On Land, Zizek, and Speculative Realism: The Mediation of the Real

What’s always been interesting in the current battles between materialist, vitalist, and speculative realist philosophies is that they all seem to dispute where to begin: the dialectical materialists and vitalists begin with the pre-ontological and formless void, then turn toward an emergent ontology arising out of it; while SR starts at that point when substance or form has already emerged, battling over just what it is that form and substance are without ever appraising the pre-ontological (or as Harman likes to put it: it’s objects all the way down).

I seem to float between Zizek and Land. Land begins in the formless ocean of energy – the vitalist stream of process and becoming he sees in Nietzsche and Bataille a non-dialectical process that never enters into any form of static substance, ever. Zizek seems to oscillate between form (Substance/Subject) and formlessness (Void) never resting in either world, always moving like a desperate thought between the two. Where Land is non-dialectical, Zizek is dialectical. For me there is a parallax view between the two that has yet to be assayed.

Or as Zizek says of parallax view:

“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. Or, to put it in Lacanese, the subject’s gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its “blind spot,” that which is “in the object more than object itself,” the point from which the object itself returns the gaze.” (http://www.lacan.com/zizparallax.htm)

In this sense it coincides with Nietzsche’s sense of Zarathustra’s statement that one must be wary of staring into the abyss lest “it stare back” (paraphrase). This sense of the object gazing back becomes in Graham Harman’s system the notion of when two objects gaze into each other a third object is formed in excess of the original objects, thereby forming something new that is neither one nor the other. In this sense they form a parallax view onto each other; or, as Harman would say “Every relation needs a mediator.” So that for Harman:

“My view is that this problem arises directly from Latour’s “flat ontology.” If all actors are equal, then you cannot avoid an infinite number of mediators between any two entities. Yet the solution provided by object-oriented philosophy is that there are two kinds of objects, not just one: there are real and sensual objects that mediate each other one at a time, much like the north and south poles of a magnet which alone can make contact, leading to a potentially endless chain of magnets. … As for “weird realism,” it denotes a kind of realism that is not simply a question of matching the contents of the mind with a real world outside the mind. My sort of realism is “weird” because it claims that the real is too real to be known, or too real to be accessed. I choose the word “weird” because of its desirable association with things that never fully appear insofar as they are not quite of this earth: Shakespeare’s “weird sisters,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “weird tales.”” (http://figureground.org/interview-with-graham-harman-2/)

So in this sense Harman when he says that “the real is too real to be known” he would take us back to Socrates; or, as Land says:

“By interpreting contact with the unknown as the deferral of judgment by the subject, translating the positivity of sacred confusion into the negativity of epistemic uncertainty, Socrates initiates the proper history of the West.”1

So in this sense it’s a battle whether one argues from and for an epistemic stance (Zizek) over the ‘ontic’ or reduction to some static known or physical substance, and rather opts for either a non-dialectical or dialectical parallax view onto the object that one relates to within the mediation. The problem that one must resolve is not that there is relation and mediation, but rather is this mediator conceptual or energetic? This seems to be the battle among current philosophies. We’ve discussed Zizek’s and Harman’s views, below are Brassier and Land.

Brassier opts for the concept as mediator. “…many philosophers follow Hegel in defining the ‘concrete’ as that which is relationally embedded, in contradistinction to the ‘abstract’, which is isolated or one-sided. In what follows, the terms ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ do not designate types of entity, such as the perceptible and the imperceptible or the material and immaterial. They are used to characterise the ways in which thinking relates to entities. As Hegel showed, what seems most concrete, particularity or sensible immediacy, is precisely what is most abstract, and what seems most abstract, universality or conceptual mediation, turns out to be most concrete.”  (http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/wandering-abstraction)

Land says: “Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy…” or “mediation assumes a kind of quarantine, whereby the interaction of organism-specific id and exo-organismic reality can be monitored and negotiated, collapsing libidinal circuitry into a polarity of the psychic and the extrapsychic, inside and outside.”2

Both Brassier and Land speak in almost Zizekian terms of oscillating between inside/outside, Brassier more formally reverting to the ‘concrete universal’ of Hegelian abstraction; while Land, energetic as always, moving among Freud’s libidinal dialectic; yet, both are in the end agreeing on a dialectical vision of mediation so that even Land succumbs to Hegel whether he will or no. Strangely, so did Bataille, who also struggled with and against Hegelian dialectics. Only Zizek would emerge from this battle with a notion of the Void within the Void – a return to Democritus’s notions that matter is void (“empty, immaterial”).

