“Shorn of its rational constraint, the banner of ‘realism’ by itself becomes strictly meaningless. In fact, the relations between ‘realism,’ ‘materialism,’ and ‘idealism,’ are of considerable dialectical complexity so I think it’s a mistake to brandish any one of them in isolation from the others. They derive whatever philosophical sense they posses from their contrastive inter-dependence. Just as the assertion of an unqualified or indiscriminate ‘realism’ is uninformative, the proclamation of ‘materialism’ has also become meaningless, a genuflection to academic orthodoxy often licensing positions that are indistinguishable from the most objectionable theses of idealism.” – Brassier, Interview in Realism, Materialism Art

Brassier’s sentiment in the above quote, combined with Grant, Dunham, and Watson’s ruminations on idealism as a realism of the idea, has led me deeper into the history of idealism. Examining the texts of figures such as Berkeley, Kant, and the post-Kantians, as well as the British and American Idealists, has quickly painted a very different image of the tradition then what is usually given. It seems clear to me that the positive or constructive project of idealism has been lost, and that the name has become a dumping ground for the negative aspects of philosophy (as Brassier suggests).

Going through the idealist canon one finds a number of idealisms none of which confirm to the most egregious stereotype of idealism generically – namely that the idealist position is an extreme form of solipsism, that the world merely leaps out of the mind. Starting with this as the strong form of ontological idealism, (SOI) a basic schema can be set up to try and track the general stance of idealism though this still does not do justice to its more specific claims, or its more constructive project.

Strong Ontological Idealism (SOI): All is Thought/Everything is mind. (Possible candidates – Sprigge, James Jeans, Eddington)

Strong Epistemological Idealism (SEI): Everything we know is mind. (Berkeley)

Weak Ontological Idealism (WOI): Everything is minds and ideas (British and American Idealism while German Idealism falls somewhere between WOI and SEI)

Weak Epistemological Idealism (WEI): Everything is in minds. (Kant? This is hotly debated still)

SOI – Most of the thinkers who might fall into this category are physicists from the turn of the century and into the 1950s. But even a figure like Jeans who discusses the cosmos as a ‘giant thought’ leaves questions. To say the cosmos is more like a mind than like a machine expresses more a skepticism regarding mechanism than a particularly strong thesis about the power, or being, of mind. Even if Jeans’ claim is that the cosmos is more mind like, this can still be read as a materialist claim about the mind (i.e., it is more like the cosmos than some would like to admit, i.e., its constitution deeply affects its behavior). Jeans and Eddington simply wonder if the indeterminancy which appeared to be at the heart of physics for them may apply to the very basic functioning of thought. More speculatively, the claim could be made is what exists is the mind of god and we are merely thoughts in that mind. As Jeans famously wrote in The Universe Around Us:

Finite picture whose dimensions are a certain amount of space and a certain amount of time; the protons and electrons are the streaks of paint which define the picture against its space-time background. Traveling as far back in time as we can, brings us not to the creation of the picture, but to its edge; the creation of the picture lies as much outside the picture as the artist is outside his canvas. On this view, discussing the creation of the universe in terms of time and space is like trying to discover the artist and the action of painting, by going to the edge of the canvas. This brings us very near to those philosophical systems which regard the universe as a thought in the mind of its Creator, thereby reducing all discussion of material creation to futility.”

While I am skeptical as to the theological implications, such a claim is still far from the standard solipsistic claim aimed at idealism generally.

SEI – In his Metaphysics for the Mob John Russell Roberts demolishes the standard critique of Berkeley surrounding the damning phrase esse ist princi (to be is to be perceived). Roberts writes:

“Berkeley tells us, ‘‘[t]heir esse is percipi.’’ Clearly, the ‘their’ is anaphoric on ‘unthink-
ing things,’ what Berkeley also sometimes refers to as ‘‘sensible things’’ and some-
times as ‘‘ideas.’’ What Berkeley taught is that the being of sensible things consists in
their being perceived. But with that said, two all-important points have to be
insisted upon immediately. First, the same is not true of minds, what Berkeley more frequently calls ‘‘spirits’’ but also refers to (equivalently) as ‘‘souls,’’ ‘‘wills,’’ and ‘‘agents.’’ The being of spirits does not depend on their being perceived. In fact, spirits cannot be perceived. [T]he words will, soul, spirit, do not stand for different ideas, or in truth, for any idea at all, but for something which is very different from ideas, and which being an agent cannot be like unto, or represented by, any idea whatsoever.
The esse of spirits is not percipi. The second point is even more important: Berkeley is a monist. His is a monism of minds.” (5)

