Meillassoux, Brassier, Laruelle and Gnosticism?

In a previous post on Quentin Meillassoux’s Berlin Lecture David Milliern whose blog milliern is well worth spending some time on brought up a some interesting thoughts which I quote at the bottom of this post. David tells us that his concerns about Meillassoux centered on his use of “kenotype”:

 I have this concern ever since reading Harman’s “Philosophy in the Making,” that Meillassoux is nonchalantly dancing along a precipice with his materialism that seems to threaten collapsing to idealism at any moment.  Much of my concern was assuaged, after reading Bergson’s “Matter and Memory” and Meillassoux’s article on that book, “Subtraction and Contraction,” pushing the notion (for lack of a better term) “givenness” into the same court as Bergson’s notion of image.  My concerns arose again in the Berlin lecture, because I can’t pin down why a “kenotype” is different from a concept.

I’ll begin my post with a brief introduction regarding “kenotype” itself, what place does it have in philosophical speculation and specifically in regards to Meillassoux’s use of that term in his own thought.

“Kenotype” (from ancient Greek, kainow, “new”) differs from archetype in that it offers a figurative, or generalized schematic eidos, of a historically new phenomenon, such as Meillassoux’s God of the Divine Inexistence:

A kenotype may be defined as a cognitive, creative structure, reflecting a new crystallization of some broadly human experience, occuring in concrete historical circumstances, but not reducible to them, and appearing as the first embodiment of a potential or future development. If in the case of the Platonic archetypes, the general precedes the concrete, as a pre-established form precedes materialization, and if in a type the two coexist, then in the case of a kenotype, the general is a final perspective of the concrete, which arises from history only to outgrow it, touching the borders of eternity. So that everything that can come into being has it metaimage in the future, since it prophesies or gives warning about something. This storehouse of metaimages is far richer than the strongbox of first images, where the ancient unconscious is contained (a sort of Pandora’s box). The openness of history is given to humankind as a birthplace for supra-historical content, where the permanent can obtain its “surplus value” and where its image can not only be preserved, but grow in time.1

Graham Harman’s introduction and explication of Meillassoux’s new work (not yet translated into English ) The Divine Inexistence, “Philosophy in the Making,”  describes the fourfold diagram of possible attitudes toward God (used by Meillassoux). These four positions consist of the 1) Atheist (“not to believe in God because he does not exist”), 2) Theist (“believe in God because he exists), 3) Luciferian (“not believing in God because he exists”), and, 4) Meillassoux’s own, “which has never been tried,” believing in God because he does not exist (121). 2

I remember Adrian Johnston’s essay in Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism in which he had reservations about this so called flirtation with a ‘virtual’ God that does not exist but may exist in the future, as found in Meillassoux’s article ‘Deuil a venir, dieu a venir’ and his still unpublished major work L’nexistence divine. As he said in his essay Hume’s Revenge: À Dieu, Meillassoux?:

“Religiosity, insofar as part of its essence consists in positing that a being other than physical materiality lies at the base and/or pinnacle of reality, obviously is a primary natural enemy of anti-idealist materialism. But, nowadays, something weird is happening: the materialist camp within domains intersecting with European and European inspired theory has come to harbour individuals wishing to reassert, supposedly from inside the strict confines of materialism proper, the enduring validity and indispensability of theological frameworks” (93).3

Johnston even admits that on first glance “Quentin Meillassoux, certainly would appear, at first glance, to be a thoroughly atheistic materialist,” and yet, “strangely speculates that a God resembling the divinities of monotheistic religions, although he admits that such a deity has been and continues to be non-existent, could come to exist at any moment in the future” (94).  Johnston continues, and I quote in full:

“Traditional theologies are metaphysical, whereas Meillassoux wants to advance what could be described as a speculative qua non-metaphysical theology (which he calls a ‘divinology’). Playing with the phrase ‘divine inexistence’, he has it signify not only ‘the inexistence of the religious God’ (i.e., the deity of metaphysical monotheistic theologies), but also, at the same time, the ostensibly irrefutable ‘possibility of a God still yet to come’  (Meillassoux’s justifications for why this possibility is irrefutable will be addressed soon). What’s more, this Dieu à venir might be willing and able to perform such miraculous gestures as resurrecting the dead and righting the wrongs piled up over the course of a brutal, unjust human history” (94).

