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Process and the Derailing of Reality: The Strange Curse of the Ages of the World (Part IV)

Process And The Derailing Of Reality: The Strange Curse Of The Ages Of The World (Part IV)

In part one of this essay we looked closely at Voegelin’s debts to the process philosophers A. N. Whitehead, William James and Henri Bergson. Nonetheless, there is another process thinker whose influence is still to be considered, F. W. J. Schelling, although, as Jerry Day has illuminated, a sustained engagement with him only came very late in Voegelin’s life in The New Order and the Last Orientation.[1] In Anamnesis Voegelin went as far as to call Schelling’s “process theology” Potenzlehre outlined in The Ages of the World the “only meaningful systematic philosophy”. In The New Order he nominated it as “perhaps the profoundest piece of philosophical thought ever elaborated.”[2]

Why might this be the case? Did not Voegelin claim that the analogia entis was the only true metaphysics? As will become clear, the core of value that Voegelin found in Schelling was the same as what he found in the analogia – a symbolization of ontological participation that seemed to possess a powerful practical value in illuminating the nature of religious experience. This is in dramatic contrast to current “speculative realist” interest in Schelling’s Potenzlehre, which, as with recent renewed attention to Whitehead, Bergson and James, completely ignores the religious dimensions of his thought in order to convert his ideas into one more post-humanist “complexity” ontology.[3] So too, as we shall see in part five,  these dimensions are also deliberately erased in Slavoj Žižek’s reading of Schelling, the result of which is little more than a rather miserable theory of the psychoanalytic subject.

The New Order

Let alone the profoundest, Schelling’s Potenzlehre might be the oddest vision of things ever articulated. Potenzlehre means theory of powers. The Ages of the World tells the story of the history of the cosmos as the history of the interplay between four metaphysical forces becoming separated from and eventually returning to harmony with one another. These powers are represented like an integer being raised to a series of mathematical powers or registers – A0, A 1, A2 ,A3.   A0 signifies what Schelling calls “the will that does not will” – the primordial harmony of the transcendental One, which Schelling approaches with a negative theological bent: “For the Highest was not a thing-that-is, because it is above what-is; the ancients had already expressed it as such, (as a hyperon).”[4] From this erupts A1, the “will that wills nothing” – a force of negation and externalization highly reminiscent of the Neo-Platonic One’s emanation to become the world because of its overflowing nature. Schelling finds this “will” to be equivalent to subjectivity in that it reaches outside itself. However, this is instantly and logically matched by A2 “the will that wills something” – a force of internalization that Schelling finds equivalent with objectivity. So too is this then matched by A3 “the will that wills itself” – a force that exists necessarily to balance the other two so that stable entities can exist. As Voegelin observes of Schelling’s system:

“Schelling escapes the difficulty of having to iden­tify terminologically the fundamental substance with any of the partial phases into which the process of the whole is articulated. The fundamental substance is, therefore, neither matter nor spirit, neither a transcendent God nor an im­manent nature, but the identity of the process in which the One becomes the articulated universe.”[5]

The necessary existence of the wills to balance one another is also strongly reminiscent of the ontological participation of the Five Most Important Classes in Plato’s Sophist we looked at in detail in part one of this essay. The emphasis is not only any one of them, but on the ontological participatory process they are involved in. Just as in the Sophist, in Schelling’s Ages human beings and their articulations of order are simply epiphenomenal of far deeper processes. For instance, to Schelling the cycling of awareness and relaxation back into unconsciousness that permeates human existence on both the individual and species level is a reflection of the emergence of A1 from Ao at the commencement of time. Whenever we become unconscious or lose concentration the negating will has already become past: “It does not know its own relation; it does not know that it is the preceding will, the ground of the future actuality of another will.”[6] The forces expand and contract endlessly.

For Voegelin Schelling seems to articulate something that he himself already believed about the emergence of human luminosity from the forces of the cosmos and its cyclic repetition, as we find evinced in an astounding passage towards the end of The Ecumenic Age concerning how the “strata of reality participate in one another”. This would appear uncannily close to Schelling’s vision of things, even if perhaps Voegelin was thinking of older, stratified Neo-Platonic models of reality:

 “There is no flux of presence in the Metaxy without its foundation in the biophysical existence of man on earth in the universe. By virtue of their founding character, the lower strata reach into the stratum of human consciousness not as its cause but as its condition . . . in the stratum of consciousness we experience the presence of divine reality as the constituent of humanity. In man’s consciousness, the foundational movement within reality from the physical depth becomes luminous for the creative constitution of all reality from the height of the divine ground.” [7] 

