Saturday, September 8, 2012

Just a couple more thoughts...

Hello everyone! As you've no doubt noticed, we all got bogged down with other projects and have moved on a bit from this wonderful little conversation about Latour and a few other amazing thinkers. I hope there are some helpful thoughts in here for those browsing around. I find that this act of stumbling upon new ways of putting things is, even if the train of the thought in which they appear is a bit wonky (and many of mine are here, believe me, much less than Evan's) enough to give you at least another angle into something, the other person having colored the object of thought in a way you wouldn't perhaps have. This, a recent phenomenon in which two of the best aspects of both philosophy and study of letters are combined, a focus on both apt phrasing and inventive thought in these semi-diaristic, semi-conversational logs, makes talking about these things truer to the lengthy history of a lack of division between both fields, and increases (rather than decreases) the penetration of both--this certainly is what I like to get out of blogs like these, and is certainly what I think I get out of this one, rereading it occasionally as I do. Just as an update, you can now find Evan at the LARB and finishing up at Princeton, me still working here at Princeton, and Paul doing amazing philosophy--all, I think, a bit wiser for what's gone on here, and the really valuable work of the thinkers we engaged with.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Meillassoux’s Motivation and the Pure Space of Speculation

This is just a quick post regarding a problem that Mike raises of Meillassoux’s motivation and “what Meillassoux’s derailing has to do with politics.” I think the answer is that it has nothing to do with politics and I would go as far as to say that speculative realism is a thoroughly apolitical enterprise (and de-politicizing continental philosophy is, in a sense, the theme of post-continental philosophy).

As far as I can see Meillassoux is trying to get at the ‘real’ in the same way Badiou or Deleuze are trying to get at it. And his hopes rest with mathematics – always a kind of pure potential for philosophy since it is unencumbered by the various ‘mixtures’ we are supposed to be avoiding. If you run through Kant or Hegel or Husserl you will find the word ‘pure’ posited at any moment when one is said to be coming to the question proper. Heidegger even has a word for the non-pure: the ‘mere’ and he attaches it to anything he doesn’t like. Philosophy is at the point, in the post-continental form, of a kind of immanence or intra-philosophical discourse with itself although occasionally there are overtures to the natural or mathematical sciences (arguably one could say it has always been this way so I would add that we are in a particularly self-conscious state of this). I suppose we can even see post-continental thinking as trying to regain something of a ‘lost time’ when philosophy was committed to a rigour that perhaps lost its way sometime in the post-Heideggerian landscape (I would suggest that this is more a case of a deflation of rationalism and modernist goals and that the rigour was simply ‘different’). Having undergone a kind of wayward time philosophy is coming home to its relentless pursuit of ‘thinking’ and what exactly good thinking is – and looks like (looking, seeing and the visible are all themes to be found in Badiou and Henry for example, and it is all rather Platonic in tone). In another way it a reclamation of what is usually derived as ‘representationlist’ forms of thinking. The representation is being reintegrated into the philosophical project.

And the ancestral realm comes to be a kind of ‘pure’ space where representation is necessary in order for one to make sense. Even better it is understand vicariously with mathematical representation that brings the arche-fossil to its fullness as an indicator. The ancestral realm is a pure space of speculation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The first rejoinder

Paul was writing his last post at the same time as I was writing mine--what's even more interesting is we were almost writing about the same things: what motivates Meillassoux, ultimately, to redescribe or "revise" (as he says at one point) the history of philosophy. My allusion to Derrida, picking up off of Paul's, was to suggest that while for him (Derrida), this derailing of the consistency of correlationism would be in order to politicize the latter (in a philosophical/extra-philosophical act which is nothing less than tarrying with the aporias through which politics/history is inscribed in philosophy), it is still unclear to me what Meillassoux's derailing has to do with politics. Therefore, from the Derridian perspective (certainly an extreme one), it is an eminently philosophical act of rewriting the history of philosophy that we see here (and there's nothing wrong with that of course). But occasionally that only makes things more confusing, especially as Meillassoux certainly has some sort of "state of things" in mind that he is engaging, and which I think is certainly also political--as much as it is religious. This might simply mean that Meillassoux has a different conception of politics/history in general and its relation to philosophy (such that the history of philosophy doesn't always reappear primarily as a political or even historical issue), but I think what we're also recognizing here (and I think Evan registers it too) is that something seems very (intra-)philosophic about this attempt. That's not a fault at all (it has become even more easy to call philosophy into question by talking about it in this Derridian way--but I want to do here what it allows us, which is to really stick with what is weird about philosophic operations and that history which even the Deleuzian maneuver of calling it, precisely, "Oedipal," might dispense with too quickly). In fact Meillassoux's effort is puzzling precisely because he wants to bring back something of this properly philosophic character, and it is "the state of things" that actually isn't quite ready to accommodate it.

