Nick Land: Quote of the Day!

” Cultures that become critical are rapidly intoxicated by lavish metamorphic forces. Reality becomes soluble in the madness of invention, such that it seems as though critique were luring nature into our dreams. Anything is allowable eventually, as long as it is extravagant enough, and nothing that is allowable may any longer be avoided. A critique only dates in the way capital does: cunningly. Both are names for metamorphosis as such, reproduced in their own substitution.”

Nick Land, The Thirst For Annihilation

Slavoj Zizek: Augur, Prophet, or Charlatan?

“We should fully accept this openness, guiding ourselves on nothing more than ambiguous signs from the future.”

– Zizek, Slavoj, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously

Or maybe… a philosopher, an Idealist and semiotician or Lacanian deep diver after dark portents and signs from the future. Fragments of an apocalypse or generative ideas awaiting their emergence?  Maybe there is an Idea hidden in the deserts of the Real awaiting its prophet? Dare we say it… a Communist Idea?

Reading signs, events, or omens has been with us from the earliest ages. Ancient Chinese history offers scrupulously documented occurrences of strange births, the tracking of natural phenomena, and other data. The Roman historian Livy stresses the importance of the augurs: “Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?”.

Has Slavoj Zizek taken on the role of Augur for our age? “Radical emancipatory outbursts cannot be understood in this way: instead of analyzing them as part of the continuum of past and present, we should bring in the perspective of the future, taking them as limited, distorted (sometimes even perverted) fragments of a utopian future that lies dormant in the present as its hidden potential” (Kindle Locations 2369-2371). Like an augur who casts lots and reads them for signs from the future, Zizek asks us to read the fragmented outbursts around the world as fragments of some utopian dream city lying just below the subterraenean rubble of the present. Yet, this is not just any future he hopes to divinize into the present of our emancipatory moment, these fragments of a distorted tension hide the reality of the Communist Idea. Zizek offers to teach us a new art: “the art of recognizing, from an engaged subjective position, elements which are here, in our space, but whose time is the emancipated future…” (Kindle Locations 2373-2374).

An Idealism you ask? Of course it is. It is a return to subjective engagement, and political engagement, and… can we say it, – a post-ideological engagement in a possible, potential future that seems to be hiding in the very fragments of our failed outbursts? As Adrian Johnston tells us on the one hand, the subject is an overdetermined effect of subjection; and, on the other hand, the subject is an unpredicatble upsurge of freedom (Zizek’s Ontology 286). For Zizek ‘freedom’ is both a question and a problematique: How does a philosopher approach the problem of freedom? (Zizek! The Movie)

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Questioning Meillassoux

“…can we think the diachronic disjunction between real and ideal while obviating any recourse to a transcendental divide between thinking and being?”

– Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound

The question Ray Brassier raises comes after a superb reading of Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude. Meillassoux in trying to give life and existence to a logos of contingency, which is to say, a reason emancipated from the principle of reason – a speculative form of the rational that would no longer be a metaphysical reason tells us that “far from seeing in criticism a threat to its consistency, the examination of the determinate conditions for absolute unreason should strive to multiply objections, the better to reinforce the binding texture of its argumentative fabric. It is by exposing the weaknesses in our own arguments that we will uncover, by way of a meticulous, step by step examination of the inadequacies in our reasoning, the idea of a non-metaphysical and non-religious discourse on the absolute” (Kindle Locations 1134-1138).1

Does materialism need a set of regulatory rules, a normativity, to help it distinguish between valid and invalid claims to knowledge or ontological factuality? I want to lay out another passage from Quentin Meillasoux’s After Finitude:

“Philosophy is the invention of strange forms of argumentation, necessarily bordering on sophistry, which remains its dark structural double. To philosophize is always to develop an idea whose elaboration and defence require a novel kind of argumentation, the model for which lies neither in positive science – not even in logic – nor in some supposedly innate faculty for proper reasoning. Thus it is essential that a philosophy produce internal mechanisms for regulating its own inferences – signposts and criticisms through which the newly constituted domain is equipped with a set of constraints that provide internal criteria for distinguishing between licit and illicit claims” (Kindle Locations 1130-1134).

My first question is: Of what do these ‘internal mechanisms’ that philosophy must produce to regulate its own inferences, whether formal or material, consist? Wilfred Sellars in arguing for the system of formal and material rules of inference explains:

“There is nothing to a conceptual apparatus that isn’t determined by its rules, and there is no such thing as choosing these rules to conform with antecedently apprehended universals and connexions, for the “apprehension of universals and connexions ” is already the use of a conceptual frame, and as such presupposes the rules in question. … [Against this dogmatic rationalism of the ‘conceptual frame’ Sellars argued] the system of formal and material rules of inference, we recognize that there are an indefinite number of possible conceptual structures (languages) or systems of formal and material rules, each one of which can be regarded as a candidate for adoption by the animal which recognizes rules, and no one of which has an intuitable hallmark of royalty. They must compete in the market place of practice for employment by language users, and be content to be adopted haltingly and schematically” (337).2

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Levi does it again… he offers us an irreductionist account of Naturalism. One based on three basic axioms: 1) first, one must hold that there is no supernatural causation, only natural causation; 2) second, naturalism entails that one reject metaphysical teleology; and, 3) third, naturalism treats culture as part of nature. He affirms efficient causation while rejecting final causation. Interestingly he treats the relationship between culture/nature as a part/whole theory.

He also cites the work of Andy Clark whose anti-representationalist theory offers a cognitive resolution to idealism by externalizing our intelligence and memories within systems outside our brain (as Levi says: “the important point is that he’s able to arrive at this thesis by taking our biology seriously, by taking seriously limitations of our brains, memory, etc., and by taking seriously the fact that like all other critters we need to get around in the world, respond to events in the world in real time, etc”); and, next, the work of Kim Sterelny (Thought in a Hostile World), whose ideas on our development within nature and culture are treated as unitary, as part of  a theory of co-evolvement, and that we need to take both biological and cultural development seriously “and investigate how they mutually influence one another, modify one another, and generate unique individuations.”

As Sternly says in a new book, The Evolved Apprentice, arguing against a certain type of empirical reductionism to individualist and internalist methodologies: “…empiricists have typically been individualists and internalists. I am neither: one message of this book is that human cognitive competence is a collective achievement and a collective legacy; at any one moment of time, we depend on each other, and over time, we stand on the shoulders not of a few giants but of myriads of ordinary agents who have made and passed on intact the informational resources on which human lives depend.” 1 This idea of collective achievement and legacy is something that I believe Levi tends to support in previous blog posts. It’s this ‘depends’ that is the key, that we are embedded within nature and culture as envrionment and communication, as something that we have to negotiate with our material being in an ongoing movement of development and growth that has no final end, no teleological frame of reference, but that just is is telling. I agree with Levi’s non-reductionist or irreductionst view of Naturalism. We need more of this kind of theory.

1. Sterelny, Kim (2012-01-24). The Evolved Apprentice (Jean Nicod Lectures). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Larval Subjects .

I’m pleased that my last post on naturalism has generated some interesting discussion– pro and con –about naturalism.  As I reflect on that discussion, it occurs to me that “naturalism” is one of those nebulous terms that means a variety of different things.  For some naturalism seems to mean eliminativism, of the variety advocated by the Churchlands.  For others naturalism means reductionism of the type advocated by evolutionary psychologists such as E.O.Wilson.  There, all social phenomena are explained in biological terms pertaining to reproduction and survival.  For others, naturalism means positivism.  I do not advocate any of these positions, though I do think that theorists like E.O. Wilson shed important light on human behavior.  I just don’t think they tell the entire story and that there are other causal factors involved that can’t be reduced to reproductive and survival aims.  I take it that this is part of…

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Jodi Dean: The Communist Horizon a first look…

“The general horizon of the era is communist.”

– Álvaro García Linera

Does communism condition the possibility of politics? García Linera seemed to think so. As Jodi Dean in her new book The Communist Horizon states it many on the “Left dismiss the communist horizon as a lost horizon” (Kindle Location 46).1 There are those she says who in seeking a way out of the old guard are sponsoring a new horizon of ‘post-capitalist’ thought that overturns the very critique that Marx instigated to begin with. As she states it these so to speak Leftists offer us not a critique but are in fact “rejecting the positive notion of “communism,” they opt for a term that suggests an empty relationality to the capitalist system they ostensibly deny, “post-capitalism.” For [these post-capitalist’] “the term “capitalist” is not a term of critique or opprobrium; it’s not part of a manifesto. The term is a cause of the political problems facing the contemporary Left. They argue that the discursive dominance of capitalism embeds the Left in paranoia, melancholia, and moralism” (KL 60-63). In such theorists as Zizek it becomes a return to Lenin: “The key ‘Leninist’ lesson today,” he writes, is that “politics without the organizational form of the Party is politics without politics.” (KL 100-101). But mostly it becomes a return to an emancipatory, egalitarian politics and that has been actively rethinking many of the concepts that form part of the communist legacy (KL 102-103).

Instead of such a – as she puts it, ‘generic post-capitalism’, one that offers not a true alternative but an actual alignment with the forces of capitalism, ones that circumvent anti-capitalist energies by promoting a brokered complicity with its nuanced fluidity within an idealized realm of open spaces of discussions and ethical decision making, Dean says:

“I take the opposite position. The dominance of capitalism, the capitalist system, is material. Rather than entrapping us in paranoid fantasy, an analysis that treats capitalism as a global system of appropriation, exploitation, and circulation that enriches the few as it dispossesses the many and that has to expend an enormous amount of energy in doing so can anger, incite, and galvanize” (KL 67-70).

What is the real problem for the left? “The problem of the Left hasn’t been our adherence to a Marxist critique of capitalism. It’s that we have lost sight of the communist horizon, a glimpse of which new political movements are starting to reveal”, as she states it (KL 74-76). What do these neo-liberals and reactionary conservatives fear? They fear the resurgence of Communism as an Idea,as once again offering a discourse against its own dark horizons. With such scholars as Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Morss, Costas Douzinas, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière, Alberto Toscano, and Slavoj Žižek. In these and other scholars Dean sees a new theory of communism arising. In Hardt and Negri it comes as a non-dialectical reconceptualization of labor, power, and the State, a new theory of communism from below(KL 96). From Badiou as an emphasis on the “communist invariants”— egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political volunteerism, and trust in the people…(KL 97-98).

“The power of the return of communism stands or falls on its capacity to inspire large-scale organized collective struggle toward a goal”, (KL 145-146). The Left has failed itself and it has “failed to defend a vision of a better world, an egalitarian world of common production by and for the collective people. Instead, it accommodated capital, succumbing to the lures of individualism, consumerism, competition, and privilege, and proceeding as if there really were no alternative to states that rule in the interests of markets” (KL 148-150). Living with failure is out, nostalgia for the good old days is out, we no longer have to “live in the wake of left failure, stuck in the repetitions of crises and spectacle. In light of the planetary climate disaster and the ever-intensifying global class war as states redistribute wealth to the rich in the name of austerity, the absence of a common goal is the absence of a future… The premise of communism is that collective determination of collective conditions is possible, if we want it” (KL 150-15).


