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Geist and Ge-Stell: a draft of the opening moves


1. Nihilism is a project for intelligence. Nietzsche understood it as a cosmic adventure, one that will leave its traces everywhere from where the distant stars lie to the human moral fabric. The adventure will forge a hero – the free spirit. The hero will fear no established structure of power which would have a command monopoly of anything – rather than a sedentary command power, the free spirit will struggle to make command nomadic; in other words, she aims to unveil the will to power as up for grabs. Her effort is to dethrone – and in that sense, to deterritorialize by leaving no command structure in place. Nihilism is a metaphysical melter – and in this sense is a metaphysical adventure if it is not, as Heidegger would claim, the very metaphysical adventure.

Heidegger's account of nihilism is summarized by the episode in The Gay Science where a madman asserts in the market that God is dead and the deed was made by us.1 The assertion is then said to entail that we have drunk the sea, erase the horizon line and detached the Earth from its Sun. By killing God, we have promoted a coup d'état in the cosmic order: we took over the command of everything – we assault the very powerhouse of being. The nihilist coup is an ongoing one – the battle for the cosmic commands are still happening but we can figure it will gradually prevail, even though maybe never to its completion – because it is hard to see any other game in town. Not that the future then becomes transparent; it is rather under dispute because it is far from clear who will take over each seized command. Once seized, a position of command becomes available – the Earth detached from its Sun can subsequently be tied to anything else. Once the sea is drunk and the horizon line is erased, the control tower is empty. The plot aimed at physis, the secret force that drives appearances, does no more than dislodge it and make sure its power is now ready to be exercised by anyone ready to press the buttom.

Heidegger has a name for what is built in the long process of killing God and assaulting physis: he calls it Ge-Stell. In the adventure of nihilism, if the free spirit is the hero, Ge-Stell is the world rebuilt. Heidegger has a direct definition for it: das Ge-Stell bestellt den Bestand.2 In a translation: Positionality orders the standing reserve. Something in standing reserve stands at the command of a switch, available to be positioned. Ge-Stell orders (or promotes, or offers, or devices) the standing reserve. The other action of Ge-Stell is to requisition: it makes something available. In the nihilist revolution, it is the Comitê de salut public which grabs the confiscated authority and makes sure it doesn't return to the hands of the previous boss, which is physis. Heidegger further adds that it

wrests everything together into orderability. It reaps everything that presences into orderability and is thus the gathering of this reaping. [It] is a plundering. But this reaping never merely piles up inventory. Much more, it reaps away what is ordered into the circuit of orderability. Within the circuit, the one positions the other. The one drives the other ahead, but ahead and away into requisitioning.3

Ge-Stell reaps whatever presents itself of its on accord into something that can be commanded. It is this reaping that turns the world into a controlled circuit – it is the force that commands things to presence that is reaped. Heidegger describes it as what “essences as the plundering drive that orders the constant orderability of the complete standing reserve”.4 Ge-Stell, which is then understood as the essence of technology, is like natural forces exposed into natural laws turned into artificial models enabling a network of cables and switches. But Ge-Stell is not only what grounds a circuit of machinery, it is what requisitions the power that physis enjoys. It is the controllable version of the world – it is government, just like the physis of the ancien régime, but different because command is now available. Heidegger claims that world and Ge-Stell are the same, but “the same is never equivalent”.5 They occupy, so to speak, the same place. But they do different things because the distribution of power is not the same – the command for something to present itself comes from different places. Ge-Stell stops things presenting themselves of their own accord and make them orderable. Heidegger claims that world and Ge-Stell “are the same and thus, to the very extremes of their essence, set against one another”.6 Nihilism is the adventure of turning the world into an orderable standing reserve. Under its course, everything is in danger precisely because everything is being persecuted in order to be thought through so that its intelligibility is exposed. The forces of physis are contrasted to those of thesis – it is precisely the metaphysical effort of extracting the intelligibility of things that make them redundant, exposed and abstract in the sense of a multiple instantiation. The separation of the intelligible from the sensible is the birth of the artificial and its project is one of disclosing what was previously secret (and private, and inner, and concealed). Against the adventurous intelligence of nihilism, things have no option but to try to escape, to elude because things are in danger. Danger is the name of the era over which nihilism presides.

