Endarkening and the Limit of the Thinkable

‘On the Occasion of World Philosophy Day’

[I was invited to give a talk on the theme of Endarkenment. Below is my pitch. There’s slight correction from first upload]

To be honest about the topic, the text I have in mind that approaches the theme of endarkenment or the concept of endarkening is the Dark Enlightenment of the al-right movement, or alternative right. This concept has been revived during the presidency of Donald Trump, who is a known coddler of right-leaning right-leaning political figures in his cabinet and neoreactionary tendencies in the US and abroad.. I am saying this not to color the conference theme with certain notoriety, but, for argument’s sake, it may also be part of the theme’s intentionality if only for the need to navigate all relevant discourses. 

As to the theory of Dark Enlightenment, a few standard descriptions may suffice: 1) the idea of dark enlightenment proposes the reverse of the Enlightenment ideal of the linear progress of history towards more improved modernity, 2) it exhibits a robust tendency to regress to traditional forms of authority, which is pre-Enlightenment, or pre-modern by any standards, which is defined by as much power, plainly patriarchal, as a rigid social hierarchy, characterized by structures of subordination (or societies of discipline outlined by Foucault), and 3) a deep mistrust of the ruling elite.

Some of the insights I have given, especially the first and the third, may appear enticing even to progressive theory. The challenge to Enlightenment has been a normative stand, for instance, of critical theory, starting with Horkheimer and Adorno’s pessimism, which soon paved the way to a more robust suspicion of so-called grand narratives in the advent of postmodernism. Marxism, too, is a staunch critic of the way Enlightenment has been in many ways propelling the engines of capital, which relies upon a certain metaphysics of teleology – namely that capital boasts of its own historic role in the complete emancipation of freedom from necessity. 

One cannot help but notice that this emancipation is limited to the ideal coordinates of freedom, and, judging by capital’s planetary behaviour, these conditions are posited against the cosmic, or astronomical background of pre-existing conditions which limit any gesture of free will, whether by humans or nonhuman animals; limitations that preceded even the birth of the solar system. In short, there is a more robust typology of Enlightenment which inclines to idealist emancipation whose aim is to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, but never a grounded resolution to the crises of the human condition. 

In this sense, Elon Musk, for example, is the greatest idealist of all time. The famous Falcon space launcher is ultimately designed to tap into the mysteries of the cosmos through the most barbaric form of capitalism – which is colonialism. When it was not yet thinking about colonizing other planets, capitalism was drawing out the metaphysics of freedom and necessity by sponsoring the violent geo-morphic politics of master and slave, the state and its subjects, not to mention the global corporeal tension between the propertied capitalist and the laboring oppressed. Now, capital is fulfilling its historic role in emancipating freedom from the metaphysical poverty of the Earth, which is tantamount to abandoning planetarity, in order to navigate the stars, which are the bearers of the cosmic (or metaphysical) secret.

It turns out capitalism is not bound to mundane necessity. Capitalism’s unboundedness is singularly oriented to the source of light, the stars. This is the side of Enlightenment that capital utilizes to accelerate its movement towards the cosmos by the speed of light. In fact, it has already achieved this speed by accelerating bio-semiotic progress, which is the modern life as we know it on Earth, by algorithmic speed.

By another subject-matter, this side of Enlightenment is poised to abandon the Kantian project completely. Unfortunately, even the Kantian project has been wrongly oriented to the epistemic side of reason, Sapere Aude. The flight towards the stars will undoubtedly demolish Kant’s disjunctive synthesis that he very well put in the 2nd Critique: ‘the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’ As a way of digression, let me briefly discuss this point.

Here, the goal of this one-sided telos of the Enlightenment is to demolish what I call the planetarity of disjunctive synthesis, the planetarity being the material indeterminateness, or finite contingency of a given bio-semiotic ecology, starting in the early 18th century, which was characterized by time-intensive disjunction between thinking and the world, thought and existence, albeit, synthesized by the ‘I think,’ which is the spatiotemporal unity of apperception, concerning the manifold of experience in the Kantian sense. This unity is called the noetic subject. 

Credit: The starry heavens above us, and the moral law within 1969-2010 Anselm Kiefer born 1945 ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d?Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2011 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR01164

What Kant ignored is that the unity of apperception is not transcendental but historical. The subject is a historical unity, which Hegel later on extended to religious history, with the ‘history of the absolute that is God’ (as he described in the Encyclopedia Logic) supplying the unifying principle. We know how Marx, later on, turned this absolute upside down, which ignited the subsequent history of adjusting the principle of disjunctive synthesis, started by Kant, to the changing demands of the time under specific planetary conditions. It is at this point that the disjunctive synthesis has increasingly assumed, beyond the known historical limit of thinking, a distinct planetary form, or what Achille Mbembe calls planetarity.

