It seems clear enough that John Zerzan’s critique of postmodernism turns on an interpretation of passive nihilism. But what does passive nihilism have to do with postmodernism? Let us look into this matter.
Postmodernism has been defined by Lyotard as incredulity (disbelief) towards metanarratives; Platonic metanarratives such as Truth, Justice, Beauty, all of which are tangled and mutually reinforced in an epistemological stance. Whether or not we have access to these is up for grabs; whether or not they exist—whether they are really real—is claimed to be something beyond our capacities to know. Instead, a form of relativism is advocated: Since we can know what we believe, and that there are others that disagree, there are only our lights on the matter and muddling through with others in conversation.
Traditional defenders of such Platonic universals as being the genuine object of Inquiry tend to suppose that the relativists’ position is incoherent because, plainly, relativism is touted as a metanarrative. The obvious response is that you can only go as far as you know, and that it is foolish to suppose that one knows beyond what one does. It is clear that others have different opinions about ways to live. Can we come to agreement with everyone to come? Who knows!
Now, Derrida is an interesting case, especially the later Derrida. There is no guarantee that the ideology that we force onto others in agreement, say Marxism, Socialism or Anarchism, will not, in the unfolding on khôra, be unraveled. That is to say, what is not-deconstructable, perhaps, according to Derrida, is only the logic of différance. Is this logic necessary, like khôra? Perhaps. Listen: everything unfolds in différance; nothing is stable because Derrida predicts that the logic of time and growth, external, and internal, will undo everything we take to be protected. Such is the meaning of différance, which makes everything possible via spatial and temporal différance and impossible via this being not just collective in its affect, but also distributive. Might this distributive logic undo the proprietary logic of différance? Perhaps, but that just reveals more différance. Might everything crystallize? Might time and decomposition come to an end? It seems possible, but about as hard to care about as a mean spirited eternal bliss that can never improve.
This point of view has everything to do with nihilism in the sense that the universe doesn’t really care about language, humyns, life, or whatever. Everything will be broken down. The logic of life and death go hand in hand, like a snake consuming its own tail. Such is the machine-like logic suggested by Deleuze and Guattari. Being (khôra) cannot help but be the plane of existence generating immanent différance upon all that is within its containment. The political upshot is that there is nothing in the way of being able to create something new, or permit being to do so through us; yet, there is no assurance that what we create will remain stable, whether in its physicality or “meaning” (which has nonlinguistic origins), because nothing in the universe is stable, except, perhaps, the logic of instability.
The important nihilistic lesson from Derrida, which echoes Epicurean indifference in the void, is that there is no-thing in the universe that is actually stable. The lesson that appears to be coming from Zerzan is that we have to make certain things stable.—There must be the rule of anti-agriculture (rewilding). Such is the vision; and the means are to be now configured according to this version of Outside (cf Hello). Derrida, on the other hand, opens the view to the reality that Nature is not patented by anyone. There is only the slow logic of undoing materialities, as well as an undoing of the theoretical apparatuses utilized to signify those materialities. Now, for Derrida, everything is undoing text written by différance/khôra; but this means that there is no remainder; that there is nothing for Zerzan to take issue with. “There is only text” doesn’t mean that there are only words, trapped behind the veil of appearance--an ignorant reading; it is that the metaphysics of the universe is an aesthetic writing, a drawing, a constitution and a continuous slow decomposition. Questions about 'the point' are illusory; and so, the point is not that everything is pointless.
Some anarchists have values of a particular order. These values are to be freely chosen in theory, but more often than not we have our values imposed upon us by certain persyns that take up the mantle of victim-hood.—Whatever. Nihilism, on the other hand, advocates a complete abolition of these humyn values, as well as any forms of power-with that exclude individual desires, and deconstruction is a valid method in dismantling such hierarchies. Now, if deconstruction were to show itself as pure relativism, it would seem to lose its purpose; for in that case, there is nothing positive shown by way of deconstruction. On the contrary, while it comports ultimately with nothingness, this doesn’t mean that it shows itself as actually nothing because, plainly, it is a logic that moves, and doesn’t remain stagnant; a logic that moves hard distinctions into soft intersections, ad/in infinitum. There is still constitution therefore, it is only modified in a decomposition logic, just as the call “Hello”, may not arrive.
Where deconstruction becomes problematic is if it is taken to be a name rather than a verb. So we might say that deconstruction is the mode of active nihilism, whereas the artificial end that it is taken to be in the name (by Zerzan), and specifically by rationalists demanding it fit their logic, is passive. Deconstruction can never be passive because it is always at work undoing, negating. To suppose that it is something stagnant is to completely miss the point.
Either you are a nihilist and you realize that there is nothing that undermines reality, no purpose, no God generating functions for us to fit; or, you are not, and you are filled with hope. Sometimes one hopes that we can build something together, failing to realize that the other simply may not find joy in doing so, and may fuck right off. More to the point, we should take issue with the idea that we should be shocked. The best thing that we can do for the other is leave it to be whatever, unless, of course, their being left alone to be whatever produces them as my enemy. In my opinion, the free unbound individual that disagrees with me is not sufficient for their fitting as enemy. What is required is that their being whatever is cutting into my capacity to live my own desires.
Passive nihilism is a philosophy that supposes that everyone has the right to their own point of view. It breeds a version of quietism; there are no enemies; everyone can get along. Such is not what deconstruction is all about; deconstruction as a verb merely blurs lines purported to be clear and distinct. And it can undermine every project, except (perhaps) the project of undermining projects; for in that case it would no longer be active, which it is essentially (perhaps). Nihilism loses its potency when it aspires to answer itself with a positive foundational platform, unless, of course, negation is seen properly as positive precisely because such is actively deconstructive. But decomposition and so constitution, as decomposition, continues, despite our efforts to shut down its movement. Deconstruction is an individualist philosophy in that it doesn’t preclude alternative desires; and it is for this reason that Zerzan doesn’t like it. It is too radical for his moderate agenda to somehow magically produce a new essence, namely, the essence of communal sharing. Individualists and Deconstruction, together, undermine his goal. The point of deconstruction is to shine a light on Zerzan’s claim that there ought to be hope at all. Hope in what? (That we might be released from Hope!)