Steven Shaviro: On David Roden’s Dark Phenomenlogy

Steven Shaviro discusses David Roden‘s notions of Dark Phenomenology in the first chapter of his book, Discogniton (“Thinking Like a Philosopher”), Thinking like a Philosopher in Discognition – and I quote:

“When we no longer have concepts to guide our intuitions, we are in the realm of what David Roden calls dark phenonemology. Roden extends the arguments of Kant, Sellars, and Metzinger. Since I am able to experience the subtlety of red, but I can only conceive and remember this experience as one of red in general, there must be, within consciousness itself, a radical “gulf between discrimination and identification”. This leads to the ironic consequence that first-person experience cannot be captured adequately by first-person observation and reflection. “What the subject claims to experience should not be granted special epistemic authority since it is possible for us to have a very partial and incomplete grasp of its nature”.

“In other words, rather than claiming (as Dennett does, for instance) that noncognitive phenomenal experience is somehow illusory, Roden accepts such experience, espousing a full “phenomenal realism”. But the conclusion he draws from this non-eliminativist realism is that much of first-person experience “is not intuitively accessible”. I do not necessarily know what I am sensing or thinking. It may well be that I can only figure out the nature of my own experiences indirectly, in the same ways – through observation, inference, and reporting – that I figure out the nature of other people’s experiences. Introspective phenomenological description therefore “requires supplementation through other modes of enquiry”. Roden concludes that we can only examine the “dark” areas of our own phenomenal experience objectively, from the outside, by means of “naturalistic modes of enquiry… such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modelers”.

“Roden’s account of dark phenomenology is compelling; but I find his conclusion questionable. For surely the crucial distinction is not between first person and third person modes of comprehension, so much as between what can be cognized, and what cannot. Phenomenological introspection and empirical experimentation are rival ways of capturing and characterizing the nature of subjective experience. But dark phenomenology points to a mode of experience that resists both sorts of conceptualization.” (Kindle Locations: 490-560)1

In the above passage one discovers the differences within the neuroscientific community of the sciences, and the philosophical community: the neurosciences are stripping the lineaments of Kantian intuition and/or ‘phenomenological introspection’ (first person) out of the equation altogether; while those within the philosophical world seek to save the last bastion of Kantian thought from the veritable erosion in a sea of technological systems outside the purview of consciousness. This is the battle confronting 21st Century thought. The Neurosciences vs. Philosophy. On the one hand you have those who believe philosophy should not be seen as opposing so much the sciences as being the guardian of thought itself; maintaining that without philosophy the scientists would not have the theoretical frameworks within which to carry on their conceptual discourses. On the other you have the neuroscientists who could care less about the specifics of thought, but rather seek an understanding of the very real and empirical operations and functions of the brain that gives rise to thought. It’s this intermediary realm between material/immaterial that is at issue. In older forms the physicalist arguments reduced everything to the brain, but newer neurosciences are taking into consideration that things are not so easily reduced; yet, there is no agreement among scientists or philosophers as to what this gap or blank is between the material and immaterial, or even if such questions are pertinent to the task. So that for scientists it’s not so much about frameworks as it is about the pragmatic truth of actual process in real-time that have nothing to do with philosophical intuitionism and much more about the way the brain interacts with the environments within which it is folded.

Already neurosciences, imaging technologies (i.e., fRMI, etc.), and interface tech are bridging the material/immaterial gap without understanding the full details of the processes involved. Along with computer/brain interfaces that can be applied intrinsically and extrinsically to a person, allowing for new and exciting abilities for those whose bodies were otherwise incapacitated access to speech, communication, and computing systems, there is the interoperative collusion of biochemical and hardware intermediation that up till recently would have been seen as impossible. Yet, in our time technology and invention is bringing a revolution in such splicings of human and machine. More and more those like Andy Clarke are being proven right that humans are already becoming Cyborgs… are, maybe we always already were. Technology that we create is in return changing who and what we are as humans. Some say this is the posthuman divide, a crossing of the Rubicon between human and technology that will change our mode of being in the world forever. What it will lead to is anyone’s guess. David Roden will term it the disconnection thesis: a point beyond which we just don’t know is being reached, one we can only speak of speculatively rather than ontologically with any depth of resolution.

Only time will tell who will come out on top, here; but I suspect if history has a say, that the sciences will uncover the processes of thought in the brain as being outside the control of the first-person navigator we term the Subject altogether. Philosophers want to retain a connection to our sense of Self and Personality, to hold onto the metaphysical basis of human thought and exceptionalism. But the sciences day by day are eroding the very ground and foundations of human subjectivity and self upon which western metaphysics since Plato has encircled itself. The battle continues… and, as Steven suggests, Roden’s “dark phenomenology points to a mode of experience that resists both sorts of conceptualization.” Where it will lead we will need to follow…

1. Steven Shaviro. Discognition. Repeater (April 19, 2016)


You’ll have to read the book to understand the rest of the story…

1. Shaviro, Steven (2016-04-19). Discognition (Kindle Locations 204-205). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

Steven Shaviro: Accelerationist Aesthetics

Despite Shaviro’s effort to define it, the notion of an accelerationist aesthetics remains an open problem…

