TENET-ISE THE FUTURE: Christopher Nolan and the de-algorithmisation of desire

I wrote my review on Christopher Nolan’s TENET (https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/11/15/christopher-nolans-tenet-absolute-knowledge-as-living-with-temporal-paradox/…) as an extension of my ongoing engagement with Zizek’s thought and of its points of convergence with Deleuze’s philosophy.

The conceptual substrate of my analysis of Nolan’s film is based on my immersion in and my responses to the concepts and perspective of Bernard Stiegler, whose books, articles and online seminars I have followed for over a decade.

Bernard Stiegler’s research programme contains a very useful and stimulating set of reflections on the algorithm, desire, and drive, and its heuristic power seems to me to be superior to the rival Zizekian research programme’s treatment of these themes.

Stiegler’s research programme has the advantage of integrating Deleuze’s concepts and insights (and those of Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and many others) into its framework knowingly and explicitly, without the sort of revisionary Zizekian approach of implicit appropriation and explicit denial that is typical of Zizek’s own work and that of his followers.

Stiegler is not in Deleuzian denial, and so he has no need of the deliberate re-writing of philosophical history that Zizek often engages in.

My own thought is close to Stiegler’s. However, I diverge from his research programme on one important point. I do not accept his dualism of drive and desire.

For Stiegler the algorithm is destructive of desire, and releases and composes with the drive. For Deleuze desire exists in both territorialised forms (including algorithmic desires) and deterritorialised forms (including tenetic drives).

From a Deleuzian point of view TENET is about algorithmic desire. That which is slowly cancelling us in the present and our projected future is the « Algorithm », a future desire for the death and annihilation of our present as a past to be cancelled.

From Stiegler’s point of view, the expression « algorithmic desire » is a solecism, as desire is the « incalculable ». For Stiegler the algorithm corresponds to the destruction of desire and to the hegemony of the drive.

I side with Deleuze on this point, against Stiegler (and also against Zizek): there is no dualism drive/desire. To posit such a dualism is to fall into a reductive scientistic stance, a neo-biologism.

In Feyerabendian terms, the problem is not a biological one but a pragmatic one – of fruitfully combining tenacity and proliferation. We need to conserve the « tenacity » of the drive while freeing it from its territorialisation. Desire can be just as tenacious as drive. This is what Nolan calls « tenet » and what Deleuze calls « faith » (cf. his thematic of « faith in this world »).

Christopher Nolan diagnoses a death drive impulsing our civilisation and its tenacious push towards climate catastrophe. He finds this death drive within our technocratic hubris intending to « fix » it by means of geo-engineering. The hyperbolic image of this techno-fix is the Algorithm.

Nolan’s proposed solution is to reverse the algorithmic reversal of desire into drive, to resist the full calculability of desire, to operate on a faith outside techno-nihilism. He invites us to tenetise the future.

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READING BRANDOM READING HEGEL (1): Against Standard Non-Philosophy

I am in the process of re-reading Robert Brandom’s book on Hegel – A SPIRIT OF TRUST, in which he gives a non-standard reading of Hegel’s PHENOMENOLOGY in terms of his pragmatist pragmatics. The question arises for me:

What is the relation between the ideas expressed by Brandom and those of the small number of living philosophers that I have worked on and discussed on this blog (Zizek, Badiou, Laruelle, Latour)?

Of particular interest for me for the sake of orienting my reading is the question of the relation between Brandom’s pragmatism and Laruelle’s non-philosophy. A SPIRIT OF TRUST can readily be seen as a striking example of a refuting instance for Laruelle’s non-philosophical « science » of philosophy.

Laruelle’s great non-philosophical discovery, the « principle of sufficient philosophy », has two major defects:

1) its domain of application is limited to systematic philosophy, and

2) even then it engages only with philosophies that give primacy to semantics over pragmatics.

Thus Laruelle’s « principle of sufficient philosophy » is far from being a grand « invariant » that founds a science of philosophy, functioning as a general « principal of philosophical sufficiency ». It is rather something much more limited in scope, a principle of semantic sufficiency, and as such is incapable of dealing with philosophies that give primacy to pragmatics over semantics. The principle of sufficient philosophy does not apply to the pragmatic philosophies of the later Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars, and Richard Rorty.

Brandom situates himself « downstream » (to adopt one of his favourite metaphors) from Wittgenstein, Sellars, and Rorty – so he is already twice-removed from the domain of application of the standard Laruellean analysis. The repetitive gestures of Laruelle and his followers allow us to speak of the standardisation of non-philosophy.

