Depth Charges (a failed experiment)

08Jun08

Speculative Realism is first and foremost a philosophy of depth:

For Brassier it is the hopeless depth of nihil, for Harman the demanding depth of objects, for Grant the seething depth of nature and for Meillassoux it is the depth of Hyper-chaos. In this sense the speculative realist has a downward momentum into the abyss of existence and, where the correlationist would rely on the inexistent short-ranged bioluminesce projected by their own consciousness, the former would toss flares of realism beneath them at regular intervals. This descent has no purpose, it is by definition, unreasonable. Its cause, if it can be said to have one in the proper sense, is none other than the result of ham fisted matter colliding into the object (that thinks and is, in the sense of being, nothing at all), into the darkness – pulled by the anchor of time.

While the correlationist would think nothing of the experience of the descent, the speculative realist learns as much as possible knowing that, in the end, there is only an un-poetic death. If Meillassoux is right in claiming that humanity’s great ability is that of being able to think a time (or place following Brassier and Harman) where there is no thought, what is the final result? If human existence is brutally riven from the machinery of the universe and our sense of telos writhes at our feet, then how does one approach the materiality of the immaterial?

Both Brassier and Meillassoux are currently engaged in topics which appear to concern the world ‘for us’ – taking on issues of epistemology, experience and representation – but there is little indication of the consistency of the for-us. While Speculative Realism is eager to celebrate our capacity to think the non-thought or non-thinkable, it is less clear how it would approach the solidification of relation. As with my last entry, my concern here is one of speed. One cannot help but notice how despite their radicality – Harman, Meillassoux and Brassier effectively glaciate their chaotic axioms – classifying them as eventual – leaving us to ask about the immediate experienciable. The most obvious avenue here, which would be to the philosophy of Badiou, is one that Brassier shuts down in Nihil Unbound. This is an odd move by Brassier and, while worth investigating, we will approach the issue diagonally via other ‘deep’ approaches.

While telos should stay dead – does this mean that time itself can and should be, be completely spatialized? Or put more in relation to the preliminary scenario – how might we investigate depth without obfuscating the temporal dimension? The work of DeLanda, Massumi and Zielinski may give us an interesting set of alternatives. Zielinkski’s approach in particular, while spatializing, still maintains a sense of time that is non-linear. Non-linearity is not the same as a completely spatialized time since non-linearity allows for breaks, irruptions and gaps to form. The narrative then, would only exist in retro as a kind of phenomenal or evental text or body. Zielinski’s technocultural archeology, which seeks out the new in the old, simultaneously celebrates and delmits the human subject via the character of the inventor. Massumi, who also thinks the inventor, argues that invention is that which proceeds its own utility – that retroactively creates necessity. How can these thinkers be placed alongside DeLanda who excises the subject from history? DeLanda participates in the objectification of the subject, throwing it into the cauldron as another materialist variable but what does it mean for this to be a thinking object?

The specter that is haunting the aforementioned discourses is that of Althusser and his process without subject and without object. An immediate problem arises however if, taking Badiou’s comments in Metapolitics to heart, there is even less of an object in Althusser’s work then there is a subject – the object is merely a mirror for the subject. Thinking Althusser’s “Contradiction and Overdetermination” may give us some idea of how Meillassoux and Brassier can let us begin a Speculative Realist buggering/deepening of Althusser:

Althusser begins his well known work by discussing the ‘mythical shell’ which Hegel’s specultive philosophy has made of the dialectic. While the dialectic is eschewed by Brassier and Meillassoux, we can take Althusser’s overdetermination of contradiction and run with it thereby exposing what is in Althusser more than Althusser himself. Might we push the multiplicity of contradiction to such an extent that it contradicts the very container which bears it – that of the totality of a society and perhaps totality itself? Taking overdetermined contradiction away from the dialectic makes it, as Althusser fears, at the mercy of philosophy. However, Althusser’s overdetermination must also be sawed from various superstructures -such as that of economics which always determines the contradiction (in language similar to Laruelle) in the last instance. The issue that rears its head here is that of the materiality of historical materialism or, perhaps more basically, the materiality of the social itself. Contradiction, loosed in such a fashion, might manifest in terms of a reversal of Meillassoux’s hyper chaos in that it would function as a contradictory it-self prior to the existence of humanity or the social. In other words, Althusser’s antihumanism is, while partially destroying the subject it is, more directly, destroying individualism and egoism in favor of the masses and hence his definition of the object as a reflection of relations.