Among many other things on my plate, I’ll be reading her work over the next few weeks and will review it at the completion. I only wanted to open up its energy and intensify its appeal. One can follow Jodi Dean on her blog: I Cite and her new book can be found here.

1. Dean, Jodi (2012-10-03). The Communist Horizon (Pocket Communism) Norton.

Marx and Critique: “I am not a Marxist.”

It is time to tally the sordid history of Marxist theory and praxis. We must ask the question that Althusser asked in ’78: “What can we retain of Marx today as being truly essential to his thought, even if it has perhaps not always been well understood?” As Marx said of himself: “I am not a Marxist.” Marx was against dogma, of enshrining himself and his work as something other than a critique. We need critique not enshrinement and dogma. What Marx began and advanced was the knowledge of the conditions, forms and effects of class struggle as he understood it within the context of capitalist modes of production of his era. He above all believed he was producing a systematic philosophy that could contribute to, and guide, in a revolutionary movement for the struggle and emancipation of the working masses enslaved within the capitalist machine. Against a grounding of his work as a scientific discipline he affirmed instead that his Capital was a ‘critique’ or ‘criticism’ of the Political Econonmy. As Althusser has emphasized it was the idealism of the Political Economy as ‘objectified’ within the scientistic pretensions of such economists as Smith, Ricardo, Hodgkins, and the Physiocrats that Marx’s work resides as critiqe by seeking to overturn its idealist vision as Political Economy: as ‘objectified’ truth founded within the scientistic void of Reason.

The rationalist traditions that underpinned the enlightenment critiques from Bayle to Kant, that sought a philosophical dignity and a Truth within the radical dictates of Reason must be questioned. Marx himself pursued this tradition into its hiding places, denouncing the ‘irrationality’ at the heart of Reason’s conditions of existence. Yet, one must not look for this in Capital, however, where Marx instigated a differential and functional pursuit of critique; one that sought a “critique of existing reality by existing reality” (17). As Althusser reminds us, for Marx, “critique is the real criticizing itself,” (17) It was the pursuit of a revolutionary materialism against all forms of Idealism and reactionary formations of any type or pursuasion that is the core of Marx’s critique in Capital.

But this critique of the real was not some abstract notion, instead Marx tied his critique to a real material world, he grounded critique within the very dynamics of domination and exploitation of actual working peoples material existence. As Marx himself said of this critique: “In so far as such a critique represents a class, it can only represent the class whose historical task is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes – the proletariat.” (18)

Althusser understood the truth of Marx’s rejection of himself as a Marxist. He understood that the critique, its conception and consequence – as, in fact and deed, a rejection of Marx the Intellectual, the creator of a critique; instead, it “was the real – the worker’s class struggle – which acted as the true author (the agent) of the real’s critique of itself” (18).  As Althusser concludes, Marx wrote for the multitude, the workers who faced in their actual lives the domination and exploitation of capitalism’ dark oligarchic forces:

“In his own fashion and style, with all of his intellectual culture turned upside down by the experience he had acquired and was still acquiring, with his acute sense of the conflicts of his time, the individual named Marx ‘wrote’ on behalf of this ‘author’ [the multitude], infinitely greater than he was – on behalf but, first of all, by its agency and at its urging” (18).

1. Louis Althusser. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Verso; 1 edition (June 17, 2006)

The Marxian Turn: A Renaissance in the Making?

In our darkest moments we begin to reveal the truth to ourselves. Maybe it is always the burdens of life: the pains, the depths of physical intrusion, the sleepless nights that give shape to those self-critical appraisals that awaken us from our dogmatic slumbers. Or, maybe it is disgust.

Louis Althusser in his Letter to Merab Mardashvili  once said that ‘disgust’ is “the word that says right out loud that one can no longer find one’s place in the cesspool, and that there’s no use looking for it, because all the places have been swept away by the crazy course of events” (5).1  During this same period (1978) he began a self critque of Marxism; or, what he termed the ‘crisis of Marixism'(7).

The crisis was the actual history of Marxism itself: its failure, and the “result is that the Marxists who call themselves Communists have proved incapable of accounting for their own history” (9). So this crisis is a political one and what it points to is termed by Althusser of that time as its “theoretical crisis, malaise or disarray” (9). The great question, and it still remains unanswered, as Althusser stated it in 1978 was this: “why has the Communist movement been incapable of writing its own history in convincing fashion: not just Stalin’s history, but also that of the Third International and everything that preceded it, from The Communist Manifesto on?” (9).

This is where it gets interesting, in that Althusser begins to question the whole theoretical ediface of Marxist theory itself “as conceived by its founder and interpreted by his successors”; yet, Althusser surmises, we know that it was the Stalinist turn that blocked any resolution to this dilemna, that prevented and political or theoretical research that might reconcile us to its task. Yet, he also saw that all this long history of failure had come to a head, that it was time for a full disclosure and rectification, a revision of the whole gamut of this failure as a possible overcoming. He knew all too well that this ‘crisis of Marxism’ might lead to a collapse. But what type? Would it lead to a crisis of liberation and transformation; or, to that deadly fatalism of death and decay.

As he knew all to well the reactionaries wanted it to collapse along with the whole theoretical framework of Marxism. In fact there was a long lineage of underming the Marxist framework, from Weber to Croce, from Aron to Popper who have all seen within Marxism an impossible thought or a metaphysical deadend (11). Instead of falling into some theoretical quagmire, falling into the arguments that the enemies of Marixism so willingly will lend us, Althusser tells us that what is needed is to wrest from those very enemies the deadly arguments they have for so long used against us. Maybe we need a little of the poison to immunize ourselves from the darkest fatalism within our own history. Maybe it is high time for a renaissance of Marxism, a rebirth and transformation of its insights and truths into the theoretical praxis of our own day and age.

As Althusser once said plainly there is no “act of faith in these words, but a political act pointing to a real possibility, already on its way to being realized in our own world”(12). It all comes down to us, to our own measure of involvement and engagement with this material history. But it is an effort that will take all of us working together, a social intelligence, a liberation and struggle, a resistance that knows the odds against its rebirth.

We see the voice of Communism in Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Costas Douzinas, Bruno Bosteels, Jodi Dean, David Harvey, Hardt and Negri, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Étienne Balibar, Jacques Ranciere and many more to fill books and literature galore. Yet, it is a small assemblage, a coeterie of intellectuals, something that has yet to find its voice within the people themselves. I watch as the Academy and academics join each other in meetings around the globe exchanging promissary notes about the truth of this struggle; and, yet, in the streets we see the aimless voices of failure as protest after protest resolves nothing, and counter-revolutions regain control of the political machinery of existence. Oh yes there are fringe groups, more radical anarchic elements that would seek to destroy all forms of Oligarchic tyranny around the globe; yet, even these are without recourse, money, voice within the mainstreams of the mediaglobe.

It’s as if we are all waiting for someone else to start the revolution in thought and praxis, as if we could just keep on talking to each other in our little conclaves and meetings and discussions around the globe in our academic safety nets without there really ever being a true change at all. What is to be done? Lenin once said this about it all:

“…socialism ceased to be an integral  revolutionary theory and became a hodgepodge “freely” diluted with the content of every new German textbook that appeared; the slogan  “class struggle” did not impel to broader and more energetic  activity but served as a balm, since “the economic struggle is  inseparably linked with the political struggle”; the idea of a party did not serve as a call for the creation of a militant organisation of revolutionaries, but was used to justify some sort of “revolutionary bureaucracy” and infantile playing at   “democratic” forms”(from What is to be done?)

Shall we continue to play our academic games, or shall there ever be a real resurgence of militant organizations of revolutionaries in our midst to challenge the status quo, to revise the old outworn doctrines of a failed Marxist tradition and renew its inner core and teachings for our own time. Shall we repeat its mistakes? Shall we instead make it our own? Shall we find a voice? Move forward in a struggle of emancipation and liberation from the dark overlords of this present economic system? Is this a renaissance in the making or just another turn toward failed political struggle? And who are we, anyway?

1. Louis Althusser. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Verso; 1 edition (June 17, 2006)

Levi comes out fighting for naturalism and materialism… bravo! A true Lucretian! The likes of Benedict Spinoza, David Hume, Denis Diderot, Julien La Mettrie, and Baron d’Holbach would have embraced such statements as the mark of a fellow laborer. His main point being that the reactionary forces within Continental thought in that past twenty years have led to positions of Idealism which have tried to efface Science and Naturalist explanations of life, the universe, and everything. The return to theological thought has been a deeply troubling and divisive within Continental philosophy. I commend Levi’s turn toward naturalism and materialism, which in some ways has always underpinned his philosophical positions.

Larval Subjects .

The central failure of Continental philosophy has been the rejection of naturalism. With few exceptions, Continental thought, since the 19th century, disavowed the naturalistic revolution that began in the 16th century. Rather than choosing nature– which is to say materiality and efficient causation –as the ground of being, again and again it has made obscurantist gestures based on a recoil to the naturalist revolution: subject or lived experience as the ground of being (phenomenology), spirit as ground of being (Hegel), economics as ground of being (Marx), signifier as ground of being (structuralism and post-structuralism), power as a ground of being (Foucault), history as a ground of being (Gadamer), text as a ground of being, ect. We even get romantic visions of nature evoking the will to power and élan vital.

In Freudian terms, these are so many responses to the narcisstic wound of nature and materiality. It is not the…

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Meillassoux on Alain Badiou’s Being and Event

“I will thus attempt to explain a nodal and seemingly paradoxical thesis of Badiou’s: that there is only a history of the eternal, because only the eternal proceeds from the event. In other words: there is only a history of truths insofar as all truth is strictly eternal and impossible to reduce to any relativism.”
– Quentin Meillassoux, History and Event in Alain Badiou

Quentin Meillassoux in this essay tells us that Alain Badiou in Being and Event (BE) maintains that there are eternal truths, but that they are not unifiable in a metaphysical system, because they are distributed among four truth procedures: science, art, politics, and love—philosophy itself not having the capacity to produce truths. The idea that the production of truth occurs only within science, art, politics and love, but not in philosophy might seem counter to most philosophical discourse as we’ve come to know it, yet this is exactly what Badiou affirms. Furthermore these truths do not situate themselves in some perfect heavenly world of Ideas (Plato), instead they arise out of an undecidable event and from a fideltiy of subjects that attempt to investigate their world in light of it Meillassoux also relates that Logic of World (LW) reveals to us that all processes lacking truth are not historical in the true sense, but have been reduced to a simple temporal modification without the capacity for truth and the subjects who adhere to it.

