484a26cf511b86e7e5df57cd631b6204

The initial chatter around Pete Wolfendale’s book generally seemed to fall into two camps. The first being that the text was merely a massive pile of vitriol directed towards OOOers with the second being the question ‘Why would Pete devote so much of his time to a provocation that may well go unanswered?’ Wolfendale addresses the second question first in the preface (ix) while the issue of reception is more indirectly approached in the introduction (7) but these concerns feed into one another. Those defensive of Harman, and/or the Object-Oriented approach generally, could take the book’s rigor (and length) as a sign of Wolfendale’s rancor for OOO/OOP whereas those sympathetic to the critique could merely take solace in the polemical moments of the text thereby eliding the painstaking vivisection performed throughout. But leaning too hard either way reinforces the starting point of both sides and little else. Rigor and a polemical tone are of course not contradictory (I suspect one would have a much harder time finding examples that are not both rather than the other way around) but work to make the text alluring to critics and sympathizers. Switching between a rather straight-forward analytic style and a polemical one makes the text surprising for those that would only expect only vitriol or only analysis, it brings along readers from both sides of the debate who could claim to have ‘heard it all before.’

Wolfendale is explicit about his positions and even the points where he agrees with Harman though they are few and far between (35) which, at times, and as Dominic Fox points out, leaves the impression that Harman and Wolfendale are like ships passing in the night: their views of philosophy in general are too different. On the other hand, given philosophy’s universal address, to my mind philosophy needs to, at the very least, adequately provide a structure to translate between its own fields and it would appear that without epistemology, which Wolfendale so greatly champions, this is awfully difficult. This apparent failure to communicate, as well as the responses to the text already mentioned, indirectly point to a strange assumption in academia and one that I’ve seen in philosophy and theory. There is often an assumption that the theorists or philosophers one chooses reflects one’s personality and conduct in academic and extra-academic affairs. To put it somewhat jokingly, the assumption being something like Hegelians are tyrannical jerks, Derrideans are all friendly animal lovers, and Deleuzians are open-minded sex-weirdos. While this will (hopefully) invoke laughter, it is incredible how the attitude of a philosophy’s utilizers are always-already behaviourally coded and, how this cuts down the kinds of arguments one makes from the get go. I would hope that a text like Wolfendale’s demonstrates how this doesn’t hold up at all. This is particularly evident in his extensive footnote on the analytic continental divide (404-405).

Since Fox has already done a great review of the text (linked above) this allows me to focus less on the specific critiques of OOO and more on how the text expands beyond being a specific critique of Harman. The book is to be praised for the depth of its historical conceptualization and the breadth of its contemporary conceptualization in that Wolfendale demonstrates how OOO falls in regards to the development of post-Kantian thought (with particular regard to the noumena-phenomena relation in Kant and Husserl and the consequences it has for Heidegger) as well as how OOO is part of a broader trend of ontological liberalism (209-299). This is, I hope, far less egregious then it sounds given the fact that nearly a quarter of the book is dedicated to this problem.

Continue reading ‘Ontological Methadone: A Review of Peter Wolfendale’s Object-Oriented Philosophy’


Despite the fact that Schelling is a German Idealist or, more broadly, a post-Kantian thinker, there is not (to my knowledge) anything resembling a consensus regarding Schelling’s relation to Kant. Iain Grant sets up the relation as an overtly hostile one (akin to what the Furies do to Orestes) while thinkers such as Arran Garre balk at such an assertion.

From Schelling’s writings it is clear he has immense respect for Kant, calling him the Aristotle of Germany (as he puts it in The Grounding of Positive Philosophy) and that he nearly perfected negative philosophy through the Critiques. By negative philosophy Schelling means a pure rationalism that addresses the conceptual specifically or, in other words, the negative philosophy determines what is real but not reality (GPP, 131). By no means does Schelling assert or infer that the negative philosophy is unnecessary only that, by its own definition, it can have have no content other then what is determined according to its own ground such that as soon as reason determines something as real the reality of that conceptual content dissipates.

In texts prior to The Grounding (namely the Freedom Essay and The History of Modern Philosophy) Schelling attacks Kant from another position as well in claiming that Kant’s notion of the in-itself not only sabotages the First Critique in epistemological terms (in that the CPR assumes that the a priori of reason is the a priori for reason) (GPP, 127) but also does injustice to nature in that in assuming the a priori is for reason its is denied a properly dynamic character. Or, in other words, the a priori, as Kant defines it, is for reason in that it is empty of content except as a content that grants reason its reach, its momentum. Yet how is it that it grants this capability alone and that this capability is that of and for reason only?

Continue reading ‘Schelling and Kant (pt 1)’


Some recent publications:

An essay on Tombs and Design appeared in the journal Design Ecologies with a preface by science fiction author Peter Watts. Details here.

