In Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet, Thacker draws up a tripartite secular cosmogeny consisting of three spheres identified by their divergence from humanoid/anthropocentric optics: the world-for-us, the world-in-itself, and the world-without-us; or, humanity’s world and environs, the world as understood empirically, and the unhuman—that which we cannot experience.
Obviously, it is hardwired within us to increasingly push outward, to mount colonization efforts and invade the world-without-us. This is a failing preposition: considering the world-without-us causes it to vanish. In the Dust of this Planet proposes that we interact with the sublime unknowable of the w-w-u through horror, which offers a “non-philosophical” way to think ourselves out of existence.
There is, however, another way, residing in the atmospheric record and as imparted to us from ice cores (added bonus: reading ice and air, a kind of material logos-system of inhuman processes, seems very in fitting with the attempts to exhume the asymptotic that define the search for the w-w-u). Over the course of human history, there are instances where the atmosphere improves and things (‘things’ used as a general catchall for nonhuman planetary systems) snap back to ‘normal’ (‘normal’ being a hypothesized vectorization of the world’s ‘things’ if we had never existed. Stewart Brand in Whole Earth Discipline names some of these resets: the great diebacks after the collapse of ancient Rome, the genocide of Native Americans be the ass-backwards pathogenic warfare of the colonizing Europeans, etc. It’s happening again, too: the Middle East, eaten whole by conflict, is the only region of the world where air quality is improving. Will this be inscribed on the aerologos? Impossible to say.
The point of this post is to maintain that the world-without-us is not simply or even predominantly a tool of critical literature, but a useful heuristic that throws harsh light on the eschatology of our discourse. The apocalypse is a complete deterritorialization, but the world-without-us is more helpful because, while asymptotic, it possesses a sickening gravity; one can’t help by feel we are being pulled to it, breaking through thresholds the whole way down. It is only asymptotic because once we arrive there will be no hominids left to perceive it, of course. The world-without-us is not a technique of literature or theory – though both are doubtlessly useful, and I’m not attempting to shit on either – but is a geo-ontological reality. It’s what lies at the bottom of the slope.