At this point Johnston in a vitriolic diatribe, part incredulity, part anathema asks:

“How could the author of After Finitude, with its polemics against the new fideism of ‘post-secular’ thought sheltering under the cover of post-Kantian epistemological skepticism regarding claims about the objective nature of being an sich—ironically, the motif of the a venir is, as is common knowledge, dear to partisans of the post-secular turn in Continental philosophy—simultaneously indulge himself in musings about a virtual, spectral peut-être interminably holding out the promise, however uncertain or unlikely, of the ex nihilo genesis of a divinity fulfilling the expectations of the most fanatical of the faithful?” (94)

Johnston goes into details in his own arguments against Meillassoux’s apparent turn toward a new divinology which I think is devastating but will not explicate in this post. For those interested in his devastating critique you can read the Speculative Turn at re-press: here.

And that must end us, that must be our cure.

– Belial, Paradise Lost

*  *  *

Now to return to this non-concept “kenotype” in relation to Meillassoux and his seeming turn toward religion. What does Meillassoux Virtual God from the Future portend for philosophy and materialism in particular? Is this not a return to an acosmic dualism, a gnostic vision? The reason I bring this up is after reading a footnote in Meillassoux Berlin Lecture related to the work of Ray Brassier:

“Ray Brassier’s nihilism is closer to the option I wish to defend, in so far as if seems to me to be a once anti-correlationist and anti-subjectalist. My disagreement with his important and impressive book (Nihil Unbound) lies in the fact that I still cannot see how Laurelle’s non-philosophy, which seems essential to Brassier, allows him to obtain such an outcome. If it is explained to me that this is not his intention (since materialism and anti-materialism are ‘still philosophies’), then I must refuse this non-philosophy; because, to my mind, there is no other possibility today than to be either a materialist or an anti-materialist (whether in the correlationist or subjectalist form ) – every surpassing of this alternative is illusory…” (7).

Now if we remember, Ray Brassier in his Nihil Unbound argues that Laruelle’s attempt to homogenise all past and future philosophy into the single fundamental paradigm designated under the philosophical rubric of Decisionism. In which Laruelle privileges the Kantian problematic as the structure that underlies all philosophical thought – in Brassier’s words: “every philosophical Decision recapitulates the formal structure of a transcendental deduction… [the transcendental method] represents a methodological invariant for philosophy both before and after Kant.” (2007: 123; 2001: 120) For Brassier this is a “gratuitous assumption”: “Laruelle can simple drop the exorbitant claim that his account of decision is a description of philosophy tout court” (2007: 134) – rather, it is an account of ‘correlationism’.

Brassier also attacks Laruelle’s identification of the Real as One or Vision-in-One or One-in-One (in Laruelle’s convulted terminology) with the apparently newly discovered transcendental subject Laruelle calls ‘Man’. This identification, Brassier argues, not only reinstates anthropocentrism – it does so in a manner hard to distinguish from solipsism.

Yet, Brassier, with the above qualifications still believes that the non-philosophical concept of Decision benefits a Meillassouxian critique of correlationism. Brassier discovers in his analysis of correlationist Decisionism that it is based on three specific structural forms of sense datum: 1) a conditioned datum – experience – which is ‘given’ to philosophical subjectivity, apparently from outside it; 2) this datum’s condition as a priori factum – for example, in the Kantian paradigm that Laruelle privileges, the categories as transcendental conditions of experience; and, 3)  a synthetic unity wherein condition and conditioned are conjoined, which is in turn the condition of possibility of the contact between, and reciprocal relation of, datum and factum, transcendental and empirical. This is the transcendental binding of transcendental and empirical – the transcendental condition of transcendental thought, as radical immanence.4

What Brassier rejects in Laurelle is his anthropocentric and solipsistic foreclosure within non-philosophy of an identity between the Real and non-philosophical thought itself. This is conceptual idealism pure and simple. Yet, Brassier does believe that one can posit a relation between non-philosophical thought and the real that is unmediated by the philosophical Dyad of immanence and transcendence. Laurelle posits a non-Platonic Gnosticism in his Struggle And Utopia At The End Times Of Philosophy that resembles much of what Brassier is seeking in his use of the philosophical ‘cut’:

“Gnosis gives itself the World in a dogmatic way as an occasion, not comprehending the occasionality of the World in an immanent way, not brigining the genesis of occasionality. This is why we insist here on an immanence which is unable to be treated Platonistically or Platonically but practically by immanence itself. … The instance of the gnostic or pure transcendental will not be blended with thought or alterity, in contrast to the non-philosophical transcendental. … The transcendental needs an occasion but it does not imply a descent. Not only the Real but the transcendental remains separated. Yet within non-philosophy the transcendental also is not blended with the alterity of the World, cloning is precisely not a blending. It is thought which identifies itself in the Real-as-transcendental but the Real remains separated from thought” (249).5

Laruelle affirms a non-religious gnosis as a description of non-philosophy’s second stage (250, whatever that is? – need to uncover this). In this second stage of non-philosophy he tells us that  “the primacy of science in the Real goes hand in hand with the transcendence that is partially reciprocal for the Real and philosophy, where the latter is still not really given-in-One, where real indifference is poorly distinguished from transcendental indifference, and immanent cloning is theoretically nonexistent” (250). Both Laruelle and Brassier will explicitly describe our knowledge of the Real in gnostic terms. Laruelle writes: “the gnosis of ‘matter‘, the otherwise-than-materialist gnosis of the dispersive real, must be sought beyond materialism and the hyle.” (2001: 39) Or, elsewhere: “it is not a question of a secularization – still rational and transcendent – of an extraordinary experience, but of the possibility of rendering the usage of an exceptional or superhuman experience in every ‘ordinary man’ which was supposed to be refused to him. Philosophy is this organon, this a priori form which, giving us the World, forecloses the mystical experience which intrinsically constitutes humans…“ (2009: 58) Finally Brassier: “Non-materialism reduces or suspends what Laruelle refers to as the ‘Greco-unitary’ epistemological paradigm and ascribes to it the status of an occasional material or empirical support for an an-archic or gnostic model of cognition.” (2001: 160) Attached to this remark is a footnote citing various works on historical gnosticism, including “Jonas’s classic study [Hans Jonas’ The Gnostic Religion] [which] underlines gnosticism’s profoundly anti-anthropocentric character as religion of an alien god.”

Yet, in Nihil Unbound Brassier argues that the Real that is philosophy’s object is something with which we cannot have any form of relation whatsoever. For the Brassier of Nihil Unbound: “The real is less than nothing… The real is not the negation of being, since this would be to reconstitute it in opposition to something… Rather, it is immanently given as ‘being-nothing’” (137-138). The key to Brassier is not relation but non-relation, the “cut” or “separation” between thought and being, the Descision. The non-existence of consciousness – or, more precisely, the active being-nothing that is the destruction of consciousness, whether individual consciousness or species-consciousness – is a transcendental condition of consciousness. And this being-nothing of thought must be understood as something with which we cannot have a relation – whether as an authentic or an inauthentic relation to our own death, for instance – but as something altogether foreclosed to thought. This is what Brassier means when he says at the end of Nihil Unbound: “Extinction is real yet not empirical, since it is not of the order of experience. It is transcendental yet not ideal… In this regard, it is precisely the extinction of meaning that clears the way for the intelligibility of extinction…” (238).

Is this not a non-religious, or secular gnosis? How can one attain such ‘intelligibility of extinction’ otherwise? Is this not Meillassoux’s kenotype as a non-concept or Figure? As Meillassoux state is in his Berlin Lecure in Final Derivation of the Kenotype: “The challenge now is to establish the existence of a factial derivation of the kenotype – and thus of the meaningless sign” (35). He continues:

“Where could it come from, this capacity of thought to iterate a sign independently of the ideality of meaning? Is this a primary fact that cannot be explained, or can we infer this ‘iterative’ capacity of thought from a deeper principle? The thesis we intend to demonstrate is as follows: it is because I can intuit in every entity its eternal contingency, that I can intuit a meaningless sign” (35).

