Happy Holidays… and my continued readings!

Happy Holidays all!

I’ve been playing hookie of late enjoying family and friends, but have been doing some reading as well. Along with rereading from the beginning the works of Gilles Deleuze – having started Empiricism and Subjectivity of late (his treatment of David Hume). I am also reading a fascinating new work that may just be the next great preamble to a way forward in philosophy. I speak of Adrian Johnston’s new Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism. This is the open salvo in what appears to be a trilogy that will open a new path for those who have struggled of late with Contemporary French Philosophy.

Adrian Johnston is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and a faculty member of the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute in Atlanta.  He is the author of Time Driven:  Metapsychology and the Splitting of the Drive (2005), Žižek’s Ontology:  A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (2008), Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations:  The Cadence of Change (2009), and Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism, Volume One:  The Outcome of Contemporary French Philosophy (2013), all published by Northwestern University Press.  He is the co-author, with Catherine Malabou, of Self and Emotional Life:  Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (Columbia University Press, 2013).  His next book, Adventures in Transcendental Materialism:  Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers, will be released by Edinburgh University Press in early 2014.  With Todd McGowan and Slavoj Žižek, he is a co-editor of the book series Diaeresis at Northwestern University Press.

There is a good review of his opening book on Philosophical Reviews for those interested:


I’ll add my thoughts at some future time, but for now am enjoying what is being presented so far.

19 thoughts on “Happy Holidays… and my continued readings!

      • ya know a number of the sort of 2nd generation continental folks made what I think of as a welcome pragmatist turn (with some irony after the Rorty vs Derrida dust-up that I came to know many of them thru) Critchley did a book on Wallace Stevens, Ronell wrote her test-drive book, and Malabou has been abusing neuroscience but they couldn’t quite give up old habits (reminds me of how Dewey never could make the full move from Hegel to Darwin) and only Rabinow (who really comes more after Foucault than Derrida) has really come into his own, but I think that as a sort of 3rd generation maybe Adrian can truly cut a new path.


  1. The review and interview strike me as more apologetics to add to the cloud of perpetually underdetermined ontological interpretations. I’ll give it a read, but does anyone truly believe that these discursive attempts to somehow pry apart the irreflexivity of nature – to find some redeeming ‘gap’ – will amount to anything but more of the same? Hasn’t the suspicion that it’s becoming an INDUSTRY begun to prickle any of your hackles?

    How many times does the mouse have to die trying to find it’s way out of the maze before we finally give up and *look forward,* actually tackle the terror that refuses to go away, the terror of a thought radically alien to what thought has always taken itself to be?

    Where is the courage of the hopeless?

    Instead everyone wants to be something essential without essentialism, something utterly natural while remaining somehow transcendental – be it Hagglund, or Zizek, or even Brassier. Does absolutely everyone belong to the redemption industry? Am I the only one beating the ugly drum in these quarters?


    • Once again you make such adamant uninformed judgments on philosophy with half-baked notions floating in your head. Your speculative system, and it is that, is neither science nor an actual theory in the strict sense. Yet, being the full blown skeptic you trash anything and everything that does not fit into your own little niche of light. So be it. Hey philosophy is not for all. Philosophy is not Science, either. It isn’t trying to prove facts about nature, it is a little more subtle than that and encompasses a larger framework of knowledge than you have yet to tap with your continued attacks.

      BBT is fine for its one basic idea, but that doesn’t even start to cover the gamut of scientific thought much less philosophy. In your above statements I can see that you have not and probably will not ever read any of these gentleman philosophers with depth and persistence so will not try to correct your misguided interpretations. None of them deal with ‘essentialism’… And, what Johnston is working through is not some philosophy of suspicion. Closer to a conflict ontology. But hey whose mincing words. No one is looking for redemption, a strange theological term to mix in with such an atheistic materialism as presented by Lacan, Badiou, Zizek, Meillossoux, and Adrian Johnston in his critique.

      Tell the truth I don’t think anyone will ever convince you differently. You’ve made up your mind. Your obsessed with this strange beast of BBT and will have no quarter with anything else till you see it crowned and labeled by some actual scientific journal, etc. So no need to beat philosophy over the head. It never was about proving itself right, or scientific, or any other reduction to truth, etc. Philosophy is about thinking, about thinking about thinking, about concepts and the life of conceptual frameworks we use to explain the mystery of existence to ourselves and each other.