He tells us that the three principle terms of BE are history, event, eternity but that to understand them we will need to understand the two “constitutive theses” of Badiouian philosphy:

1. Mathematics is ontology

His ontology is based on set-theory and reveals that any mathematical entity is multiple. To be is to be a set: pure multiplicity.As Meillassoux explicates: “Being is not therefore a multiplicity composed of stable and ultimate unities, but a multiplicity that is in turn composed of multiplicities. Indeed, mathematical sets have for their elements not unities but other sets, and so on indefinitely. When a set is not empty, it is composed of multiple sets.” That he admits to a Platonized world, it is not a unity of the One, but of mulitplicity where being, far from being a stable foundation for a phenomena that would be perishable in relation to it, is “pure dissemination, withdrawn from our immediate experience of reality, where we discover on the contrary, in daily life, consistent multiplicities”.

No longer being concerned with what is the philosopher can now concentrate on “being’s exception” – the event: a “multiple belonging to itself” – something, Meillassoux tells us, is forbidden for set theory and referred to by mathematicians as  extraordinary. This strange multiple emerges from within art, science, politics, and love which for Badiou are “truth procedures” – the “four fields of thought where genuine events can be produced, and as a result—eternal truths”. One of the best explications of Badiou’s term event is described in detail by Meillassoux:

“The political example is, as it often is with Badiou, the most immediately accessible. What exactly do we mean, when we say that “May 68” was an event? In this expression, we are not merely designating the set of facts that have punctuated this collective sequence (student demonstrations, the occupation of the Sorbonne, massive strikes, etc.). Such facts, even when joined together in an exhaustive way, do not allow us to say that something like an event took place, rather than a mere conjunction of facts without any particular significance. If “May 68” was an event, it is precisely because it earned its name: that is to say that May 68, produced not only a number of facts, but also produced May 68. In May 68, a site, in addition to its own elements (demonstrations, strikes, etc.), presented itself.”

The key to the event is “precisely that an event is the taking place of a pure rupture that nothing in the situation allows us to classify under a list of facts.” He formulates it as this: “the event is that multiple which, presenting itself, exhibits the inconsistency underlying all situations, and in a flash throws into a panic, their constituted classifications. The novelty of an event is expressed in the fact that it interrupts the normal regime of the description of knowledge, that always rests on the classification of the well known, and imposes another kind of procedure on whomever admits that, right here in this place, something hitherto unnamed really and truly occurred.” Speaking of the French Revolution he tells us that to call “a Revolution the Revolution, is thus to affirm the sense in which one remains faithful to a hypothesis: the hypothesis, the wager, that something fundamental is being produced in the political field that is worth being faithful to, while trying to draw out that which, at the heart of the situation, upholds an emancipatory truth in the process of elaboration, and which opposes all the forces of the old world”.

2. All truth is post-evental

This is how all truth is post-evental: “we understand in what way a truth, being the patient result of a series of local inquiries under a wagered hypothesis of an undecidable event, cannot exist outside the concrete history of subjects. But how is it that such truths can be at once eternal, and yet the bearers of history, the only genuine history? It is because a truth is the bearer, by right, of an infinite number of consequences: a set of inquiries therefore, by right, inexhaustible, and capable of being extended to historical moments in profoundly different contexts. In other words, a truth is the bearer of theoretical movements that form among themselves a historicity both profound and discontinuous”.

He tells us that truths are eternal and historical, eternal because they are historical: they insist in history, tying together temporal segments across the centuries, always unfolding more profoundly the infinity of their potential consequences, through captivated subjects, separated sometimes by distant epochs, but all equally transfixed by the urgent eventality that illuminates their present. They “give birth to history itself through their reactivation, making their inexhaustible potential for novelty intervene in the monotonous train of daily work, ordinary oppressions, and current opinions”.

1. Quentin Meillassoux. HISTORY AND EVENT IN ALAIN BADIOU, translated by Thomas Nail (PARRHESIA NUMBER 12 • 2011 • 1 – 11) – (warning: pdf)

From Marx to Mao: 34 volumes of Valdimir Il’ich Lenin’s works…

After the publication of his “April Theses” (1917) Zizek tells us, “Lenin discerned the Augenblick, the unique chance for a revolution,” and yet many of his fellow comrades of the time thought he’d gone mad. Bolgdanov considered the theses as “the delirium of a madman”, and Nadezhda Krupskaya commented: “I’m afraid it looks as if Lenin has gone crazy.” Yet, as Zizek relates,

This is the Lenin from whom we still have something to learn. The greatness of Lenin was that in this catastrophic situation, he wasn’t afraid to succeed – in contrast to the negative pathos discernible in Rosa Luxemburg and Adorno, for whom the ultimate authentic act is the admission of failure which brings the truth of the situation to light” (6). 1

Further on in his essay Zizek tells us “Lenin” is not the nostalgic name for old dogmatic certainties; that instead, “the Lenin who is to be retrieved is the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which the co-ordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to reinvent Marxism…” (11). Is this not the same for our time, a moment of transition before so called global capitalism and its minions consolidate it’s new found powers even within the old camps of Russian and China? As Zizek says, “Lenin” stands for the compelling freedom to suspend the stale existing post-ideological co-ordinates… we are allowed to think again (11). Instead of a return to Lenin, as if we could, we should repeat his swerve, his fall – to, as Zizek tells it, “retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation” (11).  No, we cannot return to a failed history, to a nostalgia of the “good old revolutionary times”; no stage shows, no re-enactments; yet, we can instigate a repetition of the gesture of “Lenin” within our worldwide context of “reinventing the revolutionary project  in the condtions of imperialism and colonialism” (11) in which we find ourselves both prisoners and tenants of a failure to act, to connect, to relate, to commune.

If your interested in the source works of Lenin the From Marx to Mao site has 34 of his volumes for download in pdf format: click here. There are also five volumes of Mao’s works, along with a cursory mix of volumes from Marx and Engles, etc.

1. Slavoj Zizek. Revolution at the Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917. (Verso 2011).

On Re-reading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux- Part VII

“What fundamental change did Galileo bring about in our understanding of the link that ties mathematics to the world? … Galileo… conceives of movement itself in mathematical terms, and particularly the movement which appears to be the most changeable of all: the terrestrial bodies. In doing so, he uncovered, beyond the variations of position and speed, the mathematical invariant of movement – that is to say, acceleration.”
– Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

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Ptolemy’s Revenge

With Galileo’s discovery of mathematical laws that could describe the motion of heavenly bodies came a unique realization: that the world in which we live is autonomous, a world that is “indifferent to everything in it that corresponds to the concrete, organic connection that we forge with it – it is this glacial world that is revealed to the moderns, a world in which there is no longer any up or down, centre or periphery, nor anything else that might make of it a world designed for humans” (AF: 184-185).

Meillassoux reminds us that what is important is not so much the decentering of the earth from its theological framework within scientific knowledge that makes the Copernican revolution so interesting. Instead it is the disquieting paradox residing in this view, which is the “unveiling of thought’s capacity to think what there is whether thought exists or not” (AF: 186). And, this, and this alone brings us to that “sense of desolation” that Meillassoux speaks of saying: “it consists in the thought of thought’s contingency for the world, and the recognition that thought has become able to think a world that can dispense with thought, a world that is essentially unaffected by whether or not anyone thinks it” (AF: 187).

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Althusser’s Rain

In July 1982, first in a clinic at Soisy-sur-Seine and then in his Paris apartment, Althusser began writing again. In a few months, he had completed a dozen texts on both the political conjuncture and what he would henceforth call ‘the materialism of the encounter’.

It was out of my confrontation with this book, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987, that my own journey down the path of  philosophical materialism took a distinct swerve toward an aleatory materialism; one that Althusser once termed the ‘materialism of rain’: “…the existence of an almost completely unknown materialist tradition in the history of philosopy: the ‘materialism’ (we shall have to have some word to distinguish it as a tendency) of the rain, the swerve, the encounter, the take.

It is this secret history of materialism that flows out of Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, Derrida, and now Deleuze and beyond that offers us a way forward. And, of course, the great enemy to be overcome is as always Idealism in all its multifarious forms. Althusser remarks against a notion of clinamen affirmed within the discourse of Idealism, “if Epicurus’ atoms, raining down parallel to each other in the void, encounter one another, it is in order to bring out, in the guise of the swerve caused by the clinamen, the existence of human freedom even in the world of necessity” (168). It’s against this ‘idealism of freedom’ that his work portends a correction.

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On Re-reading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux – Part VI

“When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument.”
– David Hume, 1737

“…the fact of the stability of the laws of nature seems sufficient to refute the very idea of their possible contingency… But it is precisely this claim about the real contingency of physical laws that we propose to defend in all seriousness.”
– Quentin Meillassoux

*    *    *

Quentin Meillassoux proposes Hume’s problem as follows: is it possible to demonstrate that the same effects will always follow from the same causes ceteris paribus, i.e. all other things being equal? In other words, can one establish that in identical circumstances, future successions of phenomena will always be identical to previous successions? The question raised by Hume concerns our capacity to demonstrate the necessity of the causal connection. (AF: 137) He goes on to up the ante by rooting out the difference between Hume’s deterministic physics and our own conception based as it is on quantum mechanics and the Special Relativity theory of an indeterministic science of probabilities saying that we should not conflate Hume’s problem with his deterministic framework, but define it as a more “general problem concerning all laws of nature, irrespective of their eventual specificity” (AF: 140). Which leads to the problem of whether we can have “any guarantee that physics as such … will continue to be possible in the future” (AF: 140). Instead he reformulates Hume’s question saying: “can we demonstrate that the experimental science which is possible today will still still be possible tomorrow?” (AF: 140).

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New Materialism Wiki Site

Just came across a New Materialism Wiki Site:

Organized by Katie Stephenson.

Looks like it is a good start. Some of the basic categories:

 Activist Materialism,  Aleatory Materialism,  Base Materialism,  Continental Materialism,  Corporeal Materialism,  Cultural Materialism,  Dark Materialism,  Democratic Materialism,  Digital Materialism,  Discursive Materialism,  Eliminative Materialism,  Incorporeal Materialism,  Material Feminisms,  Materialist Thinking,  Naturalist Materialism,  New Materialism  Neo Materialism,  Numerical Materialism,  Rhetorical Materialism,  Trans-Corporeal Materialism,  Transcendental Materialism,  Vital Materialism

On Re-reading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux: – Part V

“…we know by the principle of unreason why non-contradiction is an absolute ontological truth: because it is necessary that what is be determined in such a way as to be capable of becoming, and of being subsequently determined in some other way. …Accordingly, it becomes apparent that the ontological meaning of the principle of noncontradiction, far from designating any sort of fixed essence, is that of the necessity of contingency, or in other words, of the omnipotence of chaos.”
            – Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

Our knowledge of the principle of unreason has its lineages too. This counter-reason, this philosophical undertow to the power of metaphysical rationality, spawned by the great Leibniz, and his two principles: that of non-contradiction and sufficient reason; and, the spark that brought Hegel to his absolutization of the the principle of sufficient reason requiring the devaluation of the principle of non-contradiction; then by way Wittgenstein and Heidegger a strong correlationism that consisted in adamantly deabsolutizing both principles, we finally come to Meillassoux for whom the principle of unreason “teaches us that it is because the principle of reason is absolutely false that the principle of non-contradiction is absolutely true” (AF: 116).

