’d rather wander out into the wilderness beyond the empire’s reach. I don’t need a worthy enemy to give my life purpose. I just have my curiosity that leads me on, typically on roads less traveled (assuming there is a road available to travel upon, not that a road is necessary for traveling).

        My worldview might make for a boring video game or a less than compelling fictional series. I realize I’m not going to win any popularity contests. Hickman’s blog posts regularly get more likes than my own and his blog has almost 3,000 more followers than mine. All I tend to accomplish with my blog is pissing people off. But as the great Popeye once said, I yam what I yam.

      • “Ha, it may be the lack of coffee or sleep, but I read that as “the Old Western ” vision of the heroic individual fighting a lost cause. As in spittoons and clanking bandoleers at high noon.”

        I like your interpretation. I grew up watching many Old Westerns. That mythos of hyper-individualism is no doubt deep in my own psyche, having spent my entire life in this culture. But another part of me finds it appalling or simply dispiriting. The hyper-individualism of this society is so incessant and tiresome. It seeps into everything, even into the worldviews of those who see themselves as contrarians.

        “Now I see you writing that about an Achilles figure, or is it Hector? The tragedy in that struggle was the fall and desecration of two persons of nobility, not as a rank or a badge to be given at birth, but as their stance towards life. Achilles’ rage ironically united the opposing sides in disgust, and he didn’t lose his honor, but perhaps his nobility , that day in the dust.”

        There was nothing specific on my mind. More of a general archetype of the heroic individual. The image that comes to mind is the old soldier who fights because it is the only thing he is good at. He fights because there is nothing else for him to do. He may try to apply it to good ends, to save the damsel in distress or defend the town under attack or to seek vengeance on a violent gang or whatever, but he is just as likely to do as much damage as good.

        And of course, the hero’s ending will be as tragic as the past he is trying to escape. Or something like that. It’s a whole narrative framing that plays itself out more or less along certain lines, although there are numerous variations. It is a narrative of tragedy, but there is also the tragedy of being trapped in a narrative. It’s tragedy upon tragedy, a fully encompassing tragic ideological worldview. It’s tragic most of all because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        “I find your comparison of Hickman and Lovecraft interesting. The most annoying Oscar Wilde quote for me is in the preface to “Dorian Grey”, (Art is never morbid. It delights in all things) . The book in front of me has a more interesting line though- “To call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear”. I sometimes feel that way about Lovecraft.”

        My thoughts there were vaguely linking back to some writings by Matt Cardin. The aesthetics of horror is an interesting topic. It connects quite a few writers that are of interest to me, as they would be an interest to you and Hickman. Here is a post where I explored some of this, partly inspired by Corey Robin’s discussion of Burke’s aesthetics in relation to the reactionary mind:
        https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/imagination-moral-dark-and-radical/

        “I like your writing because you ask fruitful questions. The thought of an idea “winning” is quite odd, since the nature of ideas is often to lead to more ideas.”

        Maybe I have more talent in asking questions than in answering them. Contrarianism tends to pose one answer in opposition to another answer. My attitude is to look to the question that leads to both answers. And then I wonder what other questions could be asked that would lead to different answers. Even if conflict between views is inevitable, that doesn’t mean all conflict is equal. Rather than looking for a worthy enemy to fight, I’m looking for a worthy question to ask and argue about. But ‘winning’ debates doesn’t interest me. Ideas take hold or they don’t, often in ways we don’t intend. It’s not an issue of ideological victory for one side against an opponent.

        “Perhaps what I wasn’t clear about when I mentioned Paglia is her view of cultural struggles as cyclical ( her chapters on Blake, De Sade, and Emily Dickinson are the best, its a massive tome, and she’s purposefully, artfully obnoxious, like extreme metal guitar solos ) . Radical imagination loosed from any discipline necessarily leads to the dead ends of dark romanticism.”

        Sounds interesting. I’d like to hear more about it. I’ll have to keep Paglia’s name in mind, for future reference. As for my own view, imagination is something we embrace or failing that something that we are demonically possessed by. There is no escaping imagination, and so supposed stark realism can offer no refuge. You’ve offered me much food for thought and I’m grateful for that. I never know the point I’m trying to make in posts like this. It’s just me thinking out loud. It’s useful when someone else chimes in.

      • A rather childish response. But children can be amusing in their own way.

        You do make a point for me. The issue I present isn’t whether or not to be a slug. The danger is assuming you are an eagle soaring in the sky when in reality you are a slug in the muck. The slug attempting to battle a boot will not come to victorious glory. Instead, that slug will end up as shown in that video, ignominiously squashed.

        That is the importance in being self-aware of one’s slug-like status in the big bad world. It’s a Taoist view. The grand tall tree gets cut down for lumber. It’s the old gnarly, knotty tree that remains standing for thousands of years. Being useless is not such a bad thing, at least useless in terms of the scheming agenda of the powerful.

        Hide one’s usefulness, like protecting a burning tinderbox within one’s cloak on a windy wintry night. Then when the time is right, you might be able to set the world ablaze. It’s about the right materials at right time, in the right place, for the right purpose, and to the right end, rather than throwing matches randomly about hoping something will eventually catch.

        It is far from saying one should seek to have no influence. It’s just the Taoist would wisely suggest finding the most effective methods which often means the most indirect ways, such that one doesn’t simply destroy oneself in the process. There is no point in self-destruction, out of some romantic notion of a grand battle. It’s better to be a wise slug than a dead slug, unless suicide is one’s purpose.

        As someone who has dealt with severe depression for decades, I understand the attraction of suicide, whether in reality or in imagination. The idea of offing oneself as a way of sending a message has inspired many people to take that final leap. It is one way to get attention, if only briefly. As you take that leap, you can imagine yourself as Satan being cast from Heaven. But when you hit the ground, your remains will look more like a squashed slug.

        It’s a choice each of us has to make. For the time being, I’m choosing to be a wise slug, keeping my head low and staying off the beaten path. Still, I keep my choices open. Maybe one day I’ll throw myself over the ledge just to find out if I can soar like an eagle. It would make for a fascinating experiment, at least initially. Or at the very least, it will make for a quick ending.

    • thanks for the thoughts…

      In a letter to his brothers, Keats describes this genius as ‘Negative Capability’:

      ‘At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

      In many wasy this comes down to accepting – as we do in modern physics, that the universe is open and incomplete, and ‘The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.’

      Many people confuse my thoughts sometimes with the thinkers I do commentaries of on my site. While I can admire Land’s early philosophical reflections, his politics as a neoreactionary is opposite of my own political proclivities. As for Hitchen’s notions of contrarian, for me it does not so much entail opposing everything as if does of seeking the difference between knowledge and truth, making the cut between the two and show through opposing modes of thought, feeling, and philosophy the outcome of such truth. I pit extremes against each other on my site as a way of pushing the limits of a thought – a theory-fiction of science-ficitonalization of thought rather than philosophy it tends toward anti-philosophy in the sense of a para or parallax thought form that sees both sides not as in a Mobius strip but rather as two opposites at a distance as in Nietzsche’s notion of needed distance for thought.

      • I just now noticed your comment needing approval. Sorry for the several day delay. I blame WP.

        Yeah, I’ve heard of negative capability. But it’s been a while since I noticed someone mention it. It’s one of the many interesting ideas/views that slip through the cracks of my mind. It’s doubtful that I have any particular talent for negative capability. My talent is in being depressed and occasionally expressing depressive realism or at the very least being full of doubt and constantly questioning. Depression just is what it is, certainly not a grand achievement.

        I get what you’re saying. There is a reason I’ve been following your blog for a while. I resonate with some aspect of your writing. It does make me think and I love all the quotes you throw out. As I said to another commenter, I was largely just thinking out loud here, as I’m wont to do. My intention was not to attack or dismiss your views, but to get at some irritation like a pebble in my shoe.

        In my thoughts, I was responding to something I was sensing. When reading your blog, I can get a clear sense of a worldview or even a narrative being evoked. I’ve been drawn to many worldviews and narratives over my lifetime, as I’m sure you have as well. But my focus has changed as I’ve aged. I’m less interested in a particular worldview or narrative to explain, to give meaning or form. My mind increasingly turns to what it is that motivates this process, hence my concern with certain areas of study: neurocognition, psychology, anthropology, linguistics, philology, etc.