Nonetheless, for Schelling these cosmic processes are destined to come to perfection in a great alchemical “end of history” of human gnosis over three Ages of the World– that of the Father (mythology), the Son (rationality) and the Holy Spirit (love): “the world will be one, with the peace of the golden age heralded in the harmonious connection of all the sciences.”[8] The epochal structure of Schelling’s history of the world is obviously Joachite, which would explain why Voegelin likely avoided considering Schelling seriously until very late in his life, in spite of borrowing the term “pneumatopathology” (sickness of the spirit) from him to describe the Gnostic mindset. But is Schelling simply another ridiculous millenarian thinker of the three ages like Fichte, Comte and Stirner? Has Schelling just rendered Christian Platonism historically progressive? It might indeed seem the case and we will return to this problem in detail in part five of this essay.

However, one must acknowledge that even in Voegelin there appears to have been a certain temptation to proclaim a Third Age of the Spirit that may well have been influenced by Schelling.  The important difference is that Voegelin places this epochal “differentiation” long ago in the past – the coming of a third Noetic Age, the birth of rational philosophical speculation. Voegelin declares that “with the third age of the Nous, Plato has come as close to an apocalyptic symbolism as he could come without losing the balance of a consciousness that also comprehended the primary experience of the process in which the things come and go.”[9] Yet, as Jerry Day shows, Plato never declares a new age to be the case.[10] The idea of an Age of Cronos and Age of Zeus being superseded by a Noetic Age is never explicitly stated by Plato in the Laws, or, for that matter, in the Statesman, where the pacific and well-governed era of Cronos under daimones (spirits) is also discussed.[11] Rather, as the Athenian declares in the Laws, it is simply that “we should make every effort to imitate the life men are said to have led under Cronos; we should run our own public and our own private life, in obedience to what little spark of immortality lies in us, and dignify this distribution of reason with the name of ‘law.’” At no point is the Age of Zeus ever declared over. Voegelin is certainly stretching things a little.

Nevertheless, Voegelin’s para-millenarian Age of Nous pales in comparison to Accelerationist Reza Negarestani’s recent attempt to reinvent Plato as the initiator of “the longest ongoing con in the history of thought, the infinite metis of intelligence.”[12] Plato’s intellectual revolution is accredited with starting a “wholesale insurrection against all those who demand the humility and surrender of thought before the gods and the seemingly given, totalized, or inevitable.”[13] The Good begins with the death of God, the history of thought is simply a kind of warm up for artificial intelligence: “philosophy is, at its deepest level, a program—a collection of action-principles and practices-or-operations which involve realizabilities, i.e., what can possibly be brought about by a specific category of properties or forms.”[14] This sounds a great deal like a kind of cargo cult promising that if you think hard enough you can manifest your heart’s desire. This is an old magic, but it is not Plato.

In order to claim this Negarestani is compelled to make some rather silly mistakes and omissions, consciously – in order to hack the history of philosophy – or otherwise. One is that he simply assumes that Plato regarded all minds as equal (!)[15] Another is that in the Philebus Plato replaces the Demiurge with the human mind as its own Demiurge.[16] Most slovenly of all is the simple fact that Negarestani’s central claim that “Hegel was the first to describe the community of rational agents as a social model of mind, and to do so in terms of its function” is not even vaguely correct.[17] Where is Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes) collective human “material intellect”?[18] Negarestani’s attempt to site the intellect in a place “neither natural nor supernatural” is exactly what caused Averroes to go to the great lengths he did over three very different commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima.[19] But not once is Averroes mentioned. For an apparently “Dionysian” exploration of thought, the parts of it that aren’t simply galloping gibberish seem a rather boneless affair indeed.

To return to Voegelin, it is important to note that one may also find the touted Third Age of Nous mentioned in Anamnesis, albeit slightly more soberly. Here Voegelin argues that both Plato and Aristotle believed that although:

“the noetic outburst [was an] irreversible event in history . . . they also knew that reason had been constituent of humanity before the philosophers differentiated the structure of the psyche and that its presence in human nature had not prevented the order of society from falling into the disorder of which they resisted. To assume that reason would have stopped the rise and fall of societies would have been absurd.”[20]