Next he tackles the Leibnizian question of ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ He tells us that we must discover a way to overcome the correlationist argument of the ‘for-us’ self-world axis and prove that the world would exist even if all life were dissolved in nothing this moment. The world does not need us to exist: even with the annihilation of all life the world in-itself would “subsist despite the abolition of every relation-to-the-world” (AF: 117).  But the proof must be non-metaphysical, there will be no deus-ex-machina called out of the closet of the metaphysicans trickery, no Prime Mover or Supreme Being “which would provide the reason for the fact that there is anything at all” (AF: 117). It must be both non-theological and non-fidiest: for it is not the atheist, but the believer who “insists that Leibniz’s question has no rational meaning, and thereby who falls back on the fideist miracology that “marvels at the fact that there is something rather than nothing because he believes that there is no reason for it, and that being is a pure gift, which might never have occurred” (AF: 117). For Meillassoux it must be a deflationary solution: one that says that the only “proper solution to the problem should be the sobering effect induced in the reader when she understands the solution, and says to herself, ‘so that’s what it was…” (AF: 118).

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On Re-reading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux – Part IV (Interlude)

“If we look through the aperture which we have opened up onto the absolute, what we see there is a rather menacing power – something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm.”
– Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

“One other move of Darkness in the grand struggle must be mentioned: the ordaining of heimarmene, the Archon’s diabolic invention. … The Archons collectively rule over the world, and each individually in his sphere is a warder of the cosmic prison. Their tyrannical world rule is called heimarmene, universal Fate, a concept taken over from astrology but now tinged with the gnostic anti-cosmic spirit.”
– Han Jonas

(Interlude: Meillassoux’s ‘power akin to Time’)

Quentin Meillassoux seems to be entering a dangerous realm of the weird with his concept of hyper-Chaos and the principle of unreason. The disturbance of this ‘power’ he sees as he peers, gazes, or looks through the ‘aperture’ (from L. apertura “an opening,” from apertus) he has opened onto the absolute (the principle of unreason, hyper-Chaos) reminds him of “an omnipotence equal to that of the Cartesian God, and capable of anything, even the inconceivable; but an omnipotence that has become autonomous, without norms, blind, devoid of the other divine perfections, a power with neither goodness nor wisdom, ill-disposed to reassure thought about the veracity of its distinct ideas” (AF: 105-106). Then inexplicably he compares this to a ‘power’ akin to Time, “but a Time that is inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying, without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity, even a god, even God. This is not a Heraclitean time, since it is not the eternal law of becoming, but rather the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law. It is a Time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death” (AF: 106).

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Plato’s Socrates: The Art of Eros; or, the Final Country of Wisdom

Quæ quoniam rerum naturam sola gubernas
Nec sine te quicquam dias in luminis oras
Exoritur neque fit lætum neque amabile quicquam,
Te sociam studeo scribendis versibus esse
Quos ego de rerum natura pangere conor
Memmiadæ nostro, quem tu, dea, tempore in omni
Omnibus ornatum voluisti excellere rebus.
Quo magis æternum da dictis, diva, leporem.
Effice ut interea fera moenera militiai
Per maria ac terras omnis sopita quiescent.

Since you alone rule over the nature of things, since without you nothing emerges into the immense radiance of the world, indeed nothing joyous nor beautiful is born, I honor you in crafting these verses, in which I hope to demonstrate the great design, for my good Memmius, whom you, goddess, have enabled to all times to excel, and have endowed with gifts. Goddess, I beseech you to grant my words an ever-lasting appeal.  Moreover, let this come to pass: on all the seas and lands of our earth, may the savage works of war be stilled, and let there be peace. (Invocation to Venus)

Titus Lucretius Caro, De rerum natura, invoc, lib i, 21-30 in the Loeb Library ed. of the works of Lucretius, p. 4 (ca. 50 BCE)(S.H. transl.)

Plato’s Socrates believed that humanity was a mistake, a disease that needed a cure, and that he, Socrates, had come among us as a clever physician who had a cure for this dreadful disease. Socrates believed that he was the soul’s physician.  He also believed that there was a medication for the predicament of being human, or should we say it: he believed that there was a cure of that dreadful disease we name humanity. Self-knowledge was the key. The love of wisdom was the path, and the goal was a philosophical life, an examined life worth living. Eros and Endeia, Love and Lack are at the heart of this philosophy.

The Canadian poet and scholar Anne Carson in her excellent book Eros The Bittersweet muses on the etymology of the word eros as denoting in Greek: ‘want’, ‘lack’, ‘the desire for that which is missing’. 1 The lover wants what he does not have. It is impossible for the lover to have what he wants, if in gaining it he loses that infinite sense of wanting that is the lover’s quest for the impossible object of his wanting. This sense of want, lack, and desire for what is missing is at the heart of both poetry and philosophy. Plato through some deep need returned to it over and over in his dialogues. In four of his dialogues he pondered what it means to say that desire/eros can only be for what is lacking, not at hand, present, not in one’s possession nor in one’s being: eros entails endeia (desire entails lack). As Diotima put it in the Symposium, Eros is a bastard got by Wealth on Poverty and ever at home in a life of want (203 b-e).

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Schellingian Thoughts; or Nightspore’s travails

“Metaphysical revelations begin only when one’s superficial equilibrium starts to totter…”
– E.M. Cioran

“…the consolation of horror in art is that it actually intensifies our panic, loudens it on the sounding-board of our horror-hollowed hearts, turns terror up full blast, all the while reaching for that perfect and deafening amplitude at which we may dance to the bizarre music of our own misery.”
– Thomas Ligotti

“When early youth had passed, he left
His cold fireside and alienated home
To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands.”
                    – Alastor, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Cosmic Wonder
Hegel once told us that the “aim of knowledge is to divest the objective world of its strangeness and to make us more at home in it.” But what if the opposite were true that the real aim of knowledge is to invest the objective world with abject strangeness and to alter our mode within it as pure homelessness?

Homeless voids roam the empty abyss of this universe licking up light from the swirls of galactic clusters surging round the infinite drift of dust and stars; black holes like the gods of some delusionary dream shuffle among the broken quasars seeking out the dark filaments of superfluous suns, each cannibalizing the light of a thousand civilizations on the edge of cosmic nothingness.

We all live like haunted specters on a dead planet full of bones and ashes, each wandering in the erotic tribulation of a nervous thought that can never find its way back home; guided by the Lamentation of a melancholic despair we drift lethargically toward the interminable finitude that is.

Renouncing all hope of ever regaining that frozen paradise of fire and ice from which we fell into this funerial world we wander among its dark chemistry seeking out a vulcan science to explain the hidden order of its black life and the broken symmetry of its amor fati.

Exiled from our true home we wander forever between desolate voids like misguided children haunting a deranged landscape of jungle and mountain and snowbound chaos: seeking in each other’s gaze the nacreous light of that original corruption which first gave us this blasted world; and, like fallen angels who have lost their wings, we have fallen into each other’s dream hoping to awaken that darkening spark that once lit the cosmic firestorm of all being.

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Peter Sloterdijk as Immunologist; or Bubble philosopher?

“Today I practice a language for the pre-objecive, the non-objective and the medial.”
Peter Sloterdijk, Neither Sun Nor Death

If Kant’s claim to glory has come to be known as the Copernican Revolution, a searing cut in the fabric of reality that produced the gap between mind and its object, in which mind as master artificer or gnositc archon  organizes knowledge of the world by constructing its knowledge rather than reflecting its difficult traces in the slime pit of reality, then Peter Sloterdijk may be the man who enters the pit by way of bubbles, spheres, and foam, a philosophical physician in search of strange spores.

As he states it: “I read classical metaphysics as a library of effective propositions about the globality of the world, where world is construed as an immune system (Sloterdijk, Neither Sun Nor Death. 181)”. He returns to First Philosophy, or Ontology as the “first immunology”, yet this is not a return to the classical heritage of that great philosophical project, neither a scientist nor a poet he situates himself in the intermediate kingdom between the two: spherelogical thinking lives in the spaces where questions are answered by forms of poetic, mythical or religious discourse (157)”.

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Stephen Hawking: Science vs. Philosophy?

“The strolls of a sceptic through the debris of culture—rubble and dust as far as the eye can see. The wanderer has found everything already in ruins, furrowed down and across by the plough of unremitting human thought. The wanderer puts forth his walking stick with caution; then he comes to a halt, leaning on it, and smiles.”

– Bruno Schulz, The Wanderings of a Sceptic

Stephen Hawking in his new book, The Grand Design, throws down a challenge to all those philosophers who pretend to deal with the great questions:

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why do we exist?
Why this particular set of laws and not some other? 

He goes on the say that at one time these questions were for philosophy, but now, he tells us – “philosophy is dead”. [1] He attacks philosophy saying that it “has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge” (GD: Loc 42). The arrogance with which he states this position is almost that of and old time dogmatist in its scathing belittlement of philosophy and philosophers.

Just for the fun of it let’s take him at his word and see just what he’s up to with his game of science taking the full helm of traditional metaphysical thought from philosophy, and discover what answers he provides to the questions above.

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On rereading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux: Part III

“What we seek then is a non-metaphysical absolute, capable of slipping through the meshes…”
– Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

Etymology of mesh:

1530s, “open space in a net,” perhaps from some dial. survival of O.E. max “net,” or from its cognates, M.Du. maessce, Du. maas, from P.Gmc. *mask- (cf. O.N. möskvi, Dan. maske, Swed. maska, O.H.G. masca, Ger. masche “mesh”), from PIE base *mezg- “to knit, plait, twist” (cf. Lith. mezgu “to knit,” mazgas “knot”). The verb is first recorded 1530s, in the figurative sense of “to entangle.”

The correlational cogito resigned as it is to the facticity or finitude of human experience, devoid of all reference to the absolute is ensnared in the mesh of a knitted, plaited, twisted non-event. Entangled and corrupted by its own delirious self-sufficiency, bound to illusory forms of the unreal, forged in the interstitial margins of a minimalistic purity,  and guided by a religiosity that dismisses the real as a terror and an impossibility; cut off as it is from the outside, the great outdoors, which is for it a feckless dream, a wandering thought amid shadowy fogs of a distempered mind, for whom the fabled dreamland of the absolute has become the graveyard for philosophical dogmatists: atheist and Christian and subjective idealist. Now this correlational cogito seeks only the solace of the linguistic turn that offers within its interminable textuality a salvation in traces, a voidic alchemy of thought and being, self and world correlated in the twisted knot of a communitarian consensus.