The era of danger is a human age. Humans trigger nihilism and engender Ge-Stell. Yet, humans are not the heroes nor the goal of the movement. Ge-Stell also place them in standing reserve. They are persecuted so that the intelligibility of their functionings can be extracted: extracted could be their inclinations, their drives, their way of proceeding, their practices, their arguments, their convictions and their reasons. As a consequence, as Heidegger claims, “the human is exchangeable within the requisitioning of the standing reserve”.7 Human action is transformed into work which is turned into abstract work ready to become artificial.8 Heidegger remarks, nevertheless, that the human belongs in Ge-Stell “in a wholly other way than the machine does. This way can become inhuman. The inhuman, however, is ever still inhuman. The human never becomes a machine.” This inhuman is still human – same and never equivalent and set against one another. “The inhuman and yet human”, Heidegger continues, “is admittedly more uncanny, while more evil and ominous, than the human who would merely be a machine”.9

We are therefore contemporaries to this (long) cosmic change of command. Intelligence is building itself a home – a home where commands are available and things are understood, their intelligibility extracted and exposed. Intelligence cannot feel at home in physis, it rather inhabits thesis. This process of creating a habitat is what Hegel, discussing how the soul escapes from both alienation and idiocy and takes over the body building for itself a second nature, calls Gewohnheit. It is habit that creates for the soul a habitat through a repetition. “The form of habit”, Hegel writes, “applies to all kinds and grades of mental action. The most external of them […] has been by will made into a habit”. He continues considering human postures, gestures and other habits that make the body in the image and likeness of the soul; and then thinking which “too, however free and active […] requires habit.” He concludes the paragraph: “Habit on an ampler scale, and carried out in the strictly intellectual range, is recollection and memory”.10 Intelligence crafts in the body a habitat for itself – the natural body is, by second nature, the address of intelligence. The adventure of nihilism could then be the turning of the world into the second nature of intelligence: to embody the world. The development of an individual subject is a cybernetic step towards its initiation in a universal realm to each subjects actively contribute and not only instantiate. Each singular subject sponsors and shapes this universal realm which is a self-revising and never fixed confluence of norms. This confluence is the interminable work of Geist gradually distancing from physis. Perhaps like each individual soul creating a home in the body, Geist must also creating for itself a second nature, through Gewohnheit, where to live. If this is so, as conceptual capacities develop from the singularities in the world, their articulation becomes the world's prothesis. Then Geist, the objective or intersubjective form of existence of intelligence, deals with the world through Gewohnheit turning it into its habitat: Ge-Stell.

2. Ge-Stell, part of the nihilist adventure, is a habitat for intelligence which is constantly under construction. It is the house of intelligence – away from the contingencies of physis. To be sure, this is reading of Geist as building itself a home is not the best way to engage with Hegel's text. But it seems to fit a recent attempt to fuel, proceed and intensify the nihilist adventure: contemporary inhumanism. Reza Negarestani's project of a philosophy of intelligence is one which conceive intelligence as nothing other than “that which knows what to do with the intelligible, whether pertaining to itself or to the world”.11 Aristotle, formulating the role of intelligence (nous) in its dealings with the intelligible, asserts that the latter is intelligence in act – intelligence is realized in the intelligible it entertains.12 Negarestani ties the project of Geist with his answer concerning what is the human and, in the vein of nihilism, refrains from tying intelligence to human inclinations and habits in order to argue that the human is the launching platform for a broader adventure which is the very adventure of intelligence. He claims one “can not have the cake of humanity without eating its consequences”. Once we find ourselves entangled with norms, principles and the search for intelligibility, “we have committed ourselves to the impersonal order of reason to which sapience belongs—an order that will expunge our manifest self-portrait.” So, we “have crossed the cognitive Rubicon” and “in committing to this impersonal order we must realize that what is manifestly human will be overcome”.13 The human is fated to an engagement that cannot be abandoned: “Reason is a game in which we are all fleeting players and from which we cannot defect, so let us play this game well by committing to its interests and its ramifications”.14

Negarestani holds that intelligence in fact is constantly rebuilding its home – it is a permanent turning of physis into Ge-Stell: “Intelligence commandeers its given nature by way of the history of its own obligations and demands, for the history of intelligence only begins in earnest with the cumulative reworkings of its given constitution, progressively breaking away from the given in all its manifestations”.15 Geist is an outbound ticket away from physis and its implications for human present constitution. It presides over “a modification of its conditions of realization”,16 like the soul changes the body by inculcating a second nature. Crafting its own nature reveals the connection between mind and artificiality:

Artificiality is the reality of mind. Mind has never had and will never have a given nature. It becomes mind by positing itself as the artifact of its own concept. By realizing itself as the artefact of its own concept, it becomes able to transform itself according to its own necessary concept by first identifying, and then replacing or modifying, its conditions of realization, disabling and enabling constraints. Mind is the craft of applying itself to itself. The history of mind is therefore quite starkly the history of artificialization. Anyone and anything caught up in this history is predisposed to thoroughgoing reconstitution.17

The inhumanist is ready to depart from the human nature guided by the force that makes the intelligibility of things gradually more transparent. The path towards artificialization is one where intelligence is extracted further and further to the point that nothing is fixed – if Geist builds itself a habitat, it does by constantly refurbishing it. Inhumanism is an episode in the adventure of nihilism because it proposes that we sacrifice our own nature in the altar of metaphysics – just like Ge-Stell would not stop short of ordering human features (or human lives) into standing reserve. Geist is not a foray into the unknown to bring back something to closed circuit – rather, it is cyberpositive. The adventure of intelligence is not, in fact, something that can be stopped once it counters some values or once it reaches a moral or physical limit. Nihilism is the adventure of intelligence precisely because it sets its own limits only to eventually cross them. In this sense, it promotes a reeducation of its condition of realizability – it is a cosmic adventure in the sense that it places the whole world into a process of Gewohnheit. In recognizing the conditions of its realization, Negarestani argues, Geist “becomes capable of modifying those conditions and thus of modifying its own realization” to the point where “it has recognized its intelligible unity as a part of a more integral unity, namely the intelligible unity of mind and world”.18 Its march is towards what is really necessary for itself, refurbishing its habitat in order to make sure the contingencies of physis have no room.

Geist is engaged in a permanent effort of habituation because “intelligence is [...] a denizen of an intelligible abyss”. “In its current manifestation,” Negarestani continues, “it may have come from this earth or another, but from the perspective of the abyss of the intelligible, it has no grounded home and never will have”.19 Negarestani speaks of an ‘odyssey of spirit’ that makes Geist live in the abyss engaging both in the “unconditional endorsement of intelligence” and the “unconditional cultivation of the intelligible”. He asserts that “[w]hoever and whatever opposes this truth will be swiftly weeded out by the reality of which intelligence is the resolute expression”.20 The abyss formed by a spiral formed by increasing intelligence and better extracted intelligibility21 departs from the human (natural) habitat; clearly here world and abyss are not equivalent even though they are arguably the same – what is extensionally composed by everything as intelligence is not expected to stop anywhere.

This repagination of nihilism – which by no means was faded or in any degree dismissed – makes intelligence clearly into a force that cannot be helped but move forward as it is alien to the circuits of the Earth, and indeed to any circuit of nature. Intelligence is a universe builder and the circumstances of its birth are thoroughly immaterial. Geist is an alien in nature and it cannot do anything with matter other than to create the means to inhabit it. It is intelligence itself which is the hero – the free spirit – of the adventure.

3. However, is nihilism the fate of intelligence; or is it really only a cosmic adventure? Nietzsche's wrestling with nihilism foresees the cosmic role of intelligence, its cybernetic import which is a capacity to artificially instantiate natural processes by usurping their command. Perhaps the cosmic role, however, doesn't need to be fully pursued; maybe there is a political struggle lying in the realization of capacities. Metaphysics, the adventure of intelligence when engaged on turning physis into thesis and thesis into techné, is a cosmopolitical enterprise. Cosmopolitics is what Tim Ingold thinks anthropology is: philosophy with real people in it;22 real people, real toads, real stars. This folding of metaphysics into a cosmopolitical character is perhaps prefigured in Aristotle's suspicion that physis itself hosts techné. Clearly, if politics is about the realization of potentialities, cosmopolitical struggle involves the friction of different capacities among which the metaphysical reason drive to inhabit the universe. But what else could happen to intelligence if it doesn't fulfill its capacity to transform the universe?

Heidegger's engagement with metaphysics was a quest for some sort of insight, of lucidity. He thought intelligence could dismantle metaphysics. His quest for a genuine (non-nihilist) post-nihilism pointed towards a different adventure for thought – a divergence from the engagement with metaphysical reasons. To be sure, the problem with this divergence is to make sure it doesn't end up reintegrated by the attracting forces of Geist while also not falling the path of just opposing every step of intelligence and rejecting its very force. In other words, it is a matter of deviating intelligence from the nihilist pattern without destroying it. If this is not possible, the adventure is unavoidable. It is nevertheless not straightforward to envisage a path to ensure intelligence to be both active and not engaged in (some form of) nihilism. This was the general form of Heidegger's challenge – and the general form of his Kehre, the post-nihilist turn he tried to conceive.

