Notes towards a Metaphysics of Light

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acceleration / code / light / metaphysics / spirit

Alchemy-2012-07-13-11-34-38 (work in progress) Neil Nieuwoudt 2012

Every tool carries with it the spirit by which it has been created. (Heisenberg)

I would like to think light as the dynamic interval between events, as a kind of singular tension between time and space, determining in the last instance both the simultaneity of the event as well as the order of succession for chains of causal relations. Light as the luminous matrix of the substrate and the glare of its utter annihilation; as the divergence of the world and the immolation of empty time; as the only term which could bridge these mutually-incomprehensible infinities — the future, the cosmos. What is it to think the photon as ontological fundament, light-like intervals as the atomic relata of eventful worlds?

For phenomenology, consciousness is the “light” in which light itself becomes visible; so from the outset we must carefully distinguish between virtual and actual light, eventuation and ideation — differentiation or diffraction of null space and repetition or refraction of empty time. The phenomenological photon can be determined through a very precise axiom: light is the term which renders intervals of space and durations of time mutually comprehensible in absolute motion. How to think this pure life at the unreachable speed of the photon, asymptote of velocity itself?

Light, then, in both senses at once: information and data, mind and matter, event and subject. The momentary madness of the act; and the perpetual motion of the waves which erase its traces. Light, then, precisely as it emerges from or falls back into space and time. The decoding of illumination as it opens onto the future, time, the world. What is needed is a new prism, a transoptical machine for calculating the conditions for the crystalline explosion of luminous impulses. We have a rainbow series of colors organized by wavelength; but what is needed is pure white light,  differential mixture of all possible values of light, simultaneously resonating with every element of the series.

An event risks being misunderstood as an actual extraordinary point. On the one hand there there are nevertheless certainly extraordinary points which fail to become actual; but there are also certain (series of) lines which develop in singular ways that evade being identifiable with punctuation, with the syntax of history. Alien symbolic matrices, foreign ontological foundations; the event is the intrusion of another scale, leakily-abstracted inter- or infrastructure, a message from an unexpected outside or inside demanding a radically foreign coding and decoding system. A new language, a new subject; but also a de-languaging, a de-subjectivation, de-individuation; in this passage to the ontological limit, the individuated subject risks being compromised by alien memories. Becoming-everything, becoming-imperceptible: the event in this sense denotes a strategic methodology for suturing reality to its outside. The spirit of an evental metaphysics is a being ontologically ‘harassed’ — compelled to differentiate the world from itself without separation or subtraction, in a manner marked by secrecy, darkness and a kind of espionage on behalf of the radical outside.

Such an integrated nodal point-subject submits all too readily to certain utterly inhuman (animal, vegetal, cosmic) relationships to the inhuman; just as it cannot resist certain ‘voidic’ ontological vortexes which engulf the structuring matrix it adheres to.What is the structure of the subject or the world — these self-interrupting, simultaneously virtual, semiotic and biological vectors; these cosmos-machines at once psychic, social and physical? Is it not the case that assemblages become visible, comprehensible in the last instance, only by way of universal history, by way of the experimental mutations of the collective assemblages of enunciation which give rise to discourses and disciplines? The structure of the subject is luminous and territorial, an intensive and topologically indeterminate zone of proximities which has to be mapped anew in each instance. (Thus the paradoxical demand upon the analyst that she generate an effective cartography of a world which isn’t there, populated by people who don’t exist yet.) The structure of a world is irreducible and opaque, a matter of intensive transversality.

To have a world is always already to be madly on the run across it, hunted for simply existing, unless perhaps… –Unless perhaps one is a spirit, or a body of light; unless perhaps I am not this body; unless I am no longer the speaker which says “I”; unless perhaps I am not here at this very moment in this text as it is being written. –Light, glare is also disappearance, traversal to the limit of perceptibility; or subtraction via the intensive reduction or n-1, the erasure of all traces of the subjectile — so that it no longer matters whether one is or is not stuttering along the ego, parroting “I-I-I…”; since at least we have pushed language to an external edge, to its (e.g.) musical or animal limit; we have made failure impossible and succeeded, even (and perhaps especially) if we fall back into triangulation. –The mediation of fantasy, the commercial, bureaucratic, familial reductions of desire in psychoanalysis, reflect a generalized and even globally-extended process of subjectivation, integrated at all costs, however intolerable or mad, into local regimes of semiotic and virtual exchange.