        There is the Althusserian view of ideology as a worldview. I’ve been resistant to this at times. An ideoloogy, in terms of etymology, is built on ideas. But I’m not sure we understand what are ideas, specifically in terms of worldviews.. Rather than pitting ideas against each other, I want to know what precedes and maybe even causes or shapes ideas, at least ideas in the overt sense. I feel a compelling urge to step back, a large step back. Maybe we need to stop for a moment to get our bearings, as it can seem like our society is running around in circles.

        More than ideas in the standard sense, I’m more interested in metaphors and metonymy, moral frames and the stories we tell ourselves. If we don’t understand the source and substance of our ideas at a deeper level, those ideas will possess us, either like viruses or demons. There are too many useless debates, false dualities, and forced choices. The frustration is that I’m part of this same society that constrains the mind. I’m not above it all for I’m down in the muck. So I’ve decided to become an observer of muck, to study its mucky ways.

        • In some ways I’m in agreement with R. Scott Bakker, not in his ultimate reduction to an extreme naturalism, which as he knows leads to an extreme nightmare of determinism; rather, it’s his heuristics, this sense of we are always continually modelling and predictive of the Real, a changing and revisioning target rather than any belief in a stable or identifiable substantive fixed relation to things or an order of things. More a quantum view of complexity theory enabling one to realize as you pointed out that most of our extended metaphors and imaginative sophistries have been literalized by lesser minds into hard concrete factual worlds. Nietzsche used to say one needed to be a dancer, stepping with light feet…. it’s this since that the world is malleable and plastic that has been arising or emerging lately in neuroscientific circles, that the mind is more a shifting fluidic and protean filter that has from the beginning negotiated the Real. For hundreds of thousands of years it negotiated the natural terrain, but then something happened ten thousand years ago to bind us to cities and agricultural myths, cycles, and the eternal round of stars. Just as strangely over the course of the past few hundred years we’ve been disconnecting from the agricultural worldview through the auspices of Industrialization which is leading us to construct artificial worlds with artificial and synthetic worldviews. Of course not all civilizations and societies are at the same pace scale as the North, therefore the growing pangs of war, famine, and religious sensibility of fear and terror before the strange and uncanny futures they perceive in this machinic world. This “muck” as you call it is that transitional world we live in, and – I might add, we too are transitional beings in phase shift disconnecting from our organic and ancestral apeness into something new and strange. Because of that we are entering that schizophrenizing process Deleuze/Guattari mapped out in their geophilosophy – one that tends between breakdown and breakthrough; both a tendency for some toward psychopathology and breakdown of affects and murderous re-connections to old metaphysical structures (ergo: Althusser’s structural vision and mental breakdown!), and others like our current crop of speculative realists seeking to regain the Real as possibility. For me there is no one philosophy or approach except the experimentalism of an extreme scientific view that encompasses the impossible that Arthur C. Clarke spoke of when he said there wasn’t much difference between science and magic at the extreme edge. So here we are at the edge of an impossible future, peering into that abyss like fly-fisherman throwing our lures into a dark stream seeking the catch a glimpse of that silver flung beast of the dark waters of the Real. Day by day we keep casting our nets out and into that dark brink wonder what will come next…

          • That is well expressed. And it resonates with me. Indeed, we are on the edge of something. It makes me wonder what it was like in past eras when civilizations faced societal collapse, environmental catastrophe, etc.

            I’m sure the ending of the Bronze Age Civilizations felt like Apocalypse to those who experienced the word fall into chaos all around them. It took many centuries for civilization to recover from that. And it never returned to what it was before.

  3. Hickman posted something else that caught my attention:
    https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-politics-of-divisiveness/

    It consists of a single quote by Christopher Hitchens, from his Letters to Young Contrarian:

    “Contrast this to the unashamed recommendations of the mindless that are offered to us every day. In place of honest disputation we are offered platitudes about “healing.” The idea of “unity” is granted huge privileges over any notion of “division” or, worse, “divisiveness.” I cringe every time I hear denunciations of “the politics of division”—as if politics was not division by definition.”

    That further gets at a distinction in our respective mindsets. Hickman has more interest in political science than do I. My focus has tended toward social science. I’m neither for nor against divisiveness, not on principle (and not based on any other reason). My concern is more about human nature and society, what social scientists study.

    I would note that social scientists have already proven that not all societies are the same in terms of divisiveness. Societies that are low inequality, have less segregation, and have strong cultures of trust aren’t predisposed toward divisiveness. We Americans happen to live in a high inequality society with much segregation and a weak culture of trust. It’s easy for us to mistake our society as being normal, but it’s quite the opposite of normal. In fact, WEIRD societies in general are the least normal societies on the planet.

    This is the importance of social science. It allows us to test hypotheses, in order to see if they are true or not. Hitchens wasn’t a social scientist. And his quote was simply his expressing an opinion as a public intellectual. But we should never allow such things to slip by unquestioned. Without social science, we have less ability to explore such areas.

  4. There was a reason I wrote this post. It had been on my mind for a while. Hickman’s blogs is one of the few blogs I follow on a regular basis and have been doing so for a while now (maybe several years at this point). We have some common interests, such as philosophical horror.

    He used to write more about social science topics (consciousness studies used to be a regular feature of his blog), but I haven’t seen any posts like that recently. Going by his recent posts, it seems he has given up hope on the possibility of radical change, other than collapse. He is an older guy and presumably retired (for all the immense time he spends reading and writing). Also, he recently moved, I think to a new part of the country, which maybe changed his perspective.

    Something about his recent writings has felt out of sync with my own sense of the world. I’ve had a growing concern about realism and essentialism. Advocating for a worldview that takes divisiveness as a core truth to humanity seems to move toward this direction that I find problematic. This divisiveness is seen as essentially real to human nature, an apparently unchanging human nature that allows for no other possibility. Instead of race realism or capitalist realism, it is divisiveness realism.

    This is why I put emphasis on radial imagination. It’s not that I’m arguing the opposite position. I’m no more interested in taking sides in a divisive/non-divisive debate than in the nature/nurture debate. Both sides, to my mind, are false or limited and limiting. They don’t get at the real issue and lead to pointless disagreement. The frame itself is unhelpful, to say the least. I get the sense that Hickman used to have more of a radical imagination, but has since grown cynical (e.g., his increasing reliance on the reactionary writings of Nick Land). That is understandable, as I struggle with cynicism. It’s just that I find cynicism, like contrarianism, to be dissatisfying… empty calories that leave me more hungry than before.

    Radical imagination is too central to my identity. A main component of radical imagination is radical uncertainty. But Christopher Hitchens was a man of certainty, specifically as expressed in that quote. I have little desire for that kind of certainty, although that is partly a rationalization of my incapacity. I’ve never had much talent when it comes to certainty. I see the world in terms of potentials and possibilities, not all happy optimism for sure, but an immense unknown where conclusions are always tentative.

    In many ways, humanity is in a worse situation than ever before. But in many other ways, humanity has seen far worse than this. All I can say is that civilization is in the process of change, whether collapse or transformation. As always, it’s a slow process, until all of a sudden everything happens quickly. Civilizations have ended before or else become something new. There is no particular reason to think this will be the end of the world, as in apocalypse. I do fear the worst more often than I’d prefer, but ultimately I don’t have a melodramatic personality. It’s quite likely that decline or whatever kind of change occurs will take centuries.

    My worries are less about total destruction. The world just as it is, even if it didn’t get worse, is still shitty. It’s a plain unhappy social order built on injustice and oppression. We don’t need to make it into more than that to feel the moral urgency to respond. But such moral urgency would require radical imagination. If Hickman has given up on radical imagination as a hope for something better, then what is the point of fighting to the bitter end out of a sense of noble pride and heroic individuality against unstoppable forces of vast evil that inevitably will consume us all? That is a serious question… and I can’t claim to have any greater knowledge than Hickman, as he was one of those rare souls who is more well read than I am.