And yet that state of things precisely is ready to accommodate this, in certain ways, because the narrative he gives is so compelling and hits home what many feel to be problematic right now. But I think your sense, Paul, that this narrative has to almost return in spirit and in content to the tumultuous era immediately after Kant--and I'm actually quite inclined to agree with you (and I think many many people in the reviews of the book I am reading are registering something similar in talking about Meillassoux's "Hegelianism")--makes it clear that philosophy has been accommodating this state of things for some time. In short, if Meillassoux is confronting us with the "repressed" of recent philosophy, which is some manner has to involve proper philosophizing itself--and I think both our accounts verge on saying something like this (even though Heidegger wasn't quite fond of psychoanalysis, I take your comment saying there's something Heideggerian about the way things proceed to in fact gesture towards this repression)--then you are hinting that there is another repression (secondary repression--which Freud called, precisely, revision): repressed in the repression is also that this was philosophically problematic once before. I think this is a fascinating response to what is Meillassoux's general contention, it seems: that correlationism was "weak" when it was adopted, then proceeded to get "stronger," as I sketched last time. Wasn't it "strong" in some sense also when it was adopted? Not in the sense that it completely involved de-absolutizing the absolute, or absolutizing the correlation (the precise sense in which Meillassoux means "strong"), but in some other way we--or indeed the post-Kantians themselves--might articulate? And doesn't Meillassoux somewhat concede this point in saying that "every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant of correlationism?" (5) What appears to be an expansive claim is also the recognition that, if we properly see that certain philosophies to not wholly "disavow" naive realism, they can be seen to at least be dealing with, if not escaping, correlationism? This of course with the caveat that a sort of general blase acceptance of naive realism can be fundamentally constitutive for many of the philosophies that assert the inaccessibility of the in-itself. As Meillassoux says, this is actually what is involved in the postmodern's indifference in the face of science, which is a sort of acceptance that actually makes thought recuse itself. What you might be saying, in some deep sense, is that pulling apart this sort of blase acceptance from a more significant, though seemingly inapparent, affirmation of naive realism (or simply realism), is what is precisely possible now: it is this that the postmodern situation, or the intensification of correlationism, provokes us to do.

But now I want to move on to my promised explication of that first correlationist "rejoinder" to the problem of the arche-fossil. It intrigues me because it treats of space--which is why Brassier will come to it in his (well articulated) criticisms of the problematization itself of the fossil and the ancestral--and for that reason I think it probably intrigues you, too, Paul. The argument proceeds by identifying the problem of the arche-fossil with what is indeed a variant of a "familiar and inconsequential anti-idealist argument" (18): the old one most easily applied to Berkeley, where if no one is around to see a tree, and esse est percipi, the tree ceases to exist unless we have some God that keeps it in being. In other words, the rejoinder would proceed by "trivializing the problem," reducing it to this one (18).

Now, remember what the arche-fossil is supposed to do: it is supposed to be a "material substrate" that indicates to scientists the existence of an ancestral reality, or one that is anterior to every recognized form of life on earth (10). What this is to open up--and the linkages between the two might become problematic--is that there is a being which is not just not given to thought, but also remains completely outside any way that it could be given to thought, though (and this is what is crucial) it still can be thought (precisely by thought going outside of itself). What this opens up is the truly dazzling (from the transcendental perspective, 27) possibility that science thinks not only these beings, but also the emergence of the givenness itself--in other words can account for both.

