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Comments are for the page: Lovecraft, Speculative Realism, and silly nihilism
You had me at Ia! ia!
Make sure to check out Harmans fellow object oriented ontologist (and buddhist) Tim Morton aswell! http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1
David – fantastic post. Thank you. Here are my thoughts (I’m a bit shy about the length of my comment, but obviously not shy enough):
(1) Great Tour
Thank you for the fine tour through Lovecraft (who I will never read), Harman’s Speculative Realism, and the spark-notes summary of Heidegger who though I have attempted to read a bit but your summary shows me why it was wise to just give up on him.
(2) Philosophy lags Culture
I had never thought about that. Very nice. It shows that ‘thoughts’ can exist even without form. In your system, they are born of formlessness. :-) I call them, meta-thoughts (a very sloppy idea, but it works for me)
(3) Out of my Generation
In other posts you label generations by their prevalent ideas. (I tried to find your chart, but could not.) But I certainly don’t fit in my generation. Neither nihilism nor Eternalism are tempting to me.
When I was deconstructing my Christianity, I read some Existentialism – my immediate impression with them (which I have said for decades) was that though they had thrown out a lot of theism, they kept to much of the bad parts that led to angst – their housecleaning was pathetically incomplete. Your post confirms this. I understood this on some level even if I could not verbalize it. You verbalized it well. Which is sort of an example of culture (verbally ignorant me) vs. philosophy (you here). :-)
(5) Life is a Game
One of your writing habits, which I find annoying, is that you are a tease. I get all excited while reading your brilliant clarity, clear organization and fun style but then you leave out critical elements that seem should be in a post. Yet you hint that it may be in future posts, but it seems we never get there. Maybe you are messing with us like Harman is messing with his reader – using his style to illustrate some philosophical in a literary way (though I doubt that).
So, here is the thing: You rightful state that as far as “Meaning” goes,
(a) Eternalism (theism being one of her proponents) is wrong to look for “ultimate” [and I’d say “universal] meaning.
(b) Nihilism is a reaction against Eternalism’s mistake showing the truth of (a). But goes to far: saying no “ultimate” meaning, so not “real” meaning. [which Lovecraft pre-emptively showed us in his pulp fiction too].
(c) New Meaninglessness: then you give us the tease: “meaninglessness is funny and enjoyable, as well as horrifying.”
So you never tell us any more about meaningness. But tell me, “Meaningness” seems something as very simple as a game. Games may not be either universally or ultimately meaningful (not Eternalism) but they have “real” meaning (not Nihilism) and any 12-year-old knows it. They car “fun, enjoyable and (well) can be horrifying.”
Meaning is as simple as a game. I wrote about this in 2010 in this post. You will see that my little post is very incomplete and not nearly as well-stated and clear as your. But at least I am not a tease. ;-)
Is it anywhere close to where you are going? Or do you intend to gift wrap it in a more complex non-dualism tantric jargon so that it sounds much better than that? ;-)
(6) Twelve Year-Olds
I think a lot of twelve-year olds naturally intuit some universal meaning – especially when it comes to surviving death and essentialism (an ever living soul). They also have brain mechanisms that allow them to feel watched by disembodied presences. But religious upbringing can mold this, and modern culture can untie this. I am not sure what a 12-year-olds now-adays understand, and I have an 11 and a 13 year old nowadays.
This post shows the unavoidable overlap of your sites. It seems that this could also being on your meaningness site. So, perhaps you should put this in an index post (table of contents) so it can be found other than looking in “most ) recent”.
@ Dangftangalang — Thanks, yes, Tim Morton’s work is definitely interesting. Most recently he has posted about “fuzzy objects”, which is going to be one of the major themes in my Meaningness book; a first glimpse of that is here.
@ Sabio — Thank you very much for this comment! Don’t be shy about the length; you weren’t verbose, you just had a lot to say, and it was relevant.
Thoughts-not-yet-ready-to-be-formed are an extremely interesting topic. Not much seems to be written about them. I’m currently trying to read The Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject through Painting, which was recommended by Will Buckingham. It’s about this theme seen through the lens of Chinese landscape painting (and Taoism). Very hard going but worth the effort.
I do think particular ways of thinking about meaning are typical for different generations, but this is just a generalization and many people are exceptions. You definitely seem to be one.
Every “spiritual” system created so far by Westerners has been structurally similar to Christianity, and existentialism definitely qualifies. So does American Protestant Buddhism, for instance. I hope we can break out of this pattern.