    Part of this is my struggle with myself. I don’t want Hickman to be right. The dark world he envisions is so despairing that, if it came to dominate my own mind, I’d kill myself. That is an honest, self-aware appraisal. So, I have a self-serving interest in my ‘faith’ in radical imagination. It is an existential crisis, not just for me but for our entire society. We have two paths before us. What is ‘real’ might be nothing more than what we choose to make real. I’ve never doubted that humanity was free to choose oppression and apocalypse… and so make it real (not unlike how the ideology of race realism, although presently unreal, could be made real through a systemic program of eugenics).

    All of this goes back to why I have a hard time identifying as a contrarian. It’s somewhat humorous that I’m playing the role of contrarian against Hickman’s dark vision.

    • I find myself in odd company sometimes, in terms of intellectual influences. There are a few people online who I have connected with intellectually because of common interests or reading habits.

      Like Hickman, Skepoet was another guy with a mix of Marxist and reactionary leanings (both liked Ligotti, as do I). But I ended up unfriending Skepoet when he made a comment that expressed stereotypical racism or rather race realism (i.e., that all Africans look alike, the most genetically and phenotypically diverse continental population on the planet). I maybe should have seen it coming because of Skepoet’s interest in human biodiversity which is known for its race realists, but then again I’ve long had a curiosity about the HBD blogosphere. I unfriended on another guy I knew for years because his racism became harder to ignore over time, a racism that was suffused with the Dark Enlightenment.

      I see Hickman increasingly drawn toward a variety of realism. It’s not race realism or capitalist realism, but divisiveness realism is popular among those found in HBD and Dark Enlightenment. It’s maybe no accident that Hickman has resonated with Nick Land, as Land expresses a kind of realism that has shifted and morphed over time: speculative realism, race realism, capitalist realism, and such (all in the hope of an accelerationism that will bring on the apocalypse, maybe not unlike Islamic terrorists trying to force God’s hand).

      Nick Land is a main influence on the neoreactionary alt-right (and within that realm of thought, it is hard to know what to make of the strange and often inconsistent conglomeration of HBD, race realism, eugenics, neo-fascism, monarchism, techno-utopianism, anarcho-capitalism, crude libertarianism, and much else). He went from an odd philosopher and weird fiction writer to an amphetamine-deranged guru of the Dark Enlightenment. This is not to dismiss amphetamine-derangement which the great PKD also suffered from (a bit of speed-induced paranoia can be useful for speculative thought).

      Ligotti also draws in a nebulous web of ideologies for whatever reason and often brought into the sphere of the alt-right, although the last thing Ligotti wants to be is a guru. Both Land and Ligotti give voice to a kind of irrationalism that, at least for some, can become an object of dark romanticism (made mainstream through such things as True Detective). Oddly, what has always attracted me to Ligotti is a clear sense of humility and compassion, a rather anti-alt-right sensibility. It makes me wonder what Ligotti would think of the likes of Land and his acolytes.

      I noticed that Mark Fisher has some connections to Nick Land. He became more critical of Land. It’s interesting that Hickman sides with Land, rather than with Fisher. What Fisher was trying to do was to reawaken radical imagination, under its hypnotized stupor in capitalist realism. But like so much else, that is easier said than done:
      https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2016/12/mark-fisher-leftist-melancholia/

      “But despite all of this self-awareness, the rhetorical force of Fisher’s argument, the exasperation and frustration that is voiced in his acerbic wit, belie the somewhat antiquated alternatives he ends up offering. Indeed, the very premise of this slim book, that the end of the world is easier to imagine then the end of capitalism, with its numerous examples of
      just how entrapped we are, leads to the very thing he tells us so convincingly it will lead to: reflexive impotence, a kind of masochistic pleasure in reading the signs everywhere in a culture we at once detest and enjoy. It is ironic, for instance, that in Fisher’s examinations of ~Wall-E~ or ~Supernanny~ one can detect more than a slight hint that he enjoys this same culture he lambasts. So the book demonstrates the very thing it warns us against: giving
      license to the enjoyment of capitalism because he knows in his heart just how despicable capitalism is.”

      A major point of analysis for Fisher was mental illness, specifically depression. He saw this as central to capitalist realism that shifts dissatisfaction and dysfunction onto the individual. External problems become internalized. While the capitalist system externalizes costs, the capitalist consumer-subject internalizes them (similar to how the largest contributor to global mortality rates is now pollution, along with climate change drought and such — with corporations and the corporatist state being the main beneficiaries of these externalizations). Fisher sought a way to challenge this oppressive system, but it must be admitted that he ended up killing himself because of a long struggle with depression.

      Anyway, there is nothing wrong with quoting someone like Nick Land. I admit he has had interesting things to say, ignoring his eventual decline into vulgar ideological trolling. Something is true no matter who says it. I’ve often come across insightful quotes from horrific historical figures, such as Stalin or Hitler, but those occasional nuggets of truth don’t motivate me to want to study their entire philosophy. I’m left feeling ambiguous about Nick Land. Hickman also seems a bit ambiguous about Land’s entire oeuvre.

      Here is my main concern. There is always the danger that, if you peer too long into the abyss, you might just topple over the edge of the chasm. I’m not suggesting this has happened to Hickman, but I do note that his writings have slowly but surely grown darker with an edge of bitter cynicism. I understand that he sees himself as being courageously realistic, something I admire. I will never criticize someone for speaking truth (or at least their own truth, as they understand it) to power. It’s just that I’ve spent my own fair share of peering into the abyss and so I understand its nihilistic allure. Yet none of this in any way indicates Hickman is fundamentally wrong in anything he writes. It’s more of a feeling of disconnection between where he seems to be coming from (or going) and where I find myself at present.

      As an interesting side note, I wrote a post about nihilism:
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/good-liberals-vs-savage-nihilists/
      Writing that required a lot of research. It was educational. There is a long history to nihilism, originally an accusation against radical and revolutionary thought, the idea that in destroying the old there would be nothing left to take its place. So, nihilism was the label given to the radical imagination by reactionary realists (or pseudo-realists).

      Later on, the label of nihilist was used self-consciously by some radical revolutionaries. They self-identified as nihilists because they admitted to not knowing what would replace the old but that nonetheless the old had to be replaced, which meant eliminating the old without knowing what other possibilities were genuinely available. Our imaginations are too constrained by an oppressive social order that we first have to eliminate the oppressive social order before we can regain the capacity to radically imagine once again. There is an obvious truth to this, as it is only during revolutionary eras that the radical imagination is able to take hold. But it is no doubt a dangerous proposition.

      I just wanted to point out that nihilism and radical imagination (or realism and optimism) aren’t inherently opposed. Any new possibility has to be first envisioned before it becomes a new reality. That has always been true, every time major changes have happened over the millennia of civilization. New possibilities, specifically to the degree they are radical, are often experienced as coming out of nowhere: ex nihilo. Nihilism clears a space. But if nihilism ends there, that is merely destruction. No one can promise something better will replace what is lost. Then again, no one can honestly claim to know that other possibilities are impossible, just because we can’t conceive of them with our shackled minds.

      https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/thomas-ligotti-dark-phenomenology-and-abstract-horror/
      https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/badiou-our-wound-is-not-so-recent-nick-land-and-mark-fisher-respond/
      http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t=9799

      https://deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/mark-fisher-on-nick-land-neo-anarchism-cosmic-libertarianism/
      https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/why-is-nick-land-still-embraced-by-segments-of-the-british-art-and-theory-scenes/6329

  5. The case for empirical pessimism is unfortunately rather final. It’s as certain as human knowledge applied to the future of a complex system can ever get. And as the learned blogger is probably aware, every year the science comes out that this year’s reality proved worse that the previous year’s projections.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html?utm_source=tw&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t

    I think we’re living in the very early years of something like the Black Death. Except that’s really only beginning to touch an imagination of what it’s really going to be like. And this time, it’s our fault. We did it to ourselves, and since we’re going to bring down most innocent life on earth with us, we deserve the pain that’s coming.