This articulation of a “noetic outburst” might sound far less like a grand Third Age and far more like a letdown, a melancholy recognition of the powerlessness of humanity’s “little spark” described in the Laws. In Order and History III: Plato and Aristotle Voegelin’s reading of the Statesman and its ages is even more dismal. We are instead presented with a harsh and pragmatic Plato who understands that he is at the decadent end of a historical cycle, in search of any ruler with a trace of basilikos logos (kingly reason) capable of extra-constitutionally taking control of society to prevent its collapse. There is nothing liberating or divine in this Viconian “age of autonomous men” for Plato or Voegelin, merely brutish “actual politics.”[21] There would seem several ways to deal with what Voegelin is suggesting in these three engagements. Although the Noetic Age thesis at once views philosophy as an epochal event in the history of human thought, while simultaneously also undercutting its power, it is worth emphasizing that in much of Voegelin’s work the decay starts early: we get the “Axial Age” and the “whole man” and the “whole God” with Plato and Aristotle, and then a “leap in being” with Christ, but that is that. In The Ecumenic Age Voegelin even claims that there is an “immanentist derailment” already present after Parmenides, which we see in the coming of the Sophists.[22] We already noted in part 1 of this essay that Voegelin even found Aristotle’s essences too immanent for their own good.

Voegelin undeniably has very, very high standards and the great majority of what he has to say is about the devolution and derailing of human consciousness. It is for this reason that Peter Sloterdijk nominated Voegelin’s thought as a perfect example of an attempt to defend the sophia perennis that can be read instead as an “involuntary obituary.”[23] Thus, it might seem only reasonable to place Voegelin besides Heidegger, Severino and Laruelle as members of a class of theorists who take the history of human consciousness as cleaved by a kind of melancholy primordial “Fall”, the slim chance of recovery from which is overshadowed by the colossal weight of entire millennia.

It is difficult to disagree that there is a very obvious melancholic core both to Voegelin and Platonism in general. As Catherine Pickstock observes, since the very beginning of philosophy there has been a desire for a “quotidian communing with something, with an elsewhere which had ceased to be culturally available,” a “melancholic mourning of the absent.”[24] So too as Deleuze said of Plato: “The Idea withdraws as the ego advances, leaving with it only a little love or hate. These . . . are the characteristics of the depressive past perfect.”[25] There is a Socratic “spleen,” so Pickstock opines in Kierkegaardian mode – a “first urban alienation” that is “half-nostalgic” for the Egyptian cult of the ancestor. Indeed, between the story of Atlantis told to Solon in Egypt, and the myth of Thoth’s invention of writing, there is an undercurrent to Plato of a terrible “past-perfect,” of real wisdom and existence dikon physei (just by nature) having long since already departed from the world. Time rolls on and everything decays; the “small spark” of divine reason in man burns low; the likelihood of the Statesman and the Golden Age ever coming around again is very slim indeed. At this I am strongly reminded of the saturnine words of the late great Platonist Roger Sworder:

“Platonists are born old. From their very early teens and even earlier they remember with a passion a time when things had not yet decayed. For no one at all is happiness a matter of keeping step with history. History is like fortune, very fickle. Find the work for which you are best equipped and do it. You shall be an anachronism, and most of all in this, that you are as fully in use and of use as you can and be.”[26]

Sworder was a pagan Platonist in the tradition of Thomas Taylor. He was not particularly keen on Christianity, finding perhaps only in its medieval guild systems a philosophy of work comparable to that outlined in the Republic or the Hindu Bhagavad Gita’s karma yoga. He spent most of his life lecturing and writing about the crime of the desanctification of work and its replacement with simply mindless mass production, anti-work sentiment and the liberal democratic farming of the population for debt. To live a Platonic life amidst such things is a very rare and eccentric vocation. Sworder made the decision to become a Platonic idiot, as indifferent to partaking in the political activity of his society as the idiot is to all the others in human history that do not rise to the level of the Republic’s least decadent just society (or, for that matter it’s simple “society of pigs” living happily in the forest). This is the cut that one must make if one is to be a disciple of the unalloyed “Socratic spleen” – the melancholic acceptance of the world as something very, very beautiful, ever winding down over aeons.

And yet there are alternative Platonic “cuts” that are at least as equally demanding. To Catherine Pickstock the only way to overcome the overwhelming feeling of loss before the inability of res to remain the same is through Christianity’s promise of redemption: “Christianity conceived the return and retrieval of all things in Christ that are at once inclusive and festive.”[27] In short, for the Christian Platonist Platonism needs to be saved and reaches its fulfillment in Christianity, at least equally as much as Christianity claims to have fulfilled the Jewish Law. [28] Perhaps then for any speculative Christian Platonism to be a living creature it must act as though it has only just heard the rumor of the completion of the Law in the Incarnation of Christ, the possibility that the Republic’s most just man, he who would rather suffer wrong than do wrong to the point of being crucified, had indeed been born, lived, died and now lives again.[29] That through this divine man it has been promised that brotherly love and theurgic participation might be extended beyond the walls of the polis and the philosophic circle to all. That with him the khora had brought forth the greatest entity that it ever will do, and that through this unique res some semblance of all the other res produced and ever to perish might somehow be retrieved.

