A few days ago the Emancipation as Navigation Summer school came to an end in Berlin. The event was just short of two weeks and included a range of topics from political theory, to logic, to diagramming the space of sex, to technofeminism, to the history of metaphysics, to Iberian cultures, to space travel, and so on. I wont go into a summary of each of day as those are available here but thought I would offer up some general impressions of the school for those interested in what went on besides what could be assumed from the content of each speaker’s lectures.

/1/ – Factions

It was quite obvious from the beginning of the school that it was not going to be a massive ‘preaching to the choir.’ Many of the attendants did not identify themselves as rationalists and were quite skeptical throughout the length of the school. This highlighted the various tensions between the thinkers brought together for the school: neo-rationalists, accelerationists, trans-modernists/universalists, and others less easily labeled. Cutting across these associations were particular emphases that often were in conflict: politics, philosophy, pragmatism, and aesthetics. Even within a particular designation (accelerationism for instance) there were debates as to how tethered that could be to particular forms of past politics (Marxism, communization, etc) or whether more attention to ‘actually existing accelerationisms’ (as Benedict emphasized) might be necessary despite their overwhelmingly capitalistic character. Or, simply put, there were neo-rationalists who are not accelerationists and accelerationists who are not neo-rationalists.

Which historical figures to hold onto or, what legacies were worth saving, also arose throughout the school. While certain canonical figures were widely invoked (such as Kant and Hegel) it was by no means a universal gesture. Heidegger, Deleuze, Lacan, Badiou, Sartre, de Castro, and others were utilized often only by one thinker to the chagrin of others present. These differences opened up a historical debate at who could be considered a rationalist while at the same time indexing points at which a formal take on rationalism requires a programmatic supplement whether in Foucaultian politics or Lacanian diagrammatics for instance.

/2/ – The Dead Elephant in the Room

Tied to the previous issues was the legacy or non-legacy of Speculative Realism. During the first public event Robin discussed how the explosion of interest surrounding the initial SR events was something to be missed as was the early and open debates online. Less officially, SR was often talked about in similar terms, as a ‘what could have been’ project. But how it was that SR ‘went wrong’ was not articulated beyond a basic sense that it had been too disparate to begin with or too ambitious in its aims or, as seems to be the case in online discussions, SR just became synonymous with OOO/OOP. The upswing of this is a certain amount of sensible caution in constructing a collective project going forward. This was reflected in the name of the school and that navigation, in particular, was a broad but not incoherent concept around which to cluster.

For myself it is always a bit odd thinking back to 2007 when I started Speculative Heresy with Nick and Taylor since no public reservoir for SR existed. Going forward with navigation the test will be maintaining a productive difference between various factions without going full on with claiming that there is a movement centered around a commonality that is negatively defined ie ‘not correlationist.’

/3/ – Amateur Academic Sociology

For better and for worse the school demonstrated that the kind of behaviors and divisions that occur online are not only online. Disagreements led to an attempt to ‘choose sides’ in a way that is quite unhelpful. This occurred as much with people who were critical of the speakers generally as well as their supporters. This is not unique to the summer school but something that needs to be handled with any event particularly when it’s tied to contemporary developments. Contemporaneity seems to often install either a desire to fall in line or one to degrade anything that calls itself new. Disagreement is all too often read as total disagreement in order to draw the sides more clearly at the cost of actually working out conceptual differences or even acknowledging them in a detailed way. Despite the comments that philosophy cannot be done on the internet, it is ridiculous to ignore how it’s managed to bring people from all over who share similar, not identical, projects.

