ŠUM#9 / Arran Crawford: On Letting Go

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Arran Crawford

Exit is first and foremost the concept of renunciation.

// E. Antony Gray[1]

…and this means the abandonment of political action and of political theory.

// Franco Berardi[2]

Image by Martin Kohout

Exit is renunciation. Fundamentally it is the renunciation of voice, or politics. Renunciation is the act of relinquishing, abandoning, a rejection and an abdication. If this conception of exit is entirely negative, the meaning of renunciation nonetheless remains open. The intention here is to examine renunciation itself as the conceptual core of exit. To do so special reference will be made to renunciation in Zen Buddhism. In this way the rejection of voice will be seen to accept a modified version of a common criticism of neoreactionary (NRx) and unconditional accelerationist tendencies. The criticism is aptly put by Daniel Bensaïd: “Abandon politics and one is left with theology.”[3] In its modified form this should read that to renounce politics is to embrace atheology. For the unconditional accelerationist this will be put as: “Do what thou wilt…and let go.”[4]

In Albert O. Hirschman’s seminal formulation exit is defined as the decision to leave an organisation. Hirschman will identify the exit-option in politics with Rousseau’s observation that conflict is often resolved in the state of nature through evasion, going elsewhere. In this sense exit means giving up, taking leave, fleeing. He will go on to demonstrate the strong correlation between statelessness and the regular practice of exit, describing it as a preventative for the emergence of centralized power that has “state-like authority.”[5] For Hirschman exit is antithetical to voice and the state. This is because voice is essential to the emergence and perpetuation of the state-form in its “appeal to a higher authority with the intention of forcing a change in management.”[6] It will include “various types of action, including those intended to mobilise public opinion.”[7] Taken in its widest sense this can include conciliatory, agonistic and antagonistic models of politics. It will identify voice with the political process itself. Exit is therefore an anti-politics or post-politics that abandons politics itself.

Politics is undergoing catastrophe. It triggers cascading systems failure. As system components fail operational demand is rerouted to the remaining elements, overloading each node, the redistribution threatening to trigger an avalanche mechanism: total system collapse. The catastrophe of politics remains immanent to it while remaining its transcendental condition. If it is true that politics is war by other means then the conciliatory model of democratic political theory is the attempt to ensure the deferral of that war. The terror that accompanies talk of the multiple crises of democracy amounts to the fear of a disintegration that culminates in open Hobbesian warfare. A cascading systems failure is primarily a failure in component interoperability as the machine breaks apart. Politics metastasizes in fractal polarization.

Considered as an autoimmune disorder, polarization identifies pathogens in what had been healthy cells. In the rampant identification of enemies, the body politik devours itself, comes apart. Fractal polarization names the proliferation of enemy–identifications within and across ideological distinctions. Each party goes feral, turns its fangs inward even as violence between traditional opponents escalates. The fascist/anti-fascist confrontation generalises itself as each party identifies its allies and its enemies as threats. Whatever scale is being examined it is hard to deny Virilio’s judgement that “the most developed countries are constantly on the brink of civil war…”[8] In a recent article Franco Berardi gives grim testimony:

It is a clash of incompatible cultures that do not, and cannot, belong in the same political universe. Civil war is the name we give to this incompatibility.[9]

In social psychology, terror management theory (TMT) has defined cultures as worldviews that function to provide meaning to individuals and collectivities by allowing them to cope with mortality.[10] Building on the work of Ernest Becker, cultures are shown to provide a sense of order and permanence that effectively manages thanatophobic existential anxiety.[11] TMT predicts that confrontations between competing worldviews threaten the validity of those worldviews for those that hold them, exposing individuals and collectivities to the abject dread they were designed and adopted to deny.[12] The inability to tolerate the potential collapse of these coping system leads to worldview defense strategies that strengthen conviction in those who hold them. This has been demonstrated for both conservative and liberal-progressive worldviews, making it possible to extrapolate it across all ideological distinctions.[13] Speculating from this perspective the clash between incompatible cultures is a direct existential threat, a matter of life and death, so that polarization and worldview defence increase in step with one another, producing escalating feedback that, left uncompensated, climaxes in a hot civil war.

The coming of this war is only hastened by the temporal compression pressures of techonomic acceleration and the threat of regional infrastructural collapse in ecological disaster.[14] As signs of collapse multiply mortality exposure increases, every incompatibility is magnified, so voice multiples in response, becoming ever more vehemently asserted.

The political temptation is to seek political solutions to the catastrophe of politics. The logic is that if politics is in a death spiral then more politics, the right politics, will be our salvation. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams will insist that we must “never believe that technology alone will be sufficient to save us.”[15] In so doing they demonstrate the common hope that political solutions will be the salvation of humanity.