Conversely Brandom’s pragmatics allows us to diagnose and to move beyond a crucial failure in Laruelle’s system as enshrining the principle of « uni-laterality », according to which the Real determines thought in the last instance.

Brandom points out that theories of this type would make any genuine knowledge impossible. Uni-laterality implies that the Real is both without conceptual articulation itself and yet determines the conceptual content of our thought « according-to-the-Real ».

Brandom’s counter-proposition is the principle of « conceptual realism », according to which the real is itself conceptually articulated in terms of modally robust relations of material incompatibility and material inference.

Despite his own conceptually incoherent meditations on science, Laruelle’s standard non-philosophy excludes the possibility of genuine knowledge of the real. This is what Brandom refers to as the « gap of intelligibility ».

To cover up this embarrassing defect, some epistemologically naive Laruelleans (aren’t they all epistemologically naive, starting with Laruelle himself?) have promoted the pseudo-concept of « the syntax of the real », an expression which can have no sense in Laruelle’s system.

Laruelle himself certainly felt the need to exorcise the spectres of standardisation and of the impossibility of knowledge that haunt his non-philosophy. These two epistemic vices are at the same time epistemological obstacles. As a stop-gap measure he resorted to the ritualistic invocation of the vocable of « science » to describe his instituted domain, as if saying so often enough and loud enough made it so.

Only a mutation could save his system, so he had to import knowledge from outside, in the form of an impressionistic application of ideas, vocabulary, formula, and principles taken from quantum physics. In this way, his philosophy became more « scientific » but only by no longer laying claim to the status of a « science of philosophy ».

Nor could his philosophy comfortably remain « non-philosophy », given its ever more apparent ritualism and standardisation. Non-philosophy, despite its proud ambitions, had become standard non-philosophy. The new epistemologically more optimistic and epistemically more virtuous version of Laruelle’s thought was thus baptised « non-standard philosophy ». The operator of its success has been its attempted cognitive enrichment by means of quantum theory.

Brandom’s thought did not need to undergo such a mutation as from the beginning it has built into its framework a conceptual articulation of thought and of the real in terms of the operators of deontic and alethic modality.

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NO CONCEPTS, NO CRY: my dream is my trauma

This post is a response to Bharath Vallabha’s very interesting and very moving text « Waking from a Conceptual Dream« :

Hello Bharath, I was greatly moved by your post, and I felt that it described the basic structure of my life and explained its basic impasse. I too had (and still have, despite my attempts to dig myself out of it or to be rid of it) a grand project of unifying « spirituality » (philosophy as a spiritual or a psychoanalytically informed practice) and conceptuality (philosophy as a discursive practice). Like you this project filled up virtually all my life with tension and exhaustion, lostness and frustration.

I think you did a good job in your post of describing how this attempt is doomed to failure, and how it turns in on itself to show that its firm bases with which we began are built on sand, indeed are made of sand themselves). Such ambition and such sadness are attached to such a project. It seems better to just abandon it and to « live life » without it, but even this is not available to me, as the major part of my life has been given over to it. Without this project, there is not much left except going through the motions of what I have put in place.

However, paradoxically, I feel that never are you more « on mission » for your project than when you write this sort of post. One way of explaining this impression is to see that your project, like mine, is a deconstructive one, traversed by a pitiless impulse to undo all the « locks » and dissolve all the « essences » (your terms) in our minds and in our lives. This project is to combine conceptual deconstruction and self-deconstruction. I see this process continuing in you, and despite the shared sadness I am heartened. Yet, like you, like many, I feel that deconstruction is not enough, that something more is needed. As T.S. Eliot said « After such knowledge, what forgiveness? »

I can translate this question as « after such deconstruction what joy? » The fear is of a failed and joyless life. The hope is in the idea that the failure is not just the result of a badly defined project, but rather that the failure is part of the mission, that the failure is part of the success of the project.

« Try again. Fail again. Fail better … Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good » (Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho).

Another thing: if I think of this project as « mine », I am doomed to failure, always was, and always will be, there is no way out for me. But sometimes I think that I am just the « bearer », one of the bearers, of a project that is vaster than me, that is going on all over the place, in many different forms. I can see signs of this, not just in your blogs (I have followed your work over seven or eight years) but in other philosophers ( for the most part « Continental »). So I know it is possible to achieve some partial, provisional, better-than-nothing successes, as I have seen it in others, and felt its (mitigated) presence in some of my writing.

