Understanding the Exterminating Angel

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 19, 2011

I have found so many shrewd men who veiled their faces and troubled their waters, so that no one might see through them and under them.
   But the shrewder distrusters and nut-crackers came straight to them: straightway they fished out their best-hidden fish!
   But the clear, the honest, the transparent — they seem to me the shrewdest silent men: those whose
profundity is so deep that even the clearest water does not — betray it.

Thus spoke Zarathustra

* * * * *

"Yes, one runs towards one's fate all the more surely by seeking to escape it."

Seduction, "Death in Samarkand"

A weakling's and pessimist's understanding of fate and evil eye. You cannot run "towards" or "away" from fate; such formulations negate the very concept of fate itself. Fate is simply something you create by your actions, and that's the end of that. Any exultations or lamentations over one's fate are, as I've explained in Orgy of the Will, merely symptoms of either the consciousness of power, or ressentiment towards one's actions — i.e. towards oneself — and have nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of fate properly understood. Or, more simply, since "fate" ultimately means "universe", the idea that one can run "towards" the universe or "away" from it is ludicrous. You're part of it for fuck's sakes.

"For the dead are only dead when there are no longer any echoes from this world to seduce them, and no longer any rites challenging them to exist."

Seduction, "The Secret and the Challenge"

An extremely difficult passage, requiring nothing less than a complete understanding of the Heraclitean/Nietzschean philosophy to even begin making any sense. It doesn't help, of course, that he puts the whole thing in mystical (i.e. stupid) terms, employing words like "echoes" and "rites", which immediately conjure up images of magical or religious rituals — but I am sure that was the intention anyway, so mission accomplished, dear Jean! So anyway, here's what it basically means: The Heraclitean/Nietzschean philosophy implies that there are no "persons" — the "person" is merely an abstraction created by the brain, in order to make some sense of, and gain mastery over, the ungraspable, unfathomable, unimaginable flux of becoming. Consequently, the "person" is a fantasy, as a corollary of which, the "dead person" is also a fantasy. Therefore, people are only alive because you've imagined them, and "the dead are only dead" when you've forgotten them. That's basically what that passage says (or at least the second clause, the first one's mine).

"Ordinarily we live within the realm of the Law, even when fantasizing its abolition. Beyond the law we see only its transgression or the lifting of a prohibition. For the discourse of law and interdiction determines the inverse discourse of transgression and liberation. However, it is not the absence of the law that is opposed to the law, but the Rule."

Seduction, "The Passion for Rules"

In English: Ordinarily we live within the realm of society-imposed rules (called "laws"), even when fantasizing their abolition. Beyond these laws we see only their transgression or the lifting of a prohibition — i.e. we are still only able to see these laws, even when purportedly looking "beyond" them. For the discourse of law and interdiction determines the inverse discourse of transgression and liberation (i.e. all of the "liberals'" talk about liberation does not refer to liberation proper, i.e. liberation in the context of the universe (i.e. increase of power), but merely liberation from society-imposed rules; i.e. from cops and courthouses). However, it is not the absence of the laws that is opposed to these laws, but what I am going to cheekily refer to here as "rules", by which I mean the rules of the universe, which are what really limits our freedom of action, and which have nothing to do with cops and courthouses but with philosophy and science.

"The Rule plays on an immanent sequence of arbitrary signs, while the Law is based on a transcendent sequence of necessary signs."

Seduction, "The Passion for Rules"

Another extremely difficult passage. "The Rule", i.e. the rules of the universe, plays on an "immanent" (i.e. existing within the universe) sequence of "arbitrary signs", i.e. sequence of phenomena (Greek for "appearance"), because everything that we observe occurring in the universe is an appearance (a "sign", in Baudrillard's confusing terminology), which is "arbitrary" (again with the obfuscation) because it is irrational, i.e. forever going round and round in cycles, thereby making it impossible to trace it back to an original reason; while "the Law" (i.e. the rules imposed by cops and courthouses) is based on a "transcendent" (i.e. not really transcendent, but what the cops and courthouses would like to make us believe is transcendent, purportedly coming either from an ancient god or an absolute moral code inscribed in the heavens by some secular "liberal" genie or some shit), sequence of "necessary signs", i.e. phenomena which can be traced back to an original reason: the need of those who established them to impose laws that advance their interests.