No matter how annoying you find it that I write so slowly, and out of order, so that key parts are missing years later—you cannot possibly find that as annoying as I do.
However, I think if you re-read the brief introduction to the Meaningness book, plus maybe this page, you will find an answer to the questions you raised about that.
I’m sure you know much more about how twelve-year-olds think than I do! I agree that kids seem to have (evolved, innate) attitudes that predispose us all toward eternalism. However, my sense is that—at this point in the evolution of Western culture—there are countervailing thoughts that work against that.
Fundamental, pre-systematic stances trump systems. Even people who are committed to Christianity are unable to actually maintain an eternalist stance consistently. Our culture is full of messages that make that near-impossible. (Which was not true in, say, 1800.)
Yeah, all my sites are fundamentally about the same set of ideas. I cross-link them extensively.
The underlying structure of the ideas is mostly implicit, because I don’t get much time to write, and things come out in the order they crystallize rather than logically. I’ve tried to address that with the schematic overview, but that’s probably too abstract to be useful.
Have you read/read about Thomas Ligotti?
I’ve read a little by him, and a little about him. I found him mildly interesting but wasn’t sure I wanted to read more. Is there anything in particular you would recommend?
Hmm, I was just digging through the pile of unread books on my livingroom table, and found Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror there. It seems to be the right thing of his to read… And eventually I will!
It has a Foreword by Ray Brassier, I see.
Yeah , I haven’t read him but seen him described (hilariously) as writing ‘ontological horror’. Think he’s seen as a Lovecraft successor, maybe.
I must admit I have not read Harman’s book in question but I do find it hard to think he could be taken for a nihilist. Doesn’t he always insist how he believes in the reality of things? I thought Lovecraft was used to show some of the principles of this reality, for example: how objects can never be reduced to their qualities and relationships.
I also remember reading how the vagueness of many Lovecraft’s descriptions illustrate Harman’s concept of “withdrawal”, a concept I think Timothy Morton once equated with emptiness…
Thank you very much; glad you enjoyed it!
“Nihilism” can refer to several different denials. Here I was using it as the denial of all meaning, which is the way I use it consistently in my book.
Another sense is “ontological nihilism,” the view that nothing exists. Neither Harman, nor Lovecraft, nor I hold that. Peter Unger wrote an influential paper titled “I do not exist”; he was a genuine ontological nihilist at the time.
Harman’s book doesn’t use the word “nihilism” at all, and meaninglessness is not a particular theme there. So I may have been unfair and/or mistaken about that. (Houellebecq’s book is about Lovecraft’s nihilism.)
This post wasn’t meant to be a review of Harman; I just wanted to acknowledge my debt of understanding to him. However, I do find it queer that he seems not to notice that Lovecraft is absurd and un-scary; that seems to need explanation.
As you mention, Harman’s main point is to relate Lovecraft to his theory of object-oriented ontology. I didn’t discuss that in the post at all because it wasn’t relevant to my central point: that nihilism, which was majorly scary in the mid-20th century, is now funny instead.
Based on what I have read of OOO, I think it has some valuable insights, but is basically wrong. I’ll be writing much more about objects at some point; for now I have an overview of the project at “Boundaries, objects, and connections.”
Based only on desultory web reading, Harman’s interpretation of Heidegger’s zuhandenheit seems peculiar; he seems to have read Kant’s phenomenon/noumenon into it, which is exactly what Heidegger was trying to get away from. “Withdrawal” seems like a noumenon thing (but maybe I’m totally misunderstanding Harman here).
I have a different ontological interpretation of emptiness, which I call “nebulosity,” and which also owes a great deal to zuhandenheit.
“Nebulosity” is also based on some of the same arguments Unger used to conclude that he didn’t exist. He reasoned from a correct observation, that things don’t have objective boundaries, an absurd conclusion, that they don’t exist at all.
Instead, my take is that boundaries are constituted by us in the course of practical activity (which is purpose-laden, biologically constrained, and necessarily social). Stuff exists objectively (I’m a realist), but it is not objectively divisible into chunks. (At least not at a macroscopic scale.)
Zuhandenheit is a consequence of the unconscious, perceptual process of division of reality into purpose-laden chunks (such as a hammer, in Heidegger’s example).
