Nigel Cooke

Philosophy…the very world bears a halo so tarnished with the fingernail scratches of a desperate hold that its meaning is as dim as it is persistent.

Philosophy begins in wonder, in disappointment, with anything except instantaneous experience (according to Laruelle). So say the philosophers. Though few comments have seemed as honest as Lyotard’s – that philosophy is at best graffiti on the ruins of the world. But such post-modern self-effacement quickly becomes a PR spin on the shaking claws of the philosopher holding onto the halo of the discipline. Even Zizek, tormentor of the post-modern that he claims to be, reiterates philosophy’s modesty. But the modesty of the philosopher who has purportedly run from the scorching sun of truth into the cooler ruins (maybe of a bombed-out Kantian arche-techtonic) seems to be a false one, an authority that is claiming it is anything but. Then there is Badiou’s philosopher as Wormtongue – as whispering into the ears of truth seekers. Badiou is not the modest figure, he chastises Lyotard’s graffiti artist and rewrote The Republic. Though Badiou grants conditions their autonomy from the philosopher as truth-event manager. This is to say nothing of the theorist who eats at the table of the philosopher but who leaves before the bill arrives. There is also too much to be said about the conceptual engineer figure of philosophy according to Deleuze – the false modesty of ‘just being a brick layer’ but Deleuze does not think he is just a brick layer. He thinks the philosopher can fold the unknown outside into thought. That’s a power beyond brick handling.

Philosophy is the increasingly elaborate (and veiled) betrayal of the modesty of thought.

In the following I want to connect my concerns from the last post to the week of seminars Iain Hamilton Grant gave a few weeks ago at the Schelling Summerschool at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. This post only touches on my notes from Day 1.

In his recent essays and in the talks given, Grant has shifted his focus to the later Schelling (particularly from 1815 onward) and paid close attention to what seems to be, in a broad sense, Schelling’s turn towards Aristotle. In the Darstellung lectures and elsewhere Schelling turns towards concerns of embodiment, dimensionality, philosophy as a practice, animality, and other topics which seem far from his earlier purportedly more abstract concerns. However, this does not, I would argue, violate the Grant’s continuity thesis (that Schelling’s thought is naturphilosophie through and through) but is Schelling’s attempt to philosophize his concerns about philosophy (concerns which he had at a very young age).

Before addressing the later work Grant focused on the Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, the First Outline, and the Freedom Essay. Grant sees the freedom essay as a hinge between the more transcendental account of nature in the first outline and the more realist account in the Ideas. The relation of realism/idealism often manifests itself, according to Grant, in the two sciences of physics and history. Furthermore, these two sciences index the problem of bodies and powers and establishing their relation.

Continue reading ‘Schelling’s Spaces (pt 2)’

[The following is a post based on my paper for the German Idealism Workshop (which was just rejected...c'est la vie!) and in many ways foregrounds issues that Iain Grant discussed this past week in Pittsburgh. I will follow this post with a discussion of Grant's lectures]

There is a fairly well known saying that the German Idealists (primarily Fichte, Schelling, Hegel) ran through the door which Kant had only wished to peak through. This means, among other things, that the cautious uncertainty where Kant stood was ‘ruined’ by the German Idealists who wanted to talk more about ‘things in themselves’ or to, in various ways, get rid of the things in themselves all together and expand that shaky ground outwards. Whereas Zizek has argued that Hegel effectively ontologizes that which Kant had recognized without really recognizing (that the subject comes to be substance through a kind of indirect self-recognition) the Pittsburgh Hegelians, insofar as I grasp them, take both Fichte and Hegel’s idealism to be one that grounds the stability of the starting subject position on the efficacy of the normative which is sui generis and separate from what McDowell calls, following Sellars, the logical space of nature.

In essence, the problem of how mind and world (or reason and nature) interact is based upon a self-sustaining space of reasons, where we have learned via linguistic structures to be able to self-test that the world is thus and so in relation to us saying that the world is thus and so. This capacity cannot, following Brandom and McDowell, be anchored in naturalistic processes (to do so would be to fall into the naturalistic fallacy as Sellars called it) because the set of rules governing conceptual behavior are different in kind from those laws which govern the logical space of nature. However, I believe that the way in which the logical space of nature is described immediately fixes the game in a way that any kind of naturalism other than as empirical explanation, cannot but fail to appease the force of second nature (the space of reasons). That is, I believe that Schelling’s naturalism is not a bald naturalism as McDowell would put it, but, given its speculative nature, questions the descriptive ground put in place by the Pittsburgh Hegelians.

Put otherwise, if naturalism is that which fundamentally describes laws and their empirical ambit, this presupposes the efficacy of description, already grounded, as the boundary of the space of nature. Such a formulation outrightly dismisses speculative physics, whether in Hegel, Schelling, or in comtemporary thought, Gabriel Catren. Catren’s speculative physics asserts an a priori (but non-transcendental in the Kantian sense) structure of laws which determine the limitations of the empirical. As Dan Sacilotto has discussed succintly here, Catren’s speculative physics runs against Meillassoux’s assertion that the laws of nature cannot be contingent. In this sense, and as I have argued previously in talks, whereas Meillassoux asserts the necessity of contingency and Hegel the contingency of necessity, Schelling asserts the necessity of necessity however speculatively determined. This means the necessity of nature however (something is impossible if its conditions cannot be given in nature) and not the necessity of necessity removed from nature and placed in the logical space of reasons. Markus Gabriel’s move is to push this logical space of reasons ‘backwards’ and equate it with Schelling’s concept of das unvordenkliche (the un-pre-thinkable). But what this means for the separability of nature and logic in Gabriel appears somewhat uncertain.

