At the dawn of the new geological era known as the Anthropocene, humanity faces a curious and terrifying conjuncture. We are so powerful a species as to be registering on the geological scale, principally in the impact of anthropogenic global warming. Simultaneously we stand immobilized in the face of these transformations, seemingly rushing headless towards civilizational collapse. As the politics of climate change play out, it becomes increasingly clear that reduction of carbon outputs will occur too late, if at all, to avoid dangerous levels of climactic disruption. This paper will argue that in order to confront these challenges, we must reassess the place of the Enlightenment, not as well-discredited myth of Westernised progress, but as process of radical disenchantment. We will consider the work of Ray Brassier to be exemplary in terms of repositioning enlightenment as a technoscientific vector of nihilism, denuding our folk conceptions of the primacy of the human within a universe of profound hostility and indifference. Accompanying this transposition of the role of the human must come a renovation of the meaning of ‘mastery’, in light of the picture of the world painted by the contemporary complexity sciences. Between these two pincers we propose a ‘dark enlightenment’ of post-complexity mastery. To conclude, two images of the aesthetic will be considered: the horror of the anthropogenic sublime, as embodied in recent documentary footage of ice-sheet shearing in the arctic, and an alternative figuration in the form of Metis, cunning intelligence in the practice of craft. It will be contended that whilst the former paralyses human action, the latter might underpin a praxis adequate to our dark enlightenment, in particular in terms of how we might configure action in intervening in radically contingent complex systems.
Alex Williams is a PhD student at the University of East London, working on a thesis entitled ‘Hegemony and Complexity’. His research interests include rationalism, realism, nihilism, the history of neoliberalism, and post-capitalist economics. He is also the author, with Nick Srnicek, of the forthcoming ‘Folk Politics’.
The Matter of Contradiction is a series of workshops and seminars initiated by Sam Basu, Fabien Giraud, Ida Soulard and Tom Trevatt.
The Matter of Contradiction: War against the sun was organized in collaboration with Inigo Wilkins.
More informations can be found here: lamatiere.tumblr.com/
War against the sun was held at Mute magazine offices at Limehouse Town Hall in London on the 1st and 2nd of March and followed by a workshop on the 3rd.
Special thanks to Val Ravaglia and Stephen Nachtigall for the video recordings of the event.