Somehow, referring back to Beckett’s talk of « try » and « fail », I feel that if this project is nothing but an individual thing (a private neurosis) the feeling of failure predominates. If this effort is part of a collective project, a large scale spiritual/conceptual experiment, then the positive feeling of trying and sharing and improving prevails. I didn’t make this up and I don’t have to succeed all by myself. Keeping the whole thing alive is already a degree of success.

I have no consolation to offer, neither for myself nor for others. « Keeping the whole thing alive » means also continuing to fail and to suffer in the hope of sporadic flashes of success and of joy. All I can offer is to deconstruct your title: « Waking from a Conceptual Dream ». There is nothing wrong with concepts, perhaps one of the problems with your father’s heritage is its one-sidedness – he did not have enough concepts (mine didn’t).

There is nothing wrong with dreaming, a project such as your is a dream that gets stuck (« locked »), and the best advice I have found for unlocking it is Jung’s « dream the dream onwards ». For me this maxim echoes Beckett’s, although the terms maybe scrambled (as happens in dreams), which I would reformulate as: Dream, wake, dream again, wake better, dream better etc.

To conclude, I am glad you wake up and write such deep and moving texts (despite the pain) and I hope you go on dreaming, ever more deeply and more movingly.

Friendly regards, Terence.

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Christopher Nolan’s TENET: Absolute Knowledge as living with temporal paradox

Here is my full review of Christopher Nolan’s TENET. It can be read as a homage to the concepts and perspective of Bernard Stiegler, whose books and online seminars I have followed for over a decade.


There is a strong Nietzschean element to Christopher Nolan’s TENET. Nietzsche’s tenet is expressed in the maxim of amor fati: live in such a way as to will the eternal recurrence of the same. This Stoic precept represents Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome the nihilistic pathos resulting from the discovery of entropy. Expressed in purely scientific terms this constitutes Neil’s choice in TENET.

Bernard Stiegler would retort that Nietzsche did not have available to him the concept of anti-entropy. Nolan does have this concept, but like Stiegler he warns against using it as a new totalising concept and practice. Total inverted entropy is synonymous with the time-driven apocalypse, the total destruction of our world in favour of an unknown, but hostile, future.

The third choice explored by the film is an article of faith, a tenet, that combines the two movements, but not both at the global level. To protect life, to ensure love, a local temporal « pincer » movement (not a loop) within the global entropic flux may succeed.

Etymologically tenet derives from the Latin tenere, to hold. Our hero, who comes to designate himself as « the Protagonist », holds to Kat and her love for her son, Max (who may or may not be Neil).

Thus TENET’s cast of characters is distributed around these different time images. Sator – the totalising algorithm, Ives – the fragmented algorithm, Neil – amor fati, Protagonist – tenet.

Are we slowly cancelling a future that will then turn on us and proceed to « cancel » our present? that is the question posed by TENET. If that is the case, what possible defence could we have? The response of the film is that a sustainable tenet retroactively posits its presuppositions by means of a series of local anti-entropic interventions.

TENET is about algorithmic desire. That which is slowly cancelling us in the present and our projected future is the « Algorithm », a future desire for the death and annihilation of our present as a past to be cancelled. Against algorithmic desire it opposes the tenacity of the drive, whose tenets posit and safeguard a past that need not result in the present that the algorithm observes nor in the future it predicts and tries to impose by temporal war, by eradicating the past that leads to a different future.

Mark Fisher, who thought much about the temporal loops that are deployed to confine us within capitalism or that can be made to serve our release, argued that the past that led to a different future than it promised was not so much wrong as impatient. For him, the struggle against algorithmic cancellation proceeds by tenetic patience.

Terminological note: in this post I have been working on the interface Stiegler/Zizek. For Stiegler the algorithm is destructive of desire, and releases and composes with the drive. For Zizek desire is algorithmic and drive is deterritorialising negativity. For Deleuze desire exists in both territorialised forms (including algorithmic desire) and deterritorialised forms (including tenetic drives). Given this diversity of terms and of problematics, all of which are relevant here, my own lexical practice is eclectic.


I have been discussing TENET from the point of view of the film that it could have been, but that it didn’t quite manage to be. This mismatch between the virtual film and the actual film is not new to Nolan, and it may be of use to recall some of Mark Fisher’s comments on INCEPTION that apply equally to TENET.