The rejoinder cuts off the latter question about emergence completely (or approaches it in a weird way) by saying that what is not given to thought is precisely what phenomenology accounts for. "The lacunary nature of the given has never been a problem for correlationism. One only has to think of Husserl's 'givenness-by-adumbrations:' a cube is never perceived according to all its faces at once; it always retains something non-given at the heart of its givenness" (19). being partial to phenomenology, of course, this is what I have always loved about it: I can't get enough of houses with five unperceived sides (or six if the roof is normal) towards which I nevertheless constantly orient myself. But the rejoinder can go even further: "Generally speaking, even the most elementary theory of perception will insist on the fact that the sensible apprehension of an object always occurs against the backdrop of the un-apprehended, whether it be with regard to the object's spatiality or its temporality" (19). What has happened, Meillassoux points out, is that we have confused the being-not-given of the fossil with something commensurable with not-givenness in precisely a correlationist sense: but what is not-given in an ancestral sense--in the case of the arche-fossil--is supposed to be different than the merely "lacunary" within the otherwise given. This is why the argument boils down to a rejection of a mere anti-idealist challenge, when the challenge brought by the fossil is actually much deeper: a conflation of the ancestral with the un-witnessed, which of course (the correlationist says) does not cease to be when it is not perceived. Perception itself (in a phenomenological account or even the most basic and sensible one) involves precisely accounting for the being of what is unwitnessed.

But then Meillassoux takes another step in his reasoning--the one that really interests me. So far, I've presented his account just in relation to the general givenness of a being: the conflation of the unwitnessed with the ancestral is with respect to the nature of the givenness in question. But Meillassoux goes on to say that this mistaken correlationist rejoinder involves some effort to correct what is seen as the privileging of "temporal seniority" in the challenge of the fossil (18). The conflation with the unwitnessed with the non-givenness of the fossil proceeds by asserting that "spatial distance would raise exactly the same difficulty… An event occurring in an immensely distant galaxy, beyond the reach of every possible observation, would in effect provide the spatial analogue for the event occurring prior to terrestrial life" (18). Supposedly, the conflation would then involve trying to argue from this distant event, saying that "'distance' and 'ancientness' are both vague" (18): "above all, we would immediately notice that the question of the relative proximity the object under consideration becomes irrelevant to the force of the argument once the scope of the latter has been extended to space" (19). We don't know where what is proximate begins and where what is distant ends, and the same can be said about the recent and the ancestral. The conflation proceeds, in other words, by seeing what is not-ancestral as relative to our position (thus the appearance of "recent," when the ancestral qua ancestral has no opposing term of this sort)--and this proceeds to make the problem for correlationism an intra-correlationist problem. But again, why this has to proceed so thoroughly via space is interesting. It seems to be because to think of the spatial event beyond our observation, this would mean conceding that givenness as such may be in existence, when the whole point of the fossil is to think beyond the given but the emergence of the given itself. The latter cannot be thought--Meillassoux says--if we can't think that it may occur while there is no givenness existing. Certainly this is correct, and it is what keeps Meillassoux away from any pseudo-idealist philosophy, but I just keep thinking about why time remains the way that we have to think this:

The reason why the traditional objection from the un-witnessed occurrence--it being a matter of indifference whether the latter is spatial or temporal--poses no danger to correlationism is because this objection bears upon an event occurring when there is already givenness. Indeed, this is precisely why the objection can be spatial as well as temporal. For when I speak of an event that is distant in space, this event cannot but be contemporaneous with the conscious presently envisaging it. Consequently, an objection bearing on something that is unperceived in space necessarily invokes an event and a consciousness which are considered as synchronic. This is why the event that is un-witnessed in space is essential recuperable as one mode of lacunary givenness among others--it is recuperable as an in-apparent given which does not endanger the logic of correlation. But the ancestral does not designate an absence in the given, and for givenness, but rather an absence of givenness as such. And this is precisely what the example of the spatially unperceived remains incapable of capturing--only a specific type of temporal reality is capable of capturing it (20-21).