The skepticism which accompanies Berkeley’s thought (which anyone who has paid any attention to Hume would notice) is why he is in the strong epistemological camp since spiritual-substance, whatever it is that composes the self, is not known other than through its effects. Thus even in Berkeley something is not mind-like and even is ontologically outside the purview of mind other than as a supposition. There is a reason why the empiricists built on his work more than they tore it down…

WOI – The spectrum of this position runs somewhere between Hegel and Bradley in that there is some discordance between mind and idea (via negation for the former or in dissembling and reassembling experience for the latter) in which there may be something outside thought but only as a limit to which thought must approach. Thus ‘outside’ only comes into play as a epistemological motivator to indicate the failure of thought. Objective Idealism would fall into this camp (particularly of Peirce and Schelling) whereas absoluteness would as long as it is qualified by some form of indirect access (thus Hegel may fall into SOI.

WEI -Weak epistemological Idealism is probably the most common claim and could be applied to much of continental philosophy following Heidegger, and much of analytic thought that follows in the wake of Wittgenstein. Kant is arguably the progenitor since his form of thought admits there is something outside minds and ideas, but that speaking or thinking it is somewhat contradictory other than feeding into our senses and intuitions.

This general sketch is far from polished but I would hope it at least make the throwaway use of the term ‘idealism’ as a general insult in the realm of thought (or of politics in a different sense) problematic. If the term fits into an ecology along with realism and materialism, the purported limits of the former, and the indiscriminate meanings of the latter become more sharply focused. Without using idealism as that form of thought which studies the behavior of thoughts, that treats them as if they escaped their material or rational habitats, realism gets into troubling explaining imagination and materialism gets into trouble explaining abstraction (just for starters). Furthermore, and as I tried to discuss here, analytic philosophy in its turn to fictionalism has re-entered idealist terrain that it Moore and Russel had declared off limits.

Lastly, and to leave room for future writing, one of the central issues of idealism, particularly in the form of British Idealism, was not about realism or rationalism opposed to idealism (many of the idealists saw themselves as rationalists as opposed to empiricists or pragmatists) but about the tension between monism and pluralism, between identity and difference. The contours of this debate, how it played about between Bradley and James has a lot to say about current battles between flat and layered ontologies,


Maurizo Ferraris’ recent short text Positive Realism (Zer0, Dec 2015) attempts to define what his form of New Realism is against, and what it builds off of, engaging a wide range of philosophical positions (metaphysical realism, internal realism, scientific realism, Markus Gabriel’s New Realism, Harman’s ontology and others) while making a general claim to a philosophy informed by common sense.

Ferraris is critical of both transcendental philosophy and the linguistic turn, of what he generally names constructivism and the ‘transcendental fallacy’ (3). These moves follow from a general anti-epistemological stance that is shared with Harman, Garcia, Gabriel, and others. Essentially these realists wish to claim that we are already in touch with the world, with objects, with things of themselves, and thus focusing on the question of access (of epistemology in particular) buries the ontological lead. Ferraris, along with these other thinkers, thus want to claim that the world is there before us, but not for us, and that this is should be appreciated as a positive philosophical feature.

Broadly put, Ferraris argues that constructivism and transcendental philosophy not only over-estimate the power of the thinking subject but also overlook the positive aspects of the world, the way in which the world, and objects of the world, invite us to act and interact with them (referencing J.J. Gibson) as well as make it difficult to determine the degrees of reality.

Continue reading ‘Perceiving Perception?: A Review of Ferraris’ Positive Realism’


For a plot summary you may go here.

For another take see here.

Firewatch has been generally praised as a playable narrative and less as a game. As a narrative, however, its ending has been critiqued as has the various details of its story. The supposedly anti-climatic ending is central to the theme of the whole game’s narrative, a theme that appears in numerous lines of dialogue – there is no great plan, no great conspiracy, all things do not happen ‘for a reason.’ And yet, at the same time, the ambiguity of the game revealed through small clues suggests that one of the game’s three main characters (Delilah) is lying through her teeth. Many videos and pieces have picked up on this suggesting that Delilah and the game’s antagonist (Ned) conspired to hide the death of Ned’s son as well as Ned’s presence in the park.

If this is the case it would mean there was in fact a conspiracy, but perhaps one not satisfactory to the average player of the game. But still this conspiracy is less than the one suggested by some of the game’s plot twists, there is no government level plan, no scientific drive beyond any surveillance scheme. The only engine of conspiracies in Firewatch is personal trauma and the fearfulness of people.

So in the end Firewatch is about the conspiracy under the normal functioning of events which we try to raise to a higher level of conspiracy, we we say there must be a plan, or a reason, or a plot. But, the game suggests, this is just an effect of trauma riddled brains and bad circumstances. Is this satisfactory, is there something more to be said? I think there is but we have to look at what the game does with structure and narrative, genre and content.