Looking back at DeLanda, we should argue that structures are created after contradiction – contradiction does not operate within systems (since this would suggest the existence of contradiction in the form of an entity which, by logical definition, cannot follow) and sociality, as a form of structure, would be a kind of sedimentation of forces giving rise to contradictions. This formulation begs the question – what happens to chaos or the impossibility of contradiction in the realm of the social if the social does not subsist on entities but on relations? The issue here for Specualitve Realism then is to what extent can relations be said to exist? Ultimately our problem may boil down to that of phenomenology as articulated (though not as explicitly as in Meillassoux) by Graham Harman: that of understanding the relation of primary and secondary qualities. If our relations to things are incomplete, and such relations are a kind of inconsistent plenum flooding the spaces between objects, then how does thought strike?

The materiality of the social may lie in the specificities of Brassier’s mutation of Laruelle’s unilateral dualism, in the connection of thought to object. Without going into the almost endless details of Brassier’s articulation, we might venture that the non-dialectical yet twoness of Brassier’s formulation might explain to us how relations, emanating from material processes, attempt to materialize themselves in the form of the social. Our, to put it in terms of our mutiliated Althusser: thought attempts to seal the errancy of hyper chaos by closing contradiction in a system (whether economics or not) but, taking Meillassoux into account, the unthinkable is primary and hence no system can contain it since, that very system (a la Massumi and DeLanda) was birthed from that chaos and said chaos does not disappear after the fact.

The impossibility of contradiction then is the very possibility of potentiality and, against the coupling of potential and actual, I would replace the latter with loss. While adding objects to Althusser’s processes may lead one to assume actuality – this would forget that sedimentation and death are the ‘most actual’ things get. If, as Harman argues, objects are relations and relations are objects, then the social is the field immersed in relation moving towards the object. Science, or perhaps more specifically technology, might be the counterpart in that it sets out, from the invention of new objects, to redefine relations.

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15 Responses to “Depth Charges (a failed experiment)”

  1. 1 Nick

    First off, this is a great post. I’ll have to think about it a bit before I can really comment on it though.

    But to continue the discussion from the last post, I think you’re right about the unconcious’ role. However, I’m still at a loss as to how precisely Brassier conceives time (assuming he does in some implicit way). I mean, he refers to an identity of space-time and he speaks of it as non-synthetic (his main problem with time seems to be the reliance on syntheses). And then the diachronicity of Meillassoux plays a large role, even if Brassier ultimately wants to reduce the emphasis on time. Lastly, he speaks of extinction as “a future that has always already been” (230). I don’t think there’s any rigorous conception of time in Nihil Unbound, but all of these moments seem very symptomatic (in an Althusserian sense).

    As far as Harman goes, I’m not quite sure what to make of him. I find his system fascinating, and I love the clarity of his writing, but I’m not sure yet what his system can *do*. I think his upcoming book on Bruno Latour will really help with that though, assuming it’s not simply about the metaphysics of Latour.

  2. 2 naughtthought

    Thanks,

    I’m not too sure about Brassier’s concept of time either and I am hesitant to crawl through his chapter on time – mostly because I am not so well read in Deleuze.

    I’ve been thinking quite a bit about TS Eliot’s quartet Burnt Norton in relation to Brassier. Especially the lines:

    “Time past and time future
    Allow but a little consciousness.
    To be conscious is not to be in time
    But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
    The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
    The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
    Be remembered; involved with past and future.
    Only through time time is conquered.”

    and also:

    “Desire itself is movement
    Not in itself desirable;
    Love is itself unmoving,
    Only the cause and end of movement,
    Timeless, and undesiring
    Except in the aspect of time
    Caught in the form of limitation
    Between un-being and being.”