      Even your blanketing of everything to ‘heurestics’ belies the fictional and speculative nature of your enterprise. So be it. No one is trying to disprove your theory. And, at least for me, BBT is not the end all, be all of the next great conceptual explanation on subjectivity, brain, and what we are as humans. No one is trying to convince you that Philosophy is worthwhile for you or your precious scientific world.

      Obviously I’ll continue to work through both science and philosophy with or without your permission. For me the world of thought encompasses a great deal more than you seem to allow for in your skepticism and pyronism. So be it.

      Your ideas are interesting and for the most part true, and I have covered them on my blog to my best ability. No arguments here. But I don’t take kindly people who continually think that have the one and only truth with a big sign reading: No Need to Look for Truth Elsewhere – I have it, and it’s called Blind Brain Theory. No. Your speculative theory is like all things human a partial truth, and one mainly built out of the bricks of our time and moment. And like all things will be surpassed as we gain more or different knowledge of the brain at some future time.

      I’m not castigating your theory, but am taking a little stance against your castigation of philosophy as if it’s only purpose was to be like Science and give us the truth about reality. Philosophy clarifies concepts, gives us the tools to help us think, write, speak with fluency and intelligence on almost any subject. It’s spectrum is wide and various and isn’t bound to any one subject. There is no saving grace in philosophy, just like there is no saving grace in sciences. Each works its own domain taking from each other those things each needs for the clarity and power of its work.

      I think you read a great deal of philosophy in some forms early in your career and became disillusioned. So instead of pushing through the individual aspects of its vast repertoire of voices you found the sciences – and neuroscience in particular. And in it you found the meaning of things, something that explained to you just what it was you had been searching for most of your life. And through your blog you’ve been refining this insight ever since. But now you have two choices: either let this sit on your blog, or actually refine this to book form and publish it. Either way, most of what’s left for you is just filling out the details, and battling for or against actual practicing scientists who are publishing. What will you do?

      You speak of hopelessness… I’m neither an optimist nor pessimist, but I will not give up on life just yet, nor on my mental efforts to understand both existence and my place in it. If the path is difficult then so be it. Both philosophy, science, art, politics, and love have their unique place in my life. There is nothing hopeless in life. Yes, we may be replaced with our machines someday. Who knows? Do you. Yet, I wonder if your reducing things to an older mechanistic naturalism in this vein? Does reality need to be reduced to mechanistic materialism? What if there was another perspective on this? Sometimes I wonder if you truly believe that BBT is true. You hunger for someone to come along and tear it apart and convince you that you don’t see what in fact you do see…. Why is it so hard to believe that we are all fictions? That we tell our selves stories about our lives that are mostly fabrications and mystifications, mixtures of memory and desire? One could study the history of subjectivity and certain authors have and realize that our concept of the Subject has changed over the eons. Even our brain has plasticity and has changed over the long haul of evolutionary history. Science is uncovering all aspects of this and rightly so.


      • “Once again you make such adamant uninformed judgments on philosophy with half-baked notions floating in your head. Your speculative system, and it is that, is neither science nor an actual theory in the strict sense. Yet, being the full blown skeptic you trash anything and everything that does not fit into your own little niche of light. So be it.”

        I was hoping to nettle some passion! I accept all these claims as possibilities, Stephen – I truly do – I just ask to be shown the unbaked portions. Consider my critique of Zizek’s ‘gap theory’ in the post I linked below. Or my readings of Hagglund, or Brassier: in what ways are these readings superficial, blinkered by my tunnel-vision?

        I check in on a number of sites like yours, and I periodically find myself dismayed not by the fact that people aren’t feeding my ego, referencing my theory – I regularly remind myself of how much of an obscure kook I am – but that no one seems to be asking any *hardball* questions. There really seems to be the same kind of ‘conspiracy of common interests’ that informs genre fiction sites, where a tacit agreement to agree underwrites all the apparent ‘disagreement.’ Being ‘critical’ too often means questioning the ‘other guy,’ people who wouldn’t be caught dead in such neighbourhoods. Tell me you don’t go through phases where it seems to all be a pointless parlour game.