Is Brassier’s ‘intelligibility of extinction’ and Meillassoux’s intuition of a ‘meaningless sign’ parallel moves or maybe even a Zizekian parallax? After a lengthy argumentation Meillassoux concludes by recapping the three elements of his derivation of a meaningless sign (kenotype):

“The grasping of the sign proceeds from a switching of our mode of apprehension – from the ordinary mode of apprehension that grasps certain contingent things, I switch to the semiotic mode of apprehension, that grasps the eternal contingency of this or that thing. This grasping of a facticity other than the empirical (arbitrariness, the unreason of every thing) makes it possible for me to iterate identically marks brought together conventionally as replicas of distinct type-signs”(37).

So it is this move from an apprehension based on what Brassier following Sellars would term folk-psychological apprehension to an almost Piercean semiotic-scientific apprehension of the kenotype as empty sign that is iterable (cloneable?) that forms a parallax attribution. The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective,” due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stations, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently “mediated,” so that an “epistemological” shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an “ontological” shift in the object itself. Is not Meillassoux move from an ontological apprehension to an epistemological-semiotic apprehension not a parallax move in Zizek’s sense?

Meillassoux asks at the end of his Berlin Lecture that a new puzzle arises:

“The new puzzle that appears before us is the following: how can a meaningless sign allow us to describe the world, without becoming once again a meaningful sign, and thereby capable of referring to a world outside of it? How, through what paradox, can we hope that a meaningless sign could not only have a referent, but a {deutero-} absolute referent, more radically separate from us than every correlational apprehension?” (37).

Is this not the paradox facing all forms of philosophical speculation in the years to come? And, just what is this second referent? Is this none other than that acosmic alien god, the inexistent God coming at us out of the future? How can such a non-religious atheistic resolution to materialism every answer such questions? What exactly is Quentin Meillassoux vying for in this strange kenotype? Do we opt for Laurelle’s vision: “Even the hatred of the World has its limits; it is still about saving the World from the World” (250). Or with Meillassoux for whom the philosophical divine faces two catastrophic and constitutive illusions of contemporary history: “the first being that God exists, the second being that one can do without Him” (Harman 237). Are from Brassier, Alien Theory, “It is this rediscovery of Man’s irrefrangibly alien existence as a universal Stranger that prevents non-philosophy’s gnostically inflected ‘hypertranscendentalism’ from merely reinstating Kant’s transcendental protectionism vis a vis man as Homo noumenon” (AT 25):

“…gnosis is transcendental scepticism. … Thus, scepticism as we construe it does not consist in doubting the known on the basis of a presupposition that one can discriminate between knowing and unknowing; which is to say, know that one does not know. Gnosis, or transcendental scepticism, does not attempt to distinguish between knowing and unknowing; it acknowledges the unilateral duality separating the Identity of the unknown from the epistemo-logical difference between knowing and unknowing. It is knowing according to the unknown; or the determination of the known in accordance with the unknown’s a priori foreclosure. Moreover, gnosis constitutes a rigorously an-archic instance of cognitive experience insofar as the Alien-subject of this transcendental skepticism simultaneously unilateralises the absolute authority of the World and the all-encompassing dominion of Capitalism” (AT 222).

But, then again, who is behind all this mumbo-jumbo? Is not the voice of both Meillassoux and Brassier centered not on some version of theatrical non-religion (Laruelle) but on that strange and still misunderstood philosophical forbear, Martin Heidegger? And, who among his pupils, could tell us just what this master of the veil never revealed? I speak of Hans Jonas, another of those that questioned the world of those same Gnostics: “My theological friends, my Christian friends? don’t you see what you are dealing with? Don’t you sense, if not see, the profoundly pagan character of Heidegger’s thought?” (Heidegger and Theology 1978). We also have Henry Corbin, the Islamic scholar, whose works on Islamic forms of Gnosticism are well known saying: “What I was looking for in Heidegger and that which I understood thanks to Heidegger, is precisely that which I was looking for and found in the metaphysics of Islamic Iran. … What do I owe to Heidegger? First and foremost, I would say, there is the idea of hermeneutics, which appears among the very first pages of Sein und Zeit” [“Being and Time”]. Heidegger’s great merit will remain in his having centered the act of philosophizing in hermeneutics itself.” Then, Corbin extends his analysis, saying:

“From the very outset, the hermeneutics practiced in the Religions of the Book put into play the same themes and vocabulary familiar to phenomenology. What I was enchanted to rediscover in Heidegger, was essentially the filiation of hermeneutics itself passing through the theologian Schleiermacher, and if I lay claim to phenomenology, it is because philosophical hermeneutics is essentially the key that opens the hidden meaning (etymologically the esoteric) underlying the exoteric statement. I have as such done nothing more than attempt to deepen this understanding, firstly in the vast unexplored domain of Shiite Islamic gnosis, and then in the neighboring domains of Christian and Judaic gnosis.”6

Why Gnosticism? And, what does this shift toward heretical religions mean in our strange philosophical times?