1) TIME-IMAGE vs ACTION-IMAGE. From my perspective, based on its treatment of time, TENET is one of a series of films where the ontologically and epistemologically disturbing time-image is re-transcribed into a cognitively puzzling action-image.

Fisher writes in GHOSTS OF MY LIFE

At points, it as if Inception’s achievement is to have provided a baroquely sophisticated motivation for some very dumb action sequences. An unkind viewer might think that the entirety of Inception’s complex ontological structure had been constructed to justify clichés of action cinema

2) COMPLEXITY vs COMPLICATION. A consequence of this reduction to the action image is that the potential for conceptual and imaginative complexity is renounced in favour of narrative complication: the plot is difficult to follow in the details, even if the broad lines are readily assimilated.

Once again Mark Fisher diagnosed a similar problem with INCEPTION

you want to be lost in Escheresque mazes, but you end up in an interminable car chase.

In conclusion, Christopher Nolan’s TENET transposes the class war into a temporal war, and then re-transposes this temporal war into a grand spectacle action film. Instead of time as labyrinthine protagonist we have the self-found, self-designated « Protagonist » of time regained.


Christopher Nolan’s TENET transposes the class war into a temporal war, and then re-transposes this temporal war into a grand spectacle spy action film. Instead of time as protagonist we have the self-found « Protagonist » of time regained. As Mark Fisher well knew, the time war is a class war.

TENET registers the fact that the ruling class is waging war on the rest of humanity, and to the fantasy (?) that this war of attrition may seek to to transition to total war once the right algorithm has been found.

From a Stieglerian point of view, as the Anthropocene understood as Entropocene turns increasingly towards algorithmic governmentality, the struggle against capitalism must be a struggle for the Negentropocene by means of the dealgorithmisation of desire. This dealgorithmisation of desire proceeds by its noetisation, and the tenet is the degree zero of such a noetisation. Such a tenet is a wager on the incalculable.

TENET is thus the opposite of INCEPTION, where the goal was to seed an idea, a tenet, in the mind of a financial rival, one calculated to ensure its defeat. In TENET the goal is to establish a tenet strong enough, and clandestine enough, to defeat the algorithm.

TENET, like INCEPTION, is a film that literalises the virtual. However the virtual does manage to resonate in a few places. For example, at the end:

It’s the bomb that didn’t go off. The danger no one knew was real. That’s the bomb with the real power to change the world.

Considered as a science fiction film TENET is disappointingly simplistic and hand-wavy. Christopher Nolan affirms that he had been thinking about its ideas for many years, but a quick read of some science fiction classics, including Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick, could have reduced that research time to a few weeks.

TENET evokes uknowingly Stiegler’s idea of the Neganthropocene/Negentropocene. It would be a mistake to suppose that the « bad » future is punishing us for allowing global warming to ruin their lives. On the contrary, there is full continuity in the ruling class’s strategy. Climate change did not get rid of us, so more drastic measures are needed: the time war.

TENET literalises and totalises Stiegler’s concept of the current epoch the Anthropocene as Entropocene. If the necessary solution, the Neganthropocene, interpreted as totalised Negentropocene, comes to mean the elimination of humanity as such (except for some constitutive exception) then the negativity of the death drive will have become a system subordinated to the master algorithm of destruction.

Algorithmic drive is no better than algorithmic desire.

TENET, like the Owl of Minerva, spreads its wings at dusk, as the password/refrain at the beginning of the film makes clear:

We live in a twilight world. We live in a twilight world. And there are no friends at dusk.

In this twilight world Neil is the Spinozist, believing in the substance and immutability of what has happened, but the Protagonist is Hegelian, he subjectivises the substance of what has happened (that is how he becomes the Protagonist), and so can become active.


TENET, while being an enjoyable spy-thriller, is not so good science fiction. It is also not so good philosophy, but it has its moments.

Unlike an inverted non-sentient object such as a bullet, a human being who is inverted (negation) and subsequently de-inverted (negation of the negation) has a knowledge of and through the process that the original linear version does not have.

Unlike the bullet, the human has the capacity for an apprenticeship of time, learning to abandon linear thinking and to think otherwise, to think in non-linear terms.

This non-linear thinking permits the resistants to make efficient use of the « temporal pincer ». Yet they remain only executants of the actual: « what happens happened ». This is the domain of inverted causality, not of retroactive causality.

A further step comes from not just knowing one’s presuppositions (Neil) but from the ability to posit one’s presuppositions. This is the passage from executant to Protagonist. Speculative retroactive causality cannot be reduced to scientific inverted causality.