Anti-guru UG Krishnamurti will reject this logic by stating that “the real problem is the solution.”[16] Krishnamurti was an Indian thinker who rejected the possibility of spiritual enlightenment despite being considered to have attained that state. In Krishnamurti’s milieu enlightenment is salvation, and when he talks about solutions he is talking about the need for salvation. He will tell an interviewer that the search for solutions eclipses any interest in problems. Krishnamurti will consistently deny the existence of any real problems by stating that the search for the solution is itself the process that generates problems. In this paradoxical logic solutions are what perpetuate and deepen the problems that we are unable to understand because our understanding subordinates these problems to the need for solutions. He will insist that “you have no problem there” and that “problems and solutions go together.”[17] They are interdependent phenomena that sustain one another in something like a positive feedback loop. The more intense the search for the solution, the more vigorously asserted the proposed solutions become, the more violent their imposition, and the more the problem is exacerbated. Krishnamurti will reject all previously proposed solutions in this way. He will state:

The numerous solutions offered by these holy people, the psychologists, the politicians, are not really solutions at all. This is obvious. If there were legitimate answers, there would be no problems.[18]

This thinking leaves us close to the conclusion of the pessimistic philosopher EM Cioran’s that we must yield to “the insoluble as solution, as the only way out…”[19] In the recent film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation the protagonist joins an exploratory expedition into the heart of a weird phenomenon, “the Shimmer.” Like a Ballardian hero the protagonist volunteers to go into the heart of the new genetic logic being unfolded by the Shimmer. As they venture deeper in, the team encounters multiple problems, loses members, is confronted with genuinely weird things, and considers retreating to the safety of home. The protagonist will lie to her teammates that to leave the Shimmer they must get to the shoreline beyond it. Capturing the agony of the insoluble one of the characters will fearfully realise, “You say we get out by going deeper in?[20]

This is what it means to renounce the political solution to the catastrophe of politics. The way out of the disintegration and fragmentation of fractal polarization is to go deeper in. Exit-solutions are not political solutions based on craving—desiring the world to be other than it is.[21] This is given expression in the anti-praxis of unconditional accelerationism, in its denial of any proposed solution that would remain constrained to a redundant “unidirectional human agency.”[22]

Vincent Garton will explain that anti-praxis is not a rejection of praxis itself. Instead it is a via negativa for answering the fundamental political question, “What is to be done?[23] The question triggers the process of the generation problem–solution copula and strengthens the conviction that politics can legislate or impose an answer. To this the unconditional accelerationist will reply, “Do what thou wilt…and let go.” The acceptance of the insoluble dissolves the need for the solution, and allows for the subsequent enactment of exit as the acceleration of disintegration.

Nick Land will clarify:

The world is already fractured and divided, to a considerable degree. This means that the disintegrative position has no need for utopianism, and is frequently able to orient itself defensively, in support of existing differences that are subject to integrative-universalist assault. Furthermore, there are numerous indications that general world-historical trends are favourable to geopolitical disintegration, in too many fields to fully enumerate, but which include political, ethnic, technological and economic drivers. Incremental pragmatism is entirely practical under current geopolitical and historical conditions.[24]

In his discussion of the metapolitical neocameralist patchwork system that formalises exit, Land will eschew utopianism—the ecstasy of political solutions—for a descriptive account of what exit-driven disintegration can do. The preference for exit correlates to the negation of political solutions: “there will not be agreement about social ideals.”[25] To think otherwise is to become ensnared in the monistic trap of universality that exit aims to disintegrate.[26]

Monism is a trap because it assumes what it proposes to discover: the possibility of a final reconciliation of opposition in a negotiated or forced consensus. It takes as axiomatic the possibility that enemies can understand one another in assuming a shared world of intelligibility that provides the basis for consensuality. The exemplar case in radical theory is Jacque Rancière’s argument that any claims for superiority addressed to a perceived inferior—between classes for instance—betrays an equality in the performativity of the enunciation.[27] The fission constitutive of political situations—dis-agreement—can be overcome through this shared linguistic territory of intelligibility that allows for the negotiation of differences. Thus for Rancière politics is always enacted through the assertion of an original equality between parties. This is a trap because it is unable to perceive that the interlocutors really do occupy different worlds, each being conditioned by worldview polarization that cannot be dispelled by an appeal to the possibility of mutual understanding. The irreducibility of fission cannot be disappeared because master and bondsman are each capable of speech.