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1. After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture Univ of Massachusetts Pr (June 1995)
2. Graham Harman. Quentin Meillassoux Philosophy In The Making. (Edinburgh University Press Ltd. 2011)
3. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (eds.) (re.press 2011)
4. Brassier Paper (duncanlaw 2009)
5. Francoise Laurell. Struggle And Utopia At The End Times Of Philosophy. (Univocal Publishing 2012)
6. Henry Corbin. FROM HEIDEGGER TO SUHRAVARDI: AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIPPE NEMO. (Paris 1978)

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Full Quote of David’s comment:

After reading the Berlin lecture, I was looking forward to any comments you may have had regarding Meillassoux’s “kenotype.”  I have this concern ever since reading Harman’s “Philosophy in the Making,” that Meillassoux is nonchalantly dancing along a precipice with his materialism that seems to threaten collapsing to idealism at any moment.  Much of my concern was assuaged, after reading Bergson’s “Matter and Memory” and Meillassoux’s article on that book, “Subtraction and Contraction,” pushing the notion (for lack of a better term) “givenness” into the same court as Bergson’s notion of image.  My concerns arose again in the Berlin lecture, because I can’t pin down why a “kenotype” is different from a concept.  I mean, I hear loud and clear what he is claiming, but I am not sure the distinction he is making truly transforms the ontological status of a (meaningless) sign into something that is not a concept.  The three things I thought, consequently, were: 1) something that Meillassoux thinks about cognition is tacit in this lecture, causing confusion, or 2) the fact that the lecture comes to a halt, somewhat aporetically, should be respected, and that he hasn’t given a complete exfoliation of the issue (leaving us with another problem that could supply further explication of the kenotype), or 3) Meillassoux is appealing, albeit implicitly, to some area or idea in philosophy that I am not, as of yet, seeing or familiar with.  The second one is likely, because he talks about sets, but doesn’t bring it into the kenotype discussion, the way that I thought he might.

I have found it fascinating that Meillassoux briefly discusses Galilean physics and the absolutization provided by imbuing mechanics with mathematics, yet doesn’t talk about the fact that the holistic approach (respecting all disciplines as telling a part of a heterogeneous story about ontology), which is effectively Aristotelian.  This type of approach has been mentioned in the third or fourth chapter of Steve Clarke’s “Metaphysics and the Disunity of Scientific Knowledge,” and is a central idea of Nancy Cartwright and John Dupre, though erroneously labeled “Aristotelians.”  (None of these philosophers mentioned are, of course, involved with the speculative turn, but there is an impressive amount of overlap in their respective projects.  I have a blog and working draft dedicated to this idea, though not explicitly embracing the speculative turn or using anti-correlationist lingo; but I think you might be able to see the influence, if you are interested: http://milliern.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/flat-ontology-and-the-onto-epistemic-stance/ .  Also, if you are interested, I have a paper cosmology that uses Meillassoux’s non-static ontology: http://milliern.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/a-meillassouxian-approach-to-kants-first-antinomy-of-pure-reason-and-the-big-bang/ )

In general, I think Meillassoux is going to have to give a systematic discussion of his understanding of semiotics, logic, and mathematics, because there is a philosophical problem in all of this, namely, that these are not the same things, they are not equivalent ontologies.  He admits this in the lecture, but reassures us that the distinction in ontologies plays not role in the discussion of the lecture, which I am content with; but the broader issues remain in the philosophy of mathematics, and any suggestions toward solving a dispute would be much to his credit, not just for making his philosophy more internally coherent, but for also having an impact on philosophy beyond the speculative contribution.

Thanks a bunch for the overview.  It helped me go through my thoughts on the transcript.

–David

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* – http://veraqivas.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/of-eating-well-part-2/ Vergilio Rivas, On Eating Well part2 has an interesting take on philosophical gnosis etc…

 

 

 

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