What came up, but in a kind of diagonal fashion, was how easy it is to mesh the way in which one talks about things with the concepts they talk about. The different historical analyses conducted by the speakers and various participants indicated how this is often a difference in terms of how someone arrive at their current philosophy and how contemporary figures do or do not belong to that particular constellation. There were several moments in the summer school where it was clearly laid out where people agreed and where the disagreed or where a topic needed to be set aside for the time being. This may sound quite dry but it is something that all too often gets drowned out in either shouting or avoidance (at least in general this seems to be the case in conferences I’ve attended). While the focus on language can be somewhat dry for some it, at the very least, pushes the dire need for actually understanding what one another are saying rather than falling back on critical reflexes (as Pete has called them) where stock reactions to particular topics are employed rather than any attempt at critical reevaluation or counter argument.

An other issue, related to several points above, is how theory and philosophy views itself in relation to other disciplines. While there was an afternoon devoted to art and artists, all too often artists are viewed in philosophical circles as merely ‘bad theorists.’ I have discussed why I think that is here but a question for new rationalism and accelerationism is what its relationship to art and aesthetics is going to be and how firmly it wants to attempt to set the parameters of that relation. What I think is required is something along the lines of a meta-theory of implementation or, when does reason let go to navigate less for itself and more to find its limits etc?

/4/ – My own ax to grind

While I learned quite a bit from the summer school and enjoyed interacting with so many bright and interesting people that I tend to see only in the virtual world, one aspect of the school, which came up often, was a general adherence to an anti-naturalist stance. There are several problems here (and I think they are problems for navigational thinking and not merely problems for me). For one there was no distinction, or almost no distinction, between naturalism or nature ie a harshness towards naturalistic arugments regarding causes of human behavior were thrown together with a general theoretical concern for nature. That’s a demonstrably disastrous conflation. Furthermore when one says naturalism this means at least two huge bodies of work. It refers to ontological as well as methodological naturalism. While the normative thinkers popular in the summer school would universally denounce the latter many of them have far more ambiguous relationships to the former. While there are of course complex limitations on what we can say nature is we cannot, I think, simply let nature become a bludgeon for crude naturalists such as Richard Dawkins.

/5/ – Forward?

I doubt the summer school will be the last event of its kind and I hope to be involved with whatever it spawns. Because of, as much as despite the problems mentioned above,  I think neo-rationalism and accelerationism are interesting projects although I am positioned diagonally to both of them in a strange sense. There is an excitement and rigor that is wisely cautious at the same time that I think will continue to be productive.


Jalal Toufic’s recent piece in issue #55 of e-flux titled “A Hitherto Unrecognized Apocalyptic Photographer: The Universe” starts with an interesting problem: is it the case that photographer deceptively freezes the motion of the world while art, at its best, captures the uncapturability of motion as Rodin argues? Toufic writes against Rodin’s assertion about time stopping that:

“I do not agree with his assertion that “in reality time does not stop.” To disagree with this assertion, I do not have to invoke the freezing in dance and undeath, under silence-over; I can invoke relativity. The Schwarzschild membrane of a black hole is an event horizon not only because once an entity crosses it that entity can no longer communicate back with us this side of it, but also because from our reference frame the entities at the horizon do not undergo any events, being frozen due to the infinite dilation of time produced by the overwhelming gravity in the vicinity of the black hole. Was photography invented not so much to assuage some urge to arrest the moment, but partly owing to an intuition that it already existed in the universe, in the form of the immobilization and flattening at the event horizon?”

Later on he writes:

“From a local reference frame, an artistic rendering in the Rodin manner of the astronaut at the event horizon might very well be less conventional, more truthful, than a photograph of him; but from the reference frame of an outside observer, a photograph of the astronaut at the event horizon is less conventional than an artistic rendering of him in the Rodin manner, for at the event horizon not only is the person flattened, but also time is so slowed it comes to a standstill.”

Toufic goes on to discuss the event horizon as a radical closure which the photograph captures the loss of the individual, its flattening into a thin pancake of data which after it has passed into the gateless gate of the black hole can no longer be recovered let alone detected. Toufic speculates on the experience of the astronaut who drifts through the gateless gate (setting aside the gravitational waves that would crush her instantly) he argues that, following Bergson, that the astronaut would suffer an instantaneous loss of memory because of losing touch with the pre-event horizon space-time.