But to instigate a counter-offensive against this encircled community of the correlational cogito we must go by the path that absolutizes “the very principle that allows correlationism to disqualify absolutizing thought” (AF: 86). Doing this we follow those first explorers who “acknowledged correlationism’s discovery of a fundamental constraint… that we only have access to the for-us, not the in-itself – but instead of concluding from this that the in-itself is unknowable, they concluded that the correlation is the only veritable in-itself. In so doing, they grasped the ontological truth hidden beneath the sceptical argumentation – they converted radical ignorance into knowledge of a being finally unveiled in its true absoluteness’ (AF: 86-87). But these mighty explorers foundered upon the shoals of “the essential facticity of the correlation” (AF: 87). Instead of denying this facticity we new voyagers in quest of the absolute must “discover an ontological truth hidden beneath the facticity; if we can succeed in grasping why the very source which lends its power to the strategy of de-absolutization through fact also furnishes the means of access to an absolute being; then we will have gained access to a truth that is invulnerable to correlationist scepticism” (AF: 87). Striding across the bleached bones of our compatriots who have fallen by the wayside, each of us must pick up the clues they’ve left behind continuing down that dark path we “must grasp in facticity not the inaccessibility of the absolute but the unveiling of the in-itself and the eternal property of what is…” (AF: 87). For it is “not the correlation but the facticity of the correlation that constitutes the absolute” (AF: 87).

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Epistemic Naturalism: Quine, Goldman, Kuhn, and Brassier

“Philosophy of science is philosophy enough.”
– W.V. Quine

Broadly speaking the Analytical tradition in philosophy can be characterized by an emphasis on clarity and formal logic and analysis of language, and a profound dependence and respect for the natural sciences. Some of the main precursors of this movement in philosophy are Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittegenstein, G.E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and the logical positivists who derive from them.

W.V. Quine was one of the first to propound an influential naturalized epistemologyHe ultimately wanted to replace traditional epistemology with the natural sciences (i.e., psychology ). He felt that the psychological study of how people produce theoretical “output” from sensory “input,” and the other is the logical reconstruction of our theoretical vocabulary in sensory terms. In Quine’s view, the second approach cannot succeed, and so we are left with psychology. The basis of this view is a theory of knowledge that limits its scope and methods to those of the natural sciences and their conclusions. Within this domain there is three main forms of naturalized epistemic theories: replacement, cooperative, and substantive naturalisms. Replacement would have us abandon traditional forms of epistemology in favor of naturalist science and its methods. Cooperative epistemic forms tells us that traditional epistemology would benefit from the cognitive sciences. Substantive epistemic centers on the factual assertions of ‘facts of knowledge’ and ‘natural facts’.

Alvine Goldman on the other hand provided what he termed causal reliabilism. This is a theory of knowledge that states that a justified true belief counts as knowledge only if it is caused in a suitably reliable way. What Goldman tells us is that it is necessary also to construct a theory of what epistemic justification really is, as opposed to how common sense takes it to be. That theory will be grounded in our psychological understanding of how beliefs are formed, and it will include assessments of those processes in terms of reliability.

Thomas Kuhn applied a naturalistic approach to the social sciences using epistemological questions. Kuhn inspired naturalism is not incompatible with the naturalism that draws on psychology and the natural sciences. Such naturalistic epistemologists as Alvin Goldman and Philip Kitcher have fruitfully applied insights from both the natural and the social sciences in the attempt to understand knowledge as a simultaneously cognitive and social phenomenon.

Naturalistic epistemologists seek an understanding of knowledge that is scientifically informed and integrated with the rest of our understanding of the world. Their methods and commitments differ, because they have varying views about the precise relationship between science and epistemology and even about which sciences are most important to understanding knowledge.

Epistemic naturalists usually try two sorts of approaches: 1) either they try to show the issue is empirical and then to apply scientific data, results, methods, and theories to it directly; or, 2),  they try to undermine a problem’s motivation by showing it arises only on certain false, non-naturalistic assumptions.

Yet, despite its efforts, naturalistic epistemology does face serious challenges from the problems of circularity and normativity. They are seeking nothing more nor less than the unification of science and philosophy. Others such as Ray Brassier seek instead a revisionary naturalism within this same tradition.

Brassier in his work Nihil Unbound pushed the limits of nihilism to its final extent. He linked epistemological naturalism in Anglo-American philosophy (Sellears) with anti-phenomenological realism in French philosophy. Against certain post-analytical streams of thought that have tried to bring together Heidegger and Wittgenstein against scientism and scepticism, he offers a version of eliminative materialism loosely coupled with speculative forms of philosophy.

It is in this non-dialectical turn in materialism that I’ve found congenial with my own thought. As Brassier tells us “The junction of metaphysics and epistemology is marked by the intersection of two threads: the epistemological thread that divides sapience from sentience and the metaphysical thread that distinguishes the reality of the concept from the reality of the object.  …For just as epistemology without metaphysics is empty, metaphysics without epistemology is blind. (T 279)” 1

It is this fine line or balancing act between the two disciplines that marks a distinction that makes the distinction needed to obviate many of the difficulties we face within both Analytical and Continental traditions. Against grand theories and final narratives that try to fit science into a ‘Theory of Everything’ Brassier wants to do something different: “Science does not need to deny the significance of our evident psychological need for narrative; it just demotes it from its previously foundational metaphysical status to that of an epistemically derivative ‘useful fiction’.”(interview)

As he recently related, he is a “nihilist precisely because I still believe in truth, unlike those whose triumph over nihilism is won at the cost of sacrificing truth. I think that it is possible to understand the meaninglessness of existence, and that this capacity to understand meaning as a regional or bounded phenomenon marks a fundamental progress in cognition.” (Ibid.) The notion of a regional or bounded conception of phenomenon is key to this form of epistemic naturalism that some have called a revisionary naturalism. His thought is aligned with Wilfred Sellars work in that as he said in correspondence with  on Being’s Poem:  “Sellars is concerned with developing a metaphysical vision in which not only  are secondary qualities integrated and their relationship to primary qualities  explained, but the articulation between the sensation of the former and the conception of the latter is also accounted for.” It is just here that epistemology and metaphyisics touch base with each other without one or the other having some central priority over the other.

1. Elliott, Jane; Attridge, Derek (2012-03-12). Theory After ‘Theory’ (p. 279). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

Stephen Jay Gould – The Political Side of Science

“This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the evils arising from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which are becoming more and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are not incidents of progress, but tendencies which must bring progress to a halt; that they will not cure themselves, but, on the contrary, must, unless their cause is removed, grow greater and greater, until they sweep us back into barbarism by the road every previous civilization has trod.”

– Henry George, Progress and Poverty

 Stephen Jay Gould used to love touting that there was no progress in evolution. As he once said: “The fact of evolutionary change through time doesn’t represent progress as we know it. Progress isn’t inevitable. Much of evolution is downward in terms of morphological complexity, rather than upward. We’re not marching toward some greater thing.”

Even though he was an anti-progressivist, Gould, was an avid advicate of leftist politics, founding Science for the People, which is a “magazine for Working Scientists active in the Anti Capitalist Movement”. Gould was born and raised in the Queensborough of New York City, New York. His father Leonard was a court stenographer, and his mother Eleanor was an artist. Raised in a secular Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice organized religion and preferred to be called an agnostic. Politically, though he “had been brought up by a Marxist father,” he has stated that his father’s politics were “very different” from his own. According to Gould, the most influential political book he read was C. Wright Mills’The Power Elite, as well as the political writings of Noam Chomsky. Gould continued to be exposed to progressive viewpoints on the politicized campus of Antioch College in the early 1960s. In the 1970s Gould joined a left-wing academic organization called “Science for the People.” Throughout his career and writings he spoke out against cultural oppression in all its forms, especially what he saw as pseudoscience in the service of racism and sexism.

In an essay Towards a Science for the People, Bill Zimmerman, Len Radinsky, Mel Rothenberg and Bart Meyers argue for a Socialist perspective for a new politicization of science saying that “science is inevitably political, and in the context of contemporary American corporate capitalism, that it contributes greatly to the exploitation and oppression of most of the people both in this country and abroad”. They understand that the difficulties for a scientist resides in the economic funding of the sciences: “Some scientists have recognized this situation and are now participating in nationally coordinated attempts to solve pressing social problems within the existing political-economic system. However, because their work is usually funded and ultimately controlled by the same forces that control basic research, it is questionable what they can accomplish. For example, sociologists hoping to alleviate some of the oppression of ghetto life have worked with urban renewal programs only to find the ultimate priorities of such programs are controlled by the city political machines and local real estate and business interests rather than by the needs of the people directly affected by such programs.”

These radical scientists see little hope in changing the system through effective reform: “Traditional attempts to reform scientific activity, to disentangle it from its more malevolent and vicious applications, have failed. Actions designed to preserve the moral integrity of individuals without addressing themselves to the political and economic system which is at the root of the problem have been ineffective. The ruling class can always replace a Leo Szilard with an Edward Teller. What is needed now is not liberal reform or withdrawal, but a radical attack, a strategy of opposition. Scientific workers must develop ways to put their skills at the service of the people and against the oppressors.”

Gould was a tireless worker against the troubling view of creationism: see McLean vs. Arkansas. Although, as one critic, Rober Wright, maintains that Gould plays unwittingly into the hands of the Creationists beacuse of his “thinking on the fundamental issue of “directionality,” or “progressivism”—that is, how inclined evolution is (if at all) to build more complex and intelligent animals over time”. In his article The Accidental Creationist, Wright tells us “Gould is not helping the evolutionists against the creationists, and the sooner the evolutionists realize that the better. For, as Maynard Smith has noted, Gould “is giving nonbiologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory.” Gould was a long time promoter of “punctuated-equilibria” as the main engine of evolution rather than the orthodox Darwinists stance on “natural selection”. Most Darwinits see Gould as a popularizer who seems to have a lot of authority in the eyes of the reading public, but is considered out of touch with the mainstream views within his own scientific community. As Daniel C. Dennett, a defender of the orthodox Darwinian stance states it:

“What Darwin discovered, I claim, is that evolution is ultimately an algorithmic process — a blind but amazingly effective sorting process that gradually produces all the wonders of nature. This view is reductionist only in the sense that it says there are no miracles. No skyhooks. All the lifting done by evolution over the eons has been done by nonmiraculous, local lifting devices — cranes. Steve (Gould) still hankers after skyhooks. He’s always on the lookout for a skyhook — a phenomenon that’s inexplicable from the standpoint of what he calls ultra-Darwinism or hyper-Darwinism. Over the years, the two themes he has most often mentioned are “gradualism” and “pervasive adaptation.” He sees these as tied to the idea of progress — the idea that evolution is a process that inexorably makes the world of nature globally and locally better, by some uniform measure.” 