My basic problem with OOO is that it starts from realism (stuff exists independently from mind) and then implicitly moves to the view that the universe is split into chunks independently from mind.
That view is, I will argue, incompatible with any plausible physics. My argument is pretty close to Unger’s. Basically, if you look at any putative boundary at high enough magnification, it gets vague. Also, what we consider “parts of an object” is, in many cases, obvious dependent on our uses of the object, not physical facts about it. There’s a sketch of this argument at “Boundaries, objects, and connections.”
Again, I may be misunderstanding OOO here, and it may not make the mistake I’m suggesting. I’d be very interested if it doesn’t!
Sorry, long reply, but I have these topics very much in mind, and hope to get to write more about them soon.
I can see how I misunderstood your use of nihilism. Not sure what Harman would have to say about objective values and such (I do remember him saying that if there is a god it would have to be just as limited and independent as any other object). But I don’t think he sees the horror of a Lovecraft protagonist the same way you do, as the horror of experiencing meaninglessness. For him, I think it’s more of a special effect to convey the amazing distance between phenomenon and noumenon.
I’m horrifyingly far away from being any kind of expert on Harman but here is my layman understanding: I guess he is saying that even though Heidegger claimed to get away from Kant he never really did. The way Harman fixes Kant (or makes him worse?) is by generalizing the phenomenon/noumenon to every possible relationship. It’s not just a problem for human knowledge but a problem for causality between all objects. Harman would also tell you that not even practical activity (the standard Heideger-interpretation) will be enough to exhaust things completely.
I don’t think you’ve misunderstood OOP except in assuming that the move from realism to independent chunks is implicit. Harman has a lot of good arguments for making this claim, especially in relationship to monism and attempts at positing middle ground-ontologies. For some of these arguments I would recommend Prince of Networks, his book on Bruno Latour, which is available as open access.
To be honest I never really thought about the un-scary and funny nature of Lovecraft before today. It is certainly true, but does it mean that cosmic horror fiction is compeletly unworkable? What about suffering? What about a story where the protagonist finds out that most of the universe is in terrible agony, all the time, for eternity, and that the best you can get is just to be a human, mildly in pain, for a short while? I don’t know, that sort of makes me shiver a little bit…
the way Harman fixes Kant (or makes him worse?) is by generalizing the phenomenon/noumenon to every possible relationship. It's not just a problem for human knowledge but a problem for causality between all objects.
Yes, that’s my understanding too. I do think this makes things worse. On the other hand, I agree strongly with the “anti-correlationist” view that things get on with their own business regardless of us. That is horrifying if you have an ego-centric or human-centric view. Buddhism and meditation are great antidotes to that!
Harman has a lot of good arguments for making this claim, especially in relationship to monism and attempts at positing middle ground-ontologies.
Ah, how very interesting! I will definitely have to read Prince of Networks then.
What about a story where the protagonist finds out that most of the universe is in terrible agony, all the time, for eternity, and that the best you can get is just to be a human, mildly in pain, for a short while? I don't know, that sort of makes me shiver a little bit...
Nice, yes. Maybe you should have a go at writing that!
One of my favorite people is Sister Y, author of the blog The View From Hell. She argues that non-human suffering dwarfs human suffering (even on Earth, never mind the rest of the universe). If you take that seriously, it may require major ethical re-consideration (depending on what sort of ethics you already hold).
By the way, forgot to say that my discussion of the nebulosity of objects is also directed squarely at monism (which I reject too). I argue for a third possibility that is neither monism (All is One) nor dualism (things are clearly and objectively separate).
Lovecraft is certainly a puzzle. Your take on him is as solid as I have seen. I have enjoyed re-reading him over the years, but I doubt I am a real addict. I don’t care very much for the Cuthulu stuff, mostly because of the literary offenses you describe. My favorite among these is The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which has, I think, fewer of these flaws than most and locates the horror inside the first person narrator thus skipping over the philosophical conflict you describe. I also enjoy his straight horror fiction, what little of it there is, such as Cool Air. There are a number of authors in or near this genre, Lafcadio Hearn, J.S. LeFanu, and M.R.James whose works would be interesting to see you tackle, as well as the few truly top flight stories of Algernon Blackwood.
Harman really does not notice that his position is identical to nihilism, nor does he seem to care: http://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/from-occupy-to-multiply-speculative-realism-is-noones-property/
I realise this essay is a little old (and this comment may well escape your attention!) but having toured your excellent and extremely helpful sites it’s one of my favourites, and gets to the heart of the problems I have with ‘cosmic horror’ and related trends in current Continental philosophy, re: the whole meaning confusion you unmask so well. Time and time again that confusion plays a larger role in my life than I’d like!