With Harman we come upon the notion of “vanishing mediator,” which strangely – due to his readings of Zizek would take an inverse relation to that philosopher’s use of the term. Whereas Zizek in The Ticklish Subject would bring to the fore is a thematization of the Subject as some kind of disjunctive “and”:

The key point is thus that the passage from “nature” to “culture” is not direct, that one cannot account for it within a continuous evolutionary narrative: something has to intervene between the two, a kind of “vanishing mediator,” which is neither nature nor culture—this In-between is silently presupposed in all evolutionary narratives. We are not idealists: this In-between is not the spark of logos magically conferred on Homo sapiens, enabling them to form his supplementary virtual symbolic surroundings, but precisely something that, although it is also no longer nature, is not yet logos, and has to be “repressed” by logos—the Freudian name for this In-between, of course, is the death drive. Speaking of this In-between, it is interesting to note how philosophical narratives of the “birth of man” are always compelled to presuppose such a moment of human (pre)history when (what will become) man is no longer a mere animal and simultaneously not a “being of language,” bound by symbolic Law; a moment of thoroughly “perverted,” “denaturalized,” “derailed” nature which is not yet culture.3

Harman in his first work would discuss this notion, saying,

Zizek is perfectly right to point to the impossibility of correlating ontic choices to the ontological gap between presence and absence. It should also be clear that human existence never occupies the point of either pure immersion or pure awareness: “the ‘specifically human’ dimension is thus neither that of engaged agent caught in the finite life-world context, nor that of universal Reason exempted from the life-world, but the very discord, the ‘vanishing mediator’ between the two.” This ambivalent discord goes by many names in Heidegger, among them geworfener Entwurf, thrown projection. I have argued in this book that projection is no more primary than the thrownness, and hence, that the future has no real priority over the past.4

This brings into play another agreement between Land and Zizek over Harman. Zizek’s notion of retroactive causation, or against Harman – the notion that the future does have a priority over the past. Playfully Zizek in Absolute Recoil will tell it this way,

The book’s title refers to the expression absoluter Gegenstoss, which Hegel uses only once, but at a crucial point in his logic of reflection, to designate the speculative coincidence of opposites in the movement by which a thing emerges out of its own loss. The most concise poetic formula of absolute recoil was provided by Shakespeare (no surprise here), in his uncanny Troilus and Cressida (Act 5, Scene 2):

O madness of discourse,
That cause sets up with and against itself!
Bi-fold authority! where reason can revolt
Without perdition, and loss assume all reason
Without revolt.5

Hegel uses the term “absolute recoil” in his explanation of the category of “ground/ reason (Grund),” where he resorts to one of his famous wordplays, connecting Grund (ground/ reason) and zu Grunde gehen (to fall apart, literally “to go to one’s ground”):

The reflected determination, in falling to the ground, acquires its true meaning, namely, to be within itself the absolute recoil upon itself, that is to say, the positedness that belongs to essence is only a sublated positedness, and conversely, only self-sublating positedness is the positedness of essence. Essence, in determining itself as ground, is determined as the non-determined; its determining is only the sublating of its being determined. Essence, in being determined thus as self-sublating, has not proceeded from another, but is, in its negativity, self-identical essence.6

In a final explication we quote from Zizek one last refrain:

To put it in traditional terms, the present work endeavors to elevate the speculative notion of absolute recoil into a universal ontological principle. Its axiom is that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity. All other forms of materialism, including the late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter,” scientific naturalism, and neo-Deleuzian “New Materialism,” fail in this goal. The consequences of this axiom are systematically deployed in three steps:

1) the move from Kant’s transcendentalism to Hegel’s dialectics, that is, from transcendental “correlationism” (Quentin Meillassoux) to the thought of the Absolute;
2) dialectics proper: absolute reflection, coincidence of the opposites;
3) the Hegelian move beyond Hegel to the materialism of “less than nothing.”7

Nick Land always an opponent to a certain type of dialectical thinking will harken back to Socrates to begin his attack, saying,