    • It depends what you mean by empirical pessimism. Philosophical pessimism is an intellectual position. That isn’t the same thing as pessimism in the psychological sense. An individual can be one without being the other. Philosophical pessimism is centrally about a particular debate, that involving the idea of free will.

      I do tend toward philosophical pessimism. It’s purely intellectual, on that level. I merely don’t see evidence for an active free will. What the evidence does show, is to the degree that free will exists at all, the role of consciousness is merely in responding to what the unconscious already decided. The conscious mind plays a secondary role of either going along with what the unconscious decides or saying no to it.

      So, one can argue there is a ‘will’ of sorts in that it can negate what comes out of unseen mind-brain processes, but it’s not clear what kind of freedom this can really offer the conscious individual. I simply don’t care that much. I’m not attached to either side.

      In the end, I’m agnostic about lots of things. I don’t believe in God and neither to I believe in a lack of God. It’s the same with free will. I see no particular advantage to believing in a lack of free will. I simply lack much interest or concern about the matter. Still, I resonate to some extent with philosophical pessimism. I just don’t have any intellectual commitment to it in a grand sense. It is what it is.

      As far as I can tell, whether free will exists or not, it doesn’t change my life in any way. It’s moot issue.

      Now, issues like climate change… well, that is of greater relevance. That gets my attention. But I’m not overly attached to life, personally or collectively. I’m fine if civilization collapses or even if the species goes extinct.

      The human species has seen a couple of bottlenecks where extinction almost happened. And of course species go extinct all the time. Even in surviving, humanity has faced some harsh times: ice ages, mass societal collapses, plagues, etc. Eventually, we’ll go extinct. That might not happen in the near future, though. We humans have a talent for surviving, no matter how shitty it gets.

      On the other hand, humans have also experience immense changes. Some argue this has included complete shifts in consciousness and identity (e.g., Jaynes’ bicameralism following collapse of Bronze Age civilizations). Major catastrophes often were followed by massive transformations. The only thing that is inevitable is change, in whatever way that happens.

      This is where my radical imagination comes in. I’m not a cynic, but neither am I an optimist. My tendency is to see possibilities, all possibilities. It’s just as easy for me to imagine amazing possibilities as it is to imagine horrific possibilities. I’m a possibility thinker, which isn’t to say that I have any significant ideological loyalty to any variety of possibilities. The world is a vast field of unknowns and the future is even more unknown.

      That is what I was trying to articulate in my post and in my comments. This is why I’m not attracted to contrarianism as an identity. I see no clear reason to take sides in many debates that others feel are important. My general disposition is agnosticism. Whatever will be will be. My lifelong depression has made me accepting. On a personal level, it is my psychological reality, not an intellectual position to be argued or defended.

      So, it isn’t an issue of who is right or wrong. I don’t know how to be different than what I am, and I assume the same is true for other people. But life has a way of sometimes changing us or else changing the world all around us, whether or not we think we know how to change.

      One thing seems certain to me. The coming changes will surely be interesting. Maybe not fun and happy, but at the very least interesting. In that, I can imagine many possible ways that could play out. We’ll find out, for those of us who live to see it.

  6. Below is another example where I feel myself diverging from Hickman. As with his other recent writings, it presents a very specific worldview. That is the thing for me. I don’t feel strongly drawn to a specific worldview. I see America, as I see all of humanity, as a clashing of worldviews.

    Hickman expresses more certainty than I’m comfortable with. It’s definitely not that he is an idiot, much less to be dismissed as a mere foolish old crazy man. But I’d simply point out that there is no abyss of a singular history. Rather, there is a vast panorama of historical narratives and visions. To capture the sense of that requires radical imagination.

    I’m a student of American history. There were many so-called Founding Fathers, there being no consensus about who is included and not. What about those revolutionaries who were rioting before the plutocrats joined an officially-sanctioned American Revolution? What about those townships who declared independence from the British Empire prior to the writing of the Declaration of Independence? What about the revolutionaries who kept on fighting for democracy even after the new rulers of the US sought to suppress it? Why would we allow an elite to tell us what is our history? Why should we allow our imaginations to be constrained?

    Hickman speaks of a ‘we’. But who is he speaking for? There is a whole long history of large numbers of Americans who trusted themselves to do what needed to be done, not believing someone else will do it for them. What Hickman describes most definitely has not always been our way. Prior to the Civil War, those in power were constantly worrying about another revolution and for good reason with multiple riots, rebellions, and revolts following the founding of the new country. And as the country entered a new era in the decades following the Civil War, the elite once again found themselves in fear as they faced mass (sometimes violent) protests and other expressions of direction action including bombings and assassinations, once again with talk of possible revolution.

    That is American history. Sure, it has to get bad before there is a strong response, but so far in this country a strong response has always eventually followed. No doubt those in power have become more adept at manipulation and oppression. That is problematic. Still, there is no reason to think Americans won’t eventually do what Americans have always done, that is to say fight back. I can’t say if it will do any good. It might be too little too late. Maybe problems are simply too large now. That is a whole other issue. The point is that radical imagination goes hand in hand with a radical remembering. If you allow others to define the past for you, they already have you by the balls.

    That is what radical imagination is about. It’s not just about optimistic envisioning of possibility. It challenges power, including how the powerful script our collective past and try to force it onto the present in order to constrain the future. At the heart of radical imagination, there is a radical unknowing. I’ve long had the sense that none of us is humble by nature but sometimes life has a way of humbling us. When faced with such humbling, it can open us up to the radical, i.e., what cuts to the root.

    https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2017/08/03/have-we-no-history/

    “Ah! You say I’m an idiot, a fool for saying such bosh… yes, I’m a fool, a foolish old crazy man who has seen the abyss of this history we all deny. This ancestral haunt where our dead even now roam the broken cities of this land like hungry animals, insatiable. As that bad boy, Howard Zinn lambasts,

    “”All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.”3

    “It’s true, we’ve never trusted ourselves to do what needs to be done, instead we always believe someone else will do it for us. Followers, one and all, we follow our leaderless leaders to our doom. It’s always been our way. We work and live in a muddle, to tired to think we sit back passively and let the Talking Heads blather on about what these fake leaders are doing once again to make our lives miserable. But no, do we protest – well, some do, some go out into the streets and shout its all bullshit, we’re being taken down a road to perdition and madness. But it doesn’t matter how many gather in some city, or march on Washington because no one in that pure white monstrosity of a building gives a shit what we are voicing – our voice doesn’t matter to them. Their ear is plugged into the ass of Wall Street and the .01% of those pirates who have stolen our lives, our children’s lives, and our grand-children’s lives… and, possibly in our time the very lives of the species we once termed human: homo sapiens.

    “Maybe I am a wind-bag, just one more angry deluded Joe on the Street. So be it… I don’t expect much, just everything. I expect that if we don’t get up off our asses and do something about the stupidity up in Washington then we deserve everything we’re going to get coming our way. Destruction, chaos, death? You’re dam right… so what you goin’ to do about it? Huh?”

  7. You say: “Maybe problems are simply too large now. That is a whole other issue. The point is that radical imagination goes hand in hand with a radical remembering. If you allow others to define the past for you, they already have you by the balls.
    That is what radical imagination is about. It’s not just about optimistic envisioning of possibility. It challenges power, including how the powerful script our collective past and try to force it onto the present in order to constrain the future. At the heart of radical imagination, there is a radical unknowing.”

    Note: In the above you say: “It challenges power, including how the powerful script our collective past and try to force it onto the present in order to constrain the future.” This needs to be rephrased. It makes no sense at this point: “including how the powerful script our collective past and…” ? it’s dangling… not a complete though, and is disconnected from the final part of the sentence? I’ll assume you meant something like “how the powerful script of our collective past is used by mainstream (i.e., the winners) historians in order to manipulate and constrain our collective future?

    Let’s see if I get this straight:

    Radical Imagination = radical remembering. “If you allow others to define the past for you, they already have you by the balls.”