– Gean Moreno, Editorial

e-flux is out with a new edition devoted exclusively to Accelerationist Aesthetics. Editor Gean Moreno sees this beyond the political uses of such a conceptual theory-fiction that the artistic impulse of an accelerationist aesthetic might offer “the potential to provoke innovative cartographic exercises that probe unprecedented social complexity and look for new liberatory programs that live up to it, and on the other hand, dark intimations that this aesthetics is indissoluble from the drive to deliberately exacerbate nihilistic meltdowns as the only response to being dragged by the vertiginous speeds of a runaway capitalism.”(here)

Steven Shaviro in his essay Necessary Inefficiency in Times of Real Subsumption for the series reminds us using Mallarmé’s aphorism that Everything comes down to Aesthetics and Political Economy (Tout se résume dans l’Esthétique et l’Économie politique.).  He remarks “aesthetics exists in a special relationship to political economy, precisely because aesthetics is the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy”. He reminds us of Kant’s integral insights into aesthetic judgment: disinterestedness and the non-cognitive aspect of aesthetic judgment. For Kant art is non-utilitarian, non-didactic, and purposeless. Even Wittgenstein and other Analytic philosophers were puzzled by the paradox that aesthetic experience is not part of any “cognitive mechanism—even though it is never encountered apart from such a mechanism”.

“What is the role of aesthetics, then, today?” asks Shaviro. Delving into the works of the Autonimists, especially the work of Hardt and Negri on subsumption he tells us it is the key to our globalized network society, that “everything in life must now be seen as a kind of labor: we are still working, even when we consume, and even when we are asleep”. This system is termed Neoliberalism and as he remarks: “Neoliberalism is not just the ideology or belief system of this form of capitalism. It is also, more importantly, the concrete way in which the system works. It is an actual set of practices and institutions. It provides both a calculus for judging human actions, and a mechanism for inciting and directing those actions.” The point being that nothing is left to chance, “real subsumption leaves no aspect of life uncolonized”.

It’s under this Neoliberal regime of subsumption that the aesthetics of accelerationism comes into play he tells us. Everywhere you turn in todays Neoliberal global realm one discovers the excess of capital, the transgression of its pervasive commercialization of reality. As he reminds us “Transgression is now fully incorporated into the logic of political economy. It testifies to the way that, under the regime of real subsumption, “there is nothing, no ‘naked life,’ no external standpoint … there is no longer an ‘outside’ to power.” Where transgressive modernist art sought to break free from social constraints, and thereby to attain some radical Outside, accelerationist art remains entirely immanent, modulating its intensities in place.”

Against the political uses of accelerationism he remarks ironically:

…the problem with accelerationism as a political strategy has to do with the fact that—like it or not—we are all accelerationists now. It has become increasingly clear that crises and contradictions do not lead to the demise of capitalism. Rather, they actually work to promote and advance capitalism, by providing it with its fuel. Crises do not endanger the capitalist order; rather, they are occasions for the dramas of “creative destruction” by means of which, phoenix-like, capitalism repeatedly renews itself. We are all caught within this loop. And accelerationism in philosophy or political economy offers us, at best, an exacerbated awareness of how we are trapped.

So if it hasn’t worked as a political tool for struggle then why should it work as an aesthetic? Quoting Deleuze on Nietzsche he tells us that “Deleuze is a good fit for accelerationist art today. Intensifying the horrors of contemporary capitalism does not lead them to explode; but it does offer us a kind of satisfaction and relief, by telling us that we have finally hit bottom, finally realized the worst” (quote):

It often happens that Nietzsche comes face to face with something sickening, ignoble, disgusting. Well, Nietzsche thinks it’s funny, and he would add fuel to the fire if he could. He says: keep going, it’s still not disgusting enough. Or he says: excellent, how disgusting, what a marvel, what a masterpiece, a poisonous flower, finally the “human species is getting interesting.”

For Shaviro the “difference between this aesthetic accelerationism, and the politico-economic accelerationism analyzed by Noys, is that the former does not claim any efficacy for its own operations”. He continues in conclusion:

It does not even deny that its own intensities serve the aim of extracting surplus value and accumulating profit. The evident complicity and bad faith of these works, their reveling in the base passions that Nietzsche disdained, and their refusal to sustain outrage or claim the moral high ground: all these postures help to move us towards the disinterest and epiphenomenality of the aesthetic. … But I do want to claim a certain aesthetic inefficacy for them—which is something that works of transgression and negativity cannot hope to attain today.

One can find all the essays at e-flux journal:

Steven Shaviro: New Materialism and Whitehead

Whitehead’s ontological and cosmological concerns put him in connection with the speculative realists; but pragmatically, he is closer to those contemporary thinkers who have been called new materialists. Jane Bennett’s “vital materialism” and Karen Barad’s “agential realism” both seem to me to have resonances with Whitehead’s thought, even though neither of them mentions Whitehead directly (as far as I know). Donna Haraway, on the other hand, has spoken specifically about the importance of Whitehead for her ideas about companion species. None of the new materialisms are based on Whitehead’s system or his technical terms, but they share his project of reconciling phenomenal experience with natural science, without rejecting either.

– Steven Shaviro, Interview on Figure/Ground

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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