        Believe it or not, I’m a believer in what might be called the ‘Continental attitude,’ the tradition that prioritizes conceptual innovation over epistemic conservatism. This is the whole reason why I freak Analytically minded philosophers out. But for me epistemic ill-will – skepticism – is the best engine of conceptual innovation. So I continually hunt for the questions that cannot be answered, that provoke and piss off. Unfortunately, this seems to freak out Continentally minded thinkers.

        In short, I think you have backward, Stephen. Philosophy, thinking, is first and formost about *real questions,* the only tool we have to make our ignorance visible. It’s when philosophy begins to build fences, to pass over certain questions in silence, to focus only on those discourse parochial questions that facilitate the ‘ongoing’ debate, the bestselling fictions, that philosophy becomes institutionalized – industrialized.

        And maybe this was fine back when. But dude, we are caught up in something not only crazy, but crazy FAST. I have many reasons to be skeptical of ‘ontology tweakers,’ but this is the one that overrides them all. Thanks to the Standard Model and Supercomputing, science now has a LOGIC OF DISCOVERY, a way to ‘deduce’ empirical results. If you think things are happening fast as it is, buckle up.


      • I have no problems with ‘critique’ per say, it’s a wide world out there. I agree with Churchland in her latest work, Touching a Nerve, “Several hundred years hence, students reading the history of this period may be as dumbfounded regarding our resistance to brain science as we are now regarding the seventeenth-century resistance to the discovery that the heart is a meat pump.”

        All the sciences make philosophy redundant in that sense, yet very little of current sciences is tooled in the concept market. Scientists themselves seem ridden with untrained minds in the sense of ‘mind tools’ that philosophy affords. Science is so inward and jargon ridden (not to say that philosophy isn’t… lol), that it is sometimes hard to see the forest from the trees.

        And, of course, you’re right everything is speeding up… and, of course, I write about that aspect on my blog under ‘accelerationism’ in its many forms.

        I see what you’ve done is sectioned off one area of knowledge: the Brain and made that your blogs main focus. This is great, and I commend you, but for me being more of a generalist I wander among all the halls of learning seeking understanding from the best and brightest.

        Obviously our electronic progeny will probably one day surpass their makers and become light bearers of our biological memory into some future galactic destiny. We will as evolution teaches one day as a species vanish as almost 99% of species have before us. But possibly the memory of our explorations and questionings will live on through those beings as yet undetermined. Whether quantum brains will become the future is yet to be seen, but until such times I agree: philosophy is about the problems and questions more than it is about the answers. It is event and movement more than the tractable traces of past endeavors. Moment by moment we are sloughing off older metaphysical and metacognitive crapology everyday.

        A healthy skepticism is fine, but don’t make it into a program it leads to endless questionings that will never have an ending.

        Churchland, Patricia S. (2013-07-22). Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain (p. 17). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.


    • the Rorty vs Derrida debates that I mentioned above came about when Rorty rightly called out Derrida for betraying his earlier insights by starting to wax “quasi” transcendental and to the degree that Zizek and all are still practicing meta-physics than I have little use for them, but for once to agree with Graham Harman I don’t want to follow Dennett in replacing the finer (more useful) aspects of say wine criticism with chemistry(testing) just as Wittgenstein (who may also have had some wrongheaded desire to keep transcendence in the mix) was correct in his critiques of purely functionalist reductions/analysis by folks like Freud (tho Freud to his credit noted aspects of life like “fine” dining as being special to human-being) and Frazer, there is something to the lived aspects of experience (qualities of life) that just aren’t captured by mechanics, which is not to raise them above science, just to note that if we are trying to make our ways in the world these are aspects worth attending to and cultivating. This may not be anywhere near your concerns but they give some idea of what I’m after.


      • I’m not convinced Rorty ever entirely understood Derrida’s phenomenological roots (he read him as a pragmatist, basically). It’s the inability of scientific paradigms to capture life as we intuit it that has me horrified. The problem is that these paradigms have crossed the threshold of the human, and even though they are presently only nibbling at the edges, they are set to consume life whole. As soon as the brain is reverse-engineered, it becomes technology, and there appears to be nothing ‘experiential’ or ‘vital’ or ‘meaningful’ that is immune.

