“For just as the phenomenon of death indexes an anomalous zone in the conceptual fabric of the manifest image – the point at which our everyday concepts and categories begin to break down, which is why it remains a privileged topic for philosophers exploring the outer limits of the manifest image – so, by the same token, the concept of extinction represents an aberration for the phenomenological discourse which sought to transcendentalize the infrastructure of the manifest image precisely in order to safeguard the latter from the incursions of positivism and naturalism. Yet it is precisely insofar as the concept of extinction expresses a dissonance resulting from the interference between the manifest and scientific images that it could not have been generated from within the latter; it is manufactured by deploying the manifest image’s most sophisticated conceptual resources (in conjunction with elements of scientific discourse) against that image’s own phenomenological self-understanding. At this particular historical juncture, philosophy should resist the temptation to install itself within one of the rival images, just as it should refuse the forced choice between the reactionary authoritarianism of manifest normativism, and the metaphysical conservatism of scientific naturalism. Rather, it should exploit the mobility that is one of the rare advantages of abstraction in order to shuttle back and forth between images, establishing conditions of transposition, rather than synthesis, between the speculative anomalies thrown up within the order of phenomenal manifestation, and the metaphysical quandaries generated by the sciences’ challenge to the manifest order. In this regard, the concept of extinction is necessarily equivocal precisely insofar as it crystallizes the interference between the two discourses.” Nihil Unbound p 231 (Emphasis mine)
The red-herrings so haphazardly bandied-about – “neurology death cult”, reductivism, mettrieism – are symptomatic of a lack of philosophical engagement. Brassier’s project couldn’t be clearer: far from championing the reduction of subjectivity, its denunciation as ‘unreal’, and so on, his work is devoted to thinking the trauma that accompanies subjectivity when it has thoroughly demystified itself. The concept of extinction, far from some gothic fetish or fixation, is “necessarily equivocal” in that it forces us to reflect on this trauma without being capable of resorting to some mode of resistance or avoidance. If Brassier was championing an absolute reduction of the manifest to the scientific image, this entire discussion would be absurd, as it explicitly aims to exacerbate and valorize the dissonance between these images. Brassier claims we should maintain the manifest image precisely in order to mobilize it to explore this dissonance, to confront and live with this trauma rather than avoiding it. If he were a reductivist, these claims would be nonsensical.
In a time in which subjectivity really is being reduced, deprived of its special and mysterious status (both by science, and by the evacuation of agency from politics in the form of technocratic administration), Brassier demands that we cease to recoil from reduction even while we refuse to simply submit to it (as if such a submission were possible). Rather, the manifest image will persist, and Brassier’s argument is that it should persist in the mode of resolute confrontation with this trauma. Moreover, this trauma can itself become the libidinal source of a renewed self-relation in which subjects become concerned with exploring the limits of their own subjectivity, experimenting with this unshakable condition rather than taking it for granted.
(This, uncoincidentally, strongly resembles Marx’s definition of communism, which is not another positive order which comes after capitalism, but is simply the process by which capitalism is progressively abolished, dismantled. As Nicole Pepperell has argued, the purpose of Das Kapital is to expose the massive reservoir of practico-conceptual structures that must not only be undone, but which communism will have to at the same time study, as its very being will exist solely in the experimental misuse that suspends their proper functioning. The agent of political change, the proletariat, is precisely the subject that has been totally deprived of agency (having literally sold this capacity), totally ‘reduced’ to its integration in the production process; the crux of Marx’s argument is that this position is not hopeless, and that their is still a subject that remains, witness to its own desubjectivation, and that can then instigate a break precisely by mobilizing this irreducible dissonance. Today, when technocracy has nearly universally deprived us of political subjectivity (of a say in the large-scale projects by which we organize our social existence), instead deferring to the ‘scientific’ necessity of capitalism, we all become capable of joining the proletariat by becoming subject to this very desubjectivation.)
This is precisely what Brassier recommends: not the simply ‘reduction’ of subjectivity, but a mode of subjectivity that valorizes its own naturalization and disenchantment, that refuses to impose itself as metaphysically primary as much as it refuses the same gesture on the part of science, in favor of insisting on the primacy of the dissonance between the two. This dissonance, this process of desubjectivation with which the subject is nonetheless coincident (which Agamben calls the condition of ‘shame’), is the ultimate aim of Brassier’s work, not ‘reduction’ or ‘extinction’, as any moderately careful reading will prove. He even goes so far as to claim science is only possible on the condition of this dissonance, as the norms of truth and rationality are only operative on the basis of the will to know furnished by the manifest image.
If this doesn’t prove the inanity of the aforementioned charges so regularly leveled at Brassier, nothing will. Those charges are based on nothing but reckless and cursory readings, and forgo serious engagement with the content of the text in favor of easy dismissal on the basis of decontextualization. They’re no less absurd than claiming Harman thinks everything is made out of hammers.