Monday, March 15, 2010

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?