"Because the Law establishes a line, it can and must be transgressed. By contrast, it makes no sense to 'transgress' a game's rules; within a cycle's recurrence, there is no line one can jump (instead, one simply leaves the game)."

Seduction, "The Passion for Rules"

1. Why can the Law be transgressed? Because it establishes "a line" within the universe; if it couldn't be transgressed, it would mean that it would have rendered a part of the universe out of bounds — i.e. split the universe into two separate universes, something which obviously cops and courthouses do not have the power to do, thank god (though they would dearly like to, the vicious sons of bitches). 2. Why must the Law be transgressed? Dear Jean doesn't bother explaining this because it would entail either outright quoting Nietzsche, or employing his philosophy far too obviously for his plagiariasing, obscurantist tastes. And 3. Why does it make no sense to "transgress" a game's rules? He explains that a few years later in The Transparency of Evil: "No one can stop me from claiming the right to move my knight in a straight line on the chessboard, but where does it get me? Rights in such matters are idiotic." Where it gets you is that it ends the game, something which however is not possible in the game of life, since "Life is the game that must be played" (Arthur Rubinstein).

"The game's sole principle, though it is never posed as universal, is that by choosing the rule one is delivered from the law."

Seduction, "The Passion for Rules"

The meaning of this passage depends on whether by "game" here he is referring to a mini-game or the Great Game. Naturally, he doesn't bother to make this clear, or perhaps he is referring to both simultaneously, so I'll give two interpretations. If he's referring to a mini-game, what he's saying is that "by choosing the game we are delivered (i.e. escape) from society's laws" (i.e. by tucking ourselves away and hiding inside its little make-believe world). If he's referring to the Great Game, what he's saying is that "by aiming for the (universe's) rules, instead of society's ones, we must eventually necessarily overcome the laws imposed by cops and courthouses, thereby becoming 'delivered' from them; i.e. escaping them", but this time not in a regressive but in a healthy manner.

"... the privileged, those elevated by the social contract, or by their social status — itself only a simulacrum, and one without even the value of a destiny ..."

Seduction, "The Passion for Rules"

Why is elevation by social status or a social contract "only a simulacrum"? Note that, for Baudrillard, everything is a simulacrum, hence when he says "only a simulacrum", what he really means is "only an extremely weak simulacrum". And this certainly applies to those who've been significantly "raised" by a social contract or their social status (as opposed to by their genetic heritage and upbringing...); as I've alluded to in my Genealogy and fully developed in Orgy of the Will, social status has no necessary connection to power, as the most socially celebrated man may still be (and usually is) a pathetic little weakling next to, for example, an Overman, and in many cases even an ordinary man or a subhuman. As for why this "elevation" does not have "even the value of a destiny", dear Jean is again simply exaggerating here, and rendering his already confusing terminology even more confusing in order to deliver his negative judgement: the merely apparent value bestowed by an enhanced social status STILL has the "value of a destiny", just an extremely meagre, pitiful value, as befits an extremely meagre, pitiful destiny.

"The task of philosophy is to unmask this illusion of objective reality — a trap that is, in a sense, laid for us by nature.
   'Nothing so clearly reveals the superior mind of man than his having been able to unmask nature at the precise point where it was attempting to deceive him' (Lichtenberg).
   But this is where philosophy stops — at the definitive acknowledgement of the illusoriness of the world. That is to say, at that point, that object, that something, that nothing, of which there is nothing more to be said."

The Intelligence of Evil, "On the World in Its Profound Illusoriness"

"The task of philosophy is to unmask objective reality", lol. "Philosophy stops at the acknowledgement of the illusoriness of the world", lol. — If Thales and his followers had stopped there you'd have spent your whole life — all 20 or 30 years of it — in the Lascaux caves scraping an alpha-male's crap off the floor you fucking ungrateful hypocrite. And Lichtenberg doesn't fare much better here either: "Nature" (i.e. the universe) is trying to "deceive" him, lol: "OMG THE UNIVERSE'S TRYING TO DECEIVE ME" — talk about PARANOIA. But at least he has the excuse of writing before these things were cleared up by Nietzsche — what's your's, moran?