Again, nothing wrong here, just curious about that last statement. It isn't that I can imagine any space that would be capable of capturing it: the spatially ungiven. Rather, what is odd is that the absence of givenness itself is actually not quite so temporal a thing, leading us to wonder why we have to go to such temporal lengths to capture it. For, as Meillassoux says,

Though ancestrality is a temporal notion, its definition does not invoke distance in time, but rather anteriority in time (20).

There's nothing wrong with this, again, since what we're doing is thinking through precisely how the fossil exists in space and time (as intra-worldly) so as to disrupt the correlation. But it just brings up the specificity of the fossil and what it is doing in the argument: it is supposed to call correlationism in question--to be something for which it cannot account. But, like Brassier (and like Harman, in a different way), we can then begin to wonder whether it is perhaps more than sufficient to do the job.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to this correlationist house!

We turned to Meillassoux to get a better sense of what Harman will say, but also I think to place Latour--like Harman himself does. First and foremost, I think this means drawing out all the consequences of a more hard-hitting Latourian realism, which at first glance can look like (and Harman says this often) just old-fashioned realism pasted on to a weird logic of scientific practice. Latour does this himself, of course, in We Have Never Been Modern most clearly (developing a whole Constitution that must be overthrown, one of whose components is the Kantian point of view). But like Harman we have to bring this out a little more, and to show how indeed it furnishes the materials for a specific way out of Kantian problems that is different than other ways out--that is, we must see it as one way of overcoming Kant among others, and remains a particularly good one at that. This will allow us to see why Latour in general is so important for Harman in the first place, but again it will also allow us, with Harman, to draw out Latour's realism more than he himself does.

But in order to do that, we need something like a general narrative that shows why the Kantian problem is such a problem all of a sudden--one that could be brought into relation to Latour but which remains a little outside his own way of talking about his problem. This is what Meillassoux gives us, and does so compellingly.

This is why, even if you want to go on to prove your particular favorite philosopher is or is not a correlationist, you find the word "correlationist" handy. For it is one of the many crucial terms that gets put to use in the immense rewriting of the continental tradition that goes on here. In other words, not only does Meillassoux give us something specific designated by correlationism--he gives us a reason why the task for philosophies to come remains to overcome, or at least engage with, the latter (and I think I am agreeing here with what Paul has just said, though I wouldn't quite describe this derailing entirely as Derridian, nor what Hägglund would call Derrida's "politicizing" in that precise way). Because Latour does this, this is why we turn to him now. It is another way of accounting for what Harman remains incredulous about in Prince of Networks: that Latour's work was available in its sophisticated form since 1984: "In that year, Chernenko led the Soviet Union, Reagan was only half-finished in Washington, and ten nations of today’s European Union were either single-party police states or did not yet exist. 1984!" (Prince of Networks, 32). Though he will say this because his narrative is an object-oriented one, the outrage is similar: what the hell were we doing during all this time?

Parts of Meillassoux's narrative are suspicious, of course. Like Brassier and some others (perhaps with more extensive exposure to Latour's brand of science), I remain a little perplexed why science is primarily here as the mathematizer of the universe, though I also think this claim is important for Meillassoux and needs to be looked at (we'll get to it eventually). But we certainly get its drift, and that's what is essential.

The narrative goes like this: science gave us a way to talk about being without thought by mathematizing the former. Philosophy tried to register this. It did so, however, by precisely reacting against what was revolutionary in it, and holding that we could only talk about being insofar as it was bound up with thought. More specifically, philosophy was busy in talking about what is, trying to ignore the scientific achievement (or register it in the most benign ways for philosophy), when Kant came along and said this talk was in vain precisely because of science: what mattered was the way we related to what is. Then squabbles broke out over the form of this relation.

I'd characterize these struggles in the following way, since we're more familiar with this form of the narrative: Phenomenology came along, and developed to the extent that this relation was seen as nonrepresentational or less-than-representational (Heidegger--Harman will eventually take issue with this but we'll come back to it then). Then the relation was seen as antirepresentational, such that it actively disturbed and was disturbed by our attempts to grasp (represent) it. Out of this postmodern situation, we get philosophies that insist upon the possibility that ("always already") something might be beyond this grasp. But at no point was the move of Kant seriously questioned.

