In his essay, Making it with Death, Nick Land makes some assertions about Phenomenology:

Work is also complicit with phenomenology, which grounds the experience of effort, rather than treating this experience as one other thing that matter can effortlessly do.

Going on to say:

Even in the deepest sickness of its illegitimacy everything is effortless to the energetic unconscious, and the whole of our history - which seems so strenuous from the perspective of idealists - has pulsed with hydraulic irresponsibility out of a spontaneous and unconscious productivity.

Earlier in the compendium within which this essay can be found, Fanged Noumena, he talks about Heidegger quite frequently, and so I am taking it that when he says "Phenomenology", he means something analogous to Heidegger's philosophy.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says:

Rather than facing up to their own finitude—represented above all by the inevitability of death—they seek distraction and escape in inauthentic modalities such as curiosity, ambiguity, and idle talk. Heidegger characterized such conformity in terms of the notion of the anonymous das Man—“the They.” Conversely, the possibility of authentic Being-in-the-world seemed to portend the emergence of a new spiritual aristocracy. Such individuals would be capable of heeding the “call of conscience” to fulfill their potential for Being-a-self.

To live with authenticity would then be a matter of effort, of resisting our natural tendency to be submerged in 'the they', and so, if we take this quasi-moral impetus formulated by Heidegger as representative of Phenomenology, I can see how it would be complicit with the spirit of effort and with the notion which "[projects] spirit into the origin, morally valorizing exertion"(Land, Fanged Noumena, 286), but when I consider Phenomenology in a broader sense, in the sense of " a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions"(Britannica), I don't quite understand this supposed complicity. In the very concept of observation of phenomena without "theories about their causal explanation" is implied the absence of theories about a will or spiritual agency causing or developing being.

If a projection "into the origin" occurs within a purportedly phenomenological text — or indeed any assertion of causation or origination — that assertion is not itself phenomenological, or am I missing something here?

My question then is: in what sense can Phenomenology be complicit with the notion of effort and antithetical to a materialist philosophy of "spontaneous and unconscious productivity"? (In this case, the production of a conscious — spiritual — experience via the energetic properties of matter.)

Edit: My use of the term 'work' was confusing in this question; It would have been more clear to maintain the term 'effort' throughout.

Quick aside: Though, in the first quote Land does directly state Phenomenology is complicit with work, I am more easily able to make sense of the problem by not using work and effort interchangeably — work is an act of an agent that requires effort (a probable definition). Work can only then exist where there is an actor and effort, so anything which upholds the ontological status of the entity-type of actor and the quality of effort is complicit with the continued intelligibility and utilization of the term and its corresponding political discourse — this connection would have to be explored by splitting 'work' into its constituent concepts, which Land in his prolix style actually does, and then working from there. (If this were an essay, I would have to completely rewrite — thank god it isn't.)

  • I'm having some trouble deciphering some parts of this, but "work" is a technical term for Heidegger. Are you asking "what does Heidegger mean by work and how would this be complicit in death?"
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 4:38
  • The problem I am having is that Mr. Land just makes this broad statement about phenomenology and its relation to work without reference to any particular iteration of phenomenology or with really expounding on the assertion. He talks about Heidegger earlier in the book which is why I felt his particular philosophy — broadly categorized as phenomenological — would be a possible avenue for making sense of the claim that "work is complicit with phenomenology." I can't think of a single reason why phenomenology, in itself, would reinforce the glorification/concept of work. @virmaior
    – Ethan NOPE
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 5:48
  • Leaving aside the details I feel there's an important issue here. If we examine ourself while in the middle of a strenuous activity we find there's a part of us that is making no effort at all. This would be the part that is independent of body-mind phenomena, thus independent of effort. But this would not be unconscious matter doing something. The ideas that matter can 'do' or 'not do' something is wildly absurd. You might like to check out the Taoist notion of Wu Wei.
    – user20253
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 10:01
  • @PeterJ Are you implying that that which does nothing, that which is independent of the body-mind phenomena, is some entity analogous to 'spirit' in the mystic sense?
    – Ethan NOPE
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 10:26
  • 1
    @EthanNOPE - I suppose that as we're talking about Heidegger it could be called 'Being', (The mystic would say also non-Being), This would be that which observes but remains uninvolved. It has been likened to the eye at the centre of a storm where the storm would be constant whirling of the phenomenal world. Hence by separating from the phenomenal world we become effortless. It seems significant that at the end of his life he endorsed the world-view of Dr. Suzuki for which this view of effortlessness and non-action would be central and a vital subject for personal investigation. .
    – user20253
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


While reading another user's question about pre-thetic, perceptual faith, I was struck with a possible solution to this problem of Phenomenology's relation to effort. When Land says that it grounds the experience of effort, he means that Phenomenology takes experience at face value — allows effort to be, rather than a necessary consequence of the biological instinct of an organism (thus not something truly willed by an agent), an effort made by a willing entity. Materialism would seek to get beneath the apparent facade of a 'willing subject' and show how that will is only a consequence of biological configuration, which, in turn, is only the consequence of a material configuration.

Phenomenology expressly forbids this reduction of experience to material, biology, or even some sort of ideal, and, thus, it gives effort a reality beyond mere appearance — gives appearance(initial experience) primary reality, more.1 Phenomenology gives a reality to agentic experience, an experience without which 'effort' would be a senseless term.

Edit: Removed the term 'work' from answer as well to be consistent with the rephrasing of the question.

1 I considered using, instead of primary reality, epistemological priority here, but I am not 100% sure such an assertion would be entirely accurate of Phenomenology, which may not even be related to epistemology at all — without at least some epi-phenomenological articulation as bridge. With some extension and more thorough research, the relation between observed Phenomena (the record of which would be Phenomenological) and epistemology (the rules by which we validate truth values) could be a valuable line of inquiry; hence, I include this remark.

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