Month: January 2010

My Opponent Sells Body Parts…

This is easily one of the better campaign commercials I’ve seen. (Though it leads me to wonder what one would expect someone trying to defeat an incumbent for the coroner’s job would say. It’s so ghoulish to be electing coroners. If I want to defeat the present coroner, do I attack his slicing ratio? The amount of time it takes him to get tissue samples? I wouldn’t have even thought of accusing him or her of selling body parts…)

They Make Comments…

I ask a question of Paul Ennis and he writes in with an answer:

At least one problem with the paper is that it is disjointed – but it is a chopped up paper edited down to fit the timeslot and one part I did cut out was my broader explanation for why the ancestral could be considered an ‘absent’ danger – i.e. not a danger in the sense that technics is a danger for Heidegger but a danger in that it encourages thinking about a time with no relation to the task of thinking (the ontological difference i.e. interest in the ancestral is for Heidegger just another ontic enterprise). Discussing the ancestral would also be a way to sneak the natural attitude back in – Husserl discusses evolution along these lines (Heidegger would probably have cried if he’d been given a chance to read Dennett).

But yes why the link between technics and the ancestral? Well I do want mean anything more than how the technical is precisely what allows us to build up a picture of the ancestral so yes I do mean the rather mundane fact that it is technics that works to open up this ‘time before being’ (the tools are what now expand the horizon including a horizon that discloses a time that is not ‘temporal’ – in the being and time sense).

Of course I’m also intimating to the various traces of absence that are all over Heidegger – and this I owe to Derrida and so in footnotes (what is absent in my paper!) in the diss I tend to point that out as well.

To put it differently I accept with Heidegger that ‘this is no longer the earth’ that we dwell on but also that when I see the stars (and I never see them as such but a kind of deferred or delayed image of them) I do not see them as Heidegger did and I can’t since the degree of knowledge I have (my realist inheritance) and he had access to as so radically different. But I think Heidegger had a feeling for what was to come on this point and so he only ever makes casual references to it so in that sense it is a kind of absent danger to come (and that for us has arrived).

As you can see this kind of discussion would have been a little bit out of place in a paper delivered to people who were not all into Heidegger and so I avoided dwelling on it too much – I did not want to alienate my audience with too much cryptic Heidegger chat!

I am holding onto the SR name until May…

Some people give robust reasons for using certain nominations for movements such as what has been dubbed “speculative realism,” from depictions of the history of certain terms to arguments over the need to reuse older terms that have taken on negative connotations. I, however, simply say that I’m using speculative realism for the very reason that I’m running a course on that topic until May. Thus, I will not even begin to construct reasons for or against this term. I take it as a fact that SR exists. And unquestionably so. We’ll see what I think in June. Here’s the relevant discussion from Larval Subjects:

For a while now I’ve argued that “speculative realism does not exist”. Among the four major thinkers within the SR movement, the only overlap is a rejection of epistemological correlationism, a critique of anthropocentrism in all its forms, and an affirmation of some variant of realism. Apart from that, the various positions are quite opposed in the specific claims that they make. With Brassier, for example, you get a robust Modernist naturalism. Not so with OOO. With OOO you get an ontology composed of objects where humans, cultural beings, natural objects, etc., are all equally treated with the dignity of being real. With Grant an ontology composed of powers where “somatism” (the treatment of being in terms of objects) is treated as a metaphysical error. With Meillassoux you get a hyper-chaos that is somehow segmented or stratified. These are all radically different ontological proposals.

Heidegger and the “Danger” of the Ancestral

First caveat into this post: I breezed quickly through Paul Ennis’s recent paper on speculative realism.

Paul is more convinced than I ever was by Meillassoux’s arguments about the ancestral. But what Paul attempts to do, at least implicitly, is strengthen Meillassoux’s argument by moving it from an epistemological question to an ontological one, framed by a discussion of Heidegger. (For those who are new to the topic: Meillassoux in his book After Finitude claims that post-Kantian phenomenology can’t account for events that happened prior to the rise of human consciousness, since those events are prior to any correlation between subject and object.) But I’m still puzzled as to how the ancestral would be a “danger” in Heidegger’s terms. Here are, I take it, the two important passages from Ennis on this.

For Heidegger the ancestral is not merely something radically unknowable but it is potentially a danger [die Gefahr]. There are good reasons for Heidegger to repress the aporia of the ancestral since it is not only a time before being but more strictly a time without temporality [die Zeitlichkeit] and therefore something completely inexplicable within the context of fundamental ontology. It is for Heidegger not a meaningful topic and might even act as a dangerous curiosity [die Neugier] covering over the present danger of technics [die Technik].

The Gestell is clearly a major preoccupation for Heidegger. It has
multiple manifestations open to phenomenological investigation. The absent
danger [die Gefahr] of the ancestral is here also deficient in that it is indicated,
or mediated, via beings but is not encountered directly and it has no direct
relation to Dasein. There is no intuition, no ideal content, and no “corresponding object” other than the arche-fossil. In order to consider ancestral objects real rather than ideal then one must find a way to think about these objects outside the correlation. Since temporality, which is always the binding tie or horizon between being and thought, disallows this possibility we must look elsewhere for our mediating access point. This requires I contend, that we locate a space outside the space of pure ideality. It is, perhaps surprisingly, Heidegger who opens up such a space. If we can prove that Heidegger allows for real objects then one also posits a space of real objects, and if such a space emerges then one confirms that there is a space of real objects operating outside the bounds of human temporality. It is but a short step then to extend this insight to the ancestral realm.

