Reading List update: The New Realism


Marcus Gabriel’s Why the World Does Not Exist and Maurizio Ferraris’s  Introduction to New Realism. As a sideline I’ve been keeping track of the various philosophies that one might term After Postmodernism. Ever since Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude we’ve seen a influx of differing approaches toward moving philosophy past Kant and his inner turn toward an anti-realist world-view that has captivated philosophy, the arts, and sciences for two hundred years. In the middle of the last century just after WWII a great rupture or divide between European philosophers who developed with and against the work of Husserl and Heidegger – what we term the Continental philosophies; and, those who followed Frege, Wittgenstein and others into the Analytic Turn in philosophy have warred without dialogue. The Postmoderns were what we quaintly term the Linguistic Turn (i.e, deconstruction, post-structuralism, modish nihilisms, etc.) In recent years we’ve seen tentative steps to instigate a dialogue between these various divides, etc. – one can think of Alain Badiou’s project Being and Event and Logics of Worlds. Along with the anti-philosophy of Lacan, the non-philosophy of Laurelle and many other experiments in thought a new wave of philosophers has arisen bringing variations on Objects, Materialism, Realism, etc. all returning to various forms of either radical epistemology or ontology. Speculative realism, New Materialism, Dialectical Materialsm, OOO, returns to German Idealism… all are on the plate.

Badiou in his own short history of modern and postmodern philosophies saw – at least in French philosophy, two main threads arising respectively out of Bergson’s vitalist creative tradition – a philosophy of Life; and, out of Brunchvicg’s mathematical idealism – a philosophy of Concept. The philosophy of life ending in the postmodern turn of Derrida and Deleuze, while the philosophy of concept ending in Lacan, Althusser, and Badiou himself. Badiou like most French philosophers is insular and speak only of and to French traditions, and yet believed that it was the influence of the German philosophers Husserl and Heidegger after WWII that were one aspect of many of the changes in the postmodern turn. We can see our ages turn toward realism as a battle against phenomenology and intentionalism, rather than as realists against anti-realists as in Braver. (see Badiou, The Adventure of French Philosophy)

There seems to be little agreement among any of the various participants which is a good thing. One could say that philosophy is at war with itself, which means the castle of dogma is in ruins and the anarchy of thinkers well and alive. Beyond all this is philosophy’s age old battle to regain its former glory as arbiter of reality that in the past few hundred years has slowly eroded in the face of scientific endeavor. The sciences at once pragmatic and a praxis, as well as method and program could care less about philosophy or its problems. And, of course this irks the hell out of philosophers. Many in the sciences and even the official arbiters of academic excellence and what Badiou terms, derisively “democratic materialism” are beginning to see philosophy itself as just one more of those regions of thought ready for the dustbin of history, to be placed in the archives along with the arts and letters tribes of the former humanities. A fierce battle is underway across the academic world over such reconfigurations and allotments of – you guessed it: capital, money, allocated resources. The bankers and funders of academia who are guided by worldly and economic shareholders are seeking profit and gain, not the pure and absolute benefit of cultural artifacts.

Only time will tell if philosophy can align itself to the worldly worlds of capital, or whether they will be marginalized like others aspects of the humanities. For now we seek out the last remaining lights shining in this dimming sea of doubt and economic indifference.

Of course not being a capitalist nor an academic its all mute to me, but philosophy whether as Badiou hopes allows the philosopher to move back into its role of philosophe, combining the various truth-procedures and conditions of philosophy (i.e., sciences, art, love, and politics) into a form worthy of the ancient heritage or not one imagines a new literature being born out of its embers. (p. xii “To create a new style of philosophical exposition, and so to compete with literature; essentially, to reinvent in contemporary terms the eighteenth-century figure of the philosopher-writer.” The Adventure of French Philosophy)

Note Added: Reading Gabriel’s introduction we come across this:

Consequently, the world would be the domain in which there exist not only all things and facts which occur without us, but also all the things and facts which occur only with us. For ultimately it should be the domain that comprises everything – life, the universe, and everything else.

Still, to be precise, this all-inclusive being, the world, does not exist and cannot exist. With this main thesis, not only should the illusion that there is a world, to which humanity quite obstinately adheres, be destroyed, but at the same time I wish to use this in order to win positive knowledge from it. For I claim not only that the world does not exist but also that everything exists except the world.1

What is he saying? Simply that the ‘world’ is a concept not an actual being-in-the-world, but rather a concept that relates everything without us and with us; and, yet, he argues that it is not objective like a moon or planet, something out there in reality, it does not exist in existence. What he is trying to demolish here is the notion of a world-view, of a concept of totality that encompasses life, the universe, and everything we can think or not think, etc. It’s this notion of Cosmos, of a unified whole or cosmic vision of oneness and totality that he’s trying to say does not exist nor can it exist. Such a notion is part of the trend in philosophy toward a concept of incompleteness and non-closure, of openness to everything which exists but cannot be reduced to any singular concept of human knowledge. In Badiou there is no one-All, in Zizek and Lacan no big Other… one could go on. We remember scientists in the last century seeking a Theory of Everything. It’s against such a enclosed theoretical and descriptive reduction to natural or mathematic languages of reality as a codified and known whole that the new realism seems to be antagonistic. In fact, he’ll say as much later in the introduction:

There is simply no rule or world formula that describes everything. (p. 11)

So that the pursuit of a Theory of Everything that many scientists have hoped for is according to Gabriel and many current philosophers an erroneous and wrong-headed pursuit that will not and cannot ever be attained.

  1. Gabriel, Markus (2015-07-06). Why the World Does Not Exist (p. 9). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

8 thoughts on “Reading List update: The New Realism

  1. “Wolf’s Message, Wolf’s Message, Wolf’s Message.” Me chanting. Ok, if not, then Richard Martini’s work with the center for noetic sciences and other related scientists and thinkers? They can’t all be wrong. They’re not idiots. But love this post, thank you!


  2. Speaking to the art, not the philosophy… what kind of ‘realism’ is this? This isn’t about artists representing visual perception on a surface–or in plastic mediums, translating perception into to line, color tone and mass on a surface, or wood or stone, clay or metal; it’s photographic realism–seeing as photo images have taught us to see: a demonstration of technique and little more. This is most apparent with the pencil photo realist stuff that’s something of a fad–images actually rendered from photographs, imitating photographs absent interpretation–absent any contribution of thought, aesthetic sensibility or understanding. It’s robotic. Stuff robots could be programmed to do. Not even in the tromp l’oeil tradition– where the art is in the tension between knowing that what we’re seeing is a painting–works that stand on their own in purely visual terms. There is nothing left, after the surprise and admiration for the technician’s skill.

    Amazing someone took the time and effort to learn to do this… but why?

    This is not art. It’s anti-art.


    • Are you speaking of the image I’m using? The image was just something found on google: a hyperrealist work rather than new realism, surrealism, or naïve realism, etc. More of a postmodern hyper-real of let’s say Umberto Eco of Baudrillard. I’m not a postmodernist myself, so am not defending it if that’s what you’re getting at. No. In fact the various new realisms are opposing such anti-realist gestures of hyperrealist postmodernity. I didn’t mean to imply the image as new realist at all, more of a parodic gesture of realism is in fact at the heart of postmodern mimicry.


  3. Forgot to mention, John McCumber has an excellent journal article on the Analytic – Continental ‘split’ from over yen years ago. I forget which journal, but it’s aptly titled so shouldn’t be hard to find. It’s really well done. Wait, have we had this conversation before? 😉


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