While it has been said that Firewatch has a genre problem it seems to quite consciously play with this. The game plays with thriller, conspiracy, and even slightly sci-fi categories while running romance and drama through out. But just as the game does not want to give a satisfactory ending, it too does not wish to remain in any one genre for long. While this can have quite a disorienting effect, particular in films (such as Joseph Kahn’s Detention) it does not presume to know what a genre is or even how it works (compare Detention to Cabin in the Woods).

In games the function is different since the pace of movement is set by the player, the player is more than a reader but less than the author. In terms of the emotional content of the narrative we can be said to walk around in it in a way where we are not necessarily fighting the flow of the narrative. At some point, yes, we are expected to complete certain tasks, but we are free to wonder, to unfold the events that we have experienced as emotionally devastating for the characters but moving across the map in various fashions.

A certain spatializing-exploration, or visualization-play effects the way the emotional content unfolds for us. We can look at this internal to the game’s content, and how the game, as a game, relates to the larger game world. In regards to the first point we can say that walking through a simulation offers a certain kind of over-saturated beauty, we can pick up turtles, watch animals, and the like. In relation to the second point, one could argue that Firewatch makes a claim for the emotional content of games, that its attempting to defend the function of video games as powerful narratives (something that fewer and fewer mediums have to do but is still generally true of comics and video games if no longer true for television).

The emotional content or simple walking/exploring of a virtual world and its meta-function as a narratively grounded game actually makes a point that was probably not intended, but one that is buttressed by the ‘no great plan’ theme of the game. Or, simply put, the false narratives of the game charge the everydayness of your player’s (Henry) actions in such a way to beg the question – does the greater scheme or framing device matter?


This can rapidly lead us into a valley of cliches from which there would seem to be no escape. Such a tactic might immediately seem as a round a bout way of showing us that ‘the now matters’ or that its about the journey not the destination, and so on. But, given that this takes place in game, such emotional cheap shots might take on slightly different character.

At the level of genre such a move is actually becoming weirder. In film and tv, the ongoing explosion of expanded universes (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc) means that viewers start to see the next events, the ongoingness of the series, as itself charged with emotional content. There is something almost a bit absurd when these films and shows attempt to make an emotional moment, not because the material is supernatural or fantastic, but because it seems to go against the grain of the thing. In a shared universe the question of ‘what’s next?’ is more than a question of plot, it becomes the emotional engine as well.

In the last twenty years or so, the idea of a sequel went from egregious money making to required. From within the game mechanic, however, the idea of the played present is an interesting one. Similarly, games are meant to be finished, tasks completed, satisfaction delivered. There are few answers or satisfactory conclusions in Firewatch, there is mostly sadness and disappointment. But can this really surprise us given the fact that Henry is a man running away from his mentally collapsing wife? That he is a man ignoring the last decades of his life and flirting with an unseen woman herself hiding from heart break and, if the theories about Delilah’s untrustworthiness are to be believed, from much worse.


The other side of the emotional cheap shot would be that of the twist. The logic of the twist, at least in television and film, seems to have exhausted itself in the last few years. The notorious ending of Lost seems a rather grand intensification compared to M. Night Shyamalan’s plot tricks. Games have arguably pushed this logic even further, one can look only at Bioshock Infinite and its epic levels of meta-containing, of worlds, within worlds, all wrapped in a complex temporal logic. The issue at hand becomes one of what these ever more complicated formalist tricks do, if anything, to the kind of content (emotional or otherwise) being deployed in games versus movies.

The question, which is an interesting one I think, that arises is what is the relation between the felt present of a game, and that of more passive media, and how do these relate the the immediate present, to what William James famously discussed in terms of the specious present:

“The relation of experience to time has not been profoundly studied. Its objects are given as being of the present, but the part of time referred to by the datum is a very different thing from the conterminous of the past and future which philosophy denotes by the name Present. The present to which the datum refers is really a part of the past — a recent past — delusively given as being a time that intervenes between the past and the future. Let it be named the specious present, and let the past, that is given as being the past, be known as the obvious past. All the notes of a bar of a song seem to the listener to be contained in the present. All the changes of place of a meteor seem to the beholder to be contained in the present. At the instant of the termination of such series, no part of the time measured by them seems to be a past. Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three . . . nonentities — the past, which does not exist, the future, which does not exist, and their conterminous, the present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.”

