What is Transcendental Materialism? pt2


If Zizek is unwilling (or simply uninterested) in the non-ideal (except as pre-ideal, as the stuff of representation) than the transcendental becomes a hollow jump, an act that is only that, a exercise of the subject – pre-subjectivizing but in the subject.

It is no wonder why Deleuze wars against Hegel since the tyrannical concept and spirit override the evental nature of nature, that being the becoming of being as becoming. Or, in relation to Badiou and Deleuze – the difference between being as event and event as the rupture of being. In all of these cases materiality seems oddly immaterial –  that is for Zizek materiality is representation, where for Deleuze it is (arguably) stratified sense, and for Badiou some form of oscillation between structure  and pure multiplicity(materialist dialectic). If events and subjects embody a kind of transcendence for Badiou and Zizek then Deleuze becomes the thinker who really tries to  make all forms of materiality transcendent (or maybe weirdly empirical).

This is the troubling status of intensity which, in Deleuze, is often discussed in terms of degree. As Sam Gillespie writes: “An intensive property cannot be divided without changing its kind” meaning that there must be some underlying dynamic principle (18). And later “Given that the process by which something is new is produced is more important than its realization” (19).

There is already some problems here, not only about the relation between multiplicity and materiality and the oft repeated critique of Deleuze that he places the virtual or the process above the actual. So how material can this materiality be?

Without formal partitions in Deleuze how can the materiality of sensed material be bound and unbound? (I suspect this is related to the regional or bound problem of Spinozist ethics and politics that Peter Wolfendale discusses here). This is also Brassier’s critique of Land which I’ll rehash below but first its worthwhile to point out how Brassier critiques Deleuze and Guattari’s materiality which forms the base of Land’s work.

In Alien Theory Brassier takes Deleuze and Guattari to task for imbuing materiality with an odd sort of phenomenological residue. Brassier writes:

“Thus, for Deleuze, the transcendental is not a substantive philosophical thesis affirming the subordination of objectivity to subjectivity, ontology to epistemology,, but rather a polymorphic method wherein subjectivity and objectivity are suspended as equivocal, pre-philosophical categories and immanence becomes the operative functional criterion” (54).

Rendered in terms of immanence and synthesis Brassier later writes:

“The hyletic reduction effected by Deleuze and Guattari is idealizing then because it reduces transcendence on the basis of an immanence which is irreducible precisely insofar as it is self-presupposing or causa sui; a self-presupposing immanence that is fundamentally indissociable […] from the self-positing of the philosophical Concept” (64).

Brassier’s critique of Land from the Acceleration event follows:

To quote Brassier at length:

“First of all, Land is operating under the aegis of Deleuze and Guattari’s work. He proposes to radicalise critique, to convert the ideal conditioning of the representation of matter to the material conditioning of ideal representation. In the Landian apparatus, materiality is construed solely as the production of production. Transcendental materialism in its Landian version becomes a materialization of critique. The critique of the Kantian critique of metaphysics, of which there are several versions, supplemented in various configurations by 20th century continental philosophy, is converted into a materialist metaphysics of critique, by collapsing the hierarchy of the transcendental and the empirical. The first move, the really interesting move, and in fact, the key to understanding the Deleuzoguattarian concept of destratification in Landianism, is that the first thing that needs to be destratified is the empirical/transcendental difference. This is seen to be the enabling condition for critical philosophy.

But it’s no longer a Hegelian or dialectical sublation of this difference. It’s non-dialectical. It’s a reduction of the difference to matter, because Land claims thinking is a function of materiality, and representational thought, that is to say, conceptual categorization and even, on this account, the logic of the dialectic itself, is simply a circumscribed or depotentiated version of a functional potency generated by matter itself. The claim is that matter itself is synthetic and productive. Matter is primary process, and everything that unfolds at the level of conceptual representation is merely secondary and derivative. Synthesis is primary and productive, and all synthesis is the conjoining of heterogeneous terms.

What Land proposed to retain from Kant was the emphasis on the transcendental efficacy of synthesis, the primacy of transcendental synthesis, but no longer as the synthesis of empirical items, objects of experience anchored in a constituting subject. It’s the self-synthesising potency of what he called intensive materiality. This becomes the key term. It’s a brilliant explication of the logical operation that Deleuze and Guattari carry out vis-a-vis Kantianism in Anti-Oedipus. Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. Land is quite explicit about the link to a certain version of Schellingianism here. He explicitly links Deleuze and Guattari to Schelling.”

While Land engages Schelling here and there his ventures into German Idealism are limited. While Land critiques transcendental structures (in the Kantian sense) he attempts to radicalize transcendence as critique yet as also imhuman synthesis. The question is whether this works beyond being a form of Schellingian negative philosophy? It could be be that to ask questions of  genesis is be vulgarly Kantian as Kant tried to close off the generative which is generative of the empirical and not merely generative of the laws of the mind. This should be taken as the problem which divides Kantian Leibnizian individualism from the monism of Schelling and Spinoza (to borrow from Paul Franks).

For transcendental materialism to be about something besides the fabrication of castles in the air transcendence has to be, in the Schellingian sense, transcendent to something, and materialism but be, again to follow Franks, one of a progressive absolute, a derivational monism.


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