Now, this way of putting it isn't Meillassoux's, because ultimately we see that representation has nothing to do with the relation between thought and being insofar as these are seen as always bound up with each other (or correlated). It only has to do with a modification of the correlation:

the correlation between thought and being is not reducible to the correlation between subject and object. In other words, the fact that correlation dominates contemporary philosophy in no way implies the dominance of philosophies of representation. It is possible to criticize the latter in the name of a more originally correlation between thought and being (7-8).

My only point is that with slight modifications to this traditional narrative--setting it back in the framework that Meillassoux has given us, which questions the Kantian innovation (and indeed this is why he opens brilliantly with the precritical distinction of Locke: to set things here)--we can see the achievement of the postmodern (criticism of representation) to be precisely that reassertion of a more original correlation. Thus, Meillassoux goes on to say:

And in fact, critiques of representation have not signalled a break with correlation, i.e. a simple return to dogmatism (8).

The implication is that instead of a break, we're tied up more than ever.

But because representation has nothing to do with correlation, let's just underscore with Meillassoux that this exacerbation is not "simple." Indeed there could be a critique of representation--or critique of critique of representation (as the case may be)--that calls into question the correlation. Some might say Derrida fits precisely here (maybe, maybe). And I imagine you could fit others in too--like Heidegger himself. The person put to postmodern ends that you probably could never fit in here would be Foucault, who is antirepresentationalist first and foremost and wouldn't give a damn about the great outdoors even if he could.

The point however is that contemporary philosophies that base themselves on a critique of representation have, however, not signaled a break with correlation, despite the fact that they might. What is keeping them from doing this? Meanwhile, why the hell did we get into this situation to begin with?

We already see from the narrative that the second question is the answer to the first. What keeps us from breaking with correlation is inadequate understanding as to why it was adopted in the first place. Now, unlike Harman, Meillassoux will contend that understanding this also means seeing what the trajectory through correlationism gives us, rather than getting clear about what the alternatives were and could be: I'd say personally (but I think with Meillassoux in some sense) that it gives us a better understanding of representation, which is why I cast it in these terms, and opens up a thinking about aporias that might or might not be crucial to the project of thinking those alternatives (maybe, maybe). But Harman's object-oriented insistence (and we'll come to it and give it its due when we pick up that part of PoN) is also important, because it underscores what is Meillassoux's ultimate point: that breaking with correlationism is completely possible, provided that we begin to think about what postmodern thought tends to keep under wraps. This is, quite simply, the reason the correlation was adopted in the first place.

And so we come to the arche-fossil, for it is the sense of this that is avoided in the adoption and in some sense brings about the avoidance. But in fact I think I will come back to that in another post. Suffice it to say here that the arche-fossil is the material support ("support" is such a weird way to talk about it, and like Martin Hägglund I'm interested in this) that allows scientists to date ancestral reality--reality that is seemingly anterior to any possible human-world correlation. In the face of this object, thought adopts the correlation because what would be required--Meillassoux thinks--to make sense of this reality would be what it interprets as metaphysical. In other words, I think we can claim, using what Meillassoux says, that the most immediate reason for adopting the correlation is because we don't want to hypostatize the correlate (11). But this is actually not a real answer to anything (it is only the immediate reason) since this happens after we've already gone towards the correlate qua correlate. Why this is seen as a metaphysical assumption in the first place is the crucial issue, and if we can demonstrate that this isn't a correct assumption (or that it only remains an assumption), we can see there is no reason not to get thought outside itself and admit the "irremediably realist" sense of the statement about the arche-fossil. But because we have to go to the necessity of contingency and Hume's problem in order to see all that, let me instead just focus on one remaining thing.