In short, we are now exploring the other side of Enlightenment, which, in a sense, always already involves endarkenment. As I underscored, this endarkening roughly began with the opposing complement of disjunctive synthesis against any present or potential form of anti-planetarity.  

In my opinion, there are two approaches to anti-planetarity, coming from my own disciplinary orientation, which refer to the different philosophical approaches in continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. I will speak less robustly concerning this aspect, but it is important to underscore that both approaches co-constitute the paradigms of anti-planetarity. Both are forms of pursuing what we can call an ethic of care, which has planetary-wide implications, big or small, that is to say, a fundamental way of thinking that thinks at the limit of the thinkable, which cuts deep into the geologic and epiphylogenetic structures of thinking as care (I will elaborate on these concepts later on). 

But this leads me to propose a third approach. I am deriving this approach from the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler and his notion of technical evolution, with a little assistance from Rudolf Carnap, the German analytic philosopher.  Finally, Stiegler’s approach complements one of the significant achievements of German Idealism, which is Friedrich Schelling’s Naturephilosophy (that I will briefly discuss in the conclusion). 

Let me proceed to this third approach.

As we know, Rudolf Carnap’s major philosophical contribution comes with Der logische Aufbau der WeltThe Logical Structure of the World, which to me is a defining moment in philosophy, not just in analytic philosophy. I am not going by the standard or, what I may call, principled elucidation of Carnap’s importance for analytic philosophy since the Vienna Circle; instead, I will salvage Carnap, as I said, for creating a third synthesis. 

In a sense, I am formulating a prostheticized Carnap in the interest of what I designate by transducion, or transduction, which Bernard Stiegler utilized to mean by ‘de-phasing.’ (Transduction is originally from Gilbert Simondon). Suffice it to say, ‘de-phasing’ or transducion refers to any entity’s metastable nature, whether organic or technical. By its metastable nature, an individuated entity is always incomplete; it can de-phase itself by internal differentiation without losing its integrity as an entity. In his inaugural dissertation, Différence et Répétition, Gilles Deleuze elaborates on this concept to mean, what we discussed previously with Kant, a ‘disjunctive synthesis.’ Disjunctive synthesis signifies that two opposite terms are united by the difference that they make to one another. 

Carnap, I think, is a perfect example of a condition of thought that borders on the limit of the thinkable. Earlier, I mentioned the ethic of care designating the limit of the thinkable, which refers to the physicality of thinking, not just in terms of the noetic space of thought but also of the structural condition of thinking. The structurality of thinking itself presupposes a material state. At the most extreme limit, the materiality of thinking goes back to the epiphylogenesis of the hominin species. This origin involves the development of the human genome and its corresponding impact on the nervous system that only a conscious process of technical combination (epi + phylum), which already involves a reasoning process, can ignite an anthropological break. One can notice here that thinking at the epistemic limit of the thinkable paves the way to the objectivity of science, let us say, evolutionary science, which, if we are still serious about the business of thinking the limits, will lead us all to anthropology, archaeology and geological sciences, onwards to physics and the thinking of the limit of all, the Great Outdoors. 

Analogously, this limit-thinking, as I want to call it, characterized a critical development in Carnap’s philosophical thinking. Broadly speaking, as I wish to suggest, the controversial turn in Carnap’s system, from the logical to a kind of weak physicalist conception of the world, involved a kind of endarkening impulse. As it were, this impulse correlates itself to what we mentioned about de-phasing and the metastable nature of the phenomenal objects of conscious experience. For Carnap, the logical structure of the world derives its basis from phenomenal conscious experience. However, constructing the world will presuppose an idea about the physical world that, for much of what we know about it, remains a theoretical postulate, even if correspondence rules may support it. 

In other words, the world will always be interpreted incompletely. For instance, when Carnap talks about the rational reconstruction of the empirical sciences, he refers to the obscurity of the ‘autopsychological domain’ where scientists themselves arrived at an ‘intersubjective agreement,’ obscure enough that definitions could not resolve it. Thus, in the realm of the noetic space of cognition, lack of clarity can be corrected if there is a more significant degree of intuition involved.