But Gould argued against those like Daniel Dennett who suggest that evolutionary development is driven by a purpose – that there is a guiding hand, as it were, in evolutionary development – an inevitable progress up a ‘ladder’ from lower to higher life forms and, finally, to homo sapiens. Natural selection itself does not imply a progression from lower to higher life forms, argues Gould: “Life is a ramifying bush with millions of branches, not a ladder. Darwinism is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments, not a tale of inevitable progress. ‘After long reflection’, Darwin wrote, ‘I cannot avoid the conviction that no innate tendency to progressive development exists’.” (An Urchin in the Storm, p211)

One of Gould’s recurrent themes was life’s ‘contingency’. He does not deny that natural selection leads to a greater complexity of life forms. But the developing complexity of life, Gould maintains, is only a by-product ‘incidental’ to evolution and not necessary or inevitable. And complex creatures represent only a tiny proportion of the whole.

Whether we agree with Gould’s science or not we can all agree that he tried to fight the good fight, give people hope, to create a body of work that would defend us against ourselves. As one pundit, David Prindle, Ph.D., argues, “Stephen Jay Gould may teach us that the best political theory is not political theory per se but, rather, science expanded to its philosophical potential. A grand theory of life may be a better starting point for addressing legitimacy, justice, and equality than is any set of explicitly political assumptions.” (Stephen J. Gould as political theorist)


Levi has another fine post, and I left some comments there, but I will add to this and repeat what I said there….

Levi said: “I think maybe because I’m keenly aware of political and ethical psychology.  Here the issue is not so much about the correctness of ethical and political positions, but rather in how our ethical and political zeal affectively transforms how we experience ourselves and the world.”

I had to reread this a few times and let it register completely. The heart of your notions center on zeal and affectivity: the psychology of the political as you state. I kept returning to what Hardt and Negri in The Affective Turn were talking about in how the realm of causality enters us through afftctitivity, how “our power to affect the world around us and our power to be affected by it, along with the relationship between these two powers.”

Thinking back on the early abuses of such power to affect and be affected as we understand it through propaganda systems from reading of such strange notions as Edward Bernays Propaganda influenced our own politicians to use the media and other systems to enter WWWI, which in turn influenced Joseph Goebbels and the theatrics of fascism we see how both zeal and affectivity – what we can term the power of rhetoric and sophism – to sway peoples emotions and thereby their very passions, rather than to touch their minds with truth. I’ve always felt leary of passion and affectivity within the political.

Bernays influenced Wilson with such notions of affectivity stating that the rhetoric of any political program  should align affectivity and zeal, and that the emotional content must: (a) coincide in every way with the broad basic plans of the campaign and all its minor details; (b) be adapted to the many groups of the public at which it is to be aimed; and (c) conform to the media of the distribution of ideas.

– from Edward Bernays. Propaganda

Listen to Goebbels: “How could we have overcome them had we not waged an educational campaign for years that persuaded people of their weaknesses, harms and disadvantages? Their final elimination was only the result of what the people had already realized. Our propaganda weakened these parties. Based on that, they could be eliminated by a legal act.”

Goebbels, Joseph (2009-05-31). Goebbels on the Power of Propaganda

As Chomsky tells us, “It is also necessary to whip up the population in support of foreign adventures. Usually the population is pacifist, just like they were during the First World War. The public sees no reason to get involved in foreign adventures, killing, and torture. So you have to whip them up. And to whip them up you have to frighten them. Bernays himself had an important achievement in this respect. He was the person who ran the public relations campaign for the United Fruit Company in 1954, when the United States moved in to overthrow the capitalist-democratic government of Guatemala and installed a murderous death-squad society, which remains that way to the present day with constant infusions of U.S. aid to prevent in more than empty form democratic deviations.

– Noam Chomsky. Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

Affectivity and zeal are our enemies not our friends. The abuse of passion and emotions have led to human engagements that have always left us full of fear and madness and death. I would rather teach people how to counter such affectivity rather than persuade them to use those tools to promote what Bernays and Goebbels entailed.

Levi asks in the end: “My real question, however, is that of how we might avoid this loathsome ethical and political psychology that causes so much destruction, conflict, and horror in the world.  If we are to envision a politics, what kind of politics might we imagine based on building rather than critique, and what sort of politics might we imagine based on joy and love rather than resentment, faux superiority, and teeth gnashing?  We desperately need critique, but above all we need composition or building.”

More than anything we need to teach people how to think for themselves; give them the tools to know the difference that makes a difference. If we can teach them how not to be influenced by such things as propaganda, how to understand when it is being used, and how to effectively counter it with truth rather than affects then we might at least have a chance. And, I agree that we do need a positive program, we need to teach people ways of constructing models of change through composition or building.

It seems that we waver among ourselves within the philosophical and political community, we have no focus, no models of any type, no rallying point: we battle among ourselves over nuances and fine points of method and application rather than building up a set of models and putting them to work. If we do this then joy and love rather than the politics of resentment will follow. We need more modeling and less bickering….

To counter arguments like Goebbels: “How could we have overcome them had we not waged an educational campaign for years that persuaded people of their weaknesses, harms and disadvantages?”

What we need is to educate people not through persuasion about their weaknesses, harms, and disadvantages; what we need is to help them overcome these weaknesses, harms, and disadvantages by providing them the necessary tools to rise above such obstacles. We need to teach them that they are not alone, cut off, abandoned; but that they belong to a wider network and communal vision of empowerment for each other, a caring network based on partnership and togetherness rather than on solitude and freedom. For too long this isolated ideology of fate and freedom that has provided the core of most democracies must be overcome through the empowerment of the multitude working together in unison to build and compose a future that is viable for both us and all the creatures of our planetary habitat.

We do not need new “models of freedom”, instead we need new “models of togetherness and sociality”.

If privacy and private property are the foundations of republics, then what would a new model of togetherness and social property entail? Can we return to the old style communisms? The twentieth century shows us that at least the Marxian turn in this form or model led to forms of tyranny and enslavement. If we turn to such writers and Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Hardt and Negri, Agamben: do they offer anything viable toward the rehabilitation of this notion of Communism for our time? Or could we shape a new model out of the creative destruction of these older systems of failure? How to begin? We need open dialogue and communal efforts and engagements. The time of the isolated individual is over, now comes the time of collaboration and change…

It is only through the efforts of a mutltitude that such models of change can come about. We see the fragements of a vision scattered across the filaments of the internet, small pockets of resistance here and there; and, yet, we do not see a rallying point, a site or place of interaction where the multitudes themselves can have a say. Oh yes, there are many individual voices, but there is no gathering place, an agora or public gathering site where both Intellectuals and the Multitude can come together and commune and build together this model of the future. We need a modern Agora, a public site that brings together the great and the small, that offers empowerment to all who seek to understand what must be done…. to make a difference that is a difference.

Only through relationship and engagement can we begin the process of healing necessary to overcome the politics of failure that has for too long kept us back from inventing new models of change and participation, both egalitarian and democratic. The key elements in such a model would entail a more democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and governance systems; equal partnership beween women and men; and realignment of laws to eliminate the abuse and violence at the heart of most State based models of governance.

Economics and gender would need to be at the forefront of such engagements. Also as Levi R. Bryant in his Questions for Flat Ethics reminds us: “While almost no one, in the humanities, would claim that humans are somehow more real than other entities, nor that humans are somehow sovereigns of all other entities, there seems to nonetheless be a treatment of humans as sovereigns at the level of our theoretical practice.” (Warning: pdf download) We must overcome the anthropocentrism that binds us to ideologies of control and domination, and replace them with non-ideological systems of caring and partnership. With these two factors of a true engagement based on partnership and equality for both women and non-humans we see the beginnings of a model.

As Levi explains it a “flat ethics would be one that contests this human privilege, extending the scope of ethics beyond the human and how we should use other things for ourselves, developing operations that would have ethical regard for nonhumans…” And, I would extend it by saying that we would contest male privelege as well; for at the center of all present systems of governance, it is male privelege and power that need to be contested, along with our priveleging of the “human” over “non-human”. Male privlege and exceptionalism have over centuries brought about these notions of human soverignty as centered in humanistic ideology and philosophy. To overcome such systems we need to renegotiate the contractual agreements at the heart of our democratic and/or other systems and redefine a model that is inclusive of both women and non-humans.

Even our notions of subjectivity must be challenged. As Rosi Braidotti reminds us there is little time or space left of nostalgia. That the Deleuzian nomads, the multitudes of feminist-operated becoming-woman of women, Irigaray’s woman as not-one, Haraway’s cyborgs, and Cixous’s new Medusa have become in the eyes of conservative ideology and thought monstrous, hybrid, scary diviants. She goes on to ask: “What if what was at fault here, however, were the very social imaginary that can only register changes of this magnitude on the panic-stricken moralistic register of deviancy? What if these unprogrammed others were forms of subjectivity that have simply shrugged off the shadow of binary logic and negativity and simply moved on?” (RB 262-263)1

Yet, as Nicklas Luhmann once remarked we must now assume a universality of selection criteria and “constraints, the universality of differentiation and boundary drawing. Reason that refuses to acknowledge this is not far from totalitarian, if not terroist, logic.(Theory of Society: Vol 1)” To refuse such selective criteria and constraints is to spin ourselves utopias beyond both human and non-human flights of fancy. Instead we need an ethics of engagement that clarifies and centers us in a material world of becoming and process, one that offers hope for change and a true egalitarian society free of oppressive systems of law and governance.

Instead of fear, abuse, and violence we need to empower mutual respect and trust within our social polities. Instead of a hollywood reality that justifies and idealizes domination and violence, which are presented as inevitable, moral, and desirable, we need movies and stories that recognize and give high value to empathic, mutually beneficial, and caring relations, which are considered moral and desirable. We need to provide a synergistic belonging and livingness toward each other and those non-humans that extends to the planet, creating the social and environmental consciousness needed for long-range planning, sustainability, and success.

The only question is: Where to start? How to begin? How to invest in an open site, a modern version of the ancient Greek Agora, a meeting place where the multitude and intellectuals at large can network, commune, socialize, collaborate towared the creation of a more egalitarian social vision. These are the kinds of questions that interest me. That we need change is obvious, but how to get there is the problem. The first steps toward change is to speak and communicate our ideas in a open and equitable dialogue that is no longer centered on one philosophy, one politics, one ethics; instead, we need a multitude of voices to provide us a pluralistic vision of how the material cultures on this planet can actually exist and provde each other space and reason enough to build a future worth living.

1. Rosi Braidotti. metalnorphoses: towards a materialist theory of becoming. (Polity Press 2002)

Larval Subjects .

These days I find myself feeling deeply weary where discussions about ethics and politics are concerned. I reflect on this, I wonder why. Why is it that I grow so tired, so jaded, whenever discussions of politics and ethics come up. I’m divided between two tendencies, two orientations. On the one hand, there is my desire for justice, equity, and fairness. On the other hand, there is my Lucretian and Spinozist desire for peace of mind and beautitude. Ethico-politico desire, the first orientation, is a desire to transform the world, to render it just, and to denounce injustice; injustice that we see all about it. The desire for beautitude and peace of mind is something quite different. It is a desire to simply delight in the machines of the world, the beings of the world, taking them for what they are. The person who has what Spinoza called an “intellectual…

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Books of Interest

Just discovered three books of interest.