I said the reason the correlation was adopted was kept under wraps by postmodern thought. But this is not because focusing upon representation bolsters correlation (though we might imagine some sort of feedback loop here). No: the "cover-up" corresponds to a process of absolutizing the correlation, characteristic of a move from "weak" to "strong" correlationism. Indeed, this does not have anything to do with representation, but is a statement about the capability of thought itself (which is why it is an absolutization). As Meillassoux says, quite powerfully, this involves a significant shift:

This shift, from the unknowability of the thing-in-itself to its unthinkability, indicates that thought has reached the stage where it legitimates by its own development the fact that being has become so opaque for it that thought supposes the latter to be capable of transgressing the most elementary principles of the logos (44).

And it is because this is the case that we get a narrative about the religionizing of reason where I put in, above, a narrative about representation. The different ways of conceiving the correlation involve developing more ways of strengthening it. But we can get into that in another post. This one can just add to the many reviews and summaries of the argument of After Finitude that are already out there (perhaps the most thorough is here), hopefully adding something by showing a little bit how the parts of the argument are connected (especially the long excursus on the necessity of contingency)--as well as relevant for those looking at Latour.

But let me just end all this by saying how unbelievably lucky I feel to read all this great stuff (and have so many people be interested in what we all have to say--even Harman himself, who has been so nice as to link to this blog a few times as we've been going through his work). Both Prince of Networks and After Finitude are amazing, amazing philosophical works, and the whole speculative realist enterprise in general that is taking them up (along with the work of Brassier and others we will read) is just full of so much energy and razor-sharp argumentation and hard-hitting rhetoric… these people are bringing a whole new form of philosophy into existence despite all the individual differences (and there are many), working extremely hard and pushing into really new territory unfazed… it's just really exciting to be reading it all.

Where does Meillassoux stand?

It is a rare work of continental philosophy that slaps you with a bunch of empirical statements as positive evidence. Nonetheless as a statement of thinking and After Finitude is something of a provisional text pointing to a system to come, it is difficult to ascertain what Meillassoux’s thematic or contextual position is. Where is it, one might ask, that Meillassoux stands? And following on from this...does it matter where he stands? Since in many ways speculative realism orbits around the ancestral argument as a kind of shared ‘example’ of what it means to be speculatively realist then I think it does – at least when we are discussing a revolution from within the continental tradition. And speculative realism is a revolution from within. In proper Deleuzian fashion [“the history of philosophy’s own version of the Oedipus complex” – Negotiations] speculative realism is out to slay some masters, and start anew. I think that After Finitude itself is a book that wants to slay the powerful effect of the ancestral argument (the argument that has made hairs stand on end!). And until we find out what lies in store it is hard to know just how provisional our statements about this provisional book are. We will have to wait, if we read French for the next book, or if you are like me you cannot read French, we must wait until Graham Harman’s book on Meillassoux which will, I think, contain a short excerpt from the new book. But this is to get excited about something to come. What can we say about Meillassoux right now – transitionally?

It seems as we enter the book that Meillassoux will be coming down on the side of science, or at least trying to show how correlationists ought to be honest about how their position undercuts some scientific statements, and perhaps even that mathematics will emerge as a kind of access point to the real but we must remember that we need this move only to access the ancestral real and even then just to make realist statements about the ancestral real! In my own reading of Meillassoux (to be raised at Dundee, but also in a paper to come and the first chapter of the book with zero) this promised engagement with science/the real quickly subsides and we find ourselves operating in the coordinates of German idealism (soft correlationism, subjectivist metaphysics, and strong correlationism). The entire undermining of strong correlationism comes about in a discussion revolving around Kant and contemporaneous reactions to Kant. Even the rescue of the absolute comes about via a discussion of the principle of sufficient reason albeit one that leads to a very important discussion of the fideism that contemporary correlationism has committed itself to. Like Critchley, in his short but important review of AF, I think the real target is phenomenology or post-Heideggerian hermeneutics/language obsession that brought continental thinking into disrepute with their anti-science bias leading to a very public mocking via Sokal that continental thinking is only now starting to emerge from.