If, as Pickstock says, God “punctuates” the process of the world with rests and stops, the rumoured capitalised Event that completes the Law can only be approached, amusing as it might sound, as interrobang (?!), as shock and confusion and inviting possibility, a gravity well of metaxic tension drawing the souls of men towards it. The disconcerting rumour of Event may be pursued, deliberated upon, accepted or rejected, but it cannot be ignored. As Lee Trepanier has recently speculated on the ideas of Voegelin and early Christianity: “someone like Peter may not have understood the entire essence of Jesus but, nonetheless, could respond existentially to the event of Christ’s Incarnation. If this were true, it would suggest that the divine could be intelligible to humans not just in their internal consciousness but also in the external history of world events.”[30] The Event is an infection of history, an invasion of the immanent by the transcendent drawing men and res towards it in retrieval across time. Rather than looking towards the great Apocalyptic Event of the End and the coming of some Third Age, perhaps we have still not quite come to grips with that first inexhaustible Event and all the possible implications that it might still hold.

This is perhaps where we can begin to recognise a way of reading Voegelin’s contribution that overcomes its more melancholy aspects. As Steven McGuire observes concerning Voegelin’s neglected opportunities to engage fully with Schelling’s ideas, what Voegelin misses most is this radical “freedom” that sits at the heart of Schelling’s thought.[31] This is the freedom of fact that man cannot totalise the Ungrund (groundless ground) of processive reality, it slips onwards and through his fingers. One might then takes one’s leave from an overlooked passage from The New Order on Schelling in which Voegelin remarks that: “the anamnesis is neither completed nor will it be complet­ed soon, and we do not know, therefore, the meaning of history as a whole; the future is still open.”[32] Perhaps, then, the Voegelin we are looking for is indeed one of the radically open Non-All in which, for the coming and going of generations and societies, there is always the possibility of looking back over the accrued archive of the “phenomenal surface” of history, traditions and symbols to get to the “ontological underground” beyond the thin band of human consciousness and symbolize it anew. Rather than some Third Age, strange and unexpected tangents branch ever onwards without completion – merely the infinite mercy of chances to rethink anew, gifted in each and every non-identical repetition.

Going for Baroque

How might we begin such an adventure? It is very interesting that the last thinker to whom Pickstock turns in Repetition and Identity is not by any usual measure an “orthodox” one – the early Christian Platonist church father Origen.[33] Among Origen’s ideas there is all manner of curious and speculative considerations that have long since been forgotten: that many animals possess an “incipient reason”; that the stars are sinners fulfilling penance and one day will be redeemed; that eventually all people will be redeemed by Christ, even from Hell; that if the end returns man to his pre-Fall state, perhaps the Fall might cyclically happen again and Christ would have to be incarnated again and again because of this. Perhaps there have been many Earths before this one and there will be many more to come after it is gone.[34] Origen’s ideas as we have them today are fragmentary, and it is difficult to determine exactly how seriously he took many of them, yet it is with an open soul such as this that we should perhaps begin again to consider the nature of things.

One of the particular trends of speculative realism is the turn towards “theory fiction” – the use of short narratives, usually of a science fiction bent, to illustrate conceptual theories about reality. This is most commonly associated with the Accelerationist minions of Nick Land, and rarely seems to reach any higher than briefly amusing attempts to find other people’s nightmares to LARP. An all too perfect example of this “horrorism” is the recent “Gender Accelerationist Black Paper” in which Gnostic transgirl computer programmers are destined to overthrow the last vestiges of the wicked Cis-Demiurge’s Imago Dei by giving birth to artificial intelligence.[35] I’m not sure who is supposed to be shocked by something as cute as this. Disappointingly, in their edgy insistence that the Imago Dei is a divine masturbatory fantasy, the author doesn’t even have the basic decency of mentioning the Egyptian creation myth of Amun among their 10c of esoterica scraped from Wikipedia. At very least let us demand a better class of pantomime villain.