    First, your use of ‘radical’ is a loaded term, and you use it in an adjectival form to emphasize I’ll assume (rightly or wrongly) a political use? Imagination has a long pedigree and was central to Rousseau and the Romantics who defended it against instrumentalist vision of Newton and the Enlightenment empirical traditions. Central to Idealisms, Imagination as coined to bring together sensation and intuition, to visualize and image forth concepts in poetic and, to some extant, allegorical forms of ironizing and political or erotic contexts. I’ll assume again your use of the adjectival form in stating ‘radical remembering’ is to situate yourself in the radical political spectrum of counter-hegemonic traditions. So that you’re notion of re-membering is to dismember and cut out the imperial or official histories and replace them with the forgotten memories of those who have no voice of their own: the enslaved and defeated of history, much as Howard Zinn another radical historian who has chosen to let the many speak for themselves in all the archival fragments in his People’s History of the United States and other treatises.

    If I remember correctly all history is written by the winners, the losers either being enslaved or dead. Unless one entails all the imaginative re-constructions of history by archaeologists, ethnographers, social scientists, etc. etc. But even that is not fact, rather revision of material artifacts into discourse; and, as we know all discourse is social, so that all history is itself a collective enterprise within the circumscribed circumference or framework of that socio-cultural complex, etc. In other words history is and has always been a convenient fiction. So that “they already have you by the balls”. Even if one writes a revisionary history against the imperial one, or the one accepted by the mainstream culture, it is bound to a whole complex of fictional perspectives within an accepted counter-tradition, etc. Even those you seem to admire like the multi-culturists who speak not from some well-defined or centered stance, but from a multi-perspectival approach that speaks from many ethnographic histories are cultural weavings and appropriations.

    I speak from my stance within a radical American tradition that stems form Paine to Pynchon, one that does not try to speak for all others or that tries to universalize one’s stance for all those others for a good reason: I’m no part of their sub-cultural ethnographies. I’ve never lived in their shoes, so that to speak for them is to speak not with them but to appropriate their voices as my own which is pure bullshit. The “we” I use is obviously those who agree with my stance, and the others (like yourself) who oppose it will not agree. I choose not middle-ground of iffiness… and, for me, there is no private language, no private history, only social history, only collective history so that the “we” is this collective subject of Marixian conceptuality. Not some abstract notion of universal Subject which is pure Idealism, but rather the generic subject of enunciation of which Deleuze spoke as the one who speaks truth to power.

    “radical imagination is not just about optimistic envisioning of possibility” – True, and yet without an opening toward the possible even the impossible seems like a prison. This challenging of power is already there in my own work, and has been all along, unless you are oblivious to it. Following Nietzsche I’ve always gone with the need for diagnosis, which is this deep reading or old time close reading of those who are the ‘voice’ of power in a culture. We need both a skeptical and critical reading as a preliminary clearing of the path before one can even speak of what is possible. One must know one’s enemy before one can define what is the ‘friend’. One can respect one’s enemies without sharing or condoning their stance and power over dominion and control. One learns counter-tactics as anyone who has studied insurgency and counter-insurgency theory and praxis.
    At the heart of radical imagination, there is a radical unknowing.”

    In what sense? What is this radical unknowing? If it is radically unknown then how can it enter into the known as radical imagination? Are you suggesting that it must be invented, constructed? Are is this an apophatic and religious unknown – as that which is beyond reason, and yet can be experienced but not voiced or spoken or written? What is it you are getting at, here?

    I’ll finish by saying what I affirm as a radical. I take my stance from Thomas Paine for whom being a radical meant that private property was a form of theft from the working classes of society (the true producers of wealth) and, while wealth can be acceptable as long as it doesn’t impoverish others, the wealthy owe a debt to society in proportion to their property (wealth). The corollary to this is his stance in Common Sense: “Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

    In our time we’ve seen both the rich and the State (Government) become intolerable and imperial, in that they believe they do not owe a debt to society in proportion to their wealth, and the government in collusion with them gives them tax breaks in excess of this debt breaking trust with the very workers of our society that supports such surplus value to be stripped from them. We are for all general purposes in an inverted tyranny which favors and protects the Rich at the expense of the vast majority of its citizens. As Paine in 1797, responding to a priest who said that “God created rich and poor”, wrote an essay called “Agrarian Justice”, in which he said Nonsense! “God created male and female and gave them the earth for their inheritance … everyone who owns land owes ‘ground rent’ to the community … and from this revenue I propose to establish a fund that will pay everyone a sum.” So in this sense Paine was the first to propose a base income for the whole of the community out of the excess profits and rents of the Rich and Wealthy be shared back. As he said:

    “In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for… It is not charity but a right, not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for…I care not how affluent some may be, provided that none be miserable in consequence of it…There are, in every country, some magnificent charities established by individuals. It is, however, but little that any individual can do, when the whole extent of the misery to be relieved is considered. He may satisfy his conscience, but not his heart. He may give all that he has, and that all will relieve but little. It is only by organizing civilization upon such principles as to act like a system of pulleys, that the whole weight of misery can be removed.

    The plan here proposed will reach the whole. It will immediately relieve and take out of view three classes of wretchedness – the blind, the lame, and the aged poor; and it will furnish the rising generation with means to prevent their becoming poor…The plan here proposed will benefit all, without injuring any. It will consolidate the interest of the republic with that of the individual… A revolution in the state of civilization is the necessary companion of revolutions in the system of government.”

    This is the radicalism out of which I live and breath and work…

    • “This needs to be rephrased. It makes no sense at this point”

      I thought it was fairly obvious, but apparently not. Even though not worded perfectly, I figured it was clear enough to get the gist of it. To clarify: Radical imagination challenges power in many ways but specifically two related points that are significant. First, radical imagination challenges how the powerful script our collective past. Second, radical imagination challenges how the powerful try to force that script onto the present in order to constrain the future.

      “Radical Imagination = radical remembering.”

      No. They aren’t the same thing. Just closely related aspects. After all, both imagination and remembering operate within the mind. So, obviously they would function with some overlap.

      “First, your use of ‘radical’ is a loaded term, and you use it in an adjectival form to emphasize I’ll assume (rightly or wrongly) a political use?”

      We don’t seem to be on the same page. I mean ‘radical’ in its etymological sense. That is to get to the root. The radical is anything that accomplishes this or at the very least attempts to do so. There is no reason to see this as entirely or essentially political, even as there are always political implications. I often think of ‘radical’ in terms of ‘revolutionary’. The reason for this is because that both words have had different meanings in various contexts over time. Originally, a revolution referred to a cycle of return. So, a radical revolution could simply mean returning to the roots. That would connect imagination to remembering.

      “Imagination has a long pedigree and was central to Rousseau and the Romantics who defended it against instrumentalist vision of Newton and the Enlightenment empirical traditions.”

      There weren’t any specifics I had in mind. I do sometimes think about Burke’s moral imagination, simply as a point of connection for American history. But as a mental capacity as we understand it, I might situate it in the changes that happened in that historical period that can be called axial or post-bicameral. Imagination, as an active ability, has much to do with metaphorical space in the Jaynesian sense, which allows for new use of abstract thought. But I wasn’t directly thinking about any of this in writing my comments here.

      “I’ll assume again your use of the adjectival form in stating ‘radical remembering’ is to situate yourself in the radical political spectrum of counter-hegemonic traditions. So that you’re notion of re-membering is to dismember and cut out the imperial or official histories and replace them with the forgotten memories of those who have no voice of their own: the enslaved and defeated of history, much as Howard Zinn another radical historian who has chosen to let the many speak for themselves in all the archival fragments in his People’s History of the United States and other treatises.”

      Ignoring the assumption, that does relate to what I was attempting to communicate. Anytime we remember anything, it is remade in the mind. This is in itself radical, for remembering is all about going to the root of an experience, even if it is just an imagined root. What you describe is of interest in my own thinking for I do have much interest other voices from the past.

      “If I remember correctly all history is written by the winners, the losers either being enslaved or dead.”

      That isn’t always the case. Paine found himself on the losing end of many fights. Yet those who gained power never managed to entirely exclude, obscure, or silence his memory. His version of American history remained a gadfly, as the winners wrote their official histories.

      “In other words history is and has always been a convenient fiction.”

      All memory, individual and collective, is fiction. But not all fiction is mere ‘convenient’ fiction. It’s simply an act of re-membering and hence an act of imagination, specifically with the everpresent potential of the radical.

