The Death of Thought

Giorgio Cesarale, “The ‘Not’ of Speculative Realism,” Mute 19 February 2014

… This is the very same paradox contained in the thought of death: if our physical and psychological annihilation were conceived as the correlate of an act of thought, we would, once again, transform nothingness into being, and we would prevent ourselves from thinking our nothingness. In order to think death, in other words, we have to think, chiastically, the death of thought. … Meillassoux’s discourse is probably one of the most extreme forms of nihilism in contemporary thought. Nihilism, in fact, does not simply amount to the affirmation that existence is worthless. Nor, as Brassier argues, does it have a special relation to disenchantment, to the awareness that reality is something indifferent to our existence. More radically, nihilism is a conception according to which any being ‘is’ in so far as it comes from nothingness and ends as nothingness. This also means that any conception of being as destined to nothingness is nihilistic. We can therefore conclude that the philosophy of Meillassoux perfectly corresponds to the instance of nihilism, as it is based on a principle — the principle of factiality — according to which only contingency is not contingent, only factuality is not contingent.

… One of the premises of our analysis was to locate Meillassoux, Brassier and Harman under the rubric of ‘nihilism’. To recall the introduction to the article, it is ‘strange’ or ‘weird’ to affirm that a philosophical proposal that claims to be ‘realist’ can be rooted in nihilism. But the concept of nihilism we have taken into account is the Heideggerean one, which we believe has a much more radical meaning than the usual one, since it affirms nothingness as the primary horizon of being. In this precise sense, all the three thinkers we have just examined can be called ‘nihilist’. Meillassoux in fact thinks facticity as what comes from nothing and can return to nothing; Brassier on the other hand conceives being-nothing as what determines being, although it is undeterminable and undecidable; and lastly Harman bets on the possibility of renewing the comprehension of the object-world through the introduction of a concept of the ‘real object’ which is, by definition, withdrawn from access. However, as we tried to argue, it is hard to preserve the radical character of negativity without ‘compromising’ it every time with its opposite. If, in fact, Meillassoux and Brassier ultimately conflate negativity with being, Harman does not succeed in rendering negativity capable of directly structuring ontology. However, what probably needs to be analysed more attentively is their primary philosophical gesture, namely, the violent exclusion of negativity from the field of being. …

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The Smoke-Ghosts of Art

Julian Bell, “When Fire Claims a Lifetime’s Work,” The Guardian (Review, p. 21) 19 April 2014

“Every painter’s nightmare”, other painters have been telling me, and one that comes real for quite a few artists, placing me in too good company, among the smoke-ghosts of art: all the legendary masterpieces of ancient Greece and China; epoch-making works by Mantegna, Titian and Courbet; oeuvres such as those of Carel Fabritius (wiped out in Delft’s gunpowder disaster of 1654) or of Thomas Theodor Heine (in the bombing of Leipzig in 1944), scant traces suggesting the brilliance that was lost. I review my past now and track the fearful possibility seeping, prophetically, into the imagery of my own pictures. A few years ago, travels took me to an ever-burning pit in the Karakum Desert, the abandoned outcome of a 1971 Soviet gas probe. It felt an imaginative homecoming, this endless end of everything, and I stretched my largest canvas to restage it. A canvas now dematerialised, along with some 60 others. Beat that, Gustav Metzger, master of auto-destructive art!

Time’s Up! Silence!

Virginia Woolf, “Craftsmanship,” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays

Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing to-day is that we refuse words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die. Finally, and most emphatically, words, like ourselves, in order to live at their ease, need privacy. Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light. . . . That pause was made, that veil of darkness was dropped, to tempt words to come together in one of those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty. But no — nothing of that sort is going to happen to-night. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!”

Finding a Language in which Making Art is Possible At All

Donald Barthelme, Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews

The problems that seem to me to define the writer’s task at this moment (to the extent that he has chosen them as his problems) are not of a kind that make for ease of communication, for work that rushes toward the reader with outflung arms — rather, they’re the reverse. Let me cite three such difficulties that I take to be important, all having to do with language. First, there is art’s own project … of restoring freshness to a much-handled language, essentially an effort toward finding a language in which making art is possible at all.