With Socrates, things are different. Philosophy becomes dialectical; which is to say justificatory, political, logical, plebeian. Truth is identified with irrefutability, evidentiality and educated belief, beginning its long subsidence into the forms of human credence, as if its acceptability were in any way a criterion.8

For Land Socratism is the mobilization of unknowing on behalf of knowing; subordinating irony to dialectic, confusion to judgments and the sacred to a subdued profanity.9

Land, favoring Maoist over Leninist/Stalinist Marxism and dialectics will offer an appraisal:

The Superiority of Far Eastern Marxism. Whilst Chinese materialist dialectic denegativizes itself in the direction of schizophrenizing systems dynamics, progressively dissipating top-down historical destination in the Tao-drenched Special Economic Zones, a re-Hegelianized ‘western marxism’ degenerates from the critique of political economy into a state-sympathizing monotheology of economics, siding with fascism against deregulation. The left subsides into nationalistic conservatism, asphyxiating its vestigial capacity for ‘hot’ speculative mutation in a morass of ‘cold’ depressive guilt-culture. (FN, KL  6110-6114).

Yet, in the end Land’s non-dialectical of base materialism begins in a rejection of physicalism or reductionary substantive formalist and scientific factuality:

A cosmological theory of desire emerges from the ashes of physicalism. This is to presuppose, of course, that idealism, spiritualism, dialectical materialism (shoddy idealism), and similar alternatives have been discarded in a preliminary and rigorously atheological gesture. Libidinal materialism, or the theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, is nothing but a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice.10

Land’s reading of Hegel unlike Zizek’s would see dialectical materialism as part of a redemptive system of saving the appearances, etc. as substantive formalism writ out in absolutist terms. Zizek’s Hegel is read through Lacan and vice versa as a non-substantive or immaterialist system wherein the Void or Less than nothing replaces substantive matter of physicalism. So that in some ways and by circuitous route both Land and Zizek are in agreement as to the dephysicalization of matter, but disagree over desire. Zizkek following Lacan sees in desire lack seeking the Object a; Land following Deleuze will see the unconscious as productive rather than lacking or needful, and will build an energetic or constructive notion of desire as desiring machines, as producer of desires.

In the end there will remain no reconciliation among these various philosophers, only open war and disparity.

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3310-3311). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 4489-4491). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 39.
  4. Harman, Graham. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (pp. 206-207). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  6. ibid. (pp. 3-4)
  7. ibid.
  8. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3255-3257). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. ibid.
  10. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. (p. 26)

Wild Empiricism: Deleuze and the Hermetic Turn

As I’ve been reading Joshua Ramey’s work The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and the Spiritual Ordeal I kept asking myself: Why am I interested in such a book? What does it truly say about Deleuze? I know that Deleuze pushed the limits of philosophical speculation, that he was very much an independent thinker, who was schooled and trained in the disciplines of a stringent academic world; yet, he formulated an aesthetic philosophy that followed the fine lines between material anorganic and organic life, its affective relations, its uncanny demarcations in the nerve center of time. Even his concepts of time are not our normal ones.

I still return to Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound with its unique reading of Deleuze from time to time. The thing about Brassier’s writing is its density, its weight, which forces one to return again and again, to repeat the process of ingesting little nuggets rather than chewing the cud of the whole discursive cow in one sitting. Brassier presents a Deleuze as a philosopher of Time, a psychonaut of the fly lines of temporal differentiation (NU 162).1 This is the being qua time of Deleuze’s ontological univocity. Yet, as Brassier notes the modality of this being is of a special type, because of his reinterpretation of univocity is brought under the sway of time what we get in Deleuze is a “modality of individuation, that of the psyche” (163). It is just here that Deleuze formulates what Brassier terms a third sense of time based on Freud’s ‘death-instinct’: the psyche is the battlefield of immanent forces in which “individuation becomes fully potentiated as the differentiator of difference” (163).

