Black Sun: The singularity at the heart of the Anthropocene

This paper focuses on dark-theory, and explains the Anthropocene through such dark theory. It addresses a major problematic for contemporary theory; i.e., it is not dark enough. In terms of the current environmental, social and cultural situation, we are faced with a singularity, which is here termed as being at the heart of the Anthropocene; not as a metaphor, but as a dark, refracted image of what the human drives have produced, are producing, and will continue to produce in the future: the black sun. This image is in contrast to the cyberpunk notion of a technological A.I. singularity becoming intelligent and taking over from the human race at some point in the future. The naming of the singularity at the heart of the Anthropocene as the ultimate, dark expression of the human drives, works in conjunction with the action of the surrounding black hole, and as such has an event horizon we are fast approaching: it can be surmised that we will not stop entering this event horizon until the sixth great extinction event has run its course. Whether human beings as a species survive is unknown; what is certain is that we are in the midst of an enormous matter-flow encouraged by this singularity and black hole, and, as Deleuze & Guattari (1988) state: “this matter-flow can only be followed” (p. 409).

Everything that we have held close and believed in is threatened by this pan-energetic black hole. We have created the singularity in conjunction with the forces that have created us, yet the black hole has darker dimensions than we can imagine, and is certainly more powerful than us. As we get sucked ever further towards the singularity, one could say that, after Nietzsche, we are: “ … on the point of tipping over into nihilism—into the belief in absolute valuelessness, that is, meaninglessness” (Nietzsche, 1967-77, 13: 7[54]). However, the Anthropocene is more than a negative semantic result as an absolute loss of faith in human endeavor. Rather, it shows us how meaning has started to bend, twist and inverse, as the immense forces contained by the singularity begin to bite. The black hole reaches down into our very drives, transforms them, and leaves us wondering about what has happened, what is happening, and what will occur. The experience of the singularity of the Anthropocene is therefore explained by another of Nietzsche’s notes on the anti-psychological formation of the drives: “The psychologists’ great confusion has lain in their failure to distinguish [between] two types of pleasure, that of falling asleep and that of conquest” (Nietzsche, 1967-77, 13: 14[174]). In the precise terms of the Anthropocene, as possessing a heart as a singularity surrounded by a black hole, we will not overcome, or conquer, the singularity through pre-given technological solutions, such as global geoengineering or coordinated, large scale carbon sequestration; as these modes of fixing, are what has in unison with other actions, matter and forces through time caused the singularity (as will be explained by the cloud analysis below), and will therefore only mitigate against limited effects of the singularity and black hole. Therefore, a cluster of perspectives on the Anthropocene, which are becoming increasingly widespread, are that “we may as well just leave things alone, and carry on as before”, “we are in fact asleep”, “we will probably die through the unfolding events as we approach the event horizon”, so “we may as well enjoy whatever will occur in the future as ‘the transformational Anthropocene’”, rather than trying to futilely overcome that which cannot be conquered: i.e. the human drives. What Nietzsche is pointing out, is that external prognostication about internal reactions to extreme change, which is in our case, are being produced by the singularity of the Anthropocene, will always produce misunderstandings with respect to effects and causes, whether the effects of the realization of the singularity are mutism, inarticulation, trauma, flight, an increase in herd instinct, or simply fear & panic-responses; because the ways in which the deep drives are read, for example, by psychology, most often conform to stable, pre-designated, pre-given systems, which are unable to interpret the radically new Anthropocenic conditions of feedback induced non-linear change, on a global, unprecedented, and as yet unimagined scale. As the theorist Keith Ansell Pearson has said, in  the context of Nietzsche’s politics:

What Nietzsche seeks to do as a thinker … is to prepare us for change. He shows that humanity has a history, that it has been (de-) formed in a particular way, and that the end of … [a certain] interpretation of the world, offers the possibility of another beginning. It becomes possible to navigate new seas since the horizon is now ‘free’ again.