Following a similar thread, Land will write:

Language is not a neutral conveyor of infinite communicative possibility, but an intelligence box. It is to be counted among the traps to be escaped.[28]

Here Land will note that escape attempts will not be met with goodwill or take place as conflict-free experimentation in a zone of tolerance. All exits take place as a partial disintegration of an existing political–economic territory, especially when it is an explicit exit from the state—i.e. secessionism—or from state sanctioned market activity—i.e. agoristic counter-economics. As exit is necessarily oriented towards disintegration it has no need for utopianism or aggression. The world is already a chaos of fragmentation so that those in favor of exit need only defend whatever enacts disintegration. Exit is a flight towards the outside that participates in the processes of cascading system failure. As the machine is torn apart, statelessness erupts in the openings, and Leviathan begins to rot.[29]

Less spectacular is the minimal exit-option modelled on divestment and withdrawal. This minimal exit occurs in place and opens up the outside from within an integrative political system or territory, without reliance on mechanisms for the implementation of political solutions. Land will elaborate on this when he writes:

Anybody with anything at all is now in the position where they are faced with an aggressive binary dilemma. Either unreserved collaboration with the final phase gamble of the existing order—amounting ultimately to the all-in belief that politics has no ontological limits, so that any dysfunction is soluble in a sufficient exertion of will—or a dissident skepticism about this dominant assertion, practically instantiated by ever more desperate attempts at withdrawal (persecuted with ever greater fanaticism as acts of sabotage.[30]

The options are collaboration or the nonparticipation of withdrawal. Land identifies politics with the Promethean belief that human will—unidirectional agency—can overcome everything. His dissident skepticism embodies a deep unbelief in the conviction that everything is soluble by means of the exertion of collective conatus.

Land will state that “sitting it out”—nonparticipation, Bartleby indifferentism, the suspension of decision—is already a kind of exit. This kind of exit cannot be tolerated any less than territorial or economic flight and existing political interiorities will do anything to discourage it. From this we see the hysteria surrounding electoral abstention and criticism of democracy, cringing voter-registration drives in electoralism at party, municipal and national scales, the horror of apathy, calls for unity in the face of schism. The monistic injunction: You have to take part because we are—or must be—One.

The reference to withdrawal already conjures images of ascetics and monastics, spiritual individuals and collectivities that would retreat from worldly affairs, from the insanity of their day, into the mountains, the mouths of caves, behind high walls, into the desert’s empty depths to perfect their liberation in renunciation.

Zen master Dōgen Zenji was no stranger to political instability. His father was an aristocrat and public official who was assassinated for dissent. During his lifetime Japan endured civil war, famine, and the militarization of the state, alongside Buddhist sectarian violence.[31] At the height of instability Dōgen relocated his emerging school of Soto Zen far from the capital Kyoto, retreating to a new mountain location far from the unrest. He had already understood renunciation primarily as physical retreat into the closed world of the monastery. Faced with political turmoil he retreated into an ever more rigorous monasticism. Dōgen would exit from politics and from his former religious training in the Tiantai school of esoteric Buddhism. Later he would become dissatisfied with all existing schools of Zen. Rather than seeking to reform these sects, he would undertake the treacherous sea voyage to China to seek an authentic transmission of Ch’an. There his teacher would advise him to remain outside all politics, and on his return to Japan Dōgen declared all other schools of Zen contaminated by political corruption. Dōgen’s life can be seen as a series of exits, a series of renunciations, and, in his steadfast dedication to Buddhism, a practical elaboration on the practice of renunciation itself.[32]

In addition to monastic withdrawal Dōgen taught the importance of cultivating psychological renunciation. In Zen Buddhism renunciation is usually understood as the renunciation of worldly affairs, and in his Shōbōgenzō Dōgen will tell his students:

Cast aside all involvements and discontinue all affairs. Do not think of good and evil; do not deal with right and wrong. Halt the revolutions of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop the calculations of thoughts, ideas, and perceptions.[33]

Despite initial appearances Dōgen is not advising the renunciation of thought. Nothing could be further from his project to rehabilitate philosophical thinking against the anti-intellectualism of Zen orthodoxy. Carl Bielefeldt will write that this passage illustrates Dōgen’s understanding of a psychospiritual renunciation. He will write:

Worldliness is within, and what must be relinquished…[are] those internal mechanisms that lead one to experience and believe in such a world.[34]