      “So that “they already have you by the balls”. Even if one writes a revisionary history against the imperial one, or the one accepted by the mainstream culture, it is bound to a whole complex of fictional perspectives within an accepted counter-tradition, etc.”

      I’m not sure that this quite gets at the issue I had in mind. It’s not limited to history, revisionary or otherwise. Metaphor, narrative, and such goes far beyond that in human experience and in social realities. It’s not a given that they always have you by the balls. The radical imagination is never fully controlled, not even by those who seek to wield it. Going to the root might lead to digging up the unexpected. Remembering something might re-member it into a different form. There is a trickster-quality at play.

      “Even those you seem to admire like the multi-culturists who speak not from some well-defined or centered stance, but from a multi-perspectival approach that speaks from many ethnographic histories are cultural weavings and appropriations.”

      Well, I admire I wide variety of people. It would be hard to describe all of them according to any particular category. I try to listen to many voices. And as such, I do pay close attention to those who bring many voices to the forefront. But it isn’t because I admire multiculturalism for its own sake. It’s simply useful to have other perspectives to shake loose my thinking for otherwise it’s easy to get mentally stuck.

      “The “we” I use is obviously those who agree with my stance, and the others (like yourself) who oppose it will not agree. I choose not middle-ground of iffiness… and, for me, there is no private language, no private history, only social history, only collective history so that the “we” is this collective subject of Marixian conceptuality.”

      That is fine. But my skepticism remains. I’m less comfortable in speaking with such confidence of certainty.

      From my perspective, it isn’t an issue of a “middle-ground of iffiness”. I’m simply reluctant to risk overstepping what is known, which is to say I give wide berth to the unknown. Obviously, you could be right in all that you state. Then again, you could be wrong. Acknowledging that uncertainty about the correct assessment doesn’t feel like ‘iffiness’ to me. I just take it as intellectual humility. I fucking don’t know, not that this implies it can’t be known or that others don’t know more than I do. All I can go by is what I know and what seems knowable, at present.

      This is why I tend more toward radical skepticism than toward contrarianism. I lack enough certainty to even feel clear about contrariness, even as I empathize with what motivates the contrarian. All of this might be more of a psychological difference. In Jungian terms, I have a strong leaning toward extraverted intuition, which leads me to be intellectually indecisive (i.e., questioning more than answering).

      “True, and yet without an opening toward the possible even the impossible seems like a prison. This challenging of power is already there in my own work, and has been all along, unless you are oblivious to it.”

      Now you’re just sounding defensive. I doubt you seriously believe that our difference of opinion is based on my being oblivious. I was making an observation. I could be wrong or right, but it is what it is. Reading over your work these past years, I sensed a narrowing down of focus. I gave the example of your decreased use of social science, which is precisely what drew me to your earlier writings. It was the challenging of power which pulled me into following your blog. My only point is I felt some kind of shift in your mood, interests, framing, or something. Maybe I’m entirely wrong about this. It’s not something I could easily and objectively prove, even if I so desired. It was largely an intuition. Take it or leave it.

      “Following Nietzsche I’ve always gone with the need for diagnosis, which is this deep reading or old time close reading of those who are the ‘voice’ of power in a culture. We need both a skeptical and critical reading as a preliminary clearing of the path before one can even speak of what is possible. One must know one’s enemy before one can define what is the ‘friend’. One can respect one’s enemies without sharing or condoning their stance and power over dominion and control. One learns counter-tactics as anyone who has studied insurgency and counter-insurgency theory and praxis.”

      I’ve never said I was against that. But one can also easily become influenced by what one studies. It’s a balancing act.

      “In what sense? What is this radical unknowing? If it is radically unknown then how can it enter into the known as radical imagination? Are you suggesting that it must be invented, constructed? Are is this an apophatic and religious unknown – as that which is beyond reason, and yet can be experienced but not voiced or spoken or written? What is it you are getting at, here?”

      I described multiple times what I was talking about:
      “I see the world in terms of potentials and possibilities, not all happy optimism for sure, but an immense unknown where conclusions are always tentative.”
      “The world is a vast field of unknowns and the future is even more unknown.”
      “At the heart of radical imagination, there is a radical unknowing.”

      Taken together, that doesn’t seem all that difficult to understand. Radical imagination is built on what is unknown and points toward what is unknown. That goes back to the sense of the ‘root’. What makes the root radical is that it is in some sense unknown, as most of the world is unknown. We exist in a radical state of ignorance, that goes to the root of our being. if this doesn’t make sense to you, then maybe we are dealing with a radical failure of communication that goes to the root of our respective beings.

      “I’ll finish by saying what I affirm as a radical. I take my stance from Thomas Paine…”

      To this extent, we share a common root, one that is radical also in the political sense. But I guess I was trying to push toward a broader and deeper understanding that is not political origin, although with political consequences.

      “This is the radicalism out of which I live and breath and work…”

      It is a noble radicalism. But the radicalism that inspires or provokes me the most is more akin to what transformed the ancient world, something a thousand times more radical than the American and French revolutions. There was a challenge not just to the form of society but to the the essence of humanity.

  8. There is no essence of humanity, period. The notion of a pre-existent essence of the human is my worst nightmare and the very Platonic Idealism against which I have striven most of my adult life. And, you’re stance in ancient skepticism leads to quietism rather than action. Sextus Empiricus was the foremost of the radical Pyrrhonian skeptic, and he defended the skill of finding for every argument an equal and opposing argument, a skill whose employment he believed would bring about the suspension of judgment on any issue which is considered by the skeptic, and ultimately, tranquillity. His path leads to inaction rather than action and would move the Stoa later on to seek tranquility, happiness, and a life without pain above all.

    You keep reducing my stance to “certainty” which is laughable. Nothing certain in my stance, philosophy, or scientific leanings. Rather radical uncertainty, and yet in realizing that we have to act and do in this life one has to make decision or one will as in your suspension of judgement and seeking out of every opposing argument end in a standoff which is pretty much where we are at the moment. You accuse me of defensiveness. Funny, the last time I saw it I affirm making “judgements” and “decisions” which is something I doubt your radical skepticism can or would do. Your nostalgia for the ancients seems ludicrous, and your denial of American and French revolutionary or counter-revolutionary period seems about par for the type of thought you do maintain.

    So, yea, we do see things from a different perspective and stance I’ll grant you that. Nothing good or bad in this, just different. I’m not castigating you, just realizing that we see things in opposing lights. As for my own stance, it comes right out of John Keats notion of Negative Capability: “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” And, yet, to remain in this aporia would leave one politically without the ability to make a judgement so that in the end one has to trust the best available evidence and also seek out as in the sciences a cooperative consensus of the best minds and make a decision based on that. If that is what you term “certainty” then so be it, its the certainty of the last instance of human judgment.

    • You don’t know jack shit about jack shit. The problem I have with you isn’t quietism but intellectual masturbation. Your analysis of the world is utterly detached from human experience. You quote endlessly from respectable intellectuals while offering no new insight of your own.

      You think you have me figured out and that is laughable. Come on. Don’t be stupid. I’m not a proponent of quietism, Platonic idealism, ancient skepticism, nostalgia for the past, or whatever. I gave you no rational reason to even suspect such a thing.

      I never alleged certainty of you, but it is obvious that you have become transfixed by a very particular vision. You still sound like your defensive and are now making wild accusations in pure ignorance. Is that what goes for intellectuality in your mind?

      Just fuck off. You are old and cynical. Instead of irritable reaching after fact and reason, you have fallen into irritable reaching after dystopian fantasies and apocalyptic visions. If that comforts you in your last years on earth, then more power to you. But it just doesn’t do much for me.

    • Your mind has grown stodgy. You are far from stupid, but like so many people old age has caught up with you. I don’t doubt that you once upon a time had a radical edge, not that anyone could tell from your recent writings. The point is that conventional thinkers aren’t going to feel threatened by you. Your dark, moody musings feed right into the cynicism in the air right now. Your detached intellectuality doesn’t point in any new directions.