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Slavoj Zizek: Contingency and Ontological Incompleteness

“Materialism has nothing to do with the assertion of the inert density of matter; it is, on the contrary, a position which accepts the ultimate Void of reality—the consequence of its central thesis on the primordial multiplicity is that there is no ‘substantial reality’, that the only ‘substance’ of the multiplicity is Void.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Speculative Turn

“But, as I have shown,  the world is not formed of solid substance, since there is an admixture of void in things…”

– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

I wager that Zizek will more and more come to be known as an Epicurean materialist in the tradition of that great formulator, Lucretius. Zizek’s admixture of atheism and Christianity in dialectical process weans us from the corrosive affects of that religion, while inserting the Void itself – as the central figure, rather than Christ, in a drama that has more to do with the unshackling of human finitude from its roots in false-consciousness than it does of some religious vision of pure transcendence.  Against the substantial formalism of Plato and his progeny, up too and including certain forms of speculative realism, Zizek follows the secret life of both material and immaterial phenomena, and their irreducibility in the natural order of things that is imperfect, contingent, incomplete and open.

His version of the great tradition begins and ends with the logic of quantum physics, but read through the lens of Hegel and Lacan. Disputing with Zizek is like entering a chameleon’s den, not realizing the enemy is oneself rather than the dialectician sitting across from one; one who has already attuned himself to the full panoply of effective argumentation you so carefully brought to the table; having quickly replaced its ill-understood truths with with a jouissance that is both disarming of your uncertain mind, and a partial completion of the very truth of Zizek’s own irreducible thoughts on the Void.

At the center of Zizek’s involvement with quantum physics is a sense that our understanding of reality is incomplete: an ontological incompleteness informs all aspects of our imperfect knowledge (Zizek: “its premise is the ‘non-All’ of reality, its ontological incompleteness”… one can think of this as well within mathematics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.). This imperfect, incomplete reality is shaped by the necessity of contingency as well as founded on the contingency of necessity.  This irreducible and immaterial materialism sets itself against both idealization of matter (cognitive naturalism) and the materialization of thoughts (material idealism). As Zizek would have it, the opposite of materialism is not – as some would say, idealism, but its vulgarization within the cognitive sciences (i.e., Churchland): the presumption of certain cognitive scientists who presume to make of ‘self-awarness’ of consciousness itself a fundamental force within the natural order of things; its “quintessence”(407).1

In an interview at the tail-end of the first Speculative Turn Zizek plunges ahead making his most radical turn toward a new materialism, telling us that if reality is ontologically incomplete, if the ‘non-All’ of matter is equated with the Void, then “this means that a truly radical materialism is by definition non-reductionist: far from claiming that ‘everything is matter’, it confers upon the ‘immaterial’ phenomena a specific positive non-being” (407). A materialism that is both non-reductive and immaterial would suddenly turn the tables on the history of materialism from Democritus to today, a rejection of ‘objective reality’: the insubstantial reality that undermines the logic of a consistent subjectivity, that brings with it an ontological openness breaks with Kant’s second antinomy of pure reason, and one that Plato in the Parmenides qualified: ‘Then may we not sum up the argument in a word and say truly; If one is not, then nothing is?’ (408). Rather, nothing exists; rejected by Kant, yet accepted in the qualification of a materialism in which “‘material reality is non-all’, as against the saying: ‘material reality is all there is'”(408).

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Zizek on Speculative Realism: Thinking the Real

“The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center.”

 – Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing

Mapping the four players of the original SR movement onto the board game of squares, Greimasian semiotic square at that, Zizek manipulates the elements to test out his own interpretive strategies. A grid that aligns Quentin Meillassoux’s “speculative materialism,” Graham Harman’s “object-oriented philosophy,”  Iain Hamilton Grant’s neo-vitalism, and Ray Brassier’s radical nihilism along a divine/secular and scientific/metaphysical four-score transposition and permutation of elements that serves his commentary. As he tells us:

Although both Meillassoux and Brassier advocate a scientific view of reality as radically contingent and apprehensible through formalized science, Brassier also endorses scientific reductionism, while Meillassoux leaves the space open for a non-existent divinity which will redress all past injustices. On the other side, both Harman and Grant advocate a non-scientific metaphysical approach, with Harman opting for a directly religious (or spiritualist, at least) panpsychism, outlining a program of investigating the “cosmic layers of psyche” and “ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone,” while Grant, in Deleuzian fashion, locates the meta-physical dimension in nature itself, conceiving the world of objects as the products of a more primordial process of becoming (will, drive, etc.).1*

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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

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Brandom and Brassier: Hegel Redivivus

In my previous post on Whitehead Leon made an acute observation, saying:

Brandom is definitely overlooked.  His sort of Hegelianism is the “least offensive” to those who are all out materialists – but what interests me the most is the cross-over between that sort of Hegelian idealism/realism, and contemporary “speculative idealism.”  It is the latter that Brassier’s current thinking seems to be nearing: through Hegel, through Plato, through naturalism, through pragmatism, through Sellars, and so on (and I should emphasize that the Plato/naturalism re-connection is just brilliant).  If there is one figure in addition to Whitehead that speculative philosophers must “work through” today – or encounter, or engage and appropriate in some way – it is Hegel.  There is no doubt in my mind about that.