Physical renunciation is an anthropotechnical means for the cultivation of the psychospiritual renunciation that is the relinquishing of craving and delusion. In Dōgen’s Zen this is the realization of awakening to our original enlightenment.[35] He will tell his students that there is “no opposition between our initial awakening…supreme enlightenment, and the act of renouncing the world.”[36] For Dōgen renunciation is enlightenment. In Genjōkōan Shōbōgenzō Dōgen is clear that the most subtle obstacle to awakening is the desire for enlightenment. He teaches that “when one first seeks the Dharma, one strays far from the boundary of the Dharma.”[37] In Buddhist discourse dharma can mean law, truth, or reality, and Dōgen plays with this polysemic signification to indicate that seeking the solution to our reality is precisely what distances the seeker from that of reality in delusion. The deluded will ask, “What is to be done?”—and scour the earth for answers. Dōgen’s renunciation is the cessation of this seeking. He will continue the verse by cryptically stating:

When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, one is immediately an original person.[38]

The original person is a translation of the Japanese honbun nin, a word composed of elements meaning original, true, root or source (hon), part (bun), and person (nin). In Zen the original person is an expedient concept for pointing out the experiential nonduality of subject and object realized in awakening. This nonduality is the core of all systems of Buddhist mysticism. The practice that realizes this original state of nonduality is zazen, its highest form being shikantaza (just sitting).[39] For Dōgen this is also the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment. He will state that “those who are enlightened about delusion are buddhas.”[40] This represents Dōgen’s corrective to traditional Buddhists for whom enlightenment is a transcendental reality. In Dōgen’s mysticism the absolute (nirvana) actualises itself in the relative (samsara) so that there is no awakening that does not take place as an escape from the suffering caused by craving and delusion within the realm of suffering. Buddhahood is exit from the world of suffering, and in this sense it is the casting aside of all involvements and discontinuation of all affairs, occurring as their unequivocal transformation.

In Dōgen awakening takes place as a subtraction of ignorance and conatic striving. Although nothing seems more passive than zazen to outside observers, he will describe it as the “total exertion (gūjin) of a single thing.”[41] Shikantaza is the active perfection of zazen as “purposeless, goalless, objectless and meaningless…”[42] Dōgen’s mysticism has no teleology and it achieves nothing because it is a practice of attunement to the ongoing participatory manifestation of all things. There is no separation between this mind and buddha. Awakening to nonduality is becoming aware of this nonseparation—alienation and anomie are errors that do not require resolution beyond this.

Awakening reveals the nondual identity of nirvana and samsara, perfection and horror. There is no need for thoughts of good and evil, and therefore no need to impose solutions on the world. Renunciation is the dissolution of the need for solutions. There is nothing to be done because there is no need to do anything. Yet Dōgen’s anti-praxis does not align with a lack of praxis. For Dōgen cognitive knowledge of original enlightenment is insufficient unless it is embodied in zazen. Zazen is the practice of renunciation of all effort to seek, or to find, or to solve—it simply lets be whatever arises in experience, without judgement, and discrimination. Zazen is undertaken without ideas of gain. It cuts away at all teleological and instrumental approaches. The practice of zazen is a submission to the real that has no goal exterior to itself. This is what Dōgen calls the oneness of practice–enlightenment.[43] In doing zazen we are doing nothing. In doing nothing we engage fully in the dynamic process of reality. In doing nothing we are letting go. In letting go we realize that there is no need for salvation, that there is no one to be saved, and nothing to let go off. In this respect shikantaza–zazen is the mystical exit from the “hopelessness of any attempt to find solutions.”[44]

In Western thought Bataille is the closest approximation to Dōgen. In his heterodox atheological project there is a similar renunciation of goal-oriented activities. Writing about sovereign experience Bataille states the point “is not that of attainment of a goal, but rather of escape from those traps which goals represent.”[45] For Bataille the ecstasies of mysticism, eroticism, and expenditure are all mechanisms for the suspension of the goal-orientation of praxis.

On sovereign experience Bataille will write:

[There] ought not exist any means by which man might become sovereign: it is better for him to be sovereign, in which case sovereignty cannot be taken away from him, but if he does not possess it, he cannot acquire it.[46]

This echoes Dōgen’s logic on the unity of practice and realization, that the zazen does not attain enlightenment but is the realization of an original enlightenment. In Dōgen it is impossible to become buddha because one is already buddha. The proximity of sovereignty to awakening lies in the liberation of subjectivity from the domination of utility. Bataille is emphatic that “life beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty.”[47] Whatever exists the profane realm of utilitarian values is an excessiveness approaching perfect abandonment. For Nick Land submission to utility produces a fundamental perversion in systems of valuation, culminating in the voluntary submission he will diagnose as:

A creeping slave morality [that] colonizes value, subordinating it to the definition “that which serves”. The “good” becomes synonymous with utility; with means, mediation, instrumentality, and implicit dependence.[48]

Bataille states:

What is sovereign in fact is to enjoy the present time without having anything else in view but this present time.[49]

Sovereign existence is entirely absorbed in impermanence so that the sovereign is able to “escape the anguish of death,” just as the original person escapes from suffering.[50] In sovereignty as in enlightenment the individual experiences a self-abandonment that culminates in an ecstatic self-forgetting, a forgetting of the self and its objects, subjectivity and the projects it is subordinated to, a ruptural opening that destroys any vertical delusion of transcendence, any trace of a reality cut in two. Bataille would see this Zen self-forgetting as a paradoxical “pure immanence of a return to the self” to “be attained without effort.”[51] In the sovereignty of zazen, experience liberates itself beyond all subordination to thought and purpose, to the thought of purpose, even to the project of humanity. If Bataille’s proximities to Zen do not permit his assimilation into it, they nonetheless illuminate renunciation as a revolt against all modes of subordination, a fanatical insubordination that proceeds through a more truly inexhaustible submission to reality.[52]

Utility is the realm of the discontinuous that represents a fundamental break with our original intimacy with reality. Intimacy, continuity, and immanence are the key terms of Bataille’s Theory of Religion. There he will write that religion aims at a recovery of “the lost intimacy” that the emergence of consciousness introduces into human existence.[53] Like Dōgen he will see an experience capable of suspending the discriminating mind and revealing an

immanence without a clear limit (an indistinct flow of being into being—one thinks of the unstable presence of water in water).[54]

These terms clearly indicate the experience of intimacy is the breakdown of the subject–object duality that Dōgen invokes when he writes that to awaken is to “forget the self.”[55] Self-forgetting removes the separation that introduces discontinuity into the field of immanence. For Dōgen “intimate means close and inseparable. There is no gap.”[56] The sovereignty of zazen is all-inclusive and all-encompassing, realizing dualities as participatory, inseparable in the same sense that Irigaray discusses the vulva.[57] The experience of nonduality closes all distances between things, making boundaries nebulous without affecting their complete erasure. Nick Land will explain that the “real trajectory of loss is ‘immanence’, continuity, base matter, or flow.”[58] Mysticism, and Zen in particular, is insubordination as a violent abolition of the separations coordinated by transcendence, the escape of the self from itself, from impermanence in impermanence, beyond all rational calculation, subordinating reason to the continuous erotics of an intimate existence that liberates an insurrectionary eruption of the voluptuous and ceaseless pointlessness that revels in annihilation.

Stefanos Geroulanos will draw attention to the repeated invocations of exit throughout Bataille’s atheological works. He will suggest that for Bataille exit is aligned to a “radical ‘sense of revolt.’”[59] He quotes Bataille:

Effectuation of the exit—What happens when life frees itself from degradation. Not only anxiety, but also tumult, and the impression of being torn.[60]

Geroulanos will explain that in Bataille “exit involves precisely the impossibility of an opening of the strictly speaking homogenous to heterogeneity—to the sacred.”[61] Exit is an opening to an intimate outside that goes beyond the coordinates of any monistic project of integration. In being torn, in being a tumult, in the ego, in the act of political nonparticipation, in territorial schism, etc., exit is the practice of renunciative disintegration. The renunciation of monism—the homogenous—establishes the connection between an exit from Being and empirical implementations of an exit from politics. Bataille will write that his project is “to escape from project!”[62] To escape from politics in all its forms, exit proceeds by way of bifurcations, schisms, splits, fragmentations, weird experimentations, fully realizing dualism rather than collapsing it.

Land will consistently emphasize exit as a practice of tearing things apart. He will criticize the inner-NRx for constituting itself as a microculture that privileges questions of belonging.[63] In these circumstances politics devolves into a question of who belongs where, deteriorating into an obsessive policing of identities. If the inner-NRx is concerned with establishing “a core identity”, then the outer-NRx “relates itself to what it escapes.”[64] This suggests that exit is misunderstood within identitarian politics as what autonomist Marxist Paolo Virno understands as “an engaged withdrawal” or “founding leave-taking.”[65] It subordinates defection to the production of self-determining zones of existence. Territorial exit, secessionist withdrawal and agorism all necessarily entail the liberation of spacetime, but the inner-NRx and (post)autonomism converge on a primary subordination of exit to arrival.

Land will call exit an exploratory departure, writing:

I am proposing a political or anti-political “god”—EXIT, the principle of the Outside.[66]

To make departure dependent on arrival, to instrumentalise exit in the name of a microcultural community of belonging, is to remain caught within utilitarian projects that cannot approach the Outside. Real exit is the nomad-operation of rootless cosmopolitans enacting schism for itself. Exoteric exit is going home, whereas esoteric exit is the fundamental renunciation of home, the principle of the Interior.

