The “Manifesto for the Committee to Abolish Outer Space” is a text that deeply frustrates me and yet one that I think about often. It is a foreclosure of political possibility akin to anarcho-primitivism that refuses to think with those modes of radical thought that have found inspiration in space for mobilization here on earth. Outer space precedes us; it is ancestral, as Meillassoux would term it in his After Finitude (2008). As such, outer space presents an absolute pivot for thought upon which both radical and reactionary projects can turn (for instance, consider the difference between Russian Cosmism and Italian Futurism, respectively). Outer space is the great neutral (which does not mean it is without features or traits; I am here thinking with Deleuze, Logic of Sensation (1981) and Barthes, The Neutral (2002)).
Coming across Björn Jónsson’s processing work on the JunoCam’s raw images of Jupiter, however, inevitably returned the Manifesto to my mind. Jonsson’s images come in true colour and enhanced palettes, and though both are beautiful, the enhanced images are undeniably arresting. And yet, as the Manifesto reads: “They told us that outer space is beautiful. They showed us nebulae, big pink and blue clouds draped in braids of purple stars … [But] the colors are lies, the nebulae are lies. These images are collated and pigmented by computers; they’re not a scene you could ever see out the porthole of your spaceship. Space isn’t even ugly; it isn’t anything.” There is a project at work here in these images, a visionary project and a project of vision. Outer space is ancestral, but these images are decidedly human products.
I mentioned back in July that I was reading Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy (1958), and have since finished it. One thread that runs throughout the book comes from a Weizsäcker quotation in chapter three: “Nature is earlier than man, but man is earlier than natural science” (23). In a very Heideggerian way, Heisenberg argues that “what we perceive is already perceived as something” (45), but rather than use this claim to argue for the ontological distinction of human perception, he instead uses it to deprioritize the human, arguing for the ineluctable determination of thought by the real (compare my note “Generic Science: Heraclitus, Intelligence, and the Common”). François Laruelle has described a similar cascade of orders in his essay “On the Black Universe: In the Human Foundations of Color,” found in Dark Nights of the Universe (2013). His terms are the “Earth, the World, [and] the Universe” (1). For Laruelle, “Man works the Earth, lives in the World, thinks according to the Universe,” or put otherwise, the “Earth is man’s ground, the World his neighbor, the Universe his secret” (1). In Weizsäcker and Heisenberg’s terms, the universe is nature, the world is man, and the earth is natural science. The early Heidegger mistakenly makes the world into the universe, but later he rediscovers the “night” that precedes the world and makes its light possible (see my note, “Chasm, 2: The Element”). This night is Laruelle’s “opacity of the real,” the “without-Ground which fixes light in the remote,” the very “Radical of color” (3-4). The universe requires a different vision. Outer space might not be anything, but it is a potent nothing.
Years ago, when I was employed as a barista, I typically worked the 5am to 10am shift before catching the bus to school. Leaving the house in the dark, I would be greeted as I stepped out onto the front porch by the bright spot of Jupiter in the night sky. This became a tradition for me, an intimate moment shared with this celestial body nearly 600 million kilometers away. So far, yet so near, Jupiter became almost interior to myself in this quiet ritual, this silent moment saturated with the universe. C.A.O.S. wants “to create a future,” to “return the cosmos to its proper domain.” But these are not far away things; what outer space, the black universe, teaches us, what the light of Jupiter taught me all those years ago, is that the future and the cosmos are already here, a secret that we must only learn how to see.