And, yes, Robert Brandom offers a glimpse onto certain unresolved issues. Brandom felt that Hegel resolved some of the issues of Kant concerning certain unresolved dualisms, such as that between ontology and deontology. To quote Brandom:

Kant… punted many hard questions about the nature and origins of normativity, of the blindingness of concepts, out of the familiar phenomenol realm of experience into the noumenal realm. Hegel brought these back to earth by understanding normative statuses as social statuses – by developing a view according to which … all transcendental constitution is social institution. The background against which the conceptual activity of making things explicit is intelligible is taken to be implicitly normative essentially social practice. (Brandom, 2000 Making it Explicit: 33-34)

It’s this dependence on the normative which aligns Brandom and Brassier in that both push the justification of normative practices into the social. For Brassier this would be the social practices of scientists as they endlessly debate and revise their knowledge and claims about the world. The whole point of this is to move conceptual practices from a conceptual idealism and into a “space of reasons” or conceptual reasoning. If it is a social practice that entails continuous negotiation of conceptual clarity through progressive elaboration or making explicit that which is implicit in conceptual content then we see how both Brandom and Brassier endorse such a community of normativity about such claims. Instead of relying on subjective appeal we enter into sociality of knowledge.

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Deleuze: The Emptiness of Things

“All sensation is composed with the void in compositing itself with itself, and everything holds together on earth and in the air, and preserves the void, is preserved in the void by preserving itself.”

– Gilles Deleuze, What is Philosophy?

“Lucretius, whom you, oh Virgil, do not honor less than all of us, Lucretius, no less great than you, Virgil, although no greater, he was granted the comprehension of the law of reality, and the song into which he composed it came to be one of truth and beauty…”

– Hermann Broch, Death of Vergil

There are some limits beyond which thinking cannot reach, and if it does it cuts itself off from those primal concepts that tie it to the world; or, so goes the Sellarsian ‘myth of the given’. What is the compositional structure of the Void? What is time that its ‘fractures’ allow for thought and being to momentarily converge, splice, mangle, entwine indelibly, their filaments touching, entangled in a mesh of membranous surfaces, interpenetrating each others alternate domains of being and becoming in a dialectical dance of pure negativity? Deleuze in one of those sublime moments states:

“It is the empty form of time that introduces and constitutes Difference in thought; the difference on the basis of which thought thinks, as the difference between the indeterminate and determination. It is the empty form of time that distributes along both its sides an I that is fractured by the abstract line of time, and a passive self that has emerged from the groundlessness which it contemplates. It is the empty form of time that engenders thinking in thought, for thinking only thinks with difference, orbiting around this point of ungrounding.”

(Delezuze 1968: 354, 1994:276: tm)

Between the larval subject of habit and the individuated self of thinking the indeterminate differentiation of thought and thinking mesh in the fracture that splices in being into time’s multiplicities. Thought does not preexist thinking but emerges out of the intensive difference of those entanglements of differentiation of thinking itself. As Ray Brassier tells us it “is this act of ontological repetition that produces thinking as a ‘caesura’ in the order of time, which in turn introduces the fracture of time into thinking… The caesura establishes an order, a totality and a series of time” (182). 2 It is this subtle pause, the caesura, that throws time itself out of joint, that brings about the principle of non-identity, the fracture in identity as eternal return of difference. It is this principle of non-identity that overthrows the old Hegelian dialectic. No longer are we bound to the recursion of endless repetitions of the Same. Instead we live within the irreducible matrix of a multiplicity of times. How can time be multiple in itself and generate multiplicities while resisting any reduction to a space–time continuum? The original and foremost answer is that time must be a multiplicity of processes, where times are dimensions of one another according to asymmetrical syntheses. This is a time of resistance to settlement and to wholeness. It is a time forever inviting new, transformational and ephemeral constructions:

‘Thus ends the history of time: it undoes its physical or natural circles as too well-centered; it then forms a straight line, but one driven by its longueurs to reform an eternally decentered circle’ (DRf, 152–3).