"The world is a game."

Baudrillard Live

And Nietzsche replies:

"World wheel, while rolling on,
skims aim on aim:
Fate, says the sullen one.
Fools call it a game."

For more on this see Orgy of the Will.

"The political application of my point of view is unclear to me; I do not know what I can do with this standpoint from a political point of view. Yet I know that something has happened, and I can’t go on believing that theory is still possible, as indeed it used to be. Theory can be reintroduced to the system; however, we have to assume that theory subverts the models."

in Guilbaut, 1990:27

Interviews with Baudrillard are the best places to see how confused he could at times become by his own oftentimes half-assed attempts at theorizing. This is not so apparent in his books, where he had plenty of time to think and to edit, or perhaps even altogether remove, passages which would betray this confusion, but interviews are another matter. In the above passage, for example, he confuses his incapacity to come up with political solutions with some utterly inane question on "whether theory is still possible" lol (i.e. on whether THINKING is still possible, LOLOLOLOL). I mean how can one respond to this? If you have built your entire theory around "seduction" (i.e. around the idea that everything comes to you from "elsewhere"), then when it comes to politics (i.e. to imposing your will on the national and planetary level) OF COURSE you are not going to be able to find anything to do with your goddamn pathetic little theory. The most you could do is reserve a plush seat for yourself, fetch some soda and popcorn, and wait for someone else (someone from "elsewhere") to go out and start shit — which, by the bye, is precisely what dear Jean spent the last forty years of his life doing. So, you see, he DID end up applying his "point of view" to the political scene, after all. It just didn't end up having much of an effect, something not altogether surprising considering his "point of view" was "doing nothing". Meanwhile, the poor academics are still scratching their little heads trying to figure out what dear Jean's political views were, if any, and no doubt getting nowhere, besides adding another worthless little notch to their pathetic little publication lists.

"I’m on the side of the principle of evil! ... We need to go beyond negative consciousness and negativity, in order to develop a worst-case scenario strategy, given that a negative, dialectical strategy is no longer possible today. So one becomes ... an intellectual terrorist. We shouldn’t presume to produce positive solutions. In my opinion this isn’t the intellectual’s or the thinker’s task. It’s not our responsibility."

Baudrillard Live

This is precisely the intellectual's self-imposed responsibility, with "positive" here understood not in the "optimistic" sense in which you are using it, but in the life-affirming and life-advancing sense that Nietzsche uses it — and ultimately in the tragic sense. Again, a case of dear Jean not having read (or understood) his Nietzsche closely enough — see the last section of Twilight of the Idols, among many other passages in Nietzsche's works.

"There is throughout my work something which goes like this: there are always two forms in opposition to each other, the polar opposite of each other ... but there isn’t any ‘explanation’ here. There is a type of development which is more like music or at any rate like a rhythm. There is a polarity, opposition between production and seduction, political economy and death, the fatal and the banal. You can’t say, though, that this implies the existence of progress. I have never made any progress; I think everything is already there at the start but an interesting modulation takes place."

Baudrillard Live

You have indeed made plenty of progress, "progress" here understood as increase of power plain and simple. Even if you didn't contribute much to the question of what should be done next, the deconstruction of subhuman theories was enough of a contribution towards this goal — indeed a monster of a task — and a necessary prelude to what is to follow, which you performed admirably. The "interesting modulation", then, that you speak of is precisely this increase of strength, which leads to the next phase of the game — a phase which you were neither genetically nor epigenetically prepared to tackle, but one which nonetheless your efforts helped create for all those coming after you who can.

"I’m always thinking of the next horizon to be crossed. To look ahead in this way contains a somewhat metaphysical and a somewhat transcendental curiosity. People have spoken so often about the end of things that I’d like to be able to see what goes on the other side of the end, in a sort of hyperspace and transfinity. And even if things are not really at their end, well!! Let’s act as if they were. It’s a game, a provocation. Not in order to put a full stop to everything but, on the contrary, to make everything begin again. So you see, I’m far from being a pessimist."

