Iain Hamilton Grant
Graham responds to my note below here. I did not intend to say that he was saying Grant was Fichtean, that was meant in relation to the previous point about reflection and intuition (bad writing on my part!). I have tried to clarify it below.
Something that has been bothering me is that when SR is discussed in print and online Iain Hamilton Grant’s name is left out. Obviously I find this personally frustrating as Grant’s work is hugely important to me but it also does injustice to the full range of what Speculative Realism (for all its much discussed nebulousity) means. There are plenty of reasons for this: for one Grant does not have an internet presence (though neither does Brassier), another is that Grant is sometimes seen as simply doing German Idealism and puts him in the shadow of Zizek and others. Lastly, Grant is not direct in what it is he is doing besides a reading of Schelling. This last bit causes confusion and I think leads to the second problem in particular.
So what is it that Grant is doing? From even his earliest work on Deleuze and Guattari (Burning AntiOedipus, At the Mountains of Madness) Grant is interested in grounds and/or conditions of thinking in a naturalistic world. In a broad sense Grant believes that what is required is a meontology or force-based metaphysics which defer (at least in part) to the sciences (in particular physics) which does not make philosophy science’s handmaiden (as Kant famously put it) but pushes philosophy (and in Grant’s case post-Kantian thought) to redefine the transcendental and the conditions of thinking in the wake of a thoroughgoing naturalism. This is why Grant has long been supportive of a field-theoretical ontology in which becoming is segmented by the interaction of activities themselves.
Hence the critical push of Philosophies of Nature after Schelling being against somatism, logocentrism, and hyper-subjective Fichtean idealism as tactics which attempt to run nature aground in the name of the subject or the subjectified absolute (whether as Transcendental I or as ‘Objective Idealism’). For Grant Schelling’s project is one that seriously and deeply questions what does it mean to say productive nature exists? That is, how is it that given the apparent truths of transcendental philosophy (ie post-Kantian thought about thought) do we grapple with the ontological posteriority of nature, of being?
It is this concern with productive nature that puts Grant close to Deleuze (and to new materialisms vaguely). But as the closing pages of Philosophies shows (as well as comments in “The Eternal and Necessary Bond Between Philosophy and Physics”) he believes that Deleuze does not go far enough in dealing with the split of human and nature brought down like a hammer in Kant’s Third Critique. Largely because Deleuze attempts to seal over the breach of appearance and essence or being and representation by obliterating the latter and replacing it with the intensity of nature (flattened out into a desert of radical immanence) as it appears modally. But for Schelling and for Grant this is too conceptually indiscriminate as one must explain, being a being caught in thought, to get to and think methodologically, the division between nature and thought. How do we get from this methodological split back to the idea as something in nature. This in turn suggests a unprethinkability of nature that is terrifyingly (or wonderfully depending on how you’re feeling that day) coupled to the production of material entities themselves dependent on grounds of chaotic forces. So, despite the transcendentalist moniker, change is more about rotting protoplasm than miraculous grace!
To return to the second problem listed above, and what I think makes Grant hardest to place as simultaneously a historical commentator and a contemporary thinker on his own right, is that he is associated with German Idealism but resists it as something to be explored through contemporary examples and/or married to other discourses (ie psychoanalysis). Furthermore he gives Schelling more consistency than most are willing to give (though the days of calling Schelling a Protean thinker, I think, are numbered) and, furthermore, Grant talks about three topics in Schelling far less than has become expected in Schelling scholarship: the Freedom Essay, Reflection, and Intuition. The most important aspect of the Freedom essay is Schelling’s noumenalization of freedom and reflection is subordinated to intuition throughout Schelling’s work both of which are addressed by Grant. Furthermore, I would argue that the form of intuition that Grant focuses on (since Schelling focuses on it) is productive intuition because productive intuition is not naive pseudo-mystical peering into the depths of things but by which an activity (whether a thought, a process of decay, a beam of light) brings an object into itself. Such a process is only possible by a process making itself into an object (limiting itself, or we might say grounding itself) in order to take the object in (as an activity on its own grounds) in which the result is a thinking according-to the object, hence productive intuition is a modification of any reflective being, (ie a being that can register the change) pushing that activity (whether thinking or not) to face the conditions of nature-as-production. This is the guiding realist thread of the System of Transcendental Idealism which can appear too Kantian or too Fichetean to those who do not read it closely.
I also have difficulty with Harman’s recent comment about Grant’s relation to epistemology is not quite fair I think (ie I think it drives a larger wedge between Grant and Brassier than might be the case though I do know they differ most on epistemological issues). Knowledge is filtered through products/objects via a combination of intuition and reflection pointing to ideation as a process whereas Harman suggests knowledge is a production of the phenomenal. My issue here is that I believe Harman (and other OOO thinkers) solidify (ie phenomenalize) access in a flat way that is not compatible with the breaks and segmentation of Grant’s Schellingian system. The crux, I think, lies in the different between ontologized objects and how knowledge functions between them versus produced phenomena or object-subjects in Grant of which humans are accessed by Ideas (in way that least appears singular) – not because of an ontological privilege of human beings but because nature thinks in us in such a way that inaugurates a second series (transcendental idealism). We bear a method the result of a symmetry break in nature but the break itself is only sensible in the realm made possible by that very break. Whether the play of concepts following this is implies a methodological naturalism and not an ontological naturalism is tricky because naturalism tends to be collapsed with physicalism – if realism (thinking back to Braver’s book A Thing of this World) could be about a non-physicalist object (ie a field pattern in an activity) than I think Grant’s Schelling can be a realism. This definition of object separates Grant from Harman (at least to some degree) and where I think Grant is closer to Brassier here is it depends on the way in which epistemological grounds are revisable and how this revisability relates to Schelling’s intuitionst or abductive (Peircean logic) – where concepts treated through intuition can be true claims (however regionalized) about nature which go deeper (or are more direct) than the vicarious glimpses of Harman’s substance. But this requires further elaboration on all sides (including my own!)
Furthermore, given that Grant’s next book is titled Grounds and Powers, this will no doubt bring Grant more into the process philosophy camp as well as into discussion with philosophies of dispositions. A little over a year ago I posted on becoming and started a mini-discussion about it. This I will discuss more in the future as it is part of my dissertation but what is interesting in Grant’s recent work is developing a philosophy of becoming which the actual is important as comprising the process of process and where conditions of thinking are not due to thought-as-activity but thought is the activity of the idea’s self limiting (grounding) which is both logical and real in terms of grounds.
A collection of links to Grant’s work:
A collection of his texts is still here.
A new paper on Transcendental grounds here.
The talk on dynamics in Bonn is here.
A talk from Object-Oriented Thinking, The Royal Academy of Art, London, July 1, 2011 is here.
An introduction to Hegel and writeup is here.
A Video on Philosophy and the Natural history of the mind is here.
Filed under: Brassier, cognitive science, Deleuze, Hegel, Iain Hamilton Grant, nature, ontology, Schelling, Speculative Realism, transcendental materialism, Zizek | 17 Comments
Tags: Fichte, fwj von schelling, Iain Hamilton Grant, nature, Naturphilosophie, philosophy of nature, productive nature, Schelling