Anicca as the Truth of Extinction
Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 28, 2012
Never mind that, in the end, all of human life will have amounted to an infinitesimal flash of dull, vaporous light, wholly inconsequential to the cosmic whole. Never mind that all evidence—biological, geological, cosmological, even historical—betrays processes that are as blind and indiscriminate as they are relentless and ruthless.
Once upon a time, in some remote corner of that universe which is effused into numberless glimmering solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. It was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history;” but, of course, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled, and the clever beasts had to die.—One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how pathetic, how shadowy and evanescent, how purposeless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened.(1)
- X-buddhist meditation dilettantes can be recognized by their desire to connect everything. Their rhetoric of practice hooks chaotic modes of human being together with logical connectives even though the logical relationship asserted by those connectives does not hold. To the person who cannot truly conceive anything as a unit, anything that suggests disintegration or discontinuity is unbearable; only a person who can grasp totality can understand caesuras.
- As long as you live under the compulsion of x-buddhist decision or the principle of sufficient buddhism, you live also within an impotence of thought and within an infinite culpability.
That first claim is a bastardized version of a statement made by Theodor Adorno concerning punctuation marks.(2) The second is a rewording of François Laruelle’s “Theorem 00000000000: On the Advent of Impotence.”(3) (See notes for original wording). I’d like to explore them in answer to a question recently posed on this blog. Doing so will allow me to review some features of non-buddhism (as I am conceiving it).
The question arose from claims that I made in an earlier post on meditation:
(1) Speculative non-buddhism is deeply curious about the role that meditation practice might play in transcending the division between ideology and self-reflective critique. The raw remarks that I present [in that post (4)] stem from a re-reading, and hence a re-commissioning, of primary classical-buddhist postulates; namely, disenchantment, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, phenomenal identity, nihility, conceptual proliferation, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (my translations of, respectively: nibbida, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nibbāna/nirvāṇa). My, still speculative, contention is three-fold: (i) these postulates can be (re-)read to constitute the Protagonist’s (i.e., Gotama’s, the Buddha’s) calculus, understood here as the qualification of real-world limits; (ii) the calculus, thus re-commissioned, subsumes nihilism, and (iii) meditation is, for the practitioner, an organon of nihilistic dissolution.
(2) Non-buddhism is a theoretical practice proceeding by way of classical-buddhist axioms yet producing theorems which are buddhistically uninterpretable.
(3) “Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely privative; they represent a gain in intelligibility. The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the ‘horror’ concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being becomes intelligible.”(5)
The question put to me was this:
“What is the ultimate aim of this speculative trajectory that starts with your preliminary ‘zombification’ [of the original x-buddhist terminology], your potent ‘substitute’ of the desired dharmic good, a.k.a. ‘deep joy’? I gather…that if meditation is, as you say, an organon of nihilistic dissolution, then might it be that what you desire by gaining in intelligibility, is something that Brassier also calls ‘the truth of extinction’?(6)
Yes. I want to say that such intelligibility is something that I, as clever homo sapiens beast must come to “desire.” But that is the penultimate—preparatory, not final—aim of non-buddhism. The ultimate aim is a subject who resists x-buddhistic decisional representation, and thereby reinvigorates thought vis à vis empty reality (radical immanence: zero, axiomatic-quasi-fiction). Reinvigorated thought is thought that operates at para-zero. Such a subject has transformed the symptom that is dharmic self-sufficiency into speculative knowledge. The non-buddhist subject thus knows what to do with the de-dharmacized x-buddhist material (note: it is not that s/he knows how to be done with it; non-buddhism may have overtones of anti-buddhism, but it is not quite that.). Unlike the thought of the x-buddhist-subject, which is infinitely expandable, the thought of the non-buddhist subject is unremarkably collapsible—it collapses always back into the identity of mere man/woman. The “ultimate” aim of non-buddhism is the mirror-image of that of x-buddhism. Consider Laruelle’s “Theorem 000000: On the Suicide Disguised as Murder,” reworded to suit our needs.
X-buddhism has but one goal: to make you believe that you must identify yourself with x-buddhism; to make you assume this suicide, a suicide disguised as murder charged against you.(7)
This language of suicide and murder may sound unnecessarily menacing. But anyone who has spent time within the thaumaturgical refuges of x-buddhism, and observed the formation of ventriloquized subjects there, will, I think, appreciate the violence of those words. Acquiescence to the point of reflexivity—a product of decision—requires evasion of oneself. This self-killing/evasion is the reason for the person’s “infinite culpability.” Non-buddhism is a radical laying bare of the brutal refusal of x-buddhism to honor its most basic pledge: abetment of liberation. A liberated subject will not—indeed, by definition, cannot—subscribe to the x-buddhist program of person-formation. Paths of liberation necessarily bend toward disintegration (of prescribed forms, etc.) and discontinuity (of cohesive programs, etc.), and so are unbearable to x-buddhism. Hence, the interminable connectives that constitute the inventory of dharmic self-sufficiency— the binding of the person within the dharmic fortress, fastened down with “logical” connectives in the face of reality’s mayhem.
