Transcendental Dynamism/Dark Vitalism


Quite some time ago when I first started to write about Speculative Realism and ‘dark’ aesthetics Alex Williams made a comment which I should of taken as a strong suggestion. The comment was on this post from over two years ago where I tried to outline what a Speculative Realist Naturphilosophie would be and that it should be coupled with a reworked form of phenomenology to accompany it. Over time however, I continuously merged these two approaches and I think that it has lead me into a position that I am less and less satisfied with, that has led me into a kind of odd Deleuzianism that I find unsatisfactory. Following Alex’s comment I should have separated Dark Vitalism from metaphysics and addressed it as a lived philosophy or just non-metaphysical philosophy (operating within the territory of existentialism, phenomenology, etc). This doesn’t change the majority of my past arguments but I think formal separation of different modes of philosophy and the material that they operate on is important and Laruelle’s work demonstrates this.

Dark Vitalism then names not only the affective/phenomenological mode of the metaphysics pursued but also that the form of metaphysics (vitalism) is darkened or differentiated (both aesthetically and immanently) from previously utilized forms. Lovecraft is the prince of my aesthetics not the core of my metaphysics…it is just nice that under his gloomy prose is a materialism and, as it would be fairly easy to argue, a materialism focused on forces and processes. Lovecraft’s world teems with uneasy dynamism.

To turn to metaphysics – I am only just beginning to engage philosophies of process, powers, and dispositions, all of which are found in the analytic tradition (save for Grant’s still emerging system). As Steven Shaviro’s post here points out, philosophies of dispositions are an alternative to the Humean strand of analytic thinking (as well against more positivist schools as well). Amongst the disposition theorists (at least from what I can tell so far) there is disagreement as to the depth of powers (whether they can be ungrounded) as well as (given a powers ontology) whether non-powers entities exist and, if that is the case, what are these non-power metaphysical  components?

For Molnar, there are ungrounded powers as well as non-power things (manifestations or objects). For Brian Ellis powers are grounded in natural kinds (of various types) and the non-power entities are categories. For thinkers like Sydney Shoemaker and Alexander Bird powers are ungrounded and non-power entities are not admitted. Given these discussions of powers the term vitalism seems less useful and transcendental materialism seems perhaps a bit too alien. However, my assertion remains that a process philosophy can be constructed out of post-Kantian philosophy (Schelling and Schopenhauer in particular) and that this metaphysical system has something to offer analytic powers ontologies.

In the powers metaphysics I’ve read thus far the relation between powers and their manifestations and powers and thought (both as a power itself and epistemological issues) seems ill-defined. For the latter though I believe much of this has to do with my expectations given the difference between  analytic and continental styles. For Molnar it seems powers can have manifestations but dont need to whereas dispositions for Ellis always come from a natural kind which may be material or not. Furthermore, for Ellis, in addition to physical and dynamic natural kinds, powers also require categories (paramaters such as space-time). It seems unclear s to what powers can do besides cause – is materialization a power of powers and can they seed or desposit other powers or do these come from other natural kinds or categories or real patterns?

To put a stop to the vertigo of terms (dark vitalism, cold vitalism, transcendental nihilism, speculative nihilism etc. etc. etc.) I want to say that the metaphysics I wish to construct is a dynamism, dynamism as it is outlined here. It’s a metaphysics that picks and chooses from Leibniz, Spinoza, Schelling, (later) Kant, Platonism, Aquinas, Whitehead, Bergson, Deleuze and others. Dynamism is connected to process philosophy, philosophies of dispositions, monism, and philosophies of becoming. In utilizing the term transcendental I want to utilize in a sense partially Kantian and partially Schellingian. The transcendental is transcendental as a phase change between different domains – domains which I am still uncertain as to whether to catalog them as epistemological or ontological and would argue that the shift itself occurs in a zone of onto-epistemological indistinction or darkness. Arguing that this darkness is ontologically constitutive would be to fall into postmodern relativism – it is not a darkness that spreads over all things but obscures the boundaries between methods. Immanence is the form of metaphysics which remains within its terms whereas transcendence acknowledges a break between regimes (or realms or whatever one would call it). Both immanence and transcendence operate in their own terms that is outside or within and either acknowledge their internal limits or closes off the limits as non-limits. Think for the difference, yet similarity between, Deleuze and Kant. Each regime or realm of thought can be thought of according to each regime – that is, in terms of the real, the successions of shifts would be Real-Material-Sense-Intelligence. These shifts would be in different according to each regime or stage.

What needs to be developed is each of these stages and what realism means when there is a divide between a lived (practical, political, existential?) philosophy and metaphysics and when there is a stufenfolge, a series of generative steps between stages. Does realism mean a philosophy merely according to the real or does it mean a realistic approach to a stage of being from within that stage? Or does it mean recognizing that stage as not-all?

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