You mentioned Ray Brassier, who seems like an especially bad offender in this regard. Once I understood what it was he was arguing for (and I’m still not absolutely sure to be honest - blame my allergy to Continental jargon), for a while I was fascinated at just how insane and unworkable a thesis like his actually was - how it applied to his day-to-day life, for example.
Keep up the good work!
This is an odd coincidence–I was working on writing about nihilism for Meaningness last week. I was making good progress and had some momentum, and then the graphics card in my computer burned up and it’s been away for repair. So the only thing I managed to complete and publish was the chapter intro page (http://meaningness.com/nihilism) which doesn’t say much. I hope to get back to writing the contents of the chapter sometime in the next few weeks, but it’s not clear I will be able to find time.
Anyway, while working on that, I flipped again through Brassier’s Nihil Unbound. I might have missed something, so the following is incautious and unfair. However, the argument seemed to boil down to “eventually everyone will be dead, and there won’t be anyone around for things to be meaningful to, so everything is meaningless now.” Maybe he explains how the first part implies the second, but I didn’t find it in my quick look.
I don’t think it follows. Meanings are, roughly speaking, tools for living. A saw is a useful tool even if it will cease to exist in a hundred years or a million years or whatever.
“Meanings are temporary, therefore they don’t exist” is a surprisingly common argument, but is a complete non-sequitur as far as I can see.
Yes, it is a widespread chestnut. The other one that comes to mind is “what we commonly regard as meaningful now has only come about through centuries of blind, unguided evolution - therefore it’s illusory.” This reaches its apex when dyed-in-the-wool philosophical pessimists personify evolution as an evil God figure creating meanings as all these wonderful distractions from the abyss. Once again, it seems the ‘eternal, ordering principle’ we’ve supposedly lost is quietly pulling the strings at the back.
I wonder if the whole debacle around meaningness and meaninglessness is bound up in questions about teleology. The whole idea that something has to be directed and ‘for’ something to be meaningful. At the very least you could say human evolution is unintelligible and its goals, if any, are unknown, but so many people crave certainty, finality, a pay-off. That seems to be the crux behind a lot of the contemporary antinatalism advocates on the internet (more so the Ligotti/Schopenhauer-inspired pessimists than the ‘philanthropic’ Benatar-inspired ones who are more concerned with pain/pleasure equations) - if there’s no point, let’s all get off! Yes, they’ve been preying on my mind a lot recently…
"what we commonly regard as meaningful now has only come about through centuries of blind, unguided evolution - therefore it's illusory."
Oh, yes, thank you, that’s one I ought to address!
Can you point me at someone well-known who makes that argument? It seems like a non-sequitur again, but maybe there’s some logic I’m missing.
“What we commonly regard as wings now have only come about through centuries of blind, unguided evolution—so they aren’t really wings, they just have an illusory similarity to wings.” Does this analogy fail?
I think the underlying intuition, again, is that the only “real” meaning has to come from God. Meanings that come from anywhere else don’t count. Why not? Because God is supposed to be able to guarantee the meanings are right. We might get meanings wrong; evolution might get meanings wrong; we don’t trust those meanings.
when dyed-in-the-wool philosophical pessimists personify evolution as an evil God figure creating meanings as all these wonderful distractions from the abyss
Is this Nick Land’s Gnonsense?
it seems the 'eternal, ordering principle' we've supposedly lost is quietly pulling the strings at the back.
Quite so. The Gnon stuff is silly and harmful so far as I can see. There is no good God, but there is no evil God either. Personifying evolution as a malign God scares the vulnerable, but is obviously false and counter-productive.
many people crave certainty, finality, a pay-off
Yes, this is one of the biggest promises of eternalism. It can’t deliver. But nihilism is not the only alternative. (Damn, I do really urgently need to write this stuff up! Wish I weren’t constantly interrupted by Evil Forces.)
Yes, they've been preying on my mind a lot recently
I suspect a degree of trollish sadism in some of that stuff. Emotional traps set for those intelligent enough to see through eternalism.
“Can you point me at someone well-known who makes that argument?”