Semantically, the passage from executant of the actual to protagonist of the virtual is presented in the action image, as executed. Syntactically, the speculative protagonist of the film as executed is Nolan himself.


TENET describes the attempt to create a movement of resistance that is not registered by the big Other. No archives, only minimal information (a word and a gesture), loose ends are « tied up ». The structure of knowledge (cognitive map) is supplemented by a structure of feeling (But what does your heart tell you? »), and finally by a speculative decision (« I am the Protagonist »).

The film turns on the ontological parallax between the perspectives of Neil (Spinozist) and the Protagonist (Hegelian).

In TENET the apprenticeship of time follows the sequence laid down by Zizek in SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE in his explication of Lacan’s topology: the Moebius strip, the Cross-cap, the Klein Bottle.

The first step, which will become clear only later, is when our nameless Protagonist is taken out of his life, he is « vanished ». At this stage he has not yet decided that he is the Protagonist, so let us call him Prot.

Prot is inducted by a mysterious master, who recruits him, and gives him just the bare minimum of knowledge: a word (« tenet ») and a gesture (hands interlocking fingers) and the information that there is a Cold War (physics pun, where « cold » refers to entropy).

This master institutes a process of anamnesis, only inverted, of remembering a future that hasn’t happened yet. Even the word « tenet » is a piece of that future. Prot will later come to conclude that he will have been recruited by his future self by way of temporal inversion.

Thus begins Prot’s induction out of linear ideology and into the real world of temporal complexity. He does not know it yet, but he is being incorporated into a series of loops, of Moebius strips constituting his own timeline.

After encountering a series of inverted objects Prot finds himself in a struggle against inverted humans, and by means of a « Turnstile », a technology of inversion, proceeds to invert himself, travels back in time, and then de-inverts himself.

This is his first conscious experience of a temporal Moebius strip.

Prot has begun to learn dialectical (« nonlinear ») thinking and can thus work effectively in a « temporal pincer », that makes use of two simultaneous but inverted with respect to each other, Moebius strips.

This is his first conscious experience of a temporal cross-cap.

Whereas the Moebius strip permits him an awareness of the identity of opposites that remain antagonistic (fight scene with himself), the Cross-cap converges on a point of suture that is in danger of being de-sutured by the Algorithm to create a negentropic apocalypse.

The « bad » future, despite inventing the technology of inversion, seems to think in linear terms: create a massive inversion that eliminates the past, accomplish this by means of a few Moebius strips. This technological future is not capable of thinking dialectically in terms of cross-cap temporal pincers. This is its weakness.

The passage to the further stage of the apprenticeship comes about when Prot realises that he is not the pawn of some mysterious Other, but that he is working for himself (in his speculative identity of positing his presuppositions). The cause is simply the effect of its effects.

This is his first conscious experience of the Klein Bottle.

The space of thinking requires us to move outside the linear, in whatever direction, to the unorientable. To maintain this unorientability a different type of abstraction than the algorithm is needed.

This abstraction that comes to us from our future is called « tenet ».


Synthesising the results of the previous chapters, we can say that TENET is a film about an apprenticeship in « dialectical » thought: encountering anomalies and paradoxical objects, seeing things inverted, moving in strange loops, in double mutually inverted loops, in double loops converging on point of suture or of de-suture, progressing from multiple intersecting causal loops to speculative quasi-causality.

Thinking about the film we may use Zizek to explain TENET, or TENET to explain Zizek (iterated inversions), or both to examine our contemporary world or our own mode of philosophising (textual pincer). These are basic moves of thought, and belong to no one.

We can proceed on an idea that we did not know we have, and that we will only really have later, an idea that we perceive in present anomalies, cryptic words and gestures, strange loops of thought that we dimly feel before we come to understand.

This is the lesson of incommensurability: if our future thought were to be explained to us now in our own terms and we could understand it we would never make a true leap, it would seem to be just more of the same, only perhaps more efficient.

Inversion, turning things on their head or into their opposites, is not the only answer to the problem of the present, nor is it always the best, or even the most innovative. It may be a useful but preliminary move, needing to be supplemented by further, more subtle or more complex steps.

The future is always already trying to eliminate us by dogmatic, axiomatic, and now by algorithmic means, but we need not cling to our simplistic ideologies. Elimination as a technique is a form of simple linear inversion.

The eliminativist solution to the grandfather paradox is to make it systematic: kill all the grandfathers and invert their world, and all will be well!