Baudrillard Live

Brave words! And perfectly correct (at least if we disregard the "metaphysical", "transcendental", "hyperspace" and "transfinity" buzzwords he drops at the beginning). But if someone who can say "The great philosophical question used to be: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Today, the real question is: ‘Why is there nothing rather than something?’ (The Perfect Crime)" is not a pessimist, indeed a downright nihilist, then I don't know who is; in that case, the word would simply have no meaning, which by the bye seems to be the ultimate fate of all words in dear Jean's purportedly "non-pessimistic" hands. But a magician who does not make anything appear, but causes everything to disappear; who is in love with "the aesthetics of disappearance"; who looks contemptuously on Americans for their capacity for "realizing" things, i.e. for creating them; who can't see why anyone would willingly engage in sports, look out for their health, and keep themselves in good shape — it would take far more than a declamation to the contrary for me to believe that such a man is not a nihilist, indeed the cleverest, most cunning and tenacious little self-deceiving nihilist that has yet existed. But in any case, all this notwithstanding, there remains the inconvenient little fact that a few years prior to this interview he had published an essay in which he flat out stated "I am a nihilist", lol (Simulacra and Simulation, "On Nihilism"). Or are we supposed to believe that someone can be a nihilist without being a pessimist? A question which brings us straight back to Nietzsche:

"Recently much mischief has been done with an accidental and in every way unsuitable word: everywhere 'pessimism' is discussed, and the question is debated whether pessimism or optimism is right, as if there must be answers to that.
   One fails to see, although it could hardly be more obvious, that pessimism is not a problem but a symptom, that the name should be replaced by 'nihilism', that the question whether not-to-be is better than to be is itself a disease, a sign of decline, an idiosyncrasy.
   The nihilistic movement is merely the expression of physiological decadence." (The Will to Power, §38)

'Nough said re: Baudrillard's pessimistic/non-pessimistic status.

"The absolute rule is to give back more than you were given. Never less, always more. The absolute rule of thought is to give back the world as it was given to us — unintelligible. And, if possible, to render it a little more unintelligible."

The Perfect Crime

Again with the fucking bullshit. To give back "the world" lol, AS IF "THE WORLD" WERE AN OBJECT OF SOME KIND THAT COULD BE PASSED BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN CLINICALLY DEPRESSED LITTLE FRENCH SCRIBBLERS! Such passages as this cannot be sufficiently despised. More to the point, "the world" is indeed unintelligible, BUT NO ONE EVER GAVE HIM "THE WORLD" IN THE FIRST PLACE — THE ONLY THING HE WAS GIVEN WAS HIS LIFE, FOR FUCK'S SAKES, I.E. A TINY LITTLE PART OF IT. And the only thing that thought does is to make THAT part of the world more "intelligible", i.e. more graspable and manageable, in other words simply bigger. So THIS is how you "give back" (not to "the world" but to other creatures) more than "you were given" — by giving them the tools (i.e. the "thought") to make their own lives even bigger. Good job misunderstanding and obfuscating everything, dude.

"Is not true optimism to consider the world a fundamentally negative event, with many happy exceptions? By contrast, does not true pessimism consist in viewing the world as fundamentally good, leaving the slightest accident to make us despair of that vision?"

Fragments: Cool Memories III

Again, he simply cannot get away from his weakness, no matter how many pages he scribbles. "Optimism" and "true optimism" are merely subhuman chatter; the only thing the above passage is saying is "Is it not preferable for me to view my life as fundamentally unhappy, with many happy exceptions?" For how could a short, bald, overweight, chain-smoking frog ever presume to speak of "the world" — I.E. OF THE LIVES OF ALL THE INFINITE CREATURES CONTAINED WITHIN IT? In order for the above passage, for example, to be valid for my life, it would have to be rewritten at the very least as "Is not true optimism to consider 'the world' (i.e. my life) a fundamentally positive event, with not a single fucking exception?", and so it is with everyone. As for the passage's second sentence, it does indeed demonstrate that the "liberals'" way of seeing things is nihilistic, and in fact obviously even more so than his own.