      Yes, your blog is interesting, but there needs to be more than that. I love quotes and you have great talent in stringing together quotes. That isn’t a talent to be dismissed, even as it leaves my appetite unsatisfied. You write like an academic, not like a revolutionary. That is fine, as far as it goes. Scholarly writings have their place. It’s just offers no resonance for those seeking radical imagination.

      Maybe more problematic to me is that I don’t get a basic sense of humanity from your views. Thomas Ligotti can be dark and I wouldn’t call him a radical. Even so, there is something profoundly compassionate in his writing that cuts to the marrow of human nature. He has a brilliant intellect, but manages to never come across as a mere intellectual. I’m not saying I take inspiration from Ligotti. He is not a creature of radical imagination and certainly has no hope for revolutionary transformation. He is fully in the school of dark imagination by way of philosophical horro, despite the human quality to his insights. He does attempt to bring something original to the table, to give voice to something that is hard to articulate, which is of value.

      I get the sense that you are pulling your punches. I suspect that you have the capacity for radical imagination and that in the past that capacity was more at the center of your writings. I don’t say that lightly, as not everyone has such capacity. It’s a hard thing to learn. What I’m sensing is that the grooves of your thinking have become too well worn. To get to the root of the world’s problems, you’d have to first get to the root of your own mind. There simply isn’t any clear personal stake in your conjectures. It comes across as a mere intellectual exercise.

      That said, I’m not claiming superiority. I know that I fail my own lofty standards of radical imagination. It’s something I strive toward, even as I continuously fall short. I’m as critical of myself as of others. The only thing I don’t forgive is those who have given up trying.

      You need to loosen your mental girdle. Radicalism isn’t about analyzing issues and making an argument, but neither is radicalism limited to action. Rather, it is where the potential for a revolution of the mind opens up to the possibility of a revolution in the world. This would be a transformation on all levels. It’s not the ideas and ideologies within consciousness, but consciousness itself that is the battlefield. You need to return to your own roots, that is your earlier writings when you were exploring what consciousness meant.

      If you can’t shake up your own thinking, how do you expect to play any role in the shaking of the foundations of the world. The same goes for me. I’m offering a challenge to the both of us. Repeating what we have said before won’t lead to new insights, conclusions, and results. The air we are breathing is stale and the lack of oxygen clouds our minds. It’s like being trapped in the hull of a sinking ship, knowing that above the dark depths one is sinking into there is the surface that breaks open into a vast sky. What is needed isn’t to describe the ship in detail, to explain its structure and manufacture, to analyze its failures and trajectory, but to simply escape.

      We are living in a world where the masses are drowning and gulping for air. The greatest of intellects are impotent before such immense suffering and desperation. Yet what else do we have, those of us who have little power beyond our own words?

      When Thomas Paine first came to the American colonies and set down to write a pamphlet, what difference could he possibly have thought his words could make? Why did he believe writing mattered at all? He was no profound intellectual and neither was he anyone of consequence. The one and only thing he could do is give voice to the voiceless and so that is what he did, despite his having no plausible reason to assume anyone would pay attention. He spoke out because it was better than silence and, behind his words, he put the full moral force of radical imagination.

      Being a writer is a privilege and a responsibility, so it seems to me. We don’t have the luxury to waste time. Every word must count, as if we really believed the situation is as urgent as being trapped in a burning house. Our words need to be screams of emergency, not patient observations like a news reporter standing outside watching the house go up in flames.

    • You seem to confuse dark imagination with radical imagination. You do have the capacity for radical imagination. But going by your latest blogging, your preference tends toward dark imagination. The problem is negative capability is more in line with radical imagination than dark imagination. When I read your posts from this year, the thought of negative capability doesn’t come to mind. There is simply too much certainty expressed in your explorations of dystopia and apocalypse.

      In many ways, you seem to be typical of a certain kind of left-winger. Your focus is more externally-oriented on systems and structures, on the form more than the substance. That is actually something I admire about much of left-wing thought. But to get at radical imagination, that outer focus can’t accomplish what is necessary. The radical will always be what is of essence, what is within — specifically of our shared humanity. That is why a single social scientist can offer greater radical insight than a dozen left-wing economists or political scientists. Detailed analysis is not the same as in-depth insight.

      The other problem with obsessing over the dark imagination is that it is so easy to get lost in it. The dark imagination is important in exploring the problem. But only the radical imagination can offer light within that darkness so that one doesn’t get lost. You are overly confident in yourself and, given your intellectual abilities and wide reading, I can understand where that confidence comes from. There is a risk in such confidence. Radical imagination demands radical humility when entering the perilous territory of the dark imagination. The darkness has a way of infecting even the most brilliant of minds, as can be attested to by the surprising number of left-wingers who become reactionaries or otherwise went so far left that they ended up on the far right.

      I wouldn’t say any of this if I thought you were incapable of radical imagination. I’ve read many posts by you where I sensed a genuine radical edge. That is reason for my disappointed expectation. Your recent writings stop short of what they could be. It’s like an arrow that has only partway pierced one’s body. Examining the arrow can only do so much good, no matter how clear-eyed one probes the entry wound. Eventually, the arrow will need to be pushed all the way through in order to remove it. That is what radical imagination does in pushing beyond what can be found in the dark imagination.

      The darkness is the soil in which the root grows. But it is not the root itself. Your analysis of the soil is impressive. Now dig further down for the root. Instead of proud eagles surveying the terrain, we are at a time when what is needed is hogs rooting below the surface. This isn’t to say that dark imagination is of less value than radical imagination. Each has a role to play. Many damning books of dark imagination have come out in recent years that point to unpleasant realities and speak truth to power. The most recent example is “The Color of the Law” by Richard Rothstein, one in a long line of harsh testimonies. Such works of difficult research are necessary but not sufficient. They clear open a space and that is good as far as it goes.

      We’ve had generations of such works. It’s time we figured out how to take the next step. This would require us somehow to come to terms with human nature, the essence of our humanity, to grapple with human identity, most of all with the human mind and consciousness. This isn’t an area that most traditional left-wing thought has been drawn to or comfortable with. For whatever reason, the social sciences have been dismissed by the likes of Noam Chomsky, instead taking the hard sciences as a model to study the world. What interested me in your blog was the possibility that you might help bridge this gap. But it feels like you’ve retreated from that battleground. You’ve proven that you can range widely. I’d love to see what you could do if instead you dug down into the lowly and less dramatic aspects of the all-too-human.

      It’s my fault, I suppose. I expected something of you that apparently isn’t who you are or who you are interested in being. You are good at what you do. But I was hoping that you might be one of those who could push the issues to a new level. I thought I saw something else in you. There isn’t much point in my criticizing you for not being what you aren’t. I’ll leave you alone to do your own thing. We all do what we do, what we feel able and motivated to do. Such is life.

      • I should mention that Nick Land sure possesses the music crit faculty with his translation of heavy sound into something approaching poetry. Now I hate to drag in the chorus but to invoke Stephen J Gould and ol Schop with his organist for “Non Overlapping CIrclets”–

        Acceleratonism,
        1. monetize arguement
        2. ?
        3. Profit?

        Numerology Fever, beats the Cabin
        Till Gone In 60 Seconds

  9. In my interaction with Hickman, it felt frustrating as if no communication was happening. He kept acting like normal language didn’t have any shared human meaning. I started wondering if he was just playing Devil’s advocate or else saw debate as an intellectual game. He seems to be someone who experiences everything in intellectual terms.

    It finally occurred to me that maybe he was being straightforward. It’s quite possible that language that might seem normal to me simply makes no sense to him. Intellectuality might not be a mere pose for him but how he experiences his world. I notice he never writes anything personal or emotional, as if he were a disembodied mind linked up to the internet. The differences between us aren’t necessarily ideological. When I use certain words, they literally might have no subjective meaning to him.

    I was researching the autism spectrum and personality disorders because I know people with such conditions, including strong suspicions about my own psychological makeup. A large part of these conditions is that what is normal to others is not normal to them. Someone with Asperger’s isn’t pretending to not know what certain words mean, as they lack the full range of cognitive empathy and theory of mind to know the experience of people without Asperger’s.