We can now expand this intuitive functionality to mean close enough to the endarkening impulse that I mentioned. Carnap is important in this sense because his later turn overlaps with the continental disposition, where we can maximize a kind of philosophical trade-off, traversing the continental and analytic divide. 

Here, allow me to underscore a relevant difference between the continental and analytic. This time, I would choose only one description, made by Bernard Williams in his book Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. I am referring to the analytic’s proclivity for sharp ‘[distinction] between obscurity and technicality.’ As if this is not enough to acquaint us with the obscurity-tagging argument against the continental, recall Quine himself and others signed a petition to Cambridge not to grant an honorary doctorate to Derrida. According to the petitioners, Derrida’s writings ‘consist in no small part of elaborate jokes and puns,’ on account of his lack of ‘clarity and rigor.’ A lot of continentals, those who are not only born in Continental Europe, can be guilty as charged. 

But how about if we say that obscurity is endarkening, perhaps, a more unyielding version than Quine and his cohorts would ever tolerate, for the sake of decorum, to describe against the continentals? But Carnap can be a sober guide. Even at our most empirical and logical, endarkening, which emotions and intuitions represent, is a necessary element of the intellectual understanding of the world. But how necessary? 

It is at this point that I am going to discuss Stiegler’s third synthesis.

Stiegler is renowned in continental philosophy for some of the most creative concepts ever to come out of a philosophical text.  One of these concepts is the concept of the originary default. 

Bernard Stiegler

The concept of originary default is how the most thinkable point of origin can be conceived, pertaining to human origins, which is the ‘default of the source,’ what ‘remains,’ according to Stiegler, ‘always to be interpreted by going back to another source.’ (Obviously, it is another way of stating endarkening the source, where one source is lost in order to be found in another, and so on, like a serialized metastases, as we discussed with Simondon). For Stiegler, this is a necessary hominin fault, which, philosophy, by the way, was the earliest to tell its audience, since, perhaps, Plato’s Protagoras and the Republic which offered a rational re-construction of what Wilfrid Sellars, also one of the earliest figures of analytic philosophy, calls the myth of the given. Sellars is another important figure here: he was critical of the ‘science-worship’ of early analytic philosophy, including Carnap before his later turn. This is where I would suggest that the myth of the given is also a necessary form of endarkening, but also a necessary fault. (I will discuss more of this point later towards the conclusion). 

Wilfrid Sellars

The myth of the given is roughly the natural standpoint, which, at least, in Husserlian phenomenology, forms part of the retentional apparatus or the social memory of the species. Among his many influences, Stiegler’s concept of retention, is a reformulation of Derrida’s concept of archi-trace, after, of course, criticizing Husserl’s inability to de-differentiate primary perception and secondary retention, or memory and imagination, past and future, by means of tertiary retention that can unify the temporal flux, which Derrida inherited in the sense that for him, the impossibility of the non-distinction of temporalities that an otherwise absent tertiary retention can establish in a continuum only indicates that the origin remains untraceable. In this sense, the present rests on an even more indefinite ground.

Stiegler developed the concept of tertiary retention to overcome Husserl and Derrida’s inability to acknowledge the possibility of tertiary retention in the presence of technical objects through which phenomenal objects have become increasingly recognizable, especially in the hyper-technical age. Today, it is quite impossible to think of a conscious experience that is not shaped by technology via the hyper-information which runs at infinite speed and at staggering volume. These objects undergo metastases in undetectable ways, limiting our capacity for memory and imagining the future. For Stiegler, the indication that Derrida is wrong is that technology is increasingly re-routing humanity’s telos to what Stiegler calls a long ‘anthropological break.’ The break creates an artificial time, beginning with the mechanical clock and now the atomic clock of the quantum internet age. The anthropological break means the ‘[break] with the continuity of the already-there,’ but also ‘drawing … its movement and its impetus into that with which it breaks.’ Today it draws its movement by hyper-information and its impetus by overflooding the consumer economy with technical objects.

Besides calling it the Anthropic form of planetary entropy, the long anthropological break is what Stiegler would associate with the Anthropocene. 

From here, I would like to draw my concluding remarks.

One of my favorite thinkers, Rene Descartes, who ignited the Enlightenment thinking of the modern period, will always remind us that Enlightenment is, from the beginning, a different rule-generating infrastructure of thought compared to all traditional forms of thinking. At the root of thinking is the thinking of the limit of the thinkable, as we emphasized, of ethical ways of caring. 

