The Unnatural Natural

27Oct09

In a recent post Reid writes:

“If the difference between nature and artifice is itself artifice, then it seems in vain to probe into uncontaminated nature, which itself exists in its distinction only on behalf of artifice, and as itself artifice.”

Reid writes that this does not lead to social constructivism but instead that:

“Nature, rather, means necessary or of necessity, whereas artificial means unnecessary or contingent. The ‘nature of being’ speaks of what is necessary or essential in being, whereas ontical artifices could either be or not, without affecting being itself.”

The central question of nature still remains what is nature (as Iain puts it what is the ground of ground) and what exactly is the nature of the relation between thinking and being while vitating any appeal to the natural.

Reid goes on:

“The distinction between ground and grounded, nature and artifice, is preserved, with the simple adjustment of emptying the former of any content – the ground is not some metaphysical thing (God, Nature, World, etc), but rather only groundlessness or facticity itself.”

The issue then is dividing nature from the natural where the natural takes nature as what is and transforms it into what is supposed to be. This also seems to be the essential problem with politics in relation to nature and ontology. Calling something unnatural is a political move – queer politics is an obvious examples where forms of desire/identity. Reid’s connection of nature to groundlessness advocates, I would argue, a process philosophy emptied of anthrocentric guarantee via the virtual, the eternal, the logical. Meillassoux’s weakness in regards to nature is that, as Martin Hagglund pointed out, he relies on a transcendental skyhook or thinkability of nature which approaches, or perhaps even emulates, virtuality.

Paradoxically then politics is unnatural but is not unaffected by the processes of nature itself. As Mark states here, a return to nature is a naive political gesture (following Zizek) since nature is not a thing (or state) to  return to – any purported return to nature is actually a return to the natural – an arrestation of progressive nature that transmogrifies nature in itself to nature as such which sneaks in a thinkability of nature in with it.

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4 Responses to “The Unnatural Natural”

  1. 1 reidkane

    I’ve only just come across Hagglund’s critique of Meillassoux (from the 21st Century Materialism conference), and haven’t gotten all the way through it, but find it quite compelling, if not yet convincing. Obviously the notion of necessary destructibility is far more in line with Brassier than with Meillassoux…where do you stand on it?

    In any case, I like the way you’re treating nature here, although I’m still not sure of how it fits with vitalism. Hagglund uses a nice expression, paraphrasing Dennett, that as naturalists, rather than vitalizing materiality, we ought to devitalize life. I may misunderstand, but I have the impression that ‘dark vitalism’ deals in precisely this kind of devitalized life. I’m curious in what sense this remain a vitalism.

    I have a sense that life, specifically our life, is a matter of being forced to act without the security of compulsion – the terror of freedom, so to speak. In this regard, political problems remain problems of life; and this is where I think Agamben is important.

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      For me vitalism is often critiqued as being necessary finalist which I think goes back to Bergson in Creative Evolution but I dont see why this is the case. For me vitalism is useful because it contains an asymmetry and a unknowability – a darkness or obscurity (which Bergson does mention) which is not present in process philosophy because of, thinkability or eternality etc like I mention above. For dark vitalism then the vital force is merely the force of the originary burst of space-time as it produces through and with matter/materiality.

      I agree with what you say about Meillassoux being close to Brassier on this point – I wrote about Meillassoux’s presentation a earlier post with the important point being this:

      “Dark Vitalism is particularly focused on the destructibility of life and but is also sceptical of Hagglund’s valorization of survival. That is, Hagglund’s account must take disadaptation, feedback and, when it comes to humans, pathology as paramount in understanding the category of survival. That is, one must be careful as soon as discussions of survival are connected to those of care – in that the physicality of death begins to immediately move towards culturalized death or even poeticized death. While Hagglund opens life as it must be in order to borrow energy from its environment to survive, life is always open to death, not just mournable death but the possibility of total annihilation. The spectral and the hauntological risk this as does Agamben’s form-of-life and Badiou’s recent discussion of a true life. The bio-cultural consistently dismisses the physical – the particulization of being.”

      Basically I like Hagglund’s argument except for his disavowal of the death drive via survival – I think he overestimates the rationality of human beings. In my book for zer0 I try to look at drive in spatio-temporal and not mostly subjective terms.

      I think you are right about the question of life though I question how useful Badiou’s true life and Agamben’s form-of-life are. The other issue is not many political theorists/philosophers want to address life as anything other then phenomenal life (at EGS for instance Butler called any such attempt to talk about life outside experience a vitalism). For me the issue is the epistemological breaks that occur that denote levels of life. Or, how does our knowledge about ecology for instance inform our actions – or what is the relation between apathy and ignorance.

      Anyways I’ll stop rambling…

      • 3 reidkane

        er, I assume you meant ‘Hagglund’ where you were saying ‘Meillassoux’ in that comment.

        I like what you’re saying here. I’ll see if I can’t make a case for Agamben eventually…I’m not really familiar enough with Badiou’s use of life yet, haven’t yet made it through the last few sections of LoW.

        I think you’re right about drive and rationality re: Hagglund, but again, I’ve only just become acquainted with his work and will need to dig a bit deeper.

  2. 4 kvond

    Buckminster Fuller, the grand ecologist, wrote denying the very category of “pollution”:

    “Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.”

    The unnaturalness of politics, or Man is something like the unnaturalness of pollution, though it is a pollution we are partially harvesting.


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