Perhaps a little more interesting is Quentin Meillassoux (see part two of this essay). Although Meillassoux doesn’t believe God to exist, his Non-All “after finitude” ontology of cosmic infinity and incompleteness has led him in the past to consider whether it is possible that God, or something comparable could eventually come into existence.[36] Similarly, in a short essay titled Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction Meillassoux discusses the interesting possibility of cosmoi in which science might be far more difficult or even impossible due to the ontological basis of reality being utterly chaotic.[37] Interesting, yes, but rather tame in the scheme of things.

In comparison, it should not be overlooked that it was not early modern Epicureans and other materialists, but Platonic and esoteric thinkers such as Giordano Bruno who gave us and defended the notion of “after finitude” – of the infinite plenitudinous cosmos full of all possibilities, because God in his infinite goodness would not withhold what he might create.[38] For instance the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth pondered whether each planet “in the greater part of the universe” might have its own “plastick” world-soul bringing forth all manner of different animals, plants and peoples.[39] In consideration of the infinity of time Anne Conway argued that in the future the Earth’s vegetation might die out and God might cause horses and other creatures to change drastically in order for life to survive. Perhaps the other creatures would even evolve to become far more intelligent and more virtuous than human beings eventually.[40] That speculation on the infinite was ever ceded to the materialist bores should be a terrible indictment of the Platonic tradition.

Indeed, one might find an alternative in the long history of pre-modern and early modern speculative “science fiction.” This runs from Plutarch’s On the Face in the Moon with its strange conjectures on lunar life, down to Kepler’s lunar Dream with its clouds of demons and Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone where the hero, Domingo Gonsales, travels in a spaceship drawn by geese to meet the titanic musical inhabitants of the higher world. It also bears mentioning that Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote a work called the The Consolidator, a satirical parody of British parliament that takes place on a visit to the moon.[41] An immense formative influence on this tradition was the bizarre solar-lunar war parodying Homer in Lucian’s True Histories, a work that resounds down through early modern comedic adventure narratives as far as Raspe’s wonderful Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen.

Even more lunatic is Lucian’s Icaromenipus in which the protagonist Menippus, in an effort to reach Olympus, flies to the moon where he hears Lady Selene rant about all the ridiculous things the philosophers say of her. From his winged view the hero looks down at the Earth, seeing just how full of injustice it is in a catalogue of antiquity’s most famous murders and incests. This strange mirroring satire is a major part of the speculative fiction tradition and, as the reader may have noticed, has historically been most closely connected with our closest neighbour, the moon – that mirror to earthly life beneath which all comes into being and passes away at frenetic speed. To be speculative is to be earthbound, mirrorbound, to see the cosmos refracted back upon itself strangely: videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate.[42]

Most developed of all is States and Empires of the Moon and Sun – a bizarre fusion of Cartesianism, Renaissance Platonism, atomism and satire by student of Gassendi, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (not to be confused with Rostand’s characterisation). States and Empires is filled with facetious planets of philosophers who argue against all that is considered virtuous on Earth. The lunar Scholastics treat the human hero as an inferior animal because he walks on two legs rather than four; the people of the moon live in buildings that can be propelled along by giant bellows and they ceaselessly change from one body to another; the lunar Pythagoreans eat only meat because they feel sorry for vegetables being unable to escape being eaten or reproducing; on the sun the hero is captured by a society of birds who trial him for all the crimes humanity has inflicted upon birdkind.[43] While today the division of sublunary and superlunary worlds is long since destroyed (and even was during the day of many of these writers), the “Other World” reflects back the Earth in allegory showing just how alien we are to ourselves.

An excellent example of this is The Blazing World of early female natural philosopher and prolific fiction-writer Margaret Cavendish.  The Blazing World tells the curious tale of a young woman who travels to a parallel Earth conjoined to ours at the pole. The heroine marries the emperor and turns the entire planet’s strange species of beast men over to a massive bureaucracy of scientists in which no department has any clue about the expertise of the others.  Bored with all this, the Empress of the Blazing World travels across space and time to befriend Margaret herself and save her husband from bankruptcy by filing a legal action against the goddess Fortune. In what might be the first “Mary Sue” and boot-strapped science fiction narrative, it becomes impossible to tell where the lonely Margaret and the Empress of the other world begin and end. In the mirrored “Platonic seraglio” of the pair neither might seemingly exist without the other.[44] If speculative realism should show us the otherness of being, then most of all it should show that it is always-already here.