Apart from an adventure, nihilism is an attractor for intelligence. “As it has happened to me” says the free spirit to himself, “ so must it happen to every one in whom a mission seeks to embody itself and to ‘ come into the world' ”, describes Nietzsche. “The secret power and necessity of this mission”, he continues, “will operate in and upon the destined individuals like an unconscious pregnancy,— long before they have had the mission itself in view and have known its name”.23 These characters of the future rule the present gestures of intelligence. This is what shapes the challenge of post-nihilism. Intelligence seems to aim at archiving intelligibles – Geist seems to aim at Ge-Stell. Do we want another adventure? We can parody Nick Land: Do we want nihilism? “The naivety of this question has come to render it unsustainable. It no longer seems plausible to assume that the relation between the artificial and desire is either external or supported by immanent contradiction, even if few comical ascetics continue to assert that libidinal involvement with the machine can be transcended by critical reason”.24 The analogy with the original is close since capitalism is itself a chapter in the cybernetic adventure of intelligence, a chapter that increasingly places the human in the platform of abstract work whose intelligibility is captured enough to be exercised by artificial workers. Capital, like intelligence en route away from physis and the Earth towards the artificialization of everything, appears as an inexorable force.

The force of nihilism – as the force of Geist – is convergent. Intelligence is engaged in archiving the intelligibility of things outside them – the convergence is that of the standing reserve. Commands are made available and nothing else arise from them apart from their availability; will to power is made up for grabs. Ge-Stell is not a force to be reckoned by other cosmopolitical agents; nihilism espouses the credo that it will inherit the world. Ge-Stell does not generate more than one force – once things are orderadable from outside they are all equally available to be under command. What is in standing reserve is available and therefore it could all be seized by all or any free spirit. The ordering of the standing reserve converges into Ge-Stell, composes a circuit that replaces that of physis. There is no diverging command; in Heidegger's terms, technology has an essence of which it cannot deviate – and the essence is Ge-Stell. Techné is not a factory of cosmopolitical forces, but a cosmopolitical coup that can only be resisted if we take the party of things, if their intelligibility is somehow safeguarded by the forces of nihilism that we brought to place.

Facing a convergence of commands, the Kehre can only appear as a retrogressive move, a reactionary step away from the endeavor of intelligence in the world. In this sense, it could have a family resemblance with the movements that fight against the transformation brought about by capital and its machines – a move backward in the direction that guided luddite action. It could seem that turning away from the march of Geist is to move towards traditions, established structures of power, tribes, or any social relations that are not revisable and, on that note, contrast with the drive towards anonymity that reasoning through self-improved norms could promise. To go back to Earth would be to reject both the productive revolution of the machines and the normative revolution of reasons. It would be a thorough rejection of deterritorialization that could only mean a betrayal of techné and Geist. In contrast, to reject this seemingly reactionary move – as Marxism rejects the luddite attack on machines – could seem no more than a direct or indirect endorsement of the one-track converging route of deterritorialization. It could look like an acceptance that the converging path of reason and the ever-changing flow of capital is the only way forward which would also be the only way not to “give up […] anonymous suburbs and pubs and return to the organic mud of peasantry”.25 When Marx systematically recommends the forces that forge a change in the social relations through production against any return to the small, disintegrated units of production that pre-existed the capitalist primitive accumulation of land and articulation of production through abstract work he would have to be endorsing nihilism. There are indeed remarkable similitudes between Marx's engagement in favor of social relations that are forged by the production and Nietzsche's insistence that nihilism is better completed than rejected. Both hold that a larger dose of a poison can cure. But there are several different effects that can be prescribed when a larger dose is recommended. Marx was an enthusiast of the melting capacities of capital which enhances production – its destruction of structures of oppression. To take understand this enthusiasm as a full-blown endorsement of capital is to take Marx as a prelude to Nick Land's collapse of schizophrenia – Deleuze and Guattari's term in their analysis of the decodification of all flows that move capital – with capitalism itself, in the sober, succinct and apt diagnosis of Mark Fisher.26

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