1. Theory After ‘Theory’. Editors Elliott, Jane; Attridge, Derek. Taylor & Francis. Routledge (2011)

This volume has essays by Brian Massumi, Ray Brassier, Peter Hallward, Eugene Thacker, Bernard Stiegler and others. The editors speking of the late demise of theory tell us that “for some, ‘Theory’ was already passing with the end of the 1970s, whereas for others, the 1980s and early 1990s represent the height of ‘Theory’, in which feminist, postcolonial, queer and critical race theorists made their most significant contributions. Since the mid-1990s, the story goes, theory has continued to diversify, drawing on the work of a range of new figures and examining a host of new archives and arenas, but its newer incarnations offer at most a kind of afterlife of the once vital object that was ‘Theory’, a diluted form lacking in both intellectual substance and institutional prominence. As a result, conversations regarding the status of theory have become akin to an ongoing wake, in which participants debate the merits of the deceased and consider the possibilities for a resurrection desired by some and feared by others.”

Brian Massumi offers a political ensemble: “The present tense where memory and perception come disjunctively together is the time of the event that is like a lost between of the towers and their ruins, an interval in which life was suspended for an instantaneous duration that was more like a stilled eternity than a passing present, comprehending reflection gone AWOL.”

Ray Brassier tells us that “the question ‘What is real?’ stands at the crossroads of metaphysics and epistemology. More exactly, it marks the juncture of metaphysics and epistemology with the seal of conceptual representation.”

Peter Hallward seeks a politics of movement and mobilization: “Recent examples of the sort of popular will that I have in mind include the determination, assembled by South Africa’s United Democratic Front, to overthrow an apartheid based on culture and race, or the mobilization of Haiti’s Lavalas to confront an apartheid based on privilege and class. Conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure a particular situation, such mobilizations test the truth expressed in the old cliché, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. Or to adapt Antonio Machado’s less prosaic phrase, taken up as a motto by Paulo Freire: the partisans of such mobilizations assume that ‘there is no way, we make the way by walking it’ (Machado 1978).”

Eugene Thacker delves into the debates within the biopolitical spectrum:  “Today, in an era of biopolitics, it seems that life is everywhere at stake, and yet it is nowhere the same. The question of how and whether to value life is at the core of contemporary debates over bare life and the state of exception.”

2. F. Vander Valk.Essays on Neuroscience and Political Theory: Thinking the Body Politic. Taylor & Francis. Routledge (2012)

There is an interesting essay by Adrian Johnston author of several excellent works, especially his work on Zizek and Badiou: Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of  Subjectivity (2008), and Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations: The Cadence of Change (2009). His essay in this book, Toward a Grand Neuropolitics – or, Why I am Not an Immanent Naturalist or Vital Materialist, which delves into the philosophy of “immanent naturalism” as typified by William Connelly who’s stance within his books Neuropolitics and A World of Becoming offers him grist for the mill. Johnston mentions Jane Bennett’s new work as well Vibrant Matter as well. I’ve only been able to do a cursory scan this and other essays wihtin this excellent volume of essays, but am intrigued by the subject already.

As Frank Vander Valk says in the introduction to the volume: “One of the consequences of the claims about the revolutionary nature of neuroscience has been that established concepts, ideas, and texts from political theory have not been sufficiently integrated into the emerging discussion of social (and political) neuroscience. This collection addresses that problem by explicitly connecting neuroscience research to major figures in the history of political theory (e.g. Aristotle, Hobbes) and specific issues in the field (e.g. deliberative democracy, gender, subjectivity). These are important first steps, not only in working through what neuroscience means (and does not mean!) for political theory, but also for providing examples of the contribution that political theorists can make to understanding the richness of biocultural entities.

3. A Leftist Ontology: Beyond Relativism and Identity Politics. Editor Carsten Strathausen. (2009)

William Connelly whom we met in the prevous volume tells us int the introduction to this grouping of philosophical discussions by George Kateb, Charles Taylor, and Judith Butler among others tells us that although each of them may differ over critical stances within leftist political and philosophical traditions, yet they all converge on three important aspects of the ontological dimension:

First, each embraces a positive ontological orientation, as when Taylor focuses on the complexity of human embodiment, supports a fugitive philosophy of transcendence, seeks to become more closely attuned to a final moral source that cannot be known in a classical epistemic way, and defines ethical life in terms of a plastic set of intrinsic purposes to be pursued rather than a set of universal laws to be obeyed. Each of the others takes different stances on the same issues. Second, each theorist discerns a loose set of relations between the ontology adopted, the ethical-political priorities endorsed, and specific dangers and possibilities to be identified. None suggests that an ontology determines a political stance, but all contend that it filters into politics, so that it would be a mistake to say that ontology has no influence on politics. Taylor’s faith in the grace of a loving God, for instance, enters into his politics, even if the element of mystery he discerns in divinity means that he does not delineate the tight set of moral commands presented by Pope Benedict XVI and a large section of the evangelical movement in America. Third, each figure acknowledges the ontology he or she embraces to be susceptible to reflective and comparative defense; but most conclude that it is unlikely to be established either by such airtight arguments or universal recognition that it rules every other possibility out of court. Each party-though perhaps to different degrees-is thus a pluralist, seeking to bring their onto-orientation into the public realm while recoiling back on tensions and uncertainties in it enough to invite open-textured negotiations with others. Each advances a bicameral orientation to citizenship, seeking to give his or her own orientation public presence while conceding a place to others. Discernible in the differences between them is the common appreciation of a paradoxical element in politics.”

Joshua Simon on Neo-Materialism

“…a new set of sensibilities has been introduced in critical contemporary art, dealing with the ways in which the commodity and its surrounding economy activate us.”

        – Johsua Simon

Joshua Simon has a three-part series on at e-flux journal Neo-Materialism, Part I: The Commodity and the Exhibition. He brings up Sven Lütticken’s essay “Art and Thingness” that  examines the art object as a transient object subjected to commodification through a series of processes. What simon points out is the neglect within Lütticken’s otherwise interesting essay is an examination of “commodity as an entity prior to the art object, , as the thing that precedes any object, including art objects.” His essay focuses on “on contemporary art objects within the framework of the exhibition—a form of seeing that allows an encounter with the art object as commodity. Even when artists, curators, critics, and spectators opt for an intimate, narrative, symbolic, critical, or any other understanding of objects, in an exhibition objects nevertheless converse in the language of commodities. While formalistic analysis reveals that this non-literal language involves materials, colors, shapes, scale, and composition, what is it exactly that the objects say?”

Materialism and World Politics – 20-22 October, 2012

Journal of International Studies

Annual Conference

Materialism and World Politics – 20-22 October, 2012

Old Building, London School of Economics

(Click Here For More Information)

Scheduled Speakers:

Keynote: The ontology of global politics
William Connolly (Johns Hopkins University)

Opening Panel: The materiality of geopolitics
Daniel Deudney (Johns Hopkins University)
John Protevi (Louisiana State University)

Closing Panel: Agency and structure in a complex world
Colin Wight (University of Sydney)
Erika Cudworth (University of East London)
Stephen Hobden (University of East London)
Diana Coole (Birkbeck, University of London)

ANT/STS Workshop keynote:
Andrew Barry (University of Oxford)


The annual conference for volume 41 of Millennium: Journal of International Studies will take place on 20-22 October, 2012 at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This includes 2 days of panels and keynotes on the weekend, and a special Monday workshop on actor-network theory (ANT), science and technology studies (STS), and alternative methodologies. Participation in the workshop on Monday is unfortunately limited though, and registration for it is now closed. We will however be publishing snippets of the workshop in future publications.

The theme of this year’s conference is on the topic of materialism in world politics. In contrast to the dominant discourses of neorealism, neoliberalism and constructivism, the materialist position asks critical questions about rational actors, agency in a physical world, the role of affect in decision-making, the biopolitical shaping of bodies, the perils and promises of material technology, the resurgence of historical materialism, and the looming environmental catastrophe. A large number of critical writers in International Relations have been discussing these topics for some time, yet the common materialist basis to them has gone unacknowledged. The purpose of this conference will be to solidify this important shift and to push its critical edges further. Against the disembodied understanding of International Relations put forth by mainstream theories, this conference will recognize the significance of material factors for world politics.


On rereading After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux: Part II

“To think ancestrality is to think a world without thought – a world without the giveness of the world.”
– Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

The radicalization of scientific thought in its quest to discover the “source of its own absoluteness” is the key to Quentin Meillassoux’s second essay in After Finitude. Philosophy must “take up once more the injunction to know the absolute, and break with the transcendental tradition that rules out its possibility” (50). This is not a withdrawal into either metaphysics or dogmatism, instead we must move beyond the inadequacy of  the Cartesian project just as much as we move beyond the Kantian idealism of the correlationists by seeking another “relation to the absolute” (50).

He argues that Descartes proof of God, or the ‘ontological proof’, which infers God’s existence from his perfect nature/being: since he is perfect, and since existence is a perfection, God cannot but exist (50). Meillassoux shows two ways in which a correlationist might refute this ontological argument: a ‘weak’ model, which is that of Kant, and a ‘strong’ model, which seems to be dominant today (50). The weak argument against the ontological proof comes down to the simple basis of the circularity of the correlation that “because absolute necessity is always absolute necessity for us, necessity is never absolute, but only ever for us (53).

Kant chooses another path, he maintains that it is a logical contradiction to assert the non-existence of God as much as it is to assert his existence. Harman tells us this is because for Kant the thing-in-itself is unknowable, yet he “maintains that it is thinkable” (54). Kant asserts that we can know a priori that logical contradiction is absolutely impossible. Graham Harman tells us that “this is why it is imperative for Kant that Descartes’ thesis be refuted – for if it was contradictory for God not to exist, then by Kant’s own premises, it would also be absolutely necessary … that God exist. Consequently, it would become possible to obtain positive knowledge of the thing-in-itself through the use of a logical principle alone (54-55). Ultimately Kant chooses to follow Hume in arguing that there “is no contradiction involved in conceiving of a determinate entity as existing or not existing (55).

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Joseph Weissman on Fractal Ontology has found Negarestani and I think it is exciting… it’s good to see Reza’s work out there on the web again after much of the troubles he’s had along the way in his homeland….

Fractal Ontology

Four Birds Mixed media on paper (Catheryn Austen)

Openness only comes in the imperceptible recesses of infection: A faceless love. (Reza Negarestani)

Michel Serres never fails to remind us of something simple and indispensable. It is that all relationships are founded upon noise. In the beginning, there is noise, not silence. Even the simplest words arrive much later; and, at any rate, our words are still noise. The din and clamor of the many is sometimes frightful; and Serres’ work can be singularly terrifying. But Serres’ reminder is highly rational, even a joyful reconsecration of science.