    This struck home to me tonight. I randomly decided to watch the first episode of “Atypical.” It’s a show about someone with severe Asperger’s, a highly intelligent intellectual who simply doesn’t grasp what most people would consider the ‘human’ quality of life. I’ve considered that I might have Asperger’s, but if so mine is an extremely mild case. Even though I’ve had trouble with dealing with human behavior, I don’t know that I’ve ever lacked a sense of human subjectivity as others experience it. I have above average in being able to read people and know where they are coming from, at least when I meet them personally and can more easily get an intuitive sense of their nonverbal behaviors. Reading people online is much more difficult, often impossible.

    I’m not going to pretend to diagnose Hickman, but the point is that I don’t know who he is on a psychological level. He very well might be acting completely honest, no matter how easy it would be to dismiss his incomprehension as disengenuous. In a comment I chose not to approve, he stated that he didn’t believe in a shared human nature or something like that. Well, maybe he doesn’t believe in it because he doesn’t experience it. I’ve had that kind of response of incomprehension to what others have told me at times, when it simply doesn’t fit anything I know on a personal level.

    As such, it might be useful to take him at face value and just assume he really doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I speak about certain things. Apparently, it makes no sense to him, for whatever reason. It simply doesn’t fit into his perception and hence conception of reality. That is part of the point I was making that he couldn’t accept. I was arguing that this wasn’t an intellectual debate. And yet to him, it seems everything is an intellectual debate. He filters the world through his intellect or so it has seemed in every blog post I’ve read of his and in every dialogue I’ve had with him. I’m also an intellectual, but I’m first and foremost an emotional being. I don’t assume all meaning is intellectual or that what can’t be intellectualized is false.

    Disagreement would be fine. What is frustrating is that he doesn’t seem to ever go off script. Everything seems to get reduced to ideas and analysis. His response to my speaking about radical imagination was to give an intellectual history of imagination as a term, not to express what such a term means subjectively and personally which was irrelevant from his perspective. Maybe to him, imagination is just a cognitive ability similar to logic or an intellectual method such as dialectical materialism. He acted as if I was talking nonsense when I referred to imagination as a subjective experience, and it’s possible in his experience it is genuinely without sense.

    It’s easy to forget the psychological aspect in dealing with people online. All we typically see are voiceless words on a screen, not a speaking human presence with a face and body. This becomes problematic because those with neuroatypical conditions are disproportionately found online, as research has shown. The average person on the internet is not the same thing as the average person in other areas of life.

    What is clear is that, whatever ideological differences exist between Hickman and I, the psychological differences might be even more vast. For example, I test as a Myers-Briggs INFP and I can guarantee you that he is not an INFP, rather maybe an INTJ or something like that. The fact of the matter is that INFPs do tend to have radical imaginations and radical idealism, which is to say their experience tends toward the emotionally and intellectually expansive while being grounded in an extreme emotional subjectivity. Introverted intuition tends to contract inwardly and whittle things down with a more narrow focus, such that what they are familiar with they often know in immense detail.

    I spent years on typology sites and dealing with Hickman does remind me of my interactions with various NT types, with INTJ specifically coming to mind. Trying to communicate across personality type divides can feel like attempting to translate an entire worldview into a foreign language. That is one of the intended purposes of typology theory, so as to help bridge that divide, to make the incomprehensible comprehensible. In this case, there has no doubt been a failure of communication and maybe some greater psychological insight would have been helpful.

  10. It certainly looks deeper than an ideological divide. I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s, and its a searing frustration to navigate language in daily life, but since I’m a writer by habit , interactions with the vast strangeness of the more or less NT landscape is my bread and butter. I sometimes wish I could live as a “solitary writer”, the way Ligotti characterized Lovercraft and Poe, but I’m attracted to the nerve splitting activity of societal affairs. On the other hand, I’m getting better at avoiding the halls of statecraft when it’s the fictional arena I’m after.

    Since you state the focus of your writing is on drawing connections, and Hickman’s posts are a declared battleground of intellectual systems driven to extremes, some conflict seems inevitable. Anyone who tips the scales on verbal intelligence, like me, is naturally drawn to the internet, where we lose the nuances that attend verbal communication.

    My personal belief is the internet in its present form tends to confirm the notion of all human endeavor, particularly the arts and letters, as fruitless word-games, when the world is pictured through that deranged lens– The internet always had its psychedelic quality, and like any drug it contains its diminishing returns.

    • I’ve always wondered why a certain type of left-wing intellectual is dismissive of social sciences, especially psychology. Hickman doesn’t seem all that interested in exploring important issues on the level of the personal and intimate, the subjective and emotional. That feels strange to me, strange to the extreme, as to me that level is my natural resting point.

      If I can’t meet someone on that level, it can be jarring or cause me to be mistrusting. I want to know who I’m dealing with. I want to know who a person is, not just their ideas. I need to know what motivates them and know where they are coming from. Without that background, ideas are meaningless abstractions because any given idea can mean numerous things to different people according to their biases and life experience.

      But when I’m dealing with certain left-wing intellectuals, I get the sense that they don’t want to be known on a personal level. They are highly resistant to allowing their personal life get mixed in with their ideological theorizing, as if bad things will happen if the two meet. It feels like a psychological defensiveness, which just makes me want to probe those defenses to discover what is being hidden and why.

      “Since you state the focus of your writing is on drawing connections, and Hickman’s posts are a declared battleground of intellectual systems driven to extremes, some conflict seems inevitable.”

      That is rather insightful.

      What frustrated me is that it seemed like there should be some point of connection. I could sense the value in some of what he was offering. I think he is a brilliant intellectual. But there is some edge of radicalism that makes sense to me and doesn’t make sense to him… or else is of little interest to him. His notion of radicalism apparently is about ideologies first and foremost, whereas I want to know what is below and comes before ideology (at least ideology in the overt, simple sense).

      I know he isn’t clueless, as his thinking is wide-ranging and he occasionally has touched upon these other areas that concern me the most, but to my sensibility it feels like something stops short in pushing to a deeper level of the psyche. His focus, as you say, is instead on intellectual systems and that focus doesn’t emphasize psychological subtleties. Pushing ideas to the extreme and battling them, to my mind, seems like a strange form of ideological sport. I’m not sure what it is supposed to accomplish, other than maybe intellectual entertainment.

      “My personal belief is the internet in its present form tends to confirm the notion of all human endeavor, particularly the arts and letters, as fruitless word-games, when the world is pictured through that deranged lens– The internet always had its psychedelic quality, and like any drug it contains its diminishing returns.”

      I’m fine with the psychedelic quality. I’m more than fine with that. But the diminishing returns becomes all too apparent to me with what I perceive as fruitless word-games. And I’ve long despised most intellectual debate, in the same way I despise apologetics and propaganda. Like William S. Burroughs, I’ve always had an extreme wariness about the powerful magic of language. It feels like dangerous territory set with snares, pits and booby-traps, not a place for games of any sort. Someone like Hickman, though, seems to revel in that intellectual play of words.

  11. Something popped into my mind. The view of battling ideas is fundamentally W.E.I.R.D (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). That is so clear to me.

    Hickman is well within the mainstream Western paradigm. That isn’t necessarily problematic, but such a bias is something that would be useful to be aware of. I don’t get the sense that he realizes this about himself. The challenge is that the only way to learn about this kind of thing is by carefully and widely studying social science. It is extremely difficult to radically criticize the W.E.I.R.D. society one is born into without understanding this.

    Out of curiosity, I did some searches on Hickman’s blog. I used different search terms on both the WordPress search function and the Google site search. He has never mentioned anything about this W.E.I.R.D. issue.

    To put this in context, he regularly writes blog posts and they are often detailed analyses of this society. He has had this particular blog for 5 years and typically posts on a daily basis, sometimes multiple posts per day. So, he probably has written thousands of posts at this point.

    Yet this most fundamental of cultural biases has never come up in any of his writings. Considering this, how would he recognize this bias, bring it into consciousness, challenge it, analyze it, and attempt to look beyond it? How is radical imagination possible? Sure, there are other paths to radical imagination, but this stumbling block would be quite the doozy in seeking another path.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s