Dōgen’s clearest articulation of renunciation comes in the Shōbōgenzō when he commands:

If you have a home, leave your home. If you have beloved ones, leave them. If you have fame, abandon it. If you have gain, escape from it. If you have fields, get rid of them. If you have relatives, separate from them.[67]

Renunciation is openness to the Outside that abandons attachment to the Interior. The sanskrit term for renunciation is nekkhamma, meaning to go forth into the homeless state of a monk. Kodo Sawaki, a 20th century monk in Dōgen’s lineage, will explain that “a home-leaver should be a person who creates a unique way of life.”[68] Renunciation is a generative flight from the Interior towards the Outside, a secession from everything associated with home.

The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk will talk about “the spaces created by secessionists” in similar terms.[69] He will write about a spiritual secessionism that will renegotiate “deeper borders than those which can be addressed by geopolitics.”[70] He will suggest that “we can think for the time being of the hermitages, the monasteries, the academies and other places of ascetic–meditative and philosophical retreat”[71] as places of spiritual secessionism. After Foucault, he will call these spaces heterotopias and enumerate them in a non-exhaustive list:

cemeteries, monasteries, libraries, high-class brothels, cinemas, colonies and ships…sports venues, holiday islands, places of pilgrimage, miracle courts, car parks…no-go areas…the space station is probably one of the most important innovations.[72]

Exit in the midst of the centre, heterotopias are a flight from the centre that shatter it. Secessionism threatens to utterly destabilise core–periphery relationships. Schism is a subtraction that adds to the world, a zazen-like additive subtraction. Secessionism increases system complexity, adding more independent variables to the chaos engine. While territorial flight escapes the state, the spiritual secession of renunciative nonparticipation hollows it out from within.

While Sloterdijk will understand this process or event as part of the invention of the individual, Dōgen and Bataille reveal it as the eradication of the self, and the letting go of the political subject. Sloterdijk will write:

Anthropotechnic work on oneself begins with the evacuation of the interior through a removal of the non-own.[73]

In Zen practice, the interior is entirely evacuated: the self is emptied. It is this emptiness of the self that prevents the development of Sloterdijk’s “enclave subjectivity,” the transformation of the self into its own small state, that would reduplicate the state.[74] Zen is a spiritual secessionism that enacts a mystical insurrection that is a complete withdrawal from the conditions determining the idea that politics can or should save us. To critique this as quietism is to fail to understand that renunciation is the ultimate form of freedom: freedom from the self and from belonging, from the clinging and ignorance that perpetuates problems that politics pretends to be able to solve, and so propulsively drives on.

Enlightenment is often written about as freedom, but is not the freedom politics tries to secure. The freedom of homelessness in the outside is the freedom that comes from relinquishing the illusion of control, from the skepticism that drops the protective worldviews and their institutional capture, and, in the schizo-praxical obliteration of the self, from the idea that there is anyone to be saved. Zen understands freedom as the overcoming of all these dualistic delusions. Buddhas awaken to the perfection of becoming. This is nothing like the asceticism of Nietzsche’s man of renunciation who moralistically “strives after a higher world” to be inaugurated after the revolution or the grand reformation.[75] The exit from politics reaches its apex in the paradoxical freedoms of renunciation. If the fundamental question of politics is What is to be done? renunciation can only answer How far can you go in letting go?


[1]  GRAY, E. Antony, Exit / No Exit, 2017, available at: https://jacobitemag.com/2017/10/03/exit-no-exit/. [Accessed 12/3/18]

[2]  BERARDI, Franco, Global Civil War and the Rotting of the White Mind, 2018, available at: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3689-bifo-global-civil-war-and-the-rotting-of-the-white-mind. [Accessed 16/3/18]

[3]  BENSAÏD, Daniel, “Permanent Scandal”, in:  Democracy in What State?, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 44.

[4]  GARTON, Vincent, Unconditional Acceleration as Antipraxis, 2017, available at: https://vincentgarton.com/2017/06/12/unconditional-accelerationism-as-antipraxis/. [Accessed 13/3/18].

[5]  HIRSCHMAN, Albert O., “Exit, Voice, and the State”, in: World Politics, 31(1), 1978, p. 94.

[6]  HIRSCHMAN, Albert O., Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970, p. 30.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  VIRILIO, Paul, “Not Words but Visions!”, 1998, in: ARMITAGE, John (ed.), Virilio Live: Selected Interviews, London: Sage Publishing, 2001, p. 163.

[9]  BERARDI, Global Civil War and the Rotting of the White Mind.