The ideology of eliminative materialism whether in politics (neoliberalism), art (death of art) or in science (radical physicalist reductionism) is just as simplistic as folk politics and folk psychology.

Wholesale inversion or elimination do not constitute a viable alternative. They are too linear, they miss the loops.

Bibliographic note

For the discussion of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION I am indebted to Mark Fisher’s GHOSTS OF MY LIFE

The discussion of the « loops » of thought builds on Zizek’s discussion in his recent book SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE. I initially clarified his concepts by expanding on and completing his analysis of the short story « The Waistcoat ». My analysis of TENET builds on this previous analysis: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/08/04/sex-and-the-failed-absolute-9-the-waistcoat-and-absolute-knowing/

For the concept of « algorithmic governance » I am indebted to the work of Antoinette Rouvroy. I first became aware of her work through Bernard Stiegler’s seminars.For an interesting and accessible interview in English see: https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/algorithmic-governmentality-and-the-death-of-politics/

For the concept of « algorithmic desire » I am indebted to the work of Maryse Carmès. Her work adumbrates a problematic which synthesises concepts from Deleuze, Latour, and Laruelle with those of Stiegler and Rouvroy.

See her « Désirs algorithmiques de l’action publique : une lecture sémiopolitique », in Algorithmes et décisions publiques (published 31 January 2019, edited by Gilles Rouet).

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In a previous post, I am making a parallel between Dawkins and Freud in that they only envisage, and reject, an external creator god as ontologically significant. So they would be « naive » in the sense of simple, direct, uncomplicated. The contrasting term would be « dialectical » atheists, comparing Jung to Zizek, who builds on Freud’s analyses but finds a positive ontological efficacity, within the Symbolic, for « God ».

Both Zizek and Jung accept the Kantian prohibition of knowledge of the in itself, and so they displace the question of ontology to within the symbolic order. In both cases their views are conceptually unclear, often ambiguous, and this ambiguity has been seized on by believers.

The underlying question that arises from reading their work is « what is the role of a symbolic Christianity today ». My hypothesis is that Jung does not contest Nietzsche’s « death of God ». Both Jung and Nietzsche affirm that ontologically it is no longer possible to believe in an external creator god giver and guarantor of a moral law, and that sociologically the God-idea and the God-image have lost most of their potency.

Jung validates all this prior to turning to his psyche in quest of a rebirth of imagination (general programme, which I think is still valuable) and of a rebirth of the God-image (specific programme, which I think is obsolete).

A further ingredient in this mix is the status of the speculative concept, to which Zizek accords a high value, but which Jung depreciates as providing merely a « language » to translate his experiences.

So I am arguing for the existence of a further phase after the death of God, namely the death of the rebirth of God in the God-image.

Another way of putting this is that both Freud and Zizek assign no cognitive value to religion, but that Zizek sees a noetic value, i.e. for Zizek religion is a valuable way of understanding the world (with quasi-ontological value as well).

Jung dances on the lines of the cognitive/noetic frontier in an ambiguous way, but given his Nietzschean-Jamesian lineage we are permitted to isolate out the noetic line and to condemn the cognitive line as a nostalgic deviation or regression.

This leads us to the question of the necessary persistence of and recourse to Christian vocabulary and concepts. Those who have remained « standard » Jungians seem to glory in this religionising perspective, and feel that this regressive terminology does not contradict their psychological and philosophical sophistication.

On the other hand, those who follow the Hillman-Giegerich line of deconstructing Jung think that this terminology must go, and that the experiences that it seeks to describe are mutating into something different. In particular, they question the relevance of the notion of « individuation » as classically understood, and hypothesise that other modes of subjectivation may be emerging, that are just as valid and authentic as classical Jungian individuation.

In my second post on this subject I mention Hubert Dreyfus, who is faithful to a late Heideggerian style of thought. His courses on « from gods to God and back » and his book (with Sean Kelly) ALL THINGS SHINING can be used to situate the Heidegger lineage on the same axis. Hillman actually attended some lectures by Heidegger, and I think that he is implicitly using late Heideggerian inspirations (without the jargon) to deconstruct Jungian type ideas.

Note: I am grateful for a conversation with Eric Sapp which helped me to clarify my ideas.

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I am re-reading ANTI-OEDIPUS, and I have always regretted that their major examples of the « schizo-process » were either « pathological » ones: Schreber, Artaud, Nietzsche, or writers and artists. The example of Jung’s life, visions, and theories would have been both telling and more challenging.