You can see that Ennis begins to build here an argument for trying to move Heidegger towards a certain realism. But he doesn’t quite get there in the paper, and so I’ll leave that aside. But why is the ancestral a “danger”? This danger refers to a specific epoch in which the dangers of a certain heightening technics perhaps leads us to engage the Gestell. Perhaps. Is the ancestral, or a fixation upon it, something that could only come about in this epoch? (Leave aside for the moment the technology needed to provide evidence for ancestral facts, such as the age of the Earth.) What is the link between technics and the ancestral?

On another matter…

Pictured right is the last eunuch in China. I discussed him a few months ago (no, I’m not providing the link). Since then, a point I noticed when I went to go set up my course blog, I’ve had a steady stream of visitors who get to my site by searching for eunuchs. Maybe it’s a band name I haven’t heard of. Maybe it’s the code name for a new Apple product. In any case, this is a periodic notice that this is not a Eunuch news blog. Just in case you needed to know.

Non-Human Value (Part II)

I just noticed that I didn’t click “read on” for the rest of Larval Subject’s post. He writes:

If ontologically we cannot presuppose the formal identity of agents across diversity– indeed, if we cannot even presuppose our own identity by virtue of the fact that we become new agencies when we enter into new relations –rule-based ethical systems are out the window. Or perhaps, less dramatically, rules, criteria of judgment, are effects or results, not grounds. Yet if the domain of the ethical is not the domain of rules that would allow us to evaluate particular circumstances according to universal rules, then what is it? Perhaps, rather than judgment, the domain of the ethico-politico field is the domain not of judgment, but of problematizations. In other words, it would be the domain wherein problems of the coordination of networks or assemblages are formed. What we previously referred to as norms or rules would instead become attractors, tendencies, paths towards actualization of collective-bodies (groups, assemblages, or ecologies, all of which are objects at higher orders of scale and complexity).

I was going to write that in fact the speculative realism class, by doing Latour for example, is already doing work on value and normative theory. Another way to look at what Larval is talking about is what is eventually going to upend all notions of responsibility and duties, but just hasn’t taken, since philosophers are about three hundreds years behind the brain materialists. Here I’ll name Derrida here and just say he begins crucial work by undercutting the human/animal distinction (and therefore human/machine difference) as between “responding” and “reacting” in The Animal that Therefore I am. For an era of certain philosophers, the main complaint they had about the social sciences (see Arendt’s On Violence essay) is that they treated human beings as objects. We see that even more now. But we can’t wish this away, just as we wouldn’t wish away the knowledge that a certain cranial defect in a defendant mitigates his/her responsibility for a crime. The question has long been, though, how far we go: do synapses firing off not offer a mitigation? Why not the fact that “choice” is but an a posteriori fiction moments are the brain has fired off its commands? We’ll leave aside the whole question of freedom here, but at the least sometimes the more just result is not treating humans as objects too much, but too little, since see the human being as a reactive body (in this case of a “defect” of some sort) would lead us to acknowledge our problematic conceptions of blameworthiness.

Put otherwise, our jurisprudence, it’s not original to say, is founded on a woefully out of date conception of free will. But in recent years you have this conception sutured to base materialist conceptions of the brain, thus leading to judgments based upon taking 6th century conceptions of free will and marrying them to 21st century science. (Oh, it’s not a defect, then it’s perfectly free will—an either/or.) I’m sorry if, by the way, I’m not properly problematizing my language along the way: if it helps, just put rabbit ears around every word you want to contest.

The point is that this calls for more, not less, conceptions of ethics and objects. A lot is jumbled in here above, but to be clear, I think Larval is on to the right question: not whether or not ethics are simply human, but why we ever circumscribed them to the so-called human in the first place.

Non-Human Value

Larval Subjects is up with a post tonight on non-human values. Putting to the side the question of meaning, which is heavily discussed in the semantics of Anglo-American realism, I think a lot of this work is already done in environmental studies. Why not piggy back on them? (Note to self: find a less “use pigs as mules” metaphor) Basically I’ve left the latter part of the Realism class I’m teaching now under the heading of “to be announced.” (That’s a first for any syllabus I’ve ever had.) I want to see how the class does with the first set of readings before making a final decision in the next couple of weeks on the precise readings. Basically, I had an idea of what I wanted to cover if the Re:Press volume on speculative realism would have come out. But I’ve already gotten Mark Woods, who teaches in my department, to share part of his book-in-progress on wilderness studies. They are working with many of the same programs, speculatively speaking, of how to pivot to non-anthropocentric conceptions of “nature” (not in the old sense of the other side of the culture/nature binary), which means not using utilitarian notions (good environment = happier people as an end) to ground the work they are doing. Woods in particular, I think, speaks to this in a way that matches up well with this, and I think it will make a nice capper to the course, after so much other work on Latour, Meillassoux, Harman, Bryant, etc. In other words, some might be doing an object oriented philosophy, but that doesn’t mean this philosophy may not help human beings rethink conception that found intra-human ethical conceptions. Or at least, that’s a good question to raise in a realism class.

Toscano on Sloterdijk

I slogged through a bunch of Sloterdijk this past year (the Spheres volumes are some 3000 pages, so I’m not even going to pretend that I got through even two-thirds of it) and as I wended my way through Sloterdijk’s use of a certain metaphor (bubbles?) that managed to explain too much and too little at the same time, I was left with the same conclusion as Toscano: “the underlying project remains profoundly unpersuasive.”I didn’t even end up taking a whole lot that I would use for a paper or some such… which surprised me.