[10]   SOLOMON, Sheldon, GREENBERG, Jeff, PYSZCZYNSKI, Tom, The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, London: Allen Lane, 2015.

[11]    Cf. BECKER, Ernest, The Denial of Death, New York: The Free Press, 1973; and BECKER, Ernest, Escape from Evil, New York: The Free Press, 1975.

[12]    SOLOMON et al., The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life.

[13]    BURKE, Brian L., KOSLOFF, Spee, LANDAU, Mark J.. “Death Goes to the Polls: A Meta-Analysis of Mortality Salience Effects on Political Attitudes”, in: Political Psychology, 34(2), 2013, p. 183–200.

[14]    Technomic acceleration is the fundamental subject of accelerationism. For discussion on ecological catastrophe and radical politics cf: ANONYMOUS, Desert, 2011, available at: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-desert. [Accessed 14/3/18]

[15]    WILLIAMS, Alex, SRNICEK, Nick, #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, 2013, available at: http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/.

[16]    KRISHNAMURTI, U. G., The Mystique of Enlightenment: The Radical Ideas of U. G. Krishnamurti, New Delhi: Smriti Books, 2005, p. 114.

[17]    Ibid.

[18]    KRISHNAMURTI, U. G., The Mind is a Myth: Conversations with U.G. Krishnamurti, New Delhi: Smriti Books, 2003, p. 5.

[19]    CIORAN, EM, quoted in: ACQUISTO, Joseph, The Fall Out of Redemption: Writing and Thinking Beyond Salvation in Baudelaire, Cioran, Fondane, Agamben, and Nancy, London: Bloomsbury, 2016, p. 198.

[20]    GARLAND, Alex, Streaming. Netflix., 2018.

[21]    In early Buddhism craving—taṇhā—is the root cause of all suffering. The goal of Buddhism is often thought about as the elimination of desire. This is inexact as the goal is the elimination of craving that produces suffering. It is craving that leads to attachment to impermanent things and to the error that we can and should shape the world to our desires. In later Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism this instrumental language will be problematised. This will be discussed below in relation to Dōgen’s Zen.

[22]    GARTON, Unconditional Acceleration as Antipraxis.

[23]    Ibid.

[24]    LAND, Nick, Disintegration, 2014, available at: http://www.xenosystems.net/disintegration/. [Accessed 15/3/18]

[25]    Ibid.

[26]    Monism is the philosophical and religious attitude that All is One. Under monism no divergent difference can be tolerated. In all its articulations monism is the integrative project for the assimilation of the outside. Monism in politics tends towards the obliteration of plurality in totalitarianism. In mysticism monism is identifiable with the Perennialist belief that everything is reducible to an experiential and ontological unity. Monism is the apex of metaphysics.

[27]    RANCIÈRE Jacques, Dis-Agreement: Politics and Philosophy, London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1999.

[28]    LAND, Nick, On Difficulty, 2014, available at: http://www.xenosystems.net/on-difficulty/. [Accessed 15/3/18]

[29]    Cf. GARTON, Vincent, Leviathan Rots, 2017, available at: https://www.urbanomic.com/document/leviathan-rots/ [Accessed 15/3/18]: “At [the state’s] terminus there remains nothing around which it is necessary to route. Catastrophe, once exteriorised, now extends into the state itself; ‘the net itself is infected’ and the body of Leviathan rots with spectacular diseases.”

[30]    LAND, Nick, Exit Options, 2015, available at: http://www.xenosystems.net/exit-options/. [Accessed 15/3/18]

[31]    In Dōgen’s Japan the monastic orders were intensely rivalrous. They were large landowners who sought to protect their property with the formation of standing armies. This led to the emergence of a distinctly Japanese warrior–monk, the sōhei. Cf: ADOLPHSON, Mikael S., The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sōhei in Japanese History, Honululu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

[32]    Autobiographical information is taken from: KIM, Hee-Jin, Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist, Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2004. The relevant chapter is also available in: OKUMURA, Shohaku, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

[33]    ZENJI, Dōgen, “Fukanzazengi”, in: BIELEFELDT, Carl, Dōgen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, London: University of California Press, 1988, p. 118.

[34]    Ibid.

[35]    “This doctrine holds that enlightenment or the ideal state is neither a goal to be achieved nor a potential to be realised but the real status of all things. Not only human beings but ants and crickets, even grasses and trees, manifest innate buddhahood just as they are. Seen in its true aspect, every aspect of daily life—eating, sleeping, even one’s deluded thoughts—is the Buddha’s conduct.” (STONE, Jacqueline I., “Original Enlightenment (Hogaku)”, in: BUSWELL, Robert E., Jr. (ed), Encyclopedia of Buddhism, New York: MacMillan, 2004, p. 618.