The node already participates with the darkness that permeates the network; every node is a ‘terminal’ point, a vector between the system and the world and between the system and itself — at once the flow and its interruption, the channel and its subversion. This dual differentiation permits the network-system to exist as an irreducibly generative assemblage — which is to say, neither individual or collective (both of which collapse to an individuated matrix in the last instance.) The question of the exploit is therefore primary, the essential matter of worldic, evental and subjectile effectivity and generativity. Power, or voidic and plastic generativity, discovers an infinite deferral of its own origin in this productive assembly which establishes functional inter-relationships between one or several war machines. The generativity of the collective assemblage exceeds its effectivity, it becomes expressive of modalities of existence, when permitted to establish uncertain communications channels with alien machines (with potentially wildly divergent and even mutating universes of reference and value.) The molar subject — that ‘healthy’ consciousness or prepossessed self-awareness of innately-political beings, robust with respect to some permutability of external reality and its own substrate (in other words possessing a unity of identity and differentiation of self-representation and reflected image; the capacity for deception, secrecy, falsehood, “hollowness”) — this psychic effectivity of identity can perhaps be considered as an external agency, one which establishes a kind of universal exchange between various systems of meaning.

Light, or this labyrinth leading to the black heart of the death-drive; a parasite which interrupts the flow of unconscious desire, transcoding it into a series of signifying chains, muffling the articulation of fragmentary collective enunciations. Thought and language reach towards their others and outsides in order to escape syntagmatic isolation or pragmatic identifiability — towards music, silence; towards that infinite speed of thought which manages to discover a way outside the territory. We cannot “think” the disaster, the fragmentariness of the substrate, just as we cannot think our own deaths — at least, not without paying what is perhaps the most dangerous cost exacted by a thought: the risk of the collapse of ontological coordinates or foundations, of infection by mutant or even alien universes of reference. Thinking the disaster is impossible without this risk of breaking, halting, becoming-frozen; of a radical trauma beyond reintegration. A hideous arresting of individuation; a new silence, coldness, darkness: the break risks leaving us “beyond thinking and feeling” (optical nerves burned out, ear drums ruptured.) Perceptions themselves even risk becoming ‘infested’ by alien continuities. In short: we risk no longer being able to trust the ground, the weight of things. A strange coldness and indifference radiates from the paradox, the disaster, the break; it coincides with the invasion of an alter-subject which cannot be reintegrated. An enemy within which doesn’t coincide with another personality, but a radically independent and ontologically-disruptive line of free variation which depersonalizes and distorts perceptual semiologies.

Joshua Kirch, “Concentricity” (Interactive Light Sculpture Series)

The Author

mostly noise and glare


  1. “To have a world is always already to be madly on the run across it, hunted for simply existing, unless perhaps… –Unless perhaps one is a spirit, or a body of light; unless perhaps I am not this body; unless I am no longer the speaker which says “I”; unless perhaps I am not here at this very moment in this text as it is being written…”

    Fascinating! I feel I am almost at the same plane as this speculation on the light is apropos my speculations on gnosis, inspired by Laruelle:

    “…the subject, if it desires to persist, cannot make its position totally accessible to the chaos of the Outside, which contrary to Meillasoux’s opinion does not actually destroy, rather, it really does the opposite. It creates as it throws everything into the unbreakable consistency of contingency.

    The subject is the very refusal of creation… Its positionality is its en-owning, ultimately, its right to die vis-à-vis the Void that promises life via the creative process.”

    Just passing by. Thanks.