Continue reading ‘Holes, Caves, Lines, and Cameras’


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Things having calmed a bit I will try and do more regular postings here.

The two lectures for the Congress of Pessimism seemed to well…I discussed reason as a kind of wandering insignificance – where the reasoner is a wayward figure stuck between the desert of reason and the ocean of nature. I hope to expand the work a bit especially as a critique of the romantic vision of the philosopher as a wanderer who is quaintly lost. Bucharest and the Bureau were lovely in their casual morbidity. Schemes are underway to spread some of the melodrama…

My paper at the True Detection event seemed to go well and many of the other papers were quite good as well. There is a publication in the works to collect and expand the talks given. My paper focused on a scalar bias which seems to exist regarding the way in which affirmation relates to outwards expression as opposed to pessimism.

My brief discussion with Vanessa Billy entitled Natural Abstraction went well and took place at La Foyer in Zurich. We discussed in varying terms what happens when the boundary between nature and culture breaks down but not in the more common sense that everything becomes culture or second nature but how do you actually determine something to be artificial?

For the rest of the month I’m based in Dublin, Ireland:

On May 16 I’ll be talking with Teresa Gillespie around a non-anthropomorphic approach to horror that addresses the grossness of continuity.

On May 23rd I’ll be participating in an all day workshop on accelerationism hosted by the University of Westminster in London. The workshop will be followed by a talk from Alex and Nick entitled Occupy the Future.

On May 29th I will be doing a roundtable with Teresa Gillespie and several other artists and theorists from the Dublin area. Details forthcoming.

Future events:

Steven Shaviro and Iain Grant will be talking on science fiction in Berlin on June 26. If others know of any events going on after that time in Berlin or nearby please let me know.

Several interesting events including several days on Land and Negarestani’s work will be going on at PAF in August.

Rory Rowan and several others will be participating in AC2014 in August in the UK.

In September an impressive looking conference on the theme Philosophy after Nature will take place at Utrecht in September.

There is a CFP for the Aesthetics After Finitude conference which will take place early next year in Sydney Australia and will feature Mo Salemy and Reza Negarestani as keynotes.

 


It is hard to review a book that you cannot explain or sum up but especially when it is not one that you can explain or sum up by saying you can neither explain it or sum it up. Michael Cisco’s Member is a book that tests the limits of coherency without appearing to do that.

To get to brass tacks, Member is about a massive planetary-scale game called Chorncendantra that is ‘the human game’ but that involves multiple worlds both real and artificial. Our main character, Mr Thanks, is unexpectedly recruited into the game as a courier to deliver small cans of spells and prizes to a construction site. From there the small absurdities pile up but something at bottom refuses to topple over. It part it may be because the novel starts out as a train of thought but when it stops being that or starts again becomes a challenge to discern: “I will expand the dream to engulf what surrounds me” (7). The indiscernibility between things happening and things being thought pushes Mr Thanks to keep trying to play his part in the game “Relaxing my mind had only brought about a causeless, meaningless sadness” (16) even attempting to ignore the game is playing it. This is the frustation of being a human in the giant system/mechanism of Chorncendantra – one knows one is a human but that this means being a small part of the human machine but not being able to only be a part.

One of the most impressive aspects of Cisco’s novel here is that this does not wander into immediate and obvious existential territory. Mr Thanks, carrying his heavy bag, is not a dreary eyed Frenchman in 1950s Paris: “’Don’t imagine that you are the flaneur,’ I tell myself, ‘looking down on people, like you are the last human in a world of machines the passerby are all soulless robots and you’re the only one who cares—that’s high school shit’” (46). Mr Thanks is mostly just frustrated at the small things and couldn’t know enough about the large things to feel so small simply because there are others that at least seem to know more (so called operationals and high rationals) – high rationals being those creatures that ‘think things up’.