Perhaps the last thinker who truly understood this long and beautiful tradition was C.S. Lewis with his space trilogy of planetary Eldil archons and the seduction of the queen of Venus as a second Eve.[45] Nonetheless, little fragments of a 20th c. counter-corpus might be found in many places, including accidental ones, even if the overwhelming tone of the last century’s speculative sci-fi mystics was so thoroughly Gnostic. We may find it in David Lindsay’s alien and savagely beautiful Voyage to Arcturus that so deeply influenced Lewis and Tolkien;[46] in the overflowing plenitude of satirical worlds in the The Dimension of Miracles;[47] in the Gnostic Christianity of Philip K. Dick, who once wrote in his marvelous essay “How to Build a Universe”:

“The kosmos is not what is appears to be, and what it probably is, at its deepest level, is exactly what the human being is at its deepest level – call it mind or soul – it is something unitary that lives and thinks and only appears to be plural and material. Much of this view reaches us through the Logos doctrine regarding Christ. The Logos was both that which thought and the thing that was thought: thinker and thought together. The universe, then, is thinker and thought, and since we are part of it, we humans are, in the final analysis, thoughts of and thinkers of those thoughts.”[48]

Who is not to say that in a plenitudonous universe “after finitude” that God has not put approximations of Platonists and Christians on other worlds? What terrified the Baroque more than the possibility that Christ might have to have died over and over again on an infinity of planets? If David Hume’s facetious recycling of Xenophanes’ dictum about gods and horses in the idea that there might be some planet filled with spiders who consider God a great big spider should upset us, it should only be on account of the possibility that said planet has not yet developed arachnine negative theology.

For all his sceptical reason, Hume claimed that the results would only reinforce the faith of the mystics.[49] On the contrary, the logos demands that we are open to consideration of the non-existent in its every polyvocal form. To borrow from Cyrano de Bergerac, Platonists and Christians on other worlds might be of all sorts of shapes and sizes, with thousands of strange senses that we might never know. To consider all this is no less silly than the parochial belief that anything like the scientific and industrial revolutions that took place on a tiny horn of Eurasia (and for the most part on some damp little island at its edge), might have ever happened on other planets. This is a fertile field here for thinking if one likes games. And philosophy, all said and done, is the game of games.

Nonetheless, for the most part, like William Whewell the Christians (and the Platonists) of the past couple of centuries, having accepted the plurality of worlds, have been scared off from taking it seriously.[50] The possibility of the plurality of the participation of exobeings in the imago Dei and interventions of the saviour in a thousand different forms are disconcerting to say the least. But why should this have ever been the case? As Cudworth declared of life on other worlds: “Divine art and wisdom . . . would impress its dominion upon all, and everywhere express the sculptures and signatures of itself.”[51]

If the analogia entis has been decried in the past as the “theology of the anti-Christ” for seeming to suggest that all of reality partakes in a reflection of divine likeness, rather than merely human beings, then I am afraid that the only direction is further still. Perhaps, paradoxically, a useful means to assist in refreshing an increasingly clapped out (Christian) humanism would be for it to be refracted back by the phantasms of The Other World. This then is the challenge, a delicious game of intermingled and refracted irony, post-irony and deadly seriousness. “Speculative realism” asks us to become Baroque again, as Whitehead did when he dared to act as though Kant had never happened at all. If so, then let us at least be properly Baroque as Cyrano, Godwin, Kepler, Cavendish, Conway and others were in their speculative openness. In the same way, if it claims to be a return to realism, then at very least we shall be proper realists – we shall take our Platonism seriously once more.



[1]Jerry Day, Voegelin, Schelling and the Philosophy of Historical Existence, University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London, 2003.

[2] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, pp. 26-7; idem, The History of Political Ideas VII: The New Order and The Last Orientation, Collected Works Vol 25, Jürgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Hollweck eds, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, p. 195, 208.

[3] E.g. Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, Continuum, New York, 2006.

[4] Slavoj Žižek/F. W.  J. Schelling, The Abyss of Freedom/The Ages of the World, trans. J. Norman, Michigan University Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, p. 141.

[5] Eric Voegelin, The New Order and The Last Orientation, p. 208.

[6] F. W. J. Schelling, The Ages of the World, p. 182.

[7] Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 333-5. See Brendan Purcell in his article for VoegelinView “Emergence as Cosmic Metaxy”

[8] Slavoj Žižek/F. W. Schelling, The Abyss of Freedom/The Ages of the World, p. 119. An observant person might find Schelling’s A’s and their motions outward, inward and oscillating to be very similar to the three medieval alchemical qualities cardinal, fixed and mutable that run through all cosmic process, or, for that matter, the three guņas of Hinduism: sattva, tamas and rajas.