I haven’t read the book so I may be completely wrong about this, but it seems Alex Rosenberg’s ‘Atheist’s Guide to Reality’ may be a good example of that line of thinking, if not putting forward that specific argument. Its subtitle is pointedly called ‘Enjoying Life Without Illusions’. The book’s been touted as taking hardcore naturalism to its ‘logical conclusion’, which for me seems to say: if everything is physical, then somehow our meanings are illusory because they weren’t what we thought they were. I think you’ve already highlighted fairly well why that doesn’t make much sense.
Interested to know what you make of ‘Terror Management Theory’ (and its helpful title!) as inspired by Ernest Becker - it too posits meanings are tools for living, but suggests that because in the theory’s framework they exist squarely to distract us from death, they’re not what we think they are, and the implication is they’re less real for that. As far as I know it’s been touted to explain the entrenchment of people within their belief systems and the conflict this inspires, but it seems to me like an extremely unhelpful and blinkered misstep.
“Is this Nick Land’s Gnonsense?”
I’ve heard of the name and the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ before, but never seriously investigated. Not sure I’ll bother either, going by that link. My habit of giving due time and attention to every philosophical movement/argument/piece of ephemera out there needs to know when to stop, I think!
“I suspect a degree of trollish sadism in some of that stuff. Emotional traps set for those intelligent enough to see through eternalism.”
Undoubtedly there is for a lot of it - as any True Detective discussion on Reddit will attest to - but some of it is genuine, espoused in dedicated blogs for quite a few years, which is a real shame to me. There are people who genuinely think they’ve discovered The Truth that only they and a select few others can see without filters, and are unshakeably convinced of their rightness.
“Damn, I do really urgently need to write this stuff up! Wish I weren’t constantly interrupted by Evil Forces.”
Well, whether I count as an Evil Force or not I’m glad you take the time to respond to every last comment. It’s very refreshing!
Thank you very much for pointing me to The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. I’ve read about it on Amazon and it sounds extremely tedious! However, I probably ought to read something like that before writing, and lots of people seem to have read this one, so it may be a good choice.
On the other hand, it seems that his argument grounds in eliminationism with regard to all intentionality, not just “meaning of life” stuff. He uses basically Searle’s original intentionality argument (but deploys it in support of eliminationism rather than vitalism). If one is willing to make that move, then you get nihilism (regarding life purpose, ethics, etc.) for free. But this is an even harder case to argue, I think.
The next step along this path is mereological nihilism: “there aren’t any rocks, really, just temporary assemblages of protons and electrons, which we mistakenly interpret as rocks because our evolved perceptual systems are lying to us.” Peter van Inwagen, for example, takes this next step. Whatever, dude.
Your comment was the first I’d heard of Terror Management Theory. So I read the Wikipedia article on it, and the one on Becker, and on his book. Based on that only: it’s obvious that denial of death does motivate quite a lot of culture (especially but not exclusively religion). However, the theory seems to make it the basis for everything, which seems hugely overreaching.
I asked about Land only because I was trying to guess where you were coming from… I don’t at all recommend reading him. (Although to be fair I haven’t read much of him myself and possibly have missed something of value.)
some of it is genuine, espoused in dedicated blogs for quite a few years... There are people who genuinely think they've discovered The Truth that only they and a select few others can see without filters, and are unshakeably convinced of their rightness.
Can you say who you have in mind here? (I’m trying to exploit your knowledge to avoid doing a proper literature review myself!)
I'm glad you take the time to respond to every last comment.
Actually, I changed my policy about this a few months ago. I realized I was spending more time answering comments and email inquiries than writing new material, so I’m going to be ignoring many more of them.
However, yours are interesting, and also you are probably helping me a lot more than vice versa! Thank you!
“Your comment was the first I’d heard of Terror Management Theory. So I read the Wikipedia article on it, and the one on Becker, and on his book. Based on that only: it’s obvious that denial of death does motivate quite a lot of culture (especially but not exclusively religion). However, the theory seems to make it the basis for everything, which seems hugely overreaching.”
These are my thoughts exactly. The former is not exactly a new or radical idea, but the latter is not only somewhat unsupported but unhelpful. I’m no stickler for falsifiability if certain ideas can help us understand problems from fresh angles (and thus tackle them), but this one falls short on both fronts.
“I asked about Land only because I was trying to guess where you were coming from… I don’t at all recommend reading him.”