In some regards Cisco could be seen as entering the territory of either William S Burroughs or the graphic novelist Charles Burns – where one quickly leaves ‘this world’ and enters somewhat unreal worlds (interzones and dreamspaces) that are however still attached to this world. And yet Cisco holds the reigns tighter than this. It is the rules of the game or the world themselves that seem parasitic yet completely natural. The attempt at thought to think a world only appears to add to the problem of probing the layers of rules added upon rules till the point that one is not even sure where one is and, for that matter, it is not even clear if the narrator is any more or less sure of what he is doing that what the reader is reading about him.

And of course the wonderfulness of Cisco’s descriptions which are present throughout. For example:

“Perched there, he aims carefully at something I have trouble making out. It’s a large, solid object that seems to be browsing along the sidewalk in its own special darkness; not a blob of shadow exactly, more like a dead, uninteresting haze of grey smoke that collects around it and projects out of it in a reverse spotlight. In overall shape, it resembles a human liver, all covered in imbricated scales. A felty, transparent caul seems to envelop the entire thing, and ripples out wrinkles and folds to palpate its surroundings, making the emitter seem both solid and liquid at once” (44-45). The descriptions shift from weird tale type above to bordering on the romantic: “In that faint, brief light, I see the tendrils of smoke from each little candle immobilized like ectoplasm calligraphy, trailing from the cake” (93-94), to the downright silly: “Somebody left a salad out on the curb, with no bowl around it” (332).

The question becomes less ‘what is happening?’ to ‘why is it that this seems normal?’ The novel flirts again and again with the weirdness of games, of playing them without reasons (170), that the problem is that we enter the game from somewhere or as something not of it (142), that thinking and playing is just a headlong plunge into various kinds of darkness more or less familiar (226). The novel’s restrained but seemingly unrestrained insanity mirrors the very weirdness of belonging to one odd bureaucracy after another. Any attempt of pulling out seems like a childish time out: “That’s what I want: a place in which I have no part. I want to ride through space like wind in wind and sleep on the void, and be a go-between with nothing but between” (258). In so much sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction there is the moment when the narrator passes into the strangeness, where the mundane becomes not the mundane, when you (as the reader) know that they are on a trajectory which ends in death, madness or, optimistically, some small share of triumph. But in Member Cisco’s point is no such prologue exists because of the incessant nature of thought that barrier cannot be recognized – it can only be supposed after the fact when it is already too late. There is no cutting loose.

And while bits of philosophy appear throughout (Spinoza (47), ancient Chinese thought, moments that smell like Heidegger and Deleuze) it would be distasteful to call this a thinker’s or philosopher’s novel (whatever the hell that may mean) but only that, unlike many novels, Member makes a show of when it is pushing at its own limits or trying to catch its own tail. Every practice has its reasons and the reasons do not seem to matter other than to give you a location for your forthcoming injuries. Or, in other words, any attempt at closed precision is absurd..except for that one.


Upcoming Events

21Mar14

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For those interested here’s some of the things I’m doing in the next few months:

March 22 11:00AM: As part of the ACLA I’m presenting a paper entitled “The Flint of Prometheus” on the relation between Schelling, Marx, and Geology. At NYU (25 W 4th st, room c16).

March 22 3:00 PM: I’ll be participating in a roundtable in Chelsea as part of Dis Magazine’s Ecology 2 Event. (220 W. 18th St)

March 24th 9Am to 7:30PM: With Ed Keller I’ll be running the Post-Planetary Capital Event at The New School. Facebook group. Eventbrite registration. (Wollman Hall 66 West 12th Street 5th floor)

(March 25th 6:30: And of course I’ll be attending Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani’s event on functionalism).

April 12th: I’ll be presenting a paper as part of Anthropocene Feminism on gender and geophilosophy in Schelling.

April 26-27: I’ll be giving lectures as part of The Congress of Pessimism in Bucharest. Hosted by the incomparable Bureau of Melodramatic Research.