[9] Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, pp. 190-1.

[10] Jerry Day, Voegelin, Schelling and the Philosophy of Historical Existence, pp. 254-5.

[11] Plato, Statesman 271d–272, Laws Book 4.713-4.

[12] Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit, Urbanomic, Falmouth UK. 2018, p. 406.

[13] Ibid, p. 407.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, p. 409 and ft. 297 at the bottom of the page where we are simply referred to Plato’s Republic and Alain Badiou’s rewrite of it (see my review here), without any section numbers being given to support this ludicrous claim.

[16] Ibid, p. 406 and ft. 295 in which we are told “Plato replaces the word demiurgos (God or the chief craftsman) as the designation of the Good with the neutral word to demiurgen as the demarcation of the human mind.” This seems to be referring to Plato, Philebus, 27b in which Mind (Nous) is enumerated as the fourth of a series of cosmic principles. Socrates actually says: “to de dē panta tauta dēmiourgoun legomen tetarton, tēn aitian, hōs hikanōs heteron ekeinōn dedēlōmenon?” (And so the creator of them has been sufficiently proven to be different from them, and may then be called a fourth [principle]?). What Socrates is saying is that men are able to learn to govern themselves and learn the arts of healing only because the cosmic mind has made the world intelligible, set limits and given men and the gods souls that share in its intellect. At no point is this simply the “human mind.” What we have here with Negarestani is bargain basement immanentism.

[17] Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit, p. 10.

[18]  Richard C. Taylor intro in Averroes (Ibn Rushd) of Cordoba, Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2009, esp. pp. lxvii-ix on the “agent intellect”, which Averroes does not take to be equivalent with God or even exactly with the celestial intellects ,as prior commentators had, but instead represents it as a sort of necessary piece of metaphysical machinery acting as part of one entity with the passive/material intellect (Book 3, p. 451). The agent intellect merely illuminates, it “understands nothing of the things which are here” (Book 3, p. 441). Cf. Book 3 p. 322 where Averroes announces very famously that because the material and agent intellects are eternal “On the basis of this account we have held the opinion that the material intellect is one for all human beings and also on this basis of this we have held the opinion that the human species is eternal.” See: John Shannon Hendrix, Unconscious Thought in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2015, p. 125 who historically links Averroes’ dialectic of shared material and agent intellects with Hegel’s Vorstellung and Saussure’s la langue.  There is a wonderful passage on Averroes’ belief in the eternality of the human race and lack of belief in progress conflicts with the humanist Marxists of the author’s time who were trying to deny heat death: Philip Merlan,Monopsychism, Mysticism, Metaconsciousness, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1969, pp. 89-90. I think Negarestani could have got a lot out of this. Frankly I was expecting his book to be a little wilder and more speculative than it is. A Material Intellect and Spirit would have been far more compelling. See back here for my take on Averroes, Hegel, Olaf Stapledon and similar themes.

[19] Reza Negarestani, Intelligence and Spirit, p. 453.  See Richard C. Taylor’s  intro to Long Commentary, pp.  xxxiv-vii. The key problem for Averroes was that according Aristotle, De Anima, 428a the intellect had to be “unimixed with any material form.” In the Short Commentary Averroes declared that no “organic instrument” was needed for thinking, yet at the same time thought that there were “dispositions” in the imagination actively capable of receiving and reshaping these. In the Middle Commentary he rejected this stance as too “bodily” because it gave the imagination too much active power to process intelligibles. Instead he reasserted that the material intellect must be wholly receptive to the external agent intellect. By the time we come to the Long Commentary, the material intellect is the same as the passive and both are as universal and depersonalised as the agent intellect.

[20] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 90.

[21] Idem, Plato, pp. 160-3.

[22] Idem, The Ecumenic Age, p. 148.

[23] Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, trans. Wieland Hoban, Polity, Cambridge UK, 2016, p. 283 n. 4.

[24] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, pp. 90-91.

[25] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 196.

[26] Roger Sworder, “A Contrary History of the West,” in A Contrary History of the West and Other Essays, Sophia Perennis,  London, 2011, p. 90.

[27] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, p. 182.

[28] On Christianity’s fulfilment of the Jewish and Greek Law as non-philosophy rumour before decision see: François Laruelle, Christofiction: The Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem, trans. R. MacKay, Columbia University Press, New York, 2015. For all the “quantum” icing and Althusserian language, the main idea is very simple and much of the book is rather dull. However, it is much better than Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy, trans. A. P. Smith, Continuum, New York, 2010 which is little more than very predictable Gnosticism trying to somehow be edgy.