It would also have been more honest, as there is a strong but subterranean presence of Jung in Deleuze’s work from the beginning to the end, more explicit in the earlier work on Nietzsche, more implicit or esoteric in the later works, especially those written with Guattari. One can cite the presence of the Anima in Deleuze’s discussion of Ariadne in Nietzsche’s work, and the presence of the Self in Deleuze’s discussion of Foucault.

Deleuze’s explicit mentions of Jung in ANTI-OEDIPUS and after are disappointing, and I think that Deleuze effectuated the same sort of critical transvaluation that one can see at work in the post-Jungian waves.

In particular we can identify

1) the move from an ontology of libidinal assemblages (complexes) to an ontology of images (Deleuze CINEMA I &II, James Hillman Revisioning Psychology)

and then

2) the move from the image to an ontology of the concept (Deleuze FOUCAULT and WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, Wolfgang Giegerich THE SOUL’S LOGICAL LIFE).

Note: I have indicated some terminological and conceptual/imaginal influences of Jung on Deleuze here:


We do not need to find a one-to-one correspondence between Deleuze’s and Jung’s ideas to observe a generic convergence. The two systems are very different, in part due to their different points of departure, but they converge on the ontology of image, and this convergence is even more pronounced when we take into account the post-Jungian ideas of James Hillman.

Hillman’s point of departure is Jung’s statement « psyche is image ». Hillman uses this insight to deconstruct the theological and biological dogmas of Jungianism. Deleuze’s point of departure in the Cinema books is Bergson’s matter is image (movement-image and time-image).

Deleuze in his seminar on the cinema explicitly stated that his taxonomy of images can be applied to people also, to situate them in the type of worlds they inhabit.

More convergences, beneath the strategy of allusive reprises, can be found here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/jung-deleuze-3-re-naming-purging-and-imaging/

A problem exists in comprehending the status of the archetypal image in Jung. It is true that Jung’s images are seen under the regime of « universality ». However, even such a universalist thinker as Alain Badiou says the universality of Truths is not that of the universal quantifier. He indicates thus that a quantitative, extensional concept of universality is not the only conceivable one, and that one can envisage a « qualitative » universality, one that is trans-temporal and trans-spatial without necessarily being omni-temporal and/or omni-spatial.

This qualitative concept of universality brings the notion very close to Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the « untimely ». Deleuze, when he is writing with Felix Guattari, like many others, persists in seeing Jung’s archetypes as « mythological entities », understood in a fixist way. This is not the only perspective in which to interpret them, as it is equally possible to see them in Deleuze’s own terms as « daimones », or mutable becomings of indeterminate place and of multiple connexions. This concept of more than personal psychic images is shared by both Deleuze and Hillman.

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JUNG’S BLACK BOOKS (3): commerce as the spirit of this time

In Jung’s BLACK BOOKS we have at last made available to us a unique document, the record of somebody’s visions while traversing a potentially psychotic breakdown and transmuting it into a psychological breakthrough. This person is not just any individual but one of the world’s greatest psychoanalysts. It is of great interest whether one shares his views or not.

Jung himself accorded great value to this first record of his visions. He transcribed them in ornate calligraphy, and illustrated them with beautiful complex illuminations in the manuscript of THE RED BOOK, to which he added his commentaries and reflections. He lent THE RED BOOK to some of his students/patients/followers to give them an concrete example of a process of individuation and to inspire them to create their own Red Book. He showed the BLACK BOOKS to an even more limited circle.

I hope that, as for THE RED BOOK, a « readers’ edition » of THE BLACK BOOKS costing only a tenth of the de luxe editions price (i.e. 26 euros instead of 265) should be made available. In this edition two thirds of each volume, except for volume one containing the editor’s introduction, is constituted (for two thirds) of a scan of Jung’s manuscript in German, and of (for one third) an English translation of the text, with many footnotes.

There is a terrible law of commerce (the « spirit of this time ») having too much say in the transmission of the spirit of the depths. I don’t have the Red Book facsimile edition, only the readers’ edition. I bought this edition of THE BLACK BOOKS even though it is priced way outside my comfort-zone budget-wise, as I wanted access to the original protocols of Jung’s experiment with as little later elaboration as possible.

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JUNG’S BLACK BOOKS (2): incipit descensus ad inferos

In this post I will be discussing the incipit to Jung’s THE BLACK BOOKS. This passage is also the incipit to Jung’s descensus ad inferos, his descent into Hell.