One way of conceiving of the ultimate goal of non-buddhism is in terms of the trope of incidental exile, given in the heuristic.(8) Exile involves a reversion to prior identity, a sloughing off of the hallucinated x-buddhist cipher, acquired via participation in the refuge. Another way of understanding the same thing is Laruelle’s “Theorem 0, or the Transcendental Theorem: On Nontransferable Identity,” which states (reworded):
Nothing can, except through illusion, substitute itself for you and for your identity. And you cannot, except through illusion, substitute yourself for x-buddhism, for The Dharma, etc. Homo sapiens is an inalienable reality. There is no reversibility between homo sapiens and x-buddhism.(9)
To repeat, a recalibration to para-zero identity is the ultimate goal of non-buddhism. X-buddhism, as self-described dispeller of delusions, as, hence, preeminent organon of awakening (of sapientia?—the wisdom, knowing, and ancestral memory that makes us human?), surely must desire the same. Yet it does not. It desires only to connect everything. How so? Via the decisional tension. It thus desires the maintenance and preservation of its dharma-samsara axis mundi. What x-buddhism desires is to see its own narcissistic visage perpetually reflected, from on high, in the mirror of the world. And for that, x-buddhism desires, because it requires, an un-thinking ventriloquized subject. For, in the words, of a Zen Master: “Only without thinking can we return to our true self.”(10)
Non-buddhist practice deflates x-buddhist postulates to the point of para-zero. Doing so cleanses thought of dharmic excess, thus refreshes thought, and creates new possibilities for thinking with x-buddhist material. Let’s take a brief example. Let’s consider one of the Three Sovereigns of x-buddhism: anicca, impermanence. Let’s look at it as a unit. Let’s unbind it, that is to say,from the colossal network of voltaic servant-postulates that renders it distinctively x-buddhist.
[Along the way, we might consider the consequences of a de-symptomized anicca for, say, the “issue” of rebirth. (If you want to re-humanize a room full of mindful x-buddhists, just yell out, “Re-birth? Yes or no? Discuss amongst yourselves!” Then step back: non-judgmental awareness be damned!)]
It invites thought about our situation.—Let’s review some of the facts. The universe is 13.7 billion years old. It spans a diameter of 150 billion light years (and recall that light travels at about 186,000 miles per second). Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 120,000 light years across and has 200 billion stars. At its center is a black hole. Our earth accreted nearly 5 billion years ago. Life, as simple cells, began to rustle here 3.5 billion years ago. Our ancestors, homo habilis, appeared on the scene 2 million years ago. Anatomically modern humans appeared 150 to 200 thousand years ago. This means that “we” have been present on our “home” for only 5-10% of its lifetime. The sun is about 4.5 billion years old. It has already used up about half of its nuclear fuel. Solar catastrophe will occur about 5 billion years from now, incinerating the earth. A recent report by a team of astronomers “seems to have finally put to rest an age old question… What is the ultimate fate of planet Earth?” The old view seems to have been a rare case of scientific wishful thinking. It was, namely, that billions of years from now the sun would “loosen its gravitational grip on the planet and allow it to escape a fiery demise.” How do things look now? “The sobering reality is quite different and the clock is now ticking for our beloved home planet.” The research of scientists in fields such as biology, climatology, geology and astronomy are revealing “what the future holds for planet Earth… and throws up some shocking surprises. Great supercontinents will form and fragment with lethal consequences, the oceans will turn red before floating away into space, plants and animals will be wiped from Earth before finally, all life will be extinguished forever.”(11) But what about the universe itself? And what about this exquisite consciousness of us clever homo sapiens? Is there not a way to circumvent the solar catastrophe? Will life—in some form—not prevail in the end? Consider: “Roughly one trillion, trillion, trillion (101728) years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment. Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free matter, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based on protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience—irrespective of its physical basis. Finally, in a state cosmologists call ‘asymptopia,’ the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of alimentary particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called ‘dark energy,’ which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable darkness.”(12) —Meditation, if configured as organon, may awaken in us a searing, living memory of our ancestral scope and thought of descendent facts. It can be thus configured to establish a line of horizon that renders facile all notions of earth, indeed, cosmos, as “home.” How much more so does it obliterate fantasies of an unscathed exit, such as heaven, a Buddha field, or rebirth? How infinitesimally puny does the ostensible cognitive fizzle known as “enlightenment” appear against the cosmic catastrophe. Present-moment awareness? Ancestral anamnesis (sati)—another exalted member of x-buddhist royalty—means: remember, remember!
But we’ll have to save reflection on that for another day.
1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn, part one, first paragraph.
2. Theodor W. Adorno and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. “Punctuation Marks.” The Antioch Review, vol. 48, no. 3. (Summer, 1990): pp. 300-305. Original:
Literary dilettantes can be recognized by their desire to connect everything. Their products hook sentences together with logical connectives even though the logical relationship asserted by those connectives does not hold. To the person who cannot truly conceive anything as a unit, anything that suggests disintegration or discontinuity is unbearable;o nly a person who can grasp totality can understand caesuras.
3. Theorem 00000000000: On the Advent of Impotence:
As long as man lives under the Decision or the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy, he lives also within an impotence of thought and within an infinite culpability.
François Laruelle, “Theorems on the Good News.” Translated by Alexander R. Galloway. Originally published as: François Laruelle, “Théorèmes de la Bonne Nouvelle,” La Décision philosophique 1 (May 1987): 83-85.
5. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2077): 254.
6. Tomek Idzik posed this question. He is founder of the Polish blog “Buddyzm i Psychoterapia.” The Brassier quote is ibid: 239.
7. Theorem 000000: On the Suicide Disguised as Murder
Philosophy has but one goal: to make man believe that he must identify himself with philosophy; to make man assume this suicide, a suicide disguised as murder charged against man.
9. Theorem 0 or the Transcendental Theorem, On Nontransferable Identity:
Nothing can, except through illusion, substitute itself for man and for his identity. And man cannot, except through illusion, substitute himself for philosophy, for the Other, etc. Man is an inalienable reality. There is no reversibility between man and philosophy
10. Zen Master Bon Seong (a.k.a. Jeff Kitzes) of the Empty Gate Zen Center, Berkeley, California.
11. Source: “Death of the Earth”
12. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: 228.
Image: Kirstin Dunst, from the movie Melancholia.
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