  2. Inspiring!

    Can I ask some questions?
    “in other words possessing a unity of identity and differentiation of self-representation and reflected image; the capacity for deception, secrecy, falsehood, ”
    Do you mean consciousness in this passage? Can one define consciousness as infinite ability of deception? If so, can this deception be infinite in principle and more, guide us to the basic knowledge about infinity?
    And, how to escape panpsychism, while saving metaphisical meaning in discussions of a physical phenomena such as light, gravity and so on? I assume that, while we trying to break out of human features in metaphysics, we on contrary can spread features of human mind on inhuman objects; this objects, of course, have no idea about what “Light” is, they are totally blind. For me, this problem seems to be unresolvable one.


    • Thanks for the reading! These are just some reactions to your comment; I’m sorry if this doesn’t really address your interesting question.

      One way of framing the photon is precisely as phenomenological, which would be consciousness (the light in which light itself becomes-perceptible)’. As I say it’s definitely important to distinguish this from eventuation, which exceeds ideation in the direction of the unthinkable, the unforeseeable. What cannot be cognized: this is the absolute for metaphysics, the threshold and altar of the universal, the foundation-stone of a philosophical cathedral. (Ignorance as the vigorous and even vicious defense of the unthought: at least I know that I do not know…) There is a vengeance running deep beneath our culture, our image of thought: the real challenge seems to me to be achieving a plane of consistency which doesn’t rely on hate and cruelty to consolidate itself. Deleuze talks about protean left assemblages and the need to forge new relationships to the non-human: animal relations to animals, cosmic relationships to the cosmos, musical relationships to music. De-privileging, de-capitalizing of the human and of being in favor of becoming-vegetable, becoming-mineral, becoming-animal, becoming-molecular… Light also seems to me to speak to the general system of knowledge as structure, to the possibility of encoding an data-chain into any substrate whatsoever; the complicity of matter with information, the becoming-imperceptible of coded flows, internalization of an alien algebra. Panpsychism only in the sense that psyche is epicyclic, emergence into light at the limit of informatic turbulence; a twist or torsion of complexity into sensitive autopoesis. (Some formulations along these lines suggest precisely that even a molecule has a tiny psi-coefficient, in other words: some tiny larval subjectivity associated with its informatic complexity.)

      • Can I reformulate what you call “eventuation” and “ideation” in terms of “speculative” and “analytic” solutions? Analytic solution is perceived in a way as if I think about my circumstances and then I make a desicion. Speculative solution is percieved as if I face my desicion that arises from unforeseen circumstances, and then I think about it. “Light” in this frame is both a thing that modulates my mind and turns me into an unpredictible way of thought, and simultaneously is a model in terms of which my thoughts can be written in a formal way. If so, your explanation is clear, but still confusing.

        Also, this stuff strongly reminds me of “Licht” opera cycle by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Worth listening in any case.

        Any interpretations of former quantum physicists are also very helpful. What the source of this citation from Heisenberg? Do you make any references to “quantum mystics” in your work?

      • Eventuation/ideation could be read as mapping onto physical/phenomenological light. (That’s the basic amphibology an analysis of the metaphysics of light in the above sense would attempt to activate.)

        One thing that really interests me is the notion of ‘light-like’ intervals that emerge in the mathematics of general relativity and spacetime. In a way this is less about the quantum than about the particulate, the molecular. (The Heisenberg is from “Physics and Philosophy,” I believe.)

        By the way, thanks for pointing me to Stockhausen! I’m listening to ‘Sunday’ from Light now.

      • Can I connect you by mail for further discussion? I have some thoughs about it. Finally, I hope this all can help us find a way to split Hegel (involving consciousness in every real process) and Meillassoux (considering literal meaning of scientific statements).

  3. mapsperhaps says

    hottt damn.
    heisenberg is the man !
    that book that is mentioned above
    is awesome
    (oh, this post is pretty sweet too! (-:
    ive been living inside p&p it for at least a week now, which is
    terrible cos sooo much course loiteratures to unpack/repack/sell back/etc.etc.

    thank u much (indirectly) tho !!!

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