An essay based on a talk on parasitism and Schelling is in the Weaponsing Speculations collection. Details here.

My essay version of a talk done in London on Schelling and Ecological aesthetics is in Speculative Aesthetics released by Urbanomic. Available here.

I wrote the entry on ‘Transcendental Materialism’ for the just released The Meillassoux Dictionary.

I wrote a short piece about a modern Ariadne for a short film available here.

Upcoming Events:

February: I will be in Australia doing a masterclass on the work of Reza Negarestani in Sydney (as a lead up to Aesthetics after Finitude), a workshop on creation and the concept of worlds in Melbourne, and possible another event to be confirmed.

From February 26-March 1st I’ll be in Amsterdam speaking at The Geological Imaginary conference. Website here.

Beyond that I’ll be in France for some months planning an event on Geopolitics and Geophilosophy at PAF for the Summer.


akira-2

The massiveness of the nuclear is ‘lightened’ only by a catastrophe. The Earth is geophilosophically and geopolitically frustrating because it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster (a great heat engine as James Hutton understood it) but one that is metastable while proving itself the ground of all production whether noetic or material. Whether the collecting of ferrite for magnetic strips on subway cards or providing the iron source of painting, the Earth is a geo-chemical and geo-physical graveyard of potency.

Part of this frustration is due to the fact that the fact of this complicity or continuity is difficult to represent given its absurd spatio-temporal stretch. This is a fairly wide spread notion these days in part functioning as a conceptual sidekick to the anthropocene. One can look at the Smithsonian project above or the various works of Kate Paterson. Paterson has recently coupled with numerous authors (including most recently Margaret Atwood) in planting a forest for a library to be produced in 100 years. Prior to this Paterson had attempted to represent deep time through her fossil necklace in which each bead represented a different epoch.

PacificRime5ogAmA

Previously I was critiqued for utilizing pop culture references to discuss the geophilosophical. A defense I had not considered at the time was not only that science fiction does a particularly interesting job of representing the geological, but simply that film is especially adept at representing informational microcosms of deep time and the strangeness of life emerging from the Earth. For instance, it’s not surprising we are seeing a resurgence of monster films – these creatures index their own history (as coming out of mid-twentieth century nuclear traumas) which in turn make them ideal for embodying climatological disaster. The question remains however as to whether it is better to represent the disasters of the anthropocene in a series of cuts of its production by us.

A chemical explosion, to a flying particle, to a chain reaction, to a devastation. A scalar madness is etched in the brain and repeated by the creatures awakened. This is the indecision between continuity and complicity, in how much we take blame for ‘awakening’ the monsters but often seem forced to utilize the same technology, or other disastrous technologies, to combat them. Complicity is investigated by being scaled up and down. The scalar madness is folded outwards: we construct monsters to fight monsters. Nuclear solution twice over – reliable tech and nuking the breach in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

The recent rebirth of Godzilla takes this logic to a certain absurdity.

In the film nuclear testing awakened, tried to destroy, and then is utilized once more to try to destroy Godzilla and other creatures. It is quite telling that the devastation of Godzilla and his opponents (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms or MUTOs) receive more attention of the camera than the battles between the creatures. More directly, the film references the connection between climate disaster and nuclear disaster through a nuclear meltdown in Japan as well as a visit to Yucca Mountain. Deep waste repositories such as Yucca mountain (which I’ve written about here) are the real-world and slowed down version of Godzilla and his fellow MUTOs. The sites bear the remnants of nuclear devastation whether or not that devastation occurred in its’ intended’ fashion ie whether or not weapons were used. Deep repositories are the ‘slow violence’ version of nuclear disaster propelled speculatively (and monstrously) into the future.

One serious limitation (of which there are many) is that the imaginary scaling up of the nuclear (which might be better represented as a intensification or contraction of deep time into a disastrous space) is that these disasters-as-monsters necessarily go tromping through cities and other populated spaces. Nuclear waste, and many other environmental disasters, of course happen in more isolated locations. This isolation is of course not only geophysical/geographical but also geopolitical. There is an interesting asymmetry between the geopolitical forgetting of environmental disaster in the global south in relation to the geophysical entombment of the nuclear in the north.

The strangest aspect of Godzilla is the sense that Godzilla represents god-as-nature, as a monstrous force which is capable of putting things ‘back into balance.’ What exactly the relation between devastation and balance is, how the contracted time scale into the space of disaster can be subsequently unfolded seems to be the interesting question.


One of the core concepts of the neo-rationalist (and more broadly pragmatist) camp is that of boot-strapping – that certain capacities or processes, are capable of self-augmentation. While less colloquially discussed in terms of recursion (invoking a functionalist or mathematical context) boot-strapping indexes the material consequence of such activity or, in a related fashion, that a process can be recursively defined given it’s self-evident productivity. One instance would be discussing thought as a process of thinking which produces thoughts wouldn’t seem to get us too far except that we that this process engenders a massively complex chain of consequences for everything including itself.