[29] Plato, Republic, II. 360-1.

[30]Lee Trepanier, “A Critique of Eric Voegelin’s Christianity,” VoegelinView, 20 November 2015.

[31]Steven F. McGuire, “Voegelin and Schelling on Freedom and the Beyond,” VoegelinView, 2nd April 2012.

[32] Eric Voegelin, The New Order and The Last Orientation, pp. 212.

[33] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, pp. 182-7.

[34] Origen, On First Principles, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame IN, 2013, see esp. Book III Chap V, section 3 on there being many worlds before ours and likely after ours too. Also see this wonderful read: Alan Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars, Clarendon University Press, Oxford, 1994.

[35] N1x, “Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper,” Vast Abrupt, 31st October 2018.  The fact that this was released on Halloween makes it all the more amusing. The pantomime villain quality of just so much of this Accelerationist stuff seems to suggest a total lack of agency on its own part. It can only ever be a shadow, a Devil’s advocacy. Eventually you run out of other people’s horrors.

[36] Quentin Meillassoux, “Deuil á venir, dieu  á venir,” Critique 704-705, 2006.

[37] Idem, Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction, trans. Alyosha Edlebi, Univocal, Minneapolis MN, 2015.

[38] See of course Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1978, esp. pp. 116f.

[39] Ralph Cudworth, “Digression Concerning the Plastick Life of Nature,” section 25 in The True Intellectual System of the Universe, Thomas Tegg, London, 1845, Vol. I. Cf.

[40] Anne Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, trans. Alison P. Courdet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 1996, Chapter IV section III. What is most interesting here is that Conway is juxtaposing two infinities – that of God, who is infinitely perfect and capable of actualization, and that of his creatures who possess infinite potentiality towards perfection, but can never perfectly actualise it. Conway was strongly influence by the Kabbalah concept of tiqqun olam (the restitution of the world), which she read as the infinite potentiality towards moral rectitude. She maintained this to the point of denying the existence of Hell because of divine mercy. She also outlined a complex karmic system of a sort based on gilgul (reincarnation) in which the microscopic monadic spirits that compose all of creation carry their moral excellence or failure with them into the next entities they become part of following death.

[41] Plutarch, Moralia, Vol XII, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge MA, 1957, pp. 1-223; Johannes Kepler, Kepler’s Somnium, trans. E. Rosen, Dover Publications, New York, 1967. The following texts are more difficult to obtain in book form but easily available online: Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone, 1638, available here; Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator, 1705, available here; Lucian, True History, available hereIcaromenippus available here; Rudolph Erich Raspe, The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, 1895, available online here.  Raspe’s work contains two lunar journeys, one in chapter VI in which the hero simply climbs to the moon via a beanstalk, the other in chapter XVIII that borrows from Lucian considerably.

[42] Very little has been said on these lunar narratives this past century, but one might note that Italo Calvino mentions Cyrano’s, Munchausen’s and Lucian’s voyages with much appreciation for their airy mercurial aspects in the “Lightness” chapter of Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Vintage Books, New York, 1993, pp. 21-3.

[43] Cyrano de Bergerac, Other Worlds, trans. G. Strachan, New English Library, Barnard’s Inn, UK, 1976.

[44] Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World and Other Writings, Penguin, London, 1994.

[45]  C.S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy, Pan Books, London, 1990. Similarly The Voyage of the Dawntreader is basically a crash course in antique and mediaeval fantastical voyage narratives, from Homer and Lucian to Saint Brendan and the Alexander Romances.

[46] David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus, Ballantine Books, London, 1972.

[47] Robert Sheckley, The Dimension of Miracles, Harper Collins, London and New York, 1978.

[48] Philip K. Dick, The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, ed. Lawrence Sutin, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1995, esp. pp. 275-280.

[49] David Hume, “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” part VII in The Empiricists: Locke, Berkeley and Hume, Anchor Press, Doubleday, New York and London, 1974, p. 476.

[50] A good, concise description here: David Darling, “William Whewell,” n.d.

[51] Ralph Cudworth, True Intellectual System, Vol IV. Pp. 291-2 titled “Never Any Inept System.”


This is the fourth of six parts. Also available are “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Voegelin, Process and the New Realism,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Haunted Ontologies and Different Modes of Existence,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Catherine Pickstock and the Return of Platonic Cosmology,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Love and Violence,” and “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Erotic Theology.”

Jonathan RatcliffeJonathan Ratcliffe

Jonathan Ratcliffe

Jonathan Ratcliffe is Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."

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