I think it is fruitful if we think, for a moment, just what a scientist would make of something like the principle of unreason. Does it matter that scientists and we must remember that we are here trying to reach something like their territory, care about a problem that is only a problem if one is a phenomenologist or Kantian? Or is this just the game of acting out a kind of fantasy where philosophers engage in providing a ground for the sciences (even if it is a rather odd ground...)? This is the kind of thing I find problematic about Meillassoux but this is a very small problem since overall I think that, in strictly philosophical terms, Meillassoux holds a consistent set of beliefs and also knows how to reveal inconsistencies that are revealed at the assumptive level of correlationist thinking. Oddly many correlationist positions, and this holds in a lot of belief systems, are internally consistent. Internal consistency can be seen as a proper criterion with which to judge a philosophical system, but in an almost Heideggerian (!) way Meillassoux delves somewhat deeper than this to upset the apple cart. I’ve heard Derrida’s position described as derailing a train that is heading to its destination just a little too well and perhaps this is how we must see Meillassoux’s critique. Correlationism works just a little too well, a little too consistently, and so we ought to be correspondingly suspicious. Just where is correlationism headed and what kind of madman is in the driver’s seat?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where realism comes from

My philosophy cap is back on and I'm ready to delve into some Meillassoux and further comment upon Prince of Networks. But I just want to pause here--if I can pause before I go (certainly a philosophic question if there ever was one)--and suggest something I thought about as I was going through After Finitude: how different are the places from which Meillassoux's realism and Latour's realism come!

To put it a different way: A lot has been said about how the speculative realist turn has come out of the encounter--at long last--of the "philosophy of the continent" (or whatever you want to call something like this tradition) with science. But when you reflect upon just what about science provokes Latour and Meillassoux, you see that this gets complicated. For Latour the provocation is something like the underlying nature of the things that scientific practice and politics deals with--this is his way into realism. The general sector of science that this comes from is, we could say, the rapid growth (and funding) of biology, especially, alongside the increasing "technologizing" of lab work (I hope I cast a wide enough net here, emphasizing the growth of these areas and the attendant mutations they cause in the linkages between science and society, rather than biology or technology itself--whose intricacies could never keep Latour from moving on to other things). For Meillassoux, what provokes is something like the nature of the scientific statement. And this comes of course by radiation dating and more (astro-)physics-based research. If we look at other thinkers, we see certain realist work emerge out of systems theory or complex self-organization.

This registered, you begin to suspect that it is perhaps the expansion of "Science" into distinct areas able to be addressed in completely different ways--because different aspects of it are provoking different kinds of questions--which is perhaps just as important in facilitating these encounters. In other words, a differentiated "science" (what Latour is right to call "research") brings people differently to realism--while lumped up together it leads to quick dismissal or general ambivalence that Meillassoux is able to characterize so well. Perhaps involved also is the registration of a particular risk, too: the risk that--like in some American philosophy departments--this differentiation of science will produce a set of problems (bio-ethics, say--not to mention philosophers of science) only able to be addressed by specialists (and ignored by scientists). The recognition of the diversity of science by the realist stance would then be some way of countering this, by precisely using everything that spoke against the continental tradition (lots of old, imprecise, metaphysically-connected problems)... Among other things...

Sunday, February 28, 2010


We're taking a detour here. Anticipating the discussion of Meillassoux in Prince of Networks, we're going to focus now on After Finitude. There's still a LOT of the first part of Prince of Networks that we want to get to (I personally want to do several more posts like the one on the dissenter), so expect posts on that to pop up every once and a while in between Meillassoux posts. And we'll be coming back to part two of PoN at some point for a really extensive discussion. Hopefully, we'll then turn that into a launchpad and/or counterpoint to our next wave of reading, which will be all the various realist and speculative thinkers I mentioned a while ago.

Turning to Meillassoux, let me just say that there's a lot in this book I want to cover--not just the ancestrality problem. In that spirit, I'll go over the ancestrality problem soon, when I can be very clear about it all and talk about it in as basic a way as possible, but in my next post (not this one) I'll be turning to that first objection of the correlationist "semiotic character" on page 18-20, and Meillassoux's counterargument--which centers around the difference between the ancestral and the ancient or distant (something I didn't give enough attention in skimming through the book a while ago).