Depth Charges (a failed experiment)
Speculative Realism is first and foremost a philosophy of depth:
For Brassier it is the hopeless depth of nihil, for Harman the demanding depth of objects, for Grant the seething depth of nature and for Meillassoux it is the depth of Hyper-chaos. In this sense the speculative realist has a downward momentum into the abyss of existence and, where the correlationist would rely on the inexistent short-ranged bioluminesce projected by their own consciousness, the former would toss flares of realism beneath them at regular intervals. This descent has no purpose, it is by definition, unreasonable. Its cause, if it can be said to have one in the proper sense, is none other than the result of ham fisted matter colliding into the object (that thinks and is, in the sense of being, nothing at all), into the darkness – pulled by the anchor of time.
While the correlationist would think nothing of the experience of the descent, the speculative realist learns as much as possible knowing that, in the end, there is only an un-poetic death. If Meillassoux is right in claiming that humanity’s great ability is that of being able to think a time (or place following Brassier and Harman) where there is no thought, what is the final result? If human existence is brutally riven from the machinery of the universe and our sense of telos writhes at our feet, then how does one approach the materiality of the immaterial?
Both Brassier and Meillassoux are currently engaged in topics which appear to concern the world ‘for us’ – taking on issues of epistemology, experience and representation – but there is little indication of the consistency of the for-us. While Speculative Realism is eager to celebrate our capacity to think the non-thought or non-thinkable, it is less clear how it would approach the solidification of relation. As with my last entry, my concern here is one of speed. One cannot help but notice how despite their radicality – Harman, Meillassoux and Brassier effectively glaciate their chaotic axioms – classifying them as eventual – leaving us to ask about the immediate experienciable. The most obvious avenue here, which would be to the philosophy of Badiou, is one that Brassier shuts down in Nihil Unbound. This is an odd move by Brassier and, while worth investigating, we will approach the issue diagonally via other ‘deep’ approaches.
While telos should stay dead – does this mean that time itself can and should be, be completely spatialized? Or put more in relation to the preliminary scenario – how might we investigate depth without obfuscating the temporal dimension? The work of DeLanda, Massumi and Zielinski may give us an interesting set of alternatives. Zielinkski’s approach in particular, while spatializing, still maintains a sense of time that is non-linear. Non-linearity is not the same as a completely spatialized time since non-linearity allows for breaks, irruptions and gaps to form. The narrative then, would only exist in retro as a kind of phenomenal or evental text or body. Zielinski’s technocultural archeology, which seeks out the new in the old, simultaneously celebrates and delmits the human subject via the character of the inventor. Massumi, who also thinks the inventor, argues that invention is that which proceeds its own utility – that retroactively creates necessity. How can these thinkers be placed alongside DeLanda who excises the subject from history? DeLanda participates in the objectification of the subject, throwing it into the cauldron as another materialist variable but what does it mean for this to be a thinking object?
The specter that is haunting the aforementioned discourses is that of Althusser and his process without subject and without object. An immediate problem arises however if, taking Badiou’s comments in Metapolitics to heart, there is even less of an object in Althusser’s work then there is a subject – the object is merely a mirror for the subject. Thinking Althusser’s “Contradiction and Overdetermination” may give us some idea of how Meillassoux and Brassier can let us begin a Speculative Realist buggering/deepening of Althusser:
Althusser begins his well known work by discussing the ‘mythical shell’ which Hegel’s specultive philosophy has made of the dialectic. While the dialectic is eschewed by Brassier and Meillassoux, we can take Althusser’s overdetermination of contradiction and run with it thereby exposing what is in Althusser more than Althusser himself. Might we push the multiplicity of contradiction to such an extent that it contradicts the very container which bears it – that of the totality of a society and perhaps totality itself? Taking overdetermined contradiction away from the dialectic makes it, as Althusser fears, at the mercy of philosophy. However, Althusser’s overdetermination must also be sawed from various superstructures -such as that of economics which always determines the contradiction (in language similar to Laruelle) in the last instance. The issue that rears its head here is that of the materiality of historical materialism or, perhaps more basically, the materiality of the social itself. Contradiction, loosed in such a fashion, might manifest in terms of a reversal of Meillassoux’s hyper chaos in that it would function as a contradictory it-self prior to the existence of humanity or the social. In other words, Althusser’s antihumanism is, while partially destroying the subject it is, more directly, destroying individualism and egoism in favor of the masses and hence his definition of the object as a reflection of relations.
Looking back at DeLanda, we should argue that structures are created after contradiction – contradiction does not operate within systems (since this would suggest the existence of contradiction in the form of an entity which, by logical definition, cannot follow) and sociality, as a form of structure, would be a kind of sedimentation of forces giving rise to contradictions. This formulation begs the question – what happens to chaos or the impossibility of contradiction in the realm of the social if the social does not subsist on entities but on relations? The issue here for Specualitve Realism then is to what extent can relations be said to exist? Ultimately our problem may boil down to that of phenomenology as articulated (though not as explicitly as in Meillassoux) by Graham Harman: that of understanding the relation of primary and secondary qualities. If our relations to things are incomplete, and such relations are a kind of inconsistent plenum flooding the spaces between objects, then how does thought strike?
The materiality of the social may lie in the specificities of Brassier’s mutation of Laruelle’s unilateral dualism, in the connection of thought to object. Without going into the almost endless details of Brassier’s articulation, we might venture that the non-dialectical yet twoness of Brassier’s formulation might explain to us how relations, emanating from material processes, attempt to materialize themselves in the form of the social. Our, to put it in terms of our mutiliated Althusser: thought attempts to seal the errancy of hyper chaos by closing contradiction in a system (whether economics or not) but, taking Meillassoux into account, the unthinkable is primary and hence no system can contain it since, that very system (a la Massumi and DeLanda) was birthed from that chaos and said chaos does not disappear after the fact.
The impossibility of contradiction then is the very possibility of potentiality and, against the coupling of potential and actual, I would replace the latter with loss. While adding objects to Althusser’s processes may lead one to assume actuality – this would forget that sedimentation and death are the ‘most actual’ things get. If, as Harman argues, objects are relations and relations are objects, then the social is the field immersed in relation moving towards the object. Science, or perhaps more specifically technology, might be the counterpart in that it sets out, from the invention of new objects, to redefine relations.
Filed under: Badiou, Brassier, Massumi, Meillassoux, ontology, politics, Speculative Realism | 15 Comments
Tags: Althusser, Graham Harman, quentin meillassoux, ray brassier, Speculative Realism, Zielinski