I mentioned the ‘malevolent God’ thing because many of the nihilistic persuasion go one step further than honestly describing an observably neutral universe that we routinely anthropomorphise and, probably as a reaction against the more hubristic excesses of secular humanism*, deploy a world against humanity and what humanity ‘stands for’ in some way, as part of an anti-humanist rhetoric. Thus lots of talk about the sun that will one day ‘murder us’ when it expands in whenever-billion years, like we can look up every day and see it’s ominously biding its time with a carving knife and a big evil grin on its face. Or the Brassier claptrap about the hypothesised Big Freeze putting an end to all ‘our’ hopes and dreams at the end of an utterly ridiculous and incomprehensible timescale, like it’s a personal affront. Death is characterised not as a natural process but a joke played on us. Entropy and the 2nd law are perhaps what most fall prey to this malign God stuff- and the language some scientists use has been guilty of encouraging it.
“Can you say who you have in mind here? (I’m trying to exploit your knowledge to avoid doing a proper literature review myself!)”
As far as I know there isn’t one figurehead of the pessimist-antinatalist ‘community’ (?), but a handful: Emil Cioran, Peter Wessel Zapffe and the aforementioned Thomas Ligotti come to mind. David Benatar, whom I also mentioned before, is sometimes wheeled out to make the ‘logical’ case for antinatalism, but I’d say those three are more relevant to exploring the emotional dynamics of nihilism, which overlaps significantly with pessimism. Like Lovecraft, the language this lot deploy has a dark poetic quality that reads well as literature but is no more philosophically sound than what they’re often critiquing.
I will say that distrust of the naively positive narratives we’re routinely and insidiously fed by religion, society, culture etc is healthy, but when the line is crossed to distrust any sense of meaningfulness and pleasure in life because it’s somehow less authentic, less ‘real’ than suffering and despair on some (invented) scale, is very unhealthy and worse, completely nonsensical. It’s the ‘won’t get fooled again’ approach you’ve talked about taken to the extreme - the sense of broken promises that were never really made in the first place.
*I’ve just remembered John Gray and his oeuvre. His is an interesting (and heavily flawed) response to the rise of secular humanism and its dodgy appropriation of eternalist narratives - very much the ‘won’t get fooled again’ approach.
Thank you very much for pointing to those people! They’re all ones I’ve heard of, but haven’t read.
I’m in strong agreement with the various points you make.
I enjoy the “dark poetic quality,” but for me it works best when it’s combined with an understanding that there is also enjoyment, and creativity, and love, and pleasure. I wrote about that in “Black magic as art and play.”
Professional nihilists seem to get stuck on thinking they are brilliant because they’ve seen through eternalism, and get messianic about preaching the holy truth of despair. This is tedious and stupid at best, and becomes sadistic and harmful when they become frustrated that few people listen, and try to induce fear and helpless depression in their audience.
“Professional nihilists seem to get stuck on thinking they are brilliant because they’ve seen through eternalism, and get messianic about preaching the holy truth of despair. This is tedious and stupid at best, and becomes sadistic and harmful when they become frustrated that few people listen, and try to induce fear and helpless depression in their audience.”
Indeed - very often by claiming they’re deluded by appealing to the various disparate arguments and theories I brought up before. There’s a lot of stock placed in Being Right, and Winning Arguments with these people. When one inhabits such a barren wasteland of values, these two seem to be the only ones that still stand.
I’m still working through a lot of this stuff myself - if you couldn’t tell! - and it’s been something meditation has been of genuine help with. Being ok with human life without an eternal, transcendent dimension seems to me to be naturally easy once you stop asking the wrong questions, and as soon as you start again, at least you know where you’re going wrong.
Good luck with the rest of your book!
"Meanings are temporary, therefore they don't exist" is a surprisingly common argument, but is a complete non-sequitur as far as I can see.
It goes back to Plato I would guess. Transient things, meanings especially, are mere shadows of the Real Stuff, which is eternal. It’s not that the transient doesn’t exist, but it is low status, so it might as well not. Being a macho philosophy dude means setting aside all that stuff in favor of the eternal and the abstract.
The nihilists are just as in thrall to this way of thinking as the traditionalists. If you take away their Eternal Truths, they are left with nothing.
I once thought feminist philosophy was going to fix this problem, which really does seem to have political roots. Maybe it has, I don’t keep up.
Yes, I think you are right about the Platonic influence on eternalism!
It’s nearly impossible for educated people now to imagine that physical objects don’t exist, but that hasn’t propagated to meaning yet.