Where boot-strapping indicates a metal act informing a self affecting physical act, a recursive definition seems to operate in one abstract realm yet, if this were the case, then recursion would be the same as circularity. But even in this abstract sense circularity can be avoided in terms of adding values and rules. Vicious circularity, or ill-defined self-recursion, can contain these elements but only produce nested recursion as in the case of a famous line by Hofstadter:

“This sentence contains ten words, eighteen syllables, and sixty-four letters”

Continue reading ‘Loops and Augmentation: Pragmatism, Accelerationism, and Navigation’


Post-Lisbon/PAF

04Sep14

Being back stateside I finally have some time to reflect on some recent events in Europe. I already reported on the Berlin Summer school here but, following that, I was in Lisbon for one week for a great event organized by Margarida Mendes. The week-long summer school focused on geo-philosophy and mattering which addressed issues of climate change, design, architecture, physics in a broad sense. More specifically, aerosal distribution, geo-politics, non-scientific evidence, dark matter, and nuclear proliferation were topics covered. The event wrestled quite interestingly with the relations between the anthropocene, climate change, geopolitics, and philosophy in such a way that put emphasis on very particular issues which redraw what it means to engage with these massive complex problems without merely stepping back and calling them complex.

My talk focused on how Schelling’s naturphilosophie addresses the nature/culture split and how it applies to art and the concept of nature. More specifically, I talked about Smithson’s obsession with entropy and life as a consequence of the inorganic and how the notion of unity is not naive but neither is it all-explanatory. The central Schelling quote for the talk was the following:

“[I]n all cases of the artistic impulse a certain identity between the products and the producing agent. The bee produces the material of its edifice from within itself; the spider and the silk- worm draw the threads of their webs from within themselves. Indeed, if we go even deeper, the artistic impulse merges completely with anorganic external deposits that remain in cohesion with the producing agent or animal. Such are the products of the polyps inhabiting coral, the shells of mollusks and oysters, indeed even the stonelike and hard coverings of some insects as well as of crabs, which therefore lack the artistic instinct, which in their case is lost completely in the production of that covering […] we can view these productions as the externally reverted skeleton of the lower animal forms. Only at the higher levels of organization does nature succeed in coercing this anorganic mass back toward the inside and subjecting it to the laws of the organism.”

In Schelling’s account humans reinvade nature with inorganic constructions because of our lack of automatic relation to it because of our species form. This account has interesting consequences for Schelling’s account of the potenz as self-augmenting processes in nature that operate through us more than are operated on by us.

After Lisbon I headed to France to participate in the PAF Summer University and the philosophy week organized by Diana Khamis, Katrina Burch, and Amy Ireland. “Get Reassembled: Time, Intelligence, Acceleration” focused on the legacy of the CCRU, the difference between Nick Land’s past and current work, the thought of Reza Negarestani, and, more generally, the relation between other contemporary strands of thought particularly out side of the context of purely academic philosophy. The whole week was a great experience and there was too much material too go over. Pete Wolfendale’s lectures are available online here as is his discussion after the event here.

Like the Berlin Summer School (but in a quite different sense) the university struggled with the borders of rationalism particularly vis a vis art, politics, and the very nature of intelligence. These debates between the participants were reflected through the historical trajectory in terms of tracking the CCRU’s trajectory. Basically what does it mean to go from Sadie Plant and Nick Land of the mid 90s to new rationalism, transmodernism, and the various splinters from the splitting of the always-already split edifice of Speculative Realism.

In reference to SR what’s been interesting is these events have reaffirmed what labels mean as placeholders in a minimal sense but also as tools. It is strange to see SR talked about as if the term is self-explanatory when, for many, it was something between an escape hatch and a convenient way to label a broad set of concerns. It seems to be the case, and I wonder if this was always true, that labels are more for critics than their adherents. SR as a label was mostly so many of us could find each other…it was a signal flare not a structure…necessary to set us, however provincially, apart from other labels that had grown too fat (continental philosophy, materialism, etc). PAF, as space, indexes the importance of this well…it’s a organization but only as much as it needs to be to host interesting things not defined beyond that. There’s a passage in Schelling’s Clara that weirdly describes PAF that I’ll end with:

“Of the significance that these institutions once held, they have perhaps kept only the picturesque. However, one will find it easier and more agreeable to close down the institutions altogether than to restore them in accordance with their original aim in a way that would be appropriate for our times. When I see such a quiet cloister down below in the valley, or go past one on a hill from which it looks down, I have often thought to myself: if one day the time should come for all these monuments of a bygone time, please let at least one of our princes think to preserve one or two of these sanctuaries, to keep the buildings and their goods together, and to endow them to the arts and sciences.”

 


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.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 249 other followers