    I found Harman’s book a bit dissapointing (and he also downplayed time) but it could certainly have some interesting implications for Brassier’s future work.

  3. 3 Nick

    “Without going into the almost endless details of Brassier’s articulation, we might venture that the non-dialectical yet twoness of Brassier’s formulation might explain to us how relations, emanating from material processes, attempt to materialize themselves in the form of the social. Our, to put it in terms of our mutiliated Althusser: thought attempts to seal the errancy of hyper chaos by closing contradiction in a system (whether economics or not) but, taking Meillassoux into account, the unthinkable is primary and hence no system can contain it since, that very system (a la Massumi and DeLanda) was birthed from that chaos and said chaos does not disappear after the fact.”

    In this vein, I think Laruelle’s essay in Pli is really helpful. (Not sure if you’ve seen it.)

    http://www.warwick.ac.uk/philosophy/pli_journal/pdfs/vol_12/12_3_Laruelle.pdf

    It makes explicit the fact that relations must be placed to one side (the side of idealism and materialism as reciprocally determining), while the real (or ‘matter’) lies indifferent to the realm of relations. Unfortunately, the essay doesn’t really get into how a system of relations would emerge from the real, instead preferring to work from within relation towards the real (culminating in a non-logocentric “knowing”). But I think it shows that your placing of relations within the social finds support in Laruelle.

    If I’m understanding you right, in your Althusserian vein would contradiction be a result of the placing-into-a-system of the real? A sort of movement from the non-contradictory real, to a contradictory system composed of relations and instituting sociality proper? Contradiction, perhaps, as a result of the necessarily excluded real?

  4. 4 naughtthought

    That Laruelle essay has been on my pile for a few weeks now, I should read it already.

    I think your comment about the excluded real is correct but, looking at it that way, it seems I’ve fallen very close to a basic Lacanian politics position or maybe even an agonistic one a la Chantal and Mouffe.

    I think what’s important is a focus on a basic sameness that is senseless (Real) and that the social is a simultaneous avoidance and assertion of this fact. As far as the emergence of the real – it seems Badiou’s counting or re-presentation is the closest system we have to understanding it.

  5. 5 Nick

    Ya, I think it would fall very close to those political positions, but at the same time, it would seem to escape them since it’s also able to account for the emergence of this contradiction, and speak of a non-contradictory realm. I think that’s exactly right to focus on “a basic sameness that is senseless”.

    With regards to Badiou’s counting, I tend to find it a convenient shorthand to cover over a lot of delicate questions. It’s like we go from inconsistent multiplicity to consistent multiplicity, with no real explanation of how this occurs. That’s the central problem though!

  6. 6 naughtthought

    Badiou’s re-presentation is a cop out but I just can’t think of anything else out there that really tries to connect the consistently inconsistent and the structured.

    I think part of the issue is that – how can one expose the sameness – can one directly cut through the meanderings of the social in an attempt to expose something primordial? I think Ranciere might be close to this, at least in his older works like On the Shores of Politics and Disagreement, but he seems to have moved away.

    It seems that a DeLanda/Massumi articulation of the genesis of structure from the chaos needs to wed to a speculative realism that goes on to formulate a positive nihilistic political project that is not foolishly utopian or otherwise bound to a kind of political futurism.

    I have a feeling you have a much stronger background in politics than I and could easily prove me wrong here…

  7. 7 Nick

    I’m pretty much a shill for Deleuze, so I’d say his work on individuation – specifically the relation between intensities and extensities as developed in Difference & Repetition – provides the best attempt at working through the relation between – roughly – Badiou’s inconsistent and consistent multiples. I think you get at that implictly by saying DeLanda and Massumi would be needed for this project, and that’s where my own allegiances would fall.

    I’ll have to look at some of Ranciere’s older stuff, since that work does sound interesting.