        Koselleck’s Neuzeit is great way of thinking this, the way modernity is continually atrophying our ability to map our ‘space of experience’ across our ‘horizon of expectation’: in these terms, my charge is that Johnston’s approach is obsolete before even beginning. He, like everyone else, seems to be treating science as a merely *discursive threat* (this is the way Fisher reads Neuropath, for instance) when it is first and foremost a *material threat.* The way I and others theorize the mechanical paradigm hangs like rags from what that paradigm is *doing.* Arguing against those theoretical rags – in the form of ‘determinism,’ say – is pretty fucking easy. It’s the doing that needs to be acknowledged, placed front and centre.

        Roden is the only philosopher I know of who seems to really appreciate this.


      • ah well Rorty read other folks largely to find illustrations for his own work and he never really found a way to integrate neurophenomenology (not for lack of trying on my part) into his understanding of human-being but I think he was right about the unfortunate Levinasian turn in Derrida with his theo-speculative nonsense on the “Gift” or “Justice” and such imaginary Concepts (Imperatives?). You are much more optimistic than I am about our abilities to engineer human-like technologies but either way in the meantime we must make do with what is at hand.
        We will see about AJ’s work and how far he can move from his masters and I’ll check out Kosselleck, I enjoy Roden’s blog but he doesn’t seem to be at some sort of radical pivot-point to me tho I’ll see what develops there too, cheers.


  2. “A healthy skepticism is fine, but don’t make it into a program it leads to endless questionings that will never have an ending.”

    That would be science.

    I was disappointed by Touching a Nerve for the predictable reasons.


    • Yea, I can imagine… she is a little quotidian repeating her own earlier statements and books for the common reader I suppose. In that sense it was good… it opened up ideas that would have been too abstruse for most common readers to handle. I’ll give her credit for that. Otherwise I can see where you’re coming from about her and her husband’s work. I think you’ve stressed that already on your blog eloquently.

      As for Dr. David Roden…. yea, I’ve been an avid fan of his site enemyindustry from its beginnings and look forward to his new book Posthuman Life coming out in 2014. His essays are excellent as well.


      • David’s far too sensible to make the kind of sweeping programmatic statements I’m prone to, but he really has kicked into the unknown. The fate of our second-order conceptuality hangs upon what he terms disconnection. (If it is mostly metacognitive dross as I fear, then disconnection means the end of everything remotely human).

        My guess is that his book will provide posthuman studies with a lucid, and very much needed, point of departure for both continental and analytic thinkers (who slowly seem to be coming around). At some point, being well-versed in this debate is going to start landing people jobs, but a few more people need to croak first, I think.


  3. “but I think he was right about the unfortunate Levinasian turn in Derrida with his theo-speculative nonsense on the “Gift” or “Justice” and such imaginary Concepts”

    Ayuh. I agree those criticisms are spot on. But he reads Derrida as a contextualist for the most part otherwise, which I think is an easy avenue in attempting to interpret Derrida, but entirely misconstrues the auto-erasing normative structure of deconstructive performativity.


  4. ““A healthy skepticism is fine, but don’t make it into a program it leads to endless questionings that will never have an ending.”

    That would be science.”

    Scientific skepticism too is an empirical variable. Researchers quantify and report not just their findings but also the degree of certainty in their findings, via probabilities, statistical significance, percentage of the observed variance accounted for, confidence intervals, and so on. These statistical tests typically assume skepticism as the default; i.e., the hypothesis under investigation is no better than chance in explaining the results — the so-called null hypothesis.

    Most scientific work happens at the margins, incrementally decreasing the residual uncertainties. Hypothetically there is an ending to skepticism, at least in localized sectors of investigation: 100% of the variance accounted for. In practice this holy grail of deterministic confidence is never achieved, nor is it even approached very closely. Still, it’s rare in contemporary scientific practice that an established theory or paradigm is overthrown unless an alternative proves measurably and consistently more powerful in accounting for the established body of findings.

    Conservative, progressive, modernistic, self-delusional? Maybe, but that’s how most of those who play understand the rules of the game. Outsiders charting a course through scientific waters often have a hard time navigating between the Scylla of unwarranted certainty and the Charybdis of rampant skepticism.


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