Is this merely a question of our immediate attention, or of intentionality? The cross-over between how we perceive the present, and how emotion colors time perception, or, put otherwise, the relation between idealism and empiricism as they relate sense and experience, what one would think would come before and what would follow. But we do not have to go into the dusty (or exciting) halls of philosophy. Firewatch poses the problem in its form and its content, one would like to extract oneself from the world while, simultaneously, being in a world that one could experience but not think about.

Thus, if a game like Bioshock exhibited the tension between free will and control in the canned choices of games as such, Firewatch could be viewed as attempting an affective or emotional version of this, between hiding in the present as if there was no time and space outside it, and completing the tasks of the game in order to complete it (though its story is intentionally incomplete). The game’s characters are hiding from the world and, as you explore the world, you are hiding from the world in a more formal sense. But, just as the characters in the game cannot escape their pasts, you, as the player, cannot escape the feeling of being oddly away from things while not, while sitting at a screen. This play-present is not exactly haunted by the past in the same way the characters are, but is a present that haunts itself by attempting, virtually, to be away from time, to be only a series of played presents.

This is (maybe) one of the better capacities of a game, the simulation that tells you what it is but slowly, taking its time, because you are taking the time, or not, within it. If we do not even know what a genre is, we know even less what a fictional world is, what is brought there when we enter it, what is left there when we leave it.


There’s certainly no shortage of discourse on the pseudo-ephemeral nature of money. The medieval (or even older) malleability of meaning surrounding the ledger, and of the (negative) magnitude of debt, the disentanglement of currency from its geological-metallic weight, the ever-widening role of credit, and the more recent complexities of crypto-currency and off-shore tax shelters, have seemingly stripped the coin and bill of all materiality, if not their tactility. Yet, the feeling that money is always ‘more than,’ in some vague pseudo-magical or fetishistic sense remains, it remains to such a degree that one has to wonder if the materiality of money is an inexistent origin we are constantly defining money against, i.e., money was never material we just convinced ourselves it was/is, or, whether the tricks and games of money’s ever complicating history tell us that materiality was never what it was.

While the main interpretative axis is here is Marxist/psychoanalytic, particularly in regards to the first formulation (money was never so-material), the second formulation (how money questions materiality) is taken up, in various circuitous ways, by the performance artists Goldin+Senneby. The novel Headlesswritten by the non-existent K.D. created by G+S, presents itself as a novel about the ghost-writing of a story about off-shore finance and its relation to the Acéphale society, and the philosophy of Georges Bataille.

There have been numerous discussions of Headless, as well as G+S’s ongoing projects looping through (and around) off-shore finance and the general nature of money. While the book focuses on the headless/acephallic nature of covert capitalism, of essentially how far a shell game can go internationally, Bataille’s concept of base matter haunts the text, and G+S’s work, more generally. That is, the headless or hyper-efficient machinery of blame and responsibility shifting of finance is chased by the material traces of not only those quick activities, but the physical or resource-dependent modes such activities plug into (pointing to yet another Bataillean concept – general economy). This is evident most in the role of proof in Barrow’s research, the photographs, the camera, and, in particular, the search through the woods at the very end GPS in hand, looking for where a meeting for the sake of human sacrifice may, or may not have, taken place.

Continue reading ‘Hunting Headless: Money, Matter, and Fictions of Value’

Having defended my dissertation Schelling’s Naturalism: Space, Motion, and the Volition of Thought I’m now in the strange position of looking for an academic job. But, in the meantime, I thought I would give a general update.

1 – Starting the end of this month I’ll be team teaching a course on German Idealism and systematic philosophy along with Pete Wolfendale for the New Centre. More information is here.

2 – Will be co-organizing several philosophy events at PAF (in St Erme, FR) for late October, early March, and sometime in the summer months. While details will be forthcoming some great speakers have already been confirmed.

3 – Will returning to France in the spring to attend an event on the transcendental but more details on that will be emerging soon…If anyone knows of other events going on in Europe in the spring please do let me know.

4 – I am writing two articles currently: one is on the relation of Ray Brassier and Iain Grant’s work in terms of scale and conceptualization (which will appear in French) and the other other will be on Schelling and contemporary thought for the Schelling issue of Angelaki.

5 – Manuel Correa, Anna Kasko, and Emil Olsen’s film #ArtOffline premièred in Bergen recently. It features interviews with Julieta Aranda, Mo Salemy, Clint Burnham, Suhail Malik, myself and many others.

6 – I’m writing a book on naturalism, abstraction, and various forms of externalism (embodied mind, ennactivism, etc). It will focus on Chatelet, Merleau-Ponty, Longo, and the relation between intuition, gesture, and diagram. This project is also in relation to a collaboration which is in its infant stage so more will come out of that soon.

7 – In terms of books, my first text Slime Dynamics is being translated into Russian. More information on that soon as well.


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)’


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