Rene Descartes

Descartes, of all modernist thinkers, in fact, is closer to one of the most significant achievements of German Idealism, which is a topic that I am introducing for purposes of emphasis, through Friedrich Schelling’s naturephilosophical works. In one of his public polemics, Schelling outlined the task of naturephilosophy to pursue the collapse of the known world with the world of nature. This concept of collapse is mobilized by intuition, which attempts to challenge the functional hegemony of analytic reflection, which bifurcates thought and being, mind and matter, intelligence, and the world. In this sense, collapse takes a positive essence by the power of intuition to unify the two worlds, but only by destroying the phenomenal one, overdetermined by analytic divisions through the power of reflection, which is also the power of calculation. 

Descartes was the first to intimate this concept of collapse through the immediate intuition of existence, which is the a priori power behind geometry, and later mathematical calculation. I contend that this is the part of Descartes that is open to a positive form of endarkening as ‘anti’ anti-planetarity that has been ignored for hundreds of years. By re-inventing his ideas, as Alain Badiou, for example, has done in his works, Cartesian intuition becomes a force of unifying worlds. But intuition does not only unify; it also constructs a possible world that takes existence as the immediate benefit of reflection. That is, intuition makes reflection concrete.

Schelling called this reconstructive intuition as the aesthesis of the world, the pre-actuality of the world before it gets internally divided by reflective reason, which, in Cartesian terms, is the un-mathematical world that lacks intuition. The prevailing un-mathematical world, therefore, is what Descartes doubted. This might be a bit confusing: the mathematical world is a world defined by calculating reason. 

FWJ Schelling

And yet it is a calculation to the extent of a unifying aesthesis, not the un-mathematical algorithm of deepening the division between thought and being, too deep in that the actual divide it generates becomes invisible. It is in this sense that the hypertechnicity of the present age appears as overwhelming and unbreakable. Accordingly, there is no crisis to mend to the extent that there seems to be no analytic opposition or difference on the surface. 

As Stiegler argues, this indicates the absence of an epoch, and therefore, of a sense of time. If time grounds being or existence in sensibility (in terms of motion, action, or cause and effect), then the absence of time generates a pure ego, pure Seyn or being. In contrast to mathematical calculation, whose primary purpose is to unify worlds, calculation by egotism makes the appearance of unity by inventing opposition and difference on the surface, which eventually get synthesized artificially. But by burying them or endarkening their location, ironically, by the speed of light, through which binary models of reality get sorted out by algorithms, which no intuition can access, concrete opposition and difference are lost in the realm of phenomena. 

This falling prey to the absence of an epoch, verfallenheit, is the essence of the hypertechnical age. It is an epoch that lacks intuition, which manifests in the loss of time and the loss of truth, in the era of post-truth or the era of non-temporality. No doubt this hyper-egotism also corresponds to the galactic pursuit of space colony as if the Earth has lost its time, or as Schelling described, lost in it “what is oldest in nature,” which is the Earth’s capability to place thinking in darkness – the Earth as endarkenment. 

As Schelling would argue, the Earth places thinking in darkness by pushing cognition to the abyss of the past, to a condition of existence when ‘everything accidental and everything that has become is removed.’ One of the accidental things that have become over time, in geologic history, is the Ego, which has also become, since the last 300 hundred years, the most  dominant form of planetary Entropy.

Both Schelling and Stiegler would thus recommend the return of the Earth to the condition of care, to the originary calculative but intuitive thinking of the limit of the thinkable, the limit being the obscurity of necessary default. Even so, the originary default generates the default of default, the excess of default, which is hubris. It is in this sense that Schelling, for instance, would say evil is coterminous with creation. Creation itself is evil. 

This originary violence of the Ego cannot be repeated, and thus, the Ego, in its present Anthropic form, must not be allowed to support the corruption of the originary ego that has now come to be known as the Anthropocene.

In short, the Anthropocene is a reversible phenomenon if only we can bring the Earth back to its originary endarkening condition of care. The originary condition is where mathematical calculation is as much a caring infrastructure of intuition as the aesthetic manufacture of possible worlds, which is not bound to ontological binarism, compared to the deep bifurcations of the algorithms of hypertechnicity. The hypertechnical age destroys the humanity of technicity through the impersonalism of un-mathematical, digital computation.

But the humanity that we posit here is not the reverse of the impersonal. 

I contend that this humanity must not suffer the punishment of the impersonal; rather, we must struggle for a humanity, and celebrate its caring thinking in ways that we can, that can take upon itself the guilt of the personal.

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