I was thinking today, while out walking, that it’s harder for me to imagine what it would be like to be a philosophical Idealist (and disbelieve in physical objects) than to imagine what it would be like to be a bat. This is surprising, since it’s only been a hundred years since nearly all philosophers were Idealists.
Perhaps I should take that as a challenge, and try really really hard to be an Idealist, just to find out what it would be like.
Also, interesting point about the gender politics of this!
I recommend reading Ligotti’s fiction rather than the “The Conspiracy”, especially his novella “My Work Is Not Yet Done” and the stories “Purity” and “Teatro Grottesco” from the eponymous collection ( Could “TG” be a musical reference to Throbbing Gristle? ). The ending of “MWINYD” is particularly interesting to me; I missed it the first time I read it, but on reading it again it says something powerful to me about compassion and suffering. I don’t want to spoil it, but the author builds up a certain Boss/Manager character as The Worst Bastard Ever, and then undermines that at the end in a devastating manner.
I don’t find much nihilism in my worldview after years of (mostly Zen and vipassana) meditation, but I still genuinely enjoy Lovecraft and Ligotti. Ol HP had some moments that bring to mind the “Vastness” that you write about on yr Aro page ( its mostly the parts where he describes certain effects of sunsets and architecture, but I have to read the rest to really “get” the feeling ).
As for Ligotti, I used to feel there WAS a sadism to the writing until I discussed this with someone on his webforum: His best work describes shadowy, horrible things in a precise and beautiful way. This is like giving a name to a nightmare, and so gaining some power over it. I also like the way he depicts dark, pagan energies rampaging in modern settings; the epitome of literary decadence, in the mode of Baudelaire.
Thank you! That makes him sound very appealing. I’m embarrassed to say that my copy of Conspiracy is still on my “to read soon” shelf. Maybe I’ll try his fiction instead!
I liked Maldoror a lot. Is that sadistic? It pretends to be, but I suspect it may be secretly good-natured.
I haven’t read it yet, many artists I like have hailed it as an influence. I only know of the shark scene. I suppose all artists tend toward extreme self indulgence, and sometimes that yields up a beautiful pearl of artifice. Or an axe for sea ice…
I also like reading Ligotti in light of my Buddhism and yr writings on tantra. Ligotti’s characters often espouse a kind of “monist nihilism” that reflects my interactions with people holding monist beliefs, and the struggle against tempting mirages of eternalism. I prefer to read, at a deeper level, the cosmic horror writers as eminent Western minds wrestling with the anxieties of nebulosity; I don’t think Ligotti or Lovecraft were mad, but they had experienced it enough to write about it in a way that few manage in this life.
I fall into these “emotional traps” quite a bit, and go down the rabbit hole chasing links between these type of thinkers, failing to understand a good portion of the often dense and obscure writing. This post has helped.
I lack twitter, can’t respond to “Reaction gifs are how Gen Y solve urgent spiritual problems” post directly. This is the most relevant page I can think of to share a thing.
Saw this on my facebook feed: http://i.imgur.com/crOHnO5.jpg
Thanks, that’s great!
I’ve tweeted it and credited you, at https://twitter.com/Meaningness/status/715617873801060352
For someone who disavows political correctness, you are quite eager to embrace its tenets when applied to the intellectual domain, i.e welcoming postmodern gender theory to find where “the West went awry”. Is Plato’s great ‘sin’ his eternalism, or the concept of Higher and Lower, metaphysical hierarchies, leading to the development of medieval Christian ‘Chain of Being’ ? The assertion that modernity was about finding “ultimate” justifications for rational systems is a strange reversal of Nietzsche, Marx, or indeed, Heidegger’s project of detonating all the transcendental “dross”, and painfully tunneling downwards into “prima materia” in search of radical “new beginnings” ( rather easier to do now, when Logos is damned as unfortunate chauvinist superstition, both by hyper-rational liberals and Black Sun besotted memekids in the internet sewers; talk about nihilism!) . How is your project of “encouraging tantra without teaching it” more dhammic ( or tantric ) than another modern attempt at the “new beginning”, or do you see the modern trajectory as fulfilling the tantric practice? Pardon if I misstate your aims, or the goals of tantra, I practice in one of the milquetoast ‘Consensus’ circles, which I’m glad you criticize. Nothing more deadly to the inner life than comfortable security.
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