Ansell-Pearson, 1994, p. 205.

However, what are we being prepared for in and by the Anthropocene, and who or what is preparing us? Is this preparation, merely an increased likelihood of death? Or perhaps it is about flight or swarming, and getting ready as a species to live in new ways, for example, ‘off world’ living or a return to pre-modern, ecological living? Or, perhaps we need to discover a new depth, and sense of readiness for the perhaps already bunkered and blinkered life we are already leading; for example, we need to prepare for the continual staving off the effects of wild fires, drought, floodings, hurricanes, starvation, economic crises and future resource/food/water wars? There are no easy answers to these questions; yet the imminent reality of extinction in and due to the sixth great extinction event, points to the fact that unsustainable human growth has destroyed, is destroying and will continue to destroy the biosphere, in proportion to the detrimental effects of this growth. What can be undoubtedly said about the facts of extinction in the singularity of the Anthropocene, is that the powers connected to death will increase in magnitude, and as such, the image of this power will become increasingly manipulated, and this manipulation will take hold as a common reality, even as we wonder, who or what is going to die first, and who decides what or who dies, as Georges Bataille has said: “The power of death signifies that this real world can only have a neutral image of life, that life’s intimacy does not reveal it’s dazzling consumption until the moment it gives out,” (Bataille, 1989, p. 49). The consumptive powers of the singularity of the Anthropocene, which could be understood as a mode of radiation from the black hole, takes the dazzling, vital nature out of life, and makes it darker. This is why the usual, extraordinarily slow time of geology in previous epochs is replaced by a ‘dark time’ in the astrophysics of the Anthropocene event. This ‘dark time’ is characterized by oscillation, contradiction, impossible choices, and the consequent continual putting off of things, the insertion and following of complicated time loops, and by reversals in previously accepted norms and actions, as we approach and become one with the Anthropocenic event horizon. In contrast to the characterization of recent ‘great acceleration’ in progress, growth and success, through which the detritus of human production was dealt with and left behind, the ‘dark time’ of the Anthropocene sees objects that were buried and forgotten re-emerge, as the forces and constraints which were holding them in place are shredded through the irradiating powers of the Anthropocenic singularity and black hole. Again, Nietzsche anticipated these throughlines, when he suggested that:

Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it.

Nietzsche, 1968, Fragment 40: March-June 1888

However, the growth that we now see is no longer the expansion of human dominion through or as the Anthropocene. Rather, the ‘growth’ of the dark time of the Anthropocene is exemplified by the ways in which the singularity is now interacting with the continuum of everyday life. For example, a slow-motion film might show us the north Pacific Gyre intervening in human populations, and cause tsunamis of plastics to rein down on the beach goers; landfill rubbish sites all over the world explode through internal methane gas production; radioactive material dumps start to leak and increasingly contaminate their rocky, underground environments; large scale carbon sequestration sites prove in the long run to be unstable, and lead to unforeseen circumstances, such as massive localized CO₂ poisoning through previously undiscovered geological-weak-links. In sum, the singularity of the Anthropocene requires thinking that allows for and encourages “… in the midst of perfectly gruesome detonations, a new truth [to] become visible … [and] among thick clouds” (Nietzsche, 1979, p. 114). This bringing to visibility is what I am calling ‘dark thinking’ and the ‘black sun’, that fully takes into account the factors involved with the production of the singularity of the Anthropocene. In order to do this, we must let go of previously suggested certainties that have become close to us, before the event horizon of the Anthropocenic singularity completely takes over; things such as our ‘being’ or the importance of ‘the human’ or the power of ‘progress’; we need to create a fully realized dark cloud analysis, or analysis of the ‘unworld’ of the Anthropocene and: “In such an ‘unworld’ Heidegger could no longer expect to be understood,” (Dreyfus, 1993, p. 333), as it is unrestrained darkness, full of wholly material time-warping forces; it is anti-phenomenological non-being, containing no light.

Read More at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research into the Anthropocene

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