Serres delights in showing us old meanings of new words, and vice versa; but it particularly to this word, noise, and its French cognate, parasite, that he gives unique expressivity and sonorousness. One of the primary meanings of noise in his work is chaos: the pure multiplicity behind things, without…

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On re-reading Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: Part I

“Empirical science is today capable of producing statements about events anterior to the advent of life as well as consciousness.”
– Quentin Meillassoux

(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)

On re-reading Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude, the first thing I’m struck by is the lucidity and clarity of his mind: it flows from one argument to the next, taking in the panorama of the dark alien landscape of the great outdoors of thought and being, which is not so much in need of a new mathematical vocabulary of the real – as it is yearning for a mind free of its own self-invested plenitude, hoping against hope that it will step outside itself and its own correlational prison and gaze upon that which is: the in-itself, divested of all human contact and experience, yet  brightened by that inexplicable figuration of pure astonishment. Like an agonist in some ultimate glass-bead game of truth he weaves the myriad threads of philosophical discourse, unravelling the knotted aporia at the center of our black modernity, marshaling from one text to the next thoughts that will explicate a speculative solution to our current philosophical quagmire. Yet, unlike Magister Knecht in Herman Hesse’s classic novel, Magister Ludi, Meillassoux is not just some forlorn aesthete of the final thought, instead he is confronting nothing less than the truth of what is, then asking the oldest of questions: What can I know? What shall I do? What can I hope? .. and, perhaps, What is to be done?

Out of this amalgam comes a formidable and yet brilliant set of new problems, issues and concerns relating to our views of self, society, and the universe. He begins stipulating that the difference between objective and subjective representation is shaped by two types of subjective representation: those that can be universalized, and are thus by right capable of being experienced by everyone, and hence ‘scientific’, and those that cannot be universalized, and hence cannot belong to scientific discourse. [1: 12-13] Then he makes an interesting point:

“From this point on, intersubjectivity, the consensus of a community, supplants the adequation between the representations of a solitary subject and the thing itself as the veritable criterion of objectivity, and of scientific objectivity more particularly. Scientific truth is no longer what conforms to an in itself supposedly indifferent to the way in which it is given to the subject, but rather what is susceptible of being given as shared by a scientific community” (ibid. p. 13).

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Is the Sun an Autopoietic System?

The Sun was formed about 4.57 billion years ago from the collapse of part of a giant molecular cloud that consisted mostly of hydrogen and helium and which probably gave birth to many other stars. This age is estimated using computer models of stellar evolution and through nucleocosmochronology.  The result is consistent with the radiometric date of the oldest Solar System material, at 4.567 billion years ago.  Studies of ancient meteorites reveal traces of stable daughter nuclei of short-lived isotopes, such as iron-60, that form only in exploding, short-lived stars. This indicates that one or more supernovae must have occurred near the location where the Sun formed. A shock wave from a nearby supernova would have triggered the formation of the Sun by compressing the gases within the molecular cloud, and causing certain regions to collapse under their own gravity.  As one fragment of the cloud collapsed it also began to rotate due to conservation of angular momentum and heat up with the increasing pressure. Much of the mass became concentrated in the center, while the rest flattened out into a disk which would become the planets and other solar system bodies. Gravity and pressure within the core of the cloud generated a lot of heat as it accreted more gas from the surrounding disk, eventually triggering nuclear fusion. Thus, our Sun was born.

– from Sun – Wikipedia

Is the Sun an Autopoietic System?

Autopoiesis means self-production, and autopoietic system means the system that produce itself. The concept of “autopoiesis” was originally proposed by biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, and the term “autopoiesis” is invented from Greek words: “auto” for self- and “poiesis” for creation or production (Maturana & Varela 1972, Varela et. al. 1974, Maturana & Varela 1980; 1987).

An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of process of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. It follows that an autopoietic machine continuously generates and specifies its own organization through its operation as a system of production of its own components, and does this in an endless turnover of components under conditions of continuous perturbations and compensation of perturbations.” (Maturana & Varela 1980; p.79)

In short, an autopoietic system is a unity whose organization is defined by a particular network of production processes of elements, not by the components themselves or their static relations. Summarizing the concept of autopoiesis, it turns out that the system has three fundamental features; (1) element as momentary event, (2) boundary reproduction of the system, (3) element constitution based on the system.

The crucial point of autopoiesis in systems theory is the shift of viewpoint of element from substances to momentary events. Element of the system conventionally considered to keep existing, for example cell in living system or actor in social system. In the autopoietic system theory, however, the elements are the momentary event that has no duration. It means that elements disappear as soon as they are realized. Consequently, system must produce the elements in order to keep itself existing. Thus, the boundary of system is determined circularly by the production of elements, and it is called autopoietic system.

In this sense, autopoietic system does not emerge from some so-called “bottom-up”,  just because the concept of bottom-up is assumed to be given elements before emerging as system. Autopoietic systems intrinsically imply circular relation between the system and its elements. As Nicklas Luhmann once related:

“Whether the unity of an element should be explained as emergence `from below’ or as constitution `from above’ seems to be a matter of theoretical dispute. We opt decisively for the latter. Elements are elements only for the system that employs them as units and they are such only through this system. This is formulated in the concept of autopoiesis.”(Luhmann 1984; p.22)

In this sense I believe that the Sun and all stars are indeed autopoietic systems.

Levi answers my concerns over incorporeal/corporeal objects in his new essay…. quite interesting, indeed! I’ll have more to say on this later. I’m still not convinced, being a materialist of the new school materialisms I still affirm what I want to call a two-aspect theory of entities much in the same way that some Kantian scholars support a two-aspect theory of the noumenon/phenonmenon divide (see Henry E. Allison: Transcendental Idealism). As Allison and others situate it, there is no dualism, no two different entities, one called noumenon and the other phenomenon; instead, there is only one entity with two aspects or faces. Allison in an anti-idealist reading of Kant proposes a two-aspect epistemolgical based understanding of transcendental idealism in which the transcendental distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves (phenomenon/noumenon) be understood as holding between two ways of considering things rather than as two ontologically distinct sets of entities. The only thing I would argue against Kant is instead of a normative epistemological account I would opt for a transcendental realism and an ontological account of this two-aspect theory. This paradox is at the heart of Karen Barad’s treatment of intra-action and entanglement theory as I’ll investigate below.

One of the things I see in Levi’s distinction between incorporeal/corporeal is that in doing this he is buying into a dualistic scheme to support this thesis, and for many of us this will not offer a solution within a materialist framework. Levi supports a substantive view of reality, incorporating the whole schematic relationism of a substance based approach to objects. I still am not convinced, although I admire it as an architectonic system that aligns well with putting all the pieces into place as a systemactic effort to negotiate the actualities that we know and see, yet I wonder how it would explain such disturbing truths as the wave/particle distribution effect? As a monist I see quantum theory as supporting two-aspect theory of a single energic flow of energy/matter. Relativity theory supports a two aspect theory of energy/matter as two aspects of the same underlying reality. Instead of a dualism, there is a monism with two faces…

Karen Barad recently described this wave/particle paradox as the problem of the “very nature of nature:  “light seemed to behave like a wave, but under different experimental circumstances, light seemed to behave like a particle. Given these results, what can we conclude about the nature of light-is it a particle or a wave? Remarkably, it turns out that similar results are found for matter: under one set of circumstances, electrons behave like particles, and under another they behave like waves. Hence what lies at the heart of the paradox is the very nature of nature” (KB 29).

Diffraction experiments are at the heart of the “wave versus particle” debates about the nature of light and matter. Indeed, the so-called two-slit experiment (which uses a diffraction grating with only two slits) has become emblematic of the mysteries of quantum physics. The Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once said of the two-slit experiment that it is “a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. (KB 72-73)

As she states it recent studies of diffraction (interference) phenomena have provided insights about the nature of the entanglement of quantum states, and have enabled physicists to test metaphysical ideas in the lab. So while it is true that diffraction apparatuses measure the effects of difference, even more profoundly they highlight, exhibit, and make evident the entangled structure of the changing and contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing. In fact, diffraction not only brings the reality of entanglements to light, it is itself an entangled phenomenon. (KB 73)

To deal with such phenomenon she offers a diffraction mode of analysis in which diffraction phenomena will be an object of investigation and at other times it will serve as an apparatus of investigation; it cannot serve both purposes simultaneously since they are mutually exclusive; nonetheless, as our understanding of the phenomenon is refined we can enfold these insights into further refinements and tunings of our instruments to sharpen our investigations (KB 73).

As she summarizes her thesis:

“What I am interested in doing is building diffraction apparatuses in order to study the entangled effects differences make. One of the main purposes will be to explore the nature of entanglements and also the nature of this task of exploration. What is entailed in the investigation of entanglements? How can one study them? Is there any way to study them without getting caught up in them? What can one say about them? Are there any limits to what can be said? My purpose is not to make general statements as if there were something universal to be said about all entanglements, nor to encourage analogical extrapolation from my examples to others, nor to reassert the authority of physics. On the contrary, I hope my exploration will make clear that entanglements are highly specific configurations and it is very hard work building apparatuses to study them, in part because they change with each intra-action. In fact it is not so much that they change from one moment to the next or from one place to another, but that space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements. Hence, it is possible for entangled relationalities to make connections between entities that do not appear to be proximate in space and time.  The point is that the specificity of entanglements is everything. The apparatuses must be tuned to the particularities of the entanglements at hand. The key question in each case is this: how to responsibly explore entanglements and the differences they make. My hope is that this exploration will provide some insights that will be helpful in the study of other entanglements” (KB 73-74).

I agree that the ‘specificity of entaglements is everything’. If it is true that space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements, then Her agential realism offer us one path among others toward an understanding that is both monistic and two-aspect in its promotion of the processes at the core of entaglements. I like that she is exploring the notion of difference as situated within this complex of ideas: how to responsibly explore entanglements and the differences they make. Her theory is underpinned by the notion of intra-action and change. The idea of bringing the “contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing” into close proximity in theory and praxis is long overdue. More on this later…

1. Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.

Larval Subjects .

In response to my talk on flat ethics, noir realism raises some interesting questionsabout my defense of the existence of incorporeal machines.  As noir realism writes:

The only question I have is in your division of incorporeal/corporeal.  I guess I have a conflict with this dualistic approach of incorporeal/corporeal… i don’t see any separation between these two types of entity. The reason I say that is simple, even as I write this sentence I’m interacting with physical material objects that then through math and logic are manipulated through physical hardware and transformed into binary code that is translated into bits that are trasnported to the servers on the web from my own machine conveying the very material thoughts that I’m now about to publish. Are these incorporeal or corporeal? Is there a difference? What makes something incorporeal or corporeal? Is it a kind of object? Why not admit…

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