Continue reading ‘Schelling’s Spaces’

At the Speculative Aesthetics conference back in March, Ray Brassier connected ‘the new accelerationism’ (that which functions in a epistemological-political register rather than, in Land, an ontological-political register) to what he dubbed a Prometheanism. This Prometheanism, following in the wake of Lenin and the Cosmists, puts forth the axiom that revolutionary politics requires rigorous post-capitalist planing via technological and more broad scientific exploration and not, we might say, the lightfooted doctrine of neo-liberal development. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek develop this is their recently posted Accerlerationist Manifesto available here.

The piece is great.  McKenzie Wark has written an interesting response here. I have always been a accelerationst sympathesizer but was perhaps never admitted to the ranks for one reason or another (possibly because I am not a political thinker). One on level, I am not sure how to connect my own Schellingian sympathies to such a project as Schelling appears as a reactionary and non-radical character in the literature (though he has a kind of anarchic character in some ways, something I wrote an essay that will come out here.) That is, while there are certainly ties to Schelling via Peirce and Chatelet (in terms of physics, intuition, and systematicity) technology (and esp any kind of technologically infused politics) is a bit of a stretch.

One way, of trying to explore a ground here is Schelling’s complex relation to the myth of Prometheus (which I concluded this talk briefly with). While several notions of Prometheus swirl around Schelling (particularly in relation to Goethe’s  famous ode) the concept that the Promethean thought as a primordial thought is particularly interesting. For Schelling, the Gods were brought forth in order to move beyond them hence Schelling’s tautegorical concept of myth; the assertion that myth is not fundamentally allegorical but expresses objectivity in more or less clear language. Myth has a kind of redundant utility. Myth becomes myth (rather than say fiction) to the degree which it successfully obfuscates its temporality (myth contains in it the very beginning of time as Cassier discusses). This is related to Schelling’s view of the relation between science and philosophy – that the latter should judge and reconstruct the fictions that guide the practices of the former (and not the practices themselves).

Continue reading ‘Prometheus on the Frontier: Acceleration and Myth (pt 1)’

A story at i09 a few days ago was about what’s called the centipede’s dilemma also known as the problem of hyper-reflection. The problem comes from a nursery rhyme written in 1871 in which a centipede, following a questioning toad, thinks too much about how it moves all its legs and then forgets how to move at all. Several decades after the rhyme was initially written the British psychologist George Humphrey popularized the phrase ‘the centipede’s dilemma’ and it is also became known as Humphrey’s Law. The dilemma is a low-level or perhaps more physiological version of analysis paralysis, the problem of over-analyzing to the detriment of decision (Hamlet being the privileged example here). To add to the pantheon of animal dilemmas one can also think of Buridan’s Ass or Aesop’s The Fox and the Cat.

Several other versions of the rhyme have appeared over the years some of which replace the toad with the spider (that great animal of cunning) who manipulates the centipede into thinking too much and tripping over itself. A verse of the rhyme appeared in an article by E. Ray Lankester a British zoologist (one of the two scientists present at Karl Marx’s funeral) who discussing the photography of Eadweard Muybridge wondering what it would be like to apply it to the centipede suggesting, albeit playfulling, that it might cause disastrous results.

Continue reading ‘Movement and Thought: A Bestiary’

Misc. Things


A really interesting interview with Iain Hamilton Grant is available at After Nature here.

At the end of the interview Grant mentions that he is still working on his next text Grounds and Powers which, I believe was previously referred to as Grounds, Powers, and Time. Grant says that he will be testing some of the material at the Duquesne Summer School on Naturphilosophie where Jason Wirth is the other main speaker, which I will be attending and hopefully presenting at the attached conference in August.

Later the same month Grant (along with many others) will descend upon my university for the Second Annual Schelling Society of North America Conference with the theme Futures of Schelling.

I am also currently putting together proposals for two different collections: one is on German Idealism after Zizek and the other is going to be on new realisms and feminism…I’ll post more details once both are a bit more solidified.

A nice Earth Day sentiment here.

One of the major themes which has crept into my dissertation (largely due to Reza’s influence) is that of space and, by connection, motion. The obvious reason for this is the fascinating work of geometrical-cognitive theorists (Bailly, Longo, Berthoz, Magnani, etc) which argues for geometrical articulations of deep natural processes whether mental, biological, physical or otherwise. By tying motion and space to such concepts, one is able to construct speculative theories which avoid over-emphasizing the discretizing regime (again, borrowing from Reza) as the fundamental explanatory engine.

For myself, space and motion discussed in these ways gives better tools for explaining Schelling’s meontological concept of nature (neither strictly being nor strictly becoming) as a asymmetrical dialectic of the churning of space-time. More specifically, since Schelling is always ungrounding and removing the purported ‘necessary’ conditions of any given thing, thinking in terms of space-time as evolution and involution, as a tension between creation and inhibition, allows one operational (or we might say skeptically epistemological) ways of talking about possible grounds.

Continue reading ‘Space/Motion/Dance: A Brief Sketch’


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