    And ya, as far as the nihilistic political project, I’m in complete agreement on the negative qualifications you give – neither a naive utopianism, nor a Derridean messianism that borders on theology [which I take you to be suggesting with ‘political futurism’].

    It’s interesting reading through Brassier’s dissertation right now, because he explicitly aligns the phenomenological project with the individualism and illusion of free choice that capitalism is premised upon. Phenomenology becomes a sort of ideological justification for capitalism by holding up a sense of the irreducibility of the interiority and the first-person perspective. In that way, the non-philosophy of Laruelle is apparently going to provide an “a priori” resistance to capitalism by destroying the phenomenological project. Still nothing positive in the way of a political project per se, but interesting nonetheless…

  8. 8 naughtthought

    Difference and Repetition is something that I’ve always meant to read but never got around to it – most of my Deleuze exposure is alongside Guattari.

    I still question how useful Laurelle would be for politics and it seems that Meillassoux is the only one going in a ethical or political direction but he appears to be ridiculed for it (especially in terms of his god to be).

    I’m definately going to jump into Brassier’s dissertation once I’ve finished my neruoplasticity stuff…and I think I’m going to work on some more SR related political entries although, I’m almost out of texts to read that I think might help.

    Have you seen the Pli CFP? It’s on subjectivity and they are inviting posts that are SR related (especially in regards to Meillassoux) – the deadline is looming (June 30) but I thought you might have something in the works worth sending off…

  9. 9 Nick

    Ya, I’ve gotta look at that new Meillassoux essay in Collapse – it sounds interesting but from the comments over at No Useless Leniency, it sounds almost like a reactionary essay, as though he was back-tracking on all the promise of his earlier work. Which makes me wonder when exactly After Finitude was conceived? His dissertation was on the Inexistent God [or something like that], so has this re-introduction of God been central from the beginning? Or was the correlationist argument first? Not that I don’t think the correlationist work can’t be separated from this ethical work, but it still seems odd.

    I definitely recommend Brassier’s dissertation – it seems to be the foundational work for Nihil Unbound, and there’s a lot of really interesting asides and minor comments too. I’ll write more up on it at some point…

    And, no, I hadn’t heard about the CFP! Thanks for the heads-up! I do have a few ideas and notes mulling about, but I’ll have to see if I can pull together something worthwhile in that period of time. Are you intending on submitting anything?

  10. 10 Nick

    Oh, by the way, I meant to mention that the new blog looks great. Clean and more functional than the old one!

  11. 11 naughtthought

    I’m not sure that Meillassoux back tracks in the essay – I think his argument is ostensibly that the theist/atheist divide is faulty and that this has to do with his correlationist argument – that one cannot be sure of the impossibility of god but he’s not very clear how the creation of a god can be possible – it’s a big jump regardless though. It’s mostly interesting because of style since AF is so direct and almost mathematical whereas the essay is very fuzzy and almost more cultural studies then philosophy.

    I found the essay interesting especially since he discusses haunting in a way to take it away from the rampancy of Derrida’s hauntology.

    I’m trying to finish this essay on the unconscious as a critique of speculative realism focusing on Brassier’s comments on Zizek in Nihil Unbound. You should definitely try to submit something…I feel bad for not mentioning it sooner but I only found out about a week ago!

  12. 12 Nick

    That’s OK; I’m just happy to find out about it! If you want, you can email me your paper and I’ll comment on it; I’ll send you mine too, which may end up [hopefully] being done fairly quickly. I’ve managed to draw together some promising ideas tonight, so we’ll see how it goes.

  13. 13 naughtthought

    I’d definately like your feedback on my paper though, you’ve probably already read most of it here in various forms and of course I’d be happy to look at yours…I’m assuming your email is on your blog profile or something like that…hopefully I’ll have a working draft by the end of this week.

  14. 14 Nick

    OK, sounds good. If you want, email me before you get your draft done – I have presents to curb your jealousy, haha. [I’ll assume you found my email in my blog profile…]


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