But the structure of the resulting dialectic is very different from the Hegelian one. At the beginning, in this new dialectic, there is non-identity—at the end, open unfinished totality. In between, irreducible material structure and heteronomy, deep negativity and emergent spatio-temporality. Deleuze was on to something great. In its most general sense, this dialectic has come to signify more or less intricate process of conceptual or social (and sometimes even natural) conflict, interconnection and change, in which the generation, interpenetration and clash of oppositions, leading to their transcendence in a fuller or more adequate mode of thought or form of life (or being), plays a key role. But, as we shall see, dialectical processes and configurations are not always sublatory (i.e. supersessive), let alone preservative. Nor are they necessarily characterized by opposition or antagonism, rather than mere connection, separation or juxtaposition. Nor, finally, are they invariably, or even typically, triadic in form. To what may such processes, to the extent that they occur, be applied? Obviously to being, in which case we may talk about ontological dialectics, or dialectical ontologies which may operate at different levels.

“Alas, he knew this language, this twilight speech of literature and philosophy, the language of the benumbed, unborn word, dead before it was born; it had once been familiar to him also, and certainly he had believed then in what it expressed, believed or thought that he believed; now, however, it sounded alien, almost incomprehensible.”

– Hermann Broch, Death of Virgil

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Ray Brassier on Laruelle: Objects Thinking; or The Transcendental Cut

“Metaphysics conceived of the autonomy of the object in terms of the model of substance. But successive critiques of the hypostatization of substance from Kant to Heidegger have undermined the plausibility of metaphysical (substance based) realism, thereby securing the triumph of correlationism. Laruelle’s work challenges this correlationist consensus by proposing a version of transcendental realism wherein the object is no longer conceived of as a substance but rather as a discontinuous cut in the fabric of ontological synthesis. It is no longer thought that determines the object, whether through representation or intuition, but rather the object, that seizes thought and forces it to think it, or better, according to it. As we have seen, this objective determination takes the form of a unilateral duality whereby the object thinks through the subject.”

– Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment And Extinction


Also for those interested in François Laruelle’s project of non-philosophy Anthony Paul Smith will be talking in Dublin Wednesday 9 January 2013:

Faux amis?: François Laruelle and the Speculative Turn

Interest in François Laruelle’s project of non-philosophy continues to grow, in part because the seeming closeness of his project to that of speculative realism. In this talk Anthony Paul Smith aims to introduce the basic contours of Laruelle’s works in relation to those of speculative realism. While Laruelle has championed a form of thought that is in many ways more virulently non-correlationist than even Meillassoux, he attends to political and ethical questions in a way that appears to weave seamlessly this non-correlationism with a revised, non-standard humanism very different than the anti-humanism present amongst the speculative realists. Exploring this may show how Laruelle’s version of philosophy of science is amenable not with a cold world, but with a vision that simply isn’t worldly.

For more information about D.U.S.T please visit http://dublindust.wordpress.com/

Ray Brassier as Idealist?

“…I consider myself an idealist, opposed to a materialist, as I insist on the need to preserve the relative autonomy of thinking, and the cogency and the consistency of thinking, and of conceptual rationality, precisely in order to be able to adjudicate the relationship between thinking and reality, between theory and practice, and also it’s an enabling condition for practice. In other words, if you try to fuse thought into material reality indiscriminately, I think that leads to an impotent short-circuit. So I would insist on defending the representational structures that are simply attacked… it’s a caricature of representation that’s being attacked, it’s a straw man. Representation here, and theoretical representation in particular, is a straw man.

I want to defend the imperatives of conceptualization, and even a kind of dialectics, as although I agree with what Nick says about the way in which death is a marker for real identity of matter itself, the point is that you should never confuse the symbolic marker for the thing in itself. You need a much more careful and subtle articulation of those terms–actually, between zero, one, and two–to explain the autonomy of thought and rationality and of thinking. Not to put too fine a point on it, so that you can maintain and generate a locus of rational agency. In other words, keep a space of subjectivation open that provides a prism for practical incision, a point of insertion. And that has to be done, and I think this involves re-examining the legacy of Hegel, and of Hegelianism. In other words, to maintain a kind of conceptual rationality that necessitates transformation at the level of practical existence. It requires a lot of theoretical work to do this. I would insist on the need to preserve the autonomy of rationality as something that allows you to intervene, to cut, in the continuity.