April 29th: I’ll be presenting a paper on True Detective for the True Detection event in Dublin as part of Darklight.

May 1-31: I’ll be presenting at several events in Ireland in conjunction with Teresa Gillespie. Details Forthcoming…


Following from my last two posts (1 and 2) I have argued that German Idealism (and this is a fairly common observation) is a non-substantial monism by which the philosopher is set up as a figure of navigation having absorbed skepticism and the subsequent self-conditioning, to create or synthesize in a way that has global ramifications. Or, to put it more directly, German Idealism attempts to organize levels of abstraction in order to approach not the thing in-itself but that which is maximally stable, what can be taken as the objective. It is not surprising that the German Idealists were so interested in mathematics (Fichte was especially taken with geometry, Schelling with algebra and arithmetic as infinite series, and Hegel with logic) given their investment in the construction of construction as such. The issue becomes, as with any navigational model, whether the fascinations or foci of these thinkers tip them into the realm of a strong ontology/correlationism or is the ambit or targeting of these particulars what ultimately adds up to a incomplete universality? If there’s a gap between the weak ontologies of Meillassoux and Badiou it is that the unexpected of the future generates in such a sense that the past becomes immune from the instanciation of conditions. Related is Zizek’s ontological signification of the ‘blank X’ of the subject discussed in part 1. Given the activity of the self-conscious shared ,albeit differently aligned, by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, this erases the work required to reach that self voiding which is not ontological so much as it is pragmatic. As Schelling writes in Über die Nature der Philosophie als Wissenschaft or “On the Nature of Philosophy as a Science (1821):

“Those, then, who want to find themselves at the starting point of a truly free philosophy, have to depart even from God. Here the motto is: whoever wants to preserve it will lose it, and whoever abandons it will find it. Only those have reached the ground in themselves and have become aware of the depths of life, who have at one time abandoned everything and have themselves been abandoned by everything, for whom everything has been lost, and who have found themselves alone, face-to-face with the infinite: a decisive step which Plato compared with death. That which Dante saw written on the door of the inferno must be written in a different sense also at the entrance to philosophy: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Those who look for true philosophy must be bereft of all hope, all desire, all longing. They must not wish anything, not know anything, must feel completely bare and impoverished, must give everything away in order to gain everything. It is a grim step to take, it is grim to have to depart from the final shore.”

Continue reading ‘The Trajectories of German Idealism (3)’


Following from my last post I want to argue that German Idealism is a project that takes the genesis of the abstract as engine and problem for philosophical practice and for practice taken more generally. Assuming Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel accept Kant’s critique of dogmatic metaphysics but want to evade his methodological dualism as a stopping point, then they must appeal to a kind of non-naive structuralism but one that is generative (or genetic as the literature often puts it) thus the importance of mathematics and logic for each of them albeit differently manifested. The nature of their go-to concepts are thus situated and powered by argumentation crafted in the fires of skepticism: for Fichte it is the ‘magic circle’ of consciousness, for Schelling it is the derivation of ideality from nature, and for Hegel it’s the labor of spirit or consciousness across the charred fields of history. To relate this to Quentin Meillassoux’s well-worn critique of correlationism it is perhaps unsurpising that German Idealism marks the historical tipping point from weak (that there may be things in themselves but we cannot directly access them) to strong (there are no things in themselves and we only have access to the relation between subject and object) correlationism.

I would argue that the generic orientation shared by German Idealist thinkers of a skepticism-hardened abstraction is not a historical triviality (one would think their influence alone would question this) especially given the penchant (particularly in a certain strain of French theory) for weak ontologies. In many sense weak ontology is simply the positivized inverse of Meillassoux’s weak correlationism. Rather than attempting to reestablish the ground for a scientifically updated epistemology, weak ontology seems to take for granted that being is charged with a certain kind of knowability – that epistemology is branded with a Kantian sterility not worth repeating.

Continue reading ‘The Trajectories of German Idealism (2)’




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