My PhD supervisor turned out to be satanby Nicholas Blincoe / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
It is quite something to discover, a quarter of a century too late, that your old PhD supervisor is satan. I was a 24-year-old research student at Warwick when I met Nick Land. He was just four years older and brilliant, if remarkably immature even by my twenty-something standards. He disappeared around the turn of the century, landing in Shanghai, and I heard nothing more of him for years. I never expected him to resurface as one of a select group of bloggers who informs the worldview of Steve Bannon—profiled in this month’s Prospect—and the direction of the Donald Trump White House. An article in the Atlantic in February traced the evolution of the alt-right back to a circle known as NRx, or neo-reactionaries, that includes Nick alongside others with spooky death metal handles like Mencius Moldbug.
Nick was not cut out for teaching. When I knocked on his office door there would be a frantic clatter as he hid his dope-smoking paraphernalia, and a breathless squeak of “Who is it?” He was stoned and his office stunk. But he radiated an excitement that made philosophy fun, throwing out offhand remarks that brought fresh illumination to many problems. He preferred his comments to be as outlandish as possible. He was a huge fan of Nietzsche and when I admitted I loathed wading through all his stuff about dwarves and hermits, Nick was aghast. He saw Nietzsche as blackly comic, satirical and subversive, and not at all a lot of Tolkien crap.
Every month staff would give readings from work-in-progress. Nick’s first talk was entitled: “Putting the Rat back Into Rationality,” in which he argued that, rather than seeing death as an event that happened at a particular time to an individual, we should look at it from the perspectives of the rats carrying the Black Death into Europe; that is, as a world-encircling swarm, without any specific coordinates, or any sense of individuation. An older professor tried to get his head round this idea: “How might we locate this description within human experience?” he asked. Nick told him that human experience was, of course, worthy of study, but only as much as, say, the experience of sea slugs: “I don’t see why it should receive any special priority.”
This refusal to deal with the human…