"If the law of natural selection were true, our brains would have to shrink, for their capacities exceed all natural purposes and endanger the species."

The Perfect Crime

First, you have not understood how the "law" of "natural selection" works. Second, OUR brains (meaning "of the Overmen"), do indeed endanger "the species" — only it is a species we no longer belong to, hence our brains still serve the "natural purposes" you speak of, and the law of natural selection wins again.

"Intellectuals are doomed to disappear when artificial intelligence bursts on the scene, just as the heroes of silent cinema disappeared with the coming of the talkies. We are all Buster Keatons."

Cool Memories II

Firstly, in the above passage dear Jean comes in direct opposition to himself ("artificial intelligence lacks intelligence because it lacks artifice", The Transparency of Evil). Second, it is not "artificial intelligence" that is going to render us obsolete, but the enhanced intelligence of future humans, an intelligence which will include, but not be limited to, that of the "artificial" kind. And yes, we ARE all in a sense "Buster Keatons" — everyone is, except the final Overman, who will not be rendered obsolete by someone else, but by himself. What the above passage ultimately says, then, if we strip it of its self-contradictions and misunderstandings, is that "stupid people are doomed to disappear when smarter ones arrive on the scene" — which even then is not strictly true, since the appearance of smarter lifeforms does not necessarily entail the automatic wiping out of stupider ones, any more than cockroaches were doomed to disappear with the arrival of, for example, hominids (on the contrary in fact! there are probably more cockroaches now than ever!) The higher lifeform, then (i.e. the stronger, smarter one), does not AUTOMATICALLY WIPE OUT the lower one from the face of the universe; all it does is simply overtake it in its influence on the future. Sometimes this may include the wiping out of lower lifeforms, and sometimes not. In other words, it is an extremely complicated and subtle process which Baudrillard's bullshit blanket generalizations are highly unsuited to elaborating.

"Like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfilment."

Cool Memories

Because, like anything ("There are no facts, only interpretations" -Nietzsche), they can be interpreted in any you want, and are, in fact, even more highly manipulatable than dreams, since you can convince not only yourself with them, but even others, all the more so since the way you set up the study practically determines the "result" you get out of it.

"The Mad Cow epidemic... Cows have never come to terms with being fed rotten sheep carcases and so turned into carnivores... with being turned into butcher’s meat for a single species... with being turned into simulacra... For everything about them is programmed now: by hormones, transplants, the genetic redistribution of parts of the body, by way of a plastic surgery aimed at maximum profitability of the animal as meat. The cow is not what it once was. It is an artefact, a kind of disembodied meat, which takes its suicidal revenge by infecting its predator. This is the vengeance cows have been ruminating. It is because the body of the cow has become a non-body, a meat machine, that the viruses lay hold of it. ...Studies have already shown that cattle – and, indeed, all ruminants — to be the main destroyers of the ozone layer, with their sulphurous farting, their poisonous flatulence. So the conspiracy has been going on for some time!"

Screened Out

Flagrant moralizing, as is all his writing on animals. "Cows are not what they used to be" — JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MODERN SUBSPECIES OF ANIMAL, MORAN. God forbid we breed the lower species according to our requirements. Never mind the humor in the passage, which I indeed appreciate — the substance is moralizing at its most annoying.

"...perhaps we may see this as a kind of adventure, a heroic test: to take the artificialization of living beings as far as possible in order to see, finally, what part of human nature survives the greatest ordeal. If we discover that not everything can be cloned, simulated, programmed, genetically and neurologically managed, then whatever survives could be truly called ‘human’: some inalienable and indestructible human quality could finally be identified. Of course, there is always the risk, in this experimental adventure, that nothing will pass the test – that the human will be permanently eradicated."

The Vital Illusion

All very deep and thought-provoking — until you realize that there's no such thing as "the human", and that all he is doing is waxing nostalgic about a mere word. He has realized it too, of course, as can be seen in all his writings against the "humanitarians", but he needs to momentarily forget this insight while scribbling the above passage, otherwise his nihilistic condemnation of the wonderful future manipulation of our genetic code will not make any sense.

[Excerpts from Alex Kierkegaard, Understanding the Exterminating Angel, due out in 2012.]