– Ray Brassier, Accelerationism Backdoor Broadcasting

Ray Brassier: Quote of the Day!

“Is not part of the philosopher’s unease concerning scientific ‘reduction’ directly attributable to the unavowed wish that, as far as man is concerrned, there always be ‘something’ left over besides the material: some ineffable, unquantifiable metaphysical-residue, some irreducible transcendental remainder?”(AT, 15)

“If anyone is guilty of imperialistic reductionism as far as the extraordinary richness and complexity of the universe is concerned, it is the phenomenological idealist rather than the scientific materialist. Husserl’s idealism is as punitive as it is unmistakable: ‘The existence of Nature cannot be the condition for the existence of consciousness since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness: Nature is only as being constituted in regular concatenations of consciousness.’” (AT, 17)

“The choice with which we are confronted is as clear as it is unavoidable: either Darwin or Husserl. To continue to persist on the course initiated by the latter is to plunge headlong into intellectual disaster and the ruin of philosophy as a credible theoretical enterprise. The future vouchsafed to philosophy by phenomenology is too dismal to contemplate: a terminally infantile, pathologically narcissistic anthropocentrism. The situation is too grave, the stakes too high to allow for equivocation or compromise.” (AT, 17)

– Ray Brassier, Alien Theory

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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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.

Plato’s Camera, Paul Bowles Travels, and Beauty and Truth: or, Art and Junk

“My literary activities in Paris that winter were confined to the search for missing issues of certain defunct and moribund magazines of which I wanted to have a complete collection. This took more time and energy than one might expect. The publications of particular interest were Minotaure, Bifur and Documents, a short-lived review edited by Carl Einstein. These were not to be found at the stalls along the quays, but in small second-hand bookshops scattered across the city, so that in my search for them I was obliged to do a good deal of walking. This however suited me perfectly, as there was nothing I enjoyed more than wandering on foot through the less frequented streets of Paris, which I continued to find mysterious and inexhaustible.”

                     – Paul Bowles,  Travels

On Sundays I allow myself a reprieve from philosophical studies and wander through my library of lost adventures. I came across a collection of old books by Paul Bowles today and decided to read a few of his delightful essays on traveling. I lied… my travails led me into Paul Churchland’s new book, Plato’s Camera, as well as Ray Brassier, Steven Shaviro and… oh well, I did try to stay away from philosophical topics, but my mind needs satisfaction and this always seems to lead toward philosophical topics. Here we go…

Paul Bowles was the last surviving representative of a generation of artists whose work has shaped 20th century literature and music. Among those lives that intersected with Paul Bowles during the “beat generation” were Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Aaron Copeland and Gertrude Stein. Paul Bowles achieved critical and popular acclaim with the publication of his first novel The Sheltering Sky, in 1949 set in French North Africa. The Sheltering Sky was later filmed in 1990 by Bernardo Bertolucci. The film was shot in Morocco  as well as Algeria and Niger and features actors Deborah Winger John Malkovich and Timothy Spall. The Sheltering Sky tells a dangerous and erotic journey of an American artist couple, Port and Kit Mores, and their aimless travels through Africa in search of new experiences. In 1947 Paul Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed in 1948. Except for winters spent in Sri Lanka during the early 1950’s Tangier, Morocco was his home for the remainder of his life.

The first essay in the series is of his stay in Paris during the late 20’s and early 30’s and his meetings with both the famous and infamous artists, writers, poets, and others of that era. He relates an incident in which he was given some artistic assemblages made of wood, plaster, and bits of rope from the Joan Miro collection across the street from his small apartment on 17 Quai Voltaire:

“These were made of wood, plaster, and bits of rope, somewhat reminiscent of parts of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, but conceived with an eye to please. Harry visited the Galerie Pierre and came back with three of these Mirós. They livened up the place, and made me feel that I was really in Paris and that it was the year 1932. The Foujitas had suggested another era – the preceding decade. (When one is twenty years old, a decade is a long time.) We put the Foujitas into a closet. Scarcely a fortnight later I came home one afternoon to find that the studio seemed unusually dim. It took only a few seconds for me to realize that the Foujitas were back in their accustomed places on the wall, and that the Mirós had disappeared. The maid would not have done this; it could only have been the concierge or Mme. Ovise herself. I rushed downstairs to speak with the concierge. At first she had no idea of what I was talking about (or pretended to have none.) This was because I described the missing Mirós as pictures. Eventually she did understand, saying: “Monsieur means those old pieces of wood that someone had put on the wall? I threw them out. I thought monsieur would be glad to be rid of them.” A search of the cellar was undertaken, and the constructions, to which I kept referring as works of art, much to the concierge’s bewilderment, were found in a corner with a pile of kindling wood. They were not in prime condition, and had to be taken back to the Galerie Pierre for repairs. It was finally Miró himself who rebuilt them” (T 24-25).1

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Ray Brassier Interview on After Nature

After Nature blog has an interesting interview from Ray Brassier: here!

The Interview opens up that Ray Brassier’s main interest in philosophical speculation is to reconcile “Platonism with naturalism by reconciling the dialectics of the idea with the dynamism of the sensible”. He sees a rapport with the work of Iain Hamilton Grant and himself, as well as the work of philosopher Wilfred Sellars whose account of thought and meaning offers a congenial rapproachement

“To think is to connect and disconnect concepts according to proprieties of inference. Meanings are rule-governed functions supervening on the pattern-conforming behaviour of language-using animals. This distinction between semantic rules and physical regularities is dialectical, not metaphysical. To evoke it is to commit oneself to a qualified version of anthropocentrism, which I’m quite prepared to defend. It’s of a piece with the distinction between sapience and sentience, which is fundamental for Sellars.”

He is hard at work on a new book with a tentative title of That Which Is Not. He tells us “it will be about the reality of appearance… The challenge of rationalism is to insist on the distinction between appearance and reality, or the sensible and the intelligible, while accounting for the reality of appearances, or the intelligibility of the sensible. This is a problem that goes back to Plato. It’s a question of understanding how every appearance has a kind of reality, but only insofar as it is split from within by what it does not reveal. This ties in to the issues of the intelligibility of becoming and the structure of time.” After Nature blog 2012 (c)

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Ray Brassier: On Transcendental Realism

” I endorse a ‘transcendental realism’ according to which science knows the real but the nature of this ‘real’ is not strictly speaking objectifiable. The basic idea is that we know the real through objects, but that the real itself is not an object.”
– Ray Brassier, Interview With Ray Brassier – Against an Aesthetics of Noise

That Ray Brassier moves us beyond any naturalist reduction of scientific objectivity to a humanist perspective is the starting point of his unique blend of anti-humanism and speculative realism, which is centered on a ‘transcendental realism’, a perspective that asks us “how does human experience fit into the world described by science?”[1] He tells us that his view of science is shaped by the idea that “we can attain an objective perspective on our own subjectivity” (ibid.)” If we accept this dictum he tells us then “my conviction is that the sources and structures of human experience can and will be understood scientifically, but this integration of experience into the scientific worldview will entail a profound transformation in our understanding of what it means to be human—one as difficult for us to comprehend from within the purview of our current experience as the latter would have been for our hominid ancestors” (ibid.).

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Ray Brassier: Death, Cosmic Schizophrenia, and Nick Land’s Accelerationism

“He proposes to radicalise critique, to convert the ideal conditioning of the representation of matter to the material conditioning of ideal representation. In the Landian apparatus, materiality is construed solely as the production of production. Transcendental materialism in its Landian version becomes a materialization of critique.”
– Ray Brassier,


Ray Brassier wants to save Land from himself and “show that it’s possible to rehabilitate the powers of the negative” for a philosophy that is both a materialist critique and a materialization of critique. He tells us that Land’s texts bristle with sublimated fury, “a kind of non-conceptual negativity…, and that’s what makes them really powerful.” Matter is the key. We do not so much think as matter thinks us. As Brassier says “Land claims thinking is a function of materiality… The claim is that matter itself is synthetic and productive.” Land is a Schellingian in that elimination of the transcendental subject and the brokering of a “self-synthesizing potency of what he called intensive materiality” is the central motif running through his works.

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