Thinking in the Dark

Thinking in the Dark
Glenn Wallis

[NOTE: date change from Newsletter] June 29 & July 6, Tuesdays, 6-9 PM. (See time zone converter if you’re in a different location to make sure you get the time right.)

This two-session seminar requires no prior knowledge. It is not a “philosophy” seminar. It is a thinking and discussion seminar. It will largely be run in (by?!) the spirit of the “ignorant schoolmaster,” where the facilitator facilitates rather than explicates. So, the only requirement is your willingness to engage: the material, the ideas, and one another. Here’s what we will be up to:

Leonardo Cremonini | paintings | Pinterest | Art art ...
Leonardo Cremonini, 1925-2010. The painter’s friend, the famous Marxist thinker Louis Althusser, considered this painting an embodiment of the kind of darkness we will be discussing. Cremonini: “Painting must not make a noise because only the doubt is dynamic.” What is the “noise” that Cremonini rejects? What is the “doubt”? What is the “dynamism”?

In The Persistence of the Negative, Benjamin Noys makes this compelling claim:

“It is only through the reconfiguration of negativity as a practice that we can develop more supple and precise forms of resistance and struggle within and against capitalism. To put it bluntly, any theoretical or political project committed to a radical egalitarian politics requires a thinking of negativity if it is to be truly able to think the conditions of possibility of the change necessary to achieve that politics, and the potential forms of agency to carry out that change.”

This statement nicely captures the sense of impasse permeating contemporary discourse on our shared social future. It also suggests a way forward. This way is through negativity and in darkness.

We glimpse this impasse in, for instance, Bifo Beradi’s Futurabilty, where he speaks of our current “age of impotence,” a moment of seemingly permanent defeat, drained of vitality and promise, a moment when “we seem incapable of producing the radical change that is so desperately needed.” In the Big Think video “Don’t Act. Just Think!” the ever-provocative Slavoj Žižek summarizes his argument that our historical moment requires not the ineffectual action inherited from twentieth-century narratives, but rather a refusal to participate in the status quo coupled with a renewal of thought. In New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, James Bridle writes that the explosive proliferation of knowledge that attends the epoch of the Internet has, paradoxically, produced a new dark age, “in which the value we have placed on knowledge is destroyed by the abundance of that profitable commodity [i.e., on knowledge/information], and in which we look about ourselves for new ways to understand the world.”

Where might such “new ways” be found? Which (if any) structures, styles, or attitudes of thought might be capable of assisting a breakthrough? Here, again, we seem to come to an impasse. Social critic Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance, insists that any “way” must be swept clear of “the tyranny of positivity,” it must be a pathway unencumbered, that is, by the teleological demands of affirmation. Her mainly affective valuation of a negation-tinged thought is echoed in much serious philosophical work today. It is also much maligned. In Nonhuman Photography, media theorist Joanna Zylinska warns us against the “paranoia” inherent in the “noir theory” emanating from certain shadows, where “the precariousness of the human has been exposed not just economically but also existentially, as a species.” It is a paranoia, she says, that is rooted in an anxious desire to regain control of the world via a discredited Enlightenment reason, and reassert a destructive humanist dominance threatened by the singularity and posthumanism. Insidious, because it “glosses over the theorist’s own pleasure at wallowing in the crisis,” dark theory must be rejected. We are at an impasse yet again!

In this seminar, we will, indeed, tarry, if not wallow, in the crisis, whether pleasurably or not. We will, so to speak, occupy the impasse. We will do so by focussing on the following texts (available on registration):

  • Rob Coley, “In Defence of ‘Noir Theory:’ Laruelle, Deleuze, and Other Detectives”
  • Marjorie Gracieuse, “Laruelle Facing Deleuze: Immanence, Resistance and Desire”

We may also read passages together from:

  • François Laruelle, “On the Black [Noir] Universe: In the Human Foundations of Color”
  • François Laruelle, “The Truth According to Hermes: Theorems on the Secret and Communication”

In this seminar, we will consider, for instance:

  • What is meant by “negation”?
  • How does negation differ from the colloquial sense of “being negative”?
  • How might affirmation and positivity, paradoxically, hinder the effects they seek?
  • What is “the aporetic status of the light”?
  • What are examples of thought that is, as François Laruelle puts it, “afraid of the Dark”?…
  • …In other words, what is the “affirmationist bloc” or “affirmationist consensus”?
  • What is “immanence,” and why is it so valued in certain circles?
  • Even if we may not be concerned here with “capitalism” per se, how might that formation exercise a deep, persistent, and insidious influence on our thinking and very being?
  • Why does Coley believe that Laruelle’s “blacker noir” may help us reverse our “paralysis”?
  • Who is the subject, the model agent or person, of such thought?
  • What are the ethical and political implications of (and of not) thinking in the dark?

Join us in an exploration of speculative thought fit for (?) the 21st century!

Seminar Cost:

  • $60 – Member Ticket for Incite Seminars Patreon Supporters at any level
  • $90 – Non-Member (True Cost) Ticket
  • $180 – Generous Supporter Ticket
  • $30 – Student/Contingent Scholar/Activist Ticket
  • Solidarity pay-what-you-can tickets are also available for those who cannot afford any of the above tiers. Please email us.

Registration

Please register by buying a ticket at our Eventbrite page. We are committed to making all our offerings accessible to those who are eager to learn, regardless of financial means. If you have any questions or concerns, please email inciteseminarsphila@gmail.com.