« A huge task lay before me – I saw its enormous size – and its value and meaning escaped me. I got into the dark, and I groped along my path. That path led inward and downward », incipit to THE BLACK BOOKS by Carl Jung.

Thus begin THE BLACK BOOKS, with an undated dream or vision, followed by the first dated entry, 12 Nov 1913, containing Jung’s cry to his soul « My soul, my soul, where are you? ». We find this cry to the soul again in what one could call the « second beginning » of THE RED BOOK.

THE RED BOOK’S « first beginning » is composed of a series of four Biblical quotes taken from the Book of ISAIAH followed by a long meditation on the agon between the « spirit of the times » and the « spirit of the depths ». These are later additions to the original text contained in THE BLACK BOOKS.

Jung was born on July 26 1875, and THE BLACK BOOKS begin in November 1913. Thus, Jung was a little over 38 years old, and not 40 as he later claims, no doubt for symbolic reasons. Jung at the age of 38 had already propounded an important series of concepts and theories, he was no beginner in psychoanalysis.

Thus, despite the seeming simplicity and naiveté of this beginning, these books contain the protocols of self-observation and self-experimentation made by an experienced and accomplished psychologist.

This first entry is no absolute beginning, it continues a chain of thought, it amounts to a thinking through by other means than conceptual thought the problem of meaning that besets Jung, and his epoch.

This first vision speaks of not knowing, darkness, a path, movement (down and in, and also by implication up and out), groping one’s way, descent, interiority. and escape. Jung does not know the « sense and meaning  » of this « huge task » lying before him, and so he must go down (and in), to the depths.

The « sense and meaning  » that are left behind here, are associated in the preamble to THE RED BOOK with the « spirit of the times ». Without explicitly naming them, this first vision mobilises two conceptual personae, the « spirit of the times » and the « spirit of the depths » that play an important role later.

This theme of going down and going up will recur throughout THE BLACK BOOKS, as it does in Nietzsche’s works, in particular THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA.

There is a Nietzschean ring to the whole formulation of the vision. Jung leaves behind established « values » and instituted « meanings » in a process of transvaluation and trans-signification, later called « Übersinn » (badly translated as « supreme meaning »), on the analogy of « Übermensch », the Nietzschean Overman.

« Ûber » does not only have the sense of « above » but also of « across ». The translation of the term « Übersinn » by « supreme meaning » partakes of an operation of secondary elaboration of the empirical material.

Partially undertaken by Jung himself, in a philosophically nuanced way, this secondary elaboration has been pursued by the more conservative religionist followers of Jung. To get to the underlying empirical core of Jung’s project has required the deconstructive efforts of post-Jungian thinkers such as James Hillman and Wolfgang Giegerich, and the philological care and historical scrupulousness of Sonu Shamdasani.

It is thanks to these efforts that we are perhaps better prepared to read and to interpret these newly published BLACK BOOKS outside the religionist overlays.

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JUNG WAS AN ATHEIST (2): The God-Image is not God

  1. The Death of God – Nietzsche
  2. The Death of God and the Rebirth of the God-Image – Jung
  3. The Rebirth of the God-Image conflated with a monistic God-concept – Edward Edinger and Old School Jungians
  4. The Death of God and the Death of the Rebirth of God – Western Buddhism (Daisetz Suzuki, Alan Watts, Chogyam Trungpa, Krishnamurti)
  5. the birth of multiple gods as images – James Hillman (and to a certain extent Hubert Dreyfus)
  6. the death of the gods as image and their rebirth in the soul’s logical life (Wolfgang Giegerich)
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JUNG WAS AN ATHEIST (1): genetic phenomenology of the numinous image

Carl Jung was an atheist. Standard Jungians know this, but they do not say it outright.

Jung is like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc in that he does not believe in an external entity creator of the universe. Jung’s « God » is phenomenological, not theological, and he allows for many valid varieties of religious experience.

Sigmund Freud was a naive atheist, a scientistic thinker. Like Richard Dawkins, he saw no place for God in the physical universe.

Jung was an atheist in this sense too, only he was more psychological (or existential), as he used « God » as a name for the emergence of numinous events in the psychic process, so he wrote a « theogony », i.e. a genetic phenomenology of the formation, or « birth », of the God-image in the human psyche

From the notebooks of a self-experimentation, a psychological work in a literary and theogonic form was created (Sonu Shamdasani, Introduction to The Black Books).

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