[36]    Dōgen quoted in: KWONG, Jakusho, No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2003, p. 26.

[37]    Dōgen in OKUMURA, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, p. 2.

[38]    Ibid.

[39]    Formless meditation has no prosthetics for cultivating the mind. It has no practices of visualization, counting breaths, following breaths, and ko’an practice. The practitioner just sits.

[40]    Dōgen in OKUMURA, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, p. 1.

[41]    KIM, Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist, p. 66.

[42]    Ibid., p. 37.

[43]    Ibid., p. 64.

[44]    HEINE, Steve, Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 203.

[45]    BATAILLE, Georges, “Autobiographical Note”, 1986, in: BOTTING, Fred, WILSON, Scott, The Bataille Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997, p. 116.

[46]    BATAILLE, Georges, The Accursed Shared: An Essay On General Economy. Volume II: The History of Eroticism; Volume III: Sovereignty, New York: Zone Books, 1991, p. 226.

[47]    Ibid., p. 198. Here Bataille will claim that enjoyment subjugated by utility is servility to the future. What is really at issue is the linearity of temporality coordinated along the existentialist axis past–present–future. It is possible to speculate that it is this linearity that sovereign experience ruptures.

[48]    LAND, Nick, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, London: Routledge, 1992.

[49]    BATAILLE, The Accursed Shared: An Essay On General Economy, p. 199.

[50]    Ibid., p. 219.

[51]    BATAILLE, Georges, On Nietzsche, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015, p. 141.

[52]    Bataille would undoubtedly have found a kindred spirit in the Zen monk Ikkyū. Writing poems about his penis and his love of prostitutes, Ikkyū was a heretical monk who founded his own Red Thread Zen, named in reference to his penis and the underwear of courtesans. The name is also connected to the ko’an “Why can’t clear-eyed Bodhisattvas sever the red thread?” In this kōan the red thread signifies the persistence of desire.

[53]    BATAILLE, Georges, Theory of Religion, New York: Zone Books, 1989, p. 57.

[54]    Ibid., p. 33.

[55]    Dōgen in OKUMURA, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, p. 2.

[56]    Dōgen in: VERKUILEN, Barbara, Dokusan with Dōgen: Timeless Lessons in Negotiating the Way, 2011, p. 213. Verkuilen gives the visual example of a hand held aloft. When talking about separation the fingers of the hand are spread open and held apart from each other. When talking about the absence of any gap, they are snapped shut. This is reminiscent of another Zen metaphor for the experience of zazen as the open hand of thought.

[57]    Irigaray is among the clearest demonstrations of nonduality in the Western canon. She will talk about the lips of the vulva as being “neither one nor two.” For Dōgen the whole great earth—all reality—exhibits as vulvic structure that confounds the capacity to count. Reality is intimate in the same way as these lips, and cannot be identified as One or as Two. (IRIGARAY, Luce, This Sex Which Is Not One, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 26.)

[58]    LAND, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism.

[59]    GEROULANOS, Stefanos, “The Anthropology of Exit: Bataille on Heidegger and Fascism”, in: October 117, Massachusetts: October Magazine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016, p. 22.

[60]    BATAILLE, quoted in: Ibid.

[61]    Ibid., p. 23.

[62]    BATAILLE, Georges, Inner Experience, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988, p. 59.

[63]    It is hard not to extend this to a radical left that is more interested in constituting itself as a therapeutic community for those who belong, and a mechanism for excommunicating those who do not.

[64]    LAND, Nick, Outsideness, 2014, available at: http://www.xenosystems.net/outsideness-2/. [Accessed 15/3/18]

[65]    VIRNO, Paolo, Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus, in: VIRNO, Paolo, HARDT, Michael, (eds), Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 196.

[66]    LAND, Nick, Quit, 2013, available at: http://www.xenosystems.net/quit/. [Accessed 16/3/18]

[67]    DŌGEN, in: TANAHASHI, Kazuaki, Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teaching of Zen Master Dōgen, London: Shambhala, 2000, p. 127.

[68]    SAWAKI, Kodo, in: NCHIYAMA, Kosho, OKUMURA, Shohaku, The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2014, Section 8.

[69]    SLOTERDIJK, Peter, You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013, p. 221.

[70]   Ibid.

[71]    Ibid.

[72]    Ibid., p. 222.

[73]    Ibid., p. 226.

[74]    Ibid., p. 228.

[75]    NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, The Gay Science, New York: Dover Publication, 2012, p. 38.