They make comments…

Larval Subjects writes in about my previous post below:

The issue isn’t whether one speaks about language, but rather whether or not one thinks we must always refer to some human phenomena whenever discussing being. Within the framework of my ontology, languages, signifiers, signs, etc., are also objects. In other words, it’s an absolutely flat realism. One of the features I find most attractive about OOO is that, to paraphrase the old expression, it allows you to have your neurology and your semiotics too. So although you have to modify Derrida, Foucault, Barthes’, etc., nonetheless you get to retain many of their concepts. There’s a delicate balancing act going on here. On the one hand, it’s necessary to avoid the reductive or eliminative materialism of other realist approaches that would only treat particles and neurons as real. On the other hand, it’s necessary to avoid the eliminative idealism of the linguistic and semiotic turn that would only treat signifiers and signs as real. The ontology must show how both things like quarks and neurons are real and things like signs, signifiers, and power are real, while also arguing against any sort of reductivism whether from the materialist side or the idealist side.

This is a point LS has rightly made before, and I should have noted that. I pulled out the quote linking language to access since I wanted to emphasize a point about langugage. And one must love the ambition of SL’s last sentence here, since it is, I take it, the ultimate ambition of SR (a term I’m sticking with at least through the spring—I’m not going to tell my students the title of the course is wrong.)

Agamben and Nancy on Language

Following up quickly on the last post, I would just say that for those interested, this is also part of the difference between Agamben and Nancy, who are often put together. For both, there is something of an infinite amount of sense at the heart of being, one that is reduced by discourse and, for Agamben, the split at the heart of the human (which he dubs negativity). But Nancy, I think, differs by not putting logos and discourse at the level of the human, which is clearly what is at issue in Agamben: bad old metaphysics and its linguistic separations. No, for Nancy these relations are relations of touch that occur as the real itself. That is to say that for Nancy, there is “discourse” in the things, and as such, while discourse tends to shut down other possible relations, this also happens between a lizard and its rock and between the stars. This is why ultimately, I think, he and Graham Harman share a love for cataloguing disparate objects. This isn’t something that is an add-on to their texts, but is integral to them, since any cataloguing mixes up but also shows relations between and among things, one that begins to lock in while other relations remain.

Words and Things

Larval Subjects has a great response to the ongoing discussion between Harman and Shaviro here. (Note to self: definitely part of the SR class I’m teaching in the Spring will have to take up the form of argumentation used, in particular the use of blogs, which means finding a way to make LS‘s stuff part of the course without wholly taking it out if its ongoing, experimental space.)

 

Let me dip my finger in here somewhere...

Let me dip my finger in here somewhere...

Now, if I can use of one of the terrible analogies that bring my classes to screeching halts, if the people doing SR are potters dutifully working away at their clay wheels on certain problems spinning past them, then I’m more like the person who comes by, tastes the mud, and offers a non-sequitur about the taste. But let me say that though I agree with about all that LS has written in his post, though I won’t step into the subject of Whitehead (what matters more, anyway, is less the reading of Whitehead than what LS and Harman are trying to argue through him). But let me cite a passage where I would take a pause:

If you find yourself immediately talking about language, signs, subjects, co-constitution, power, the nature of inquiry, etc., then you are an idealist. There is no ambiguity here. The implicit thesis in all these moves that the being of being cannot be even entertained independent of the human. …All philosophical questions do not revolve around the human. Nor is there any conflation of questions of access in Whitehead with questions of ontology. The question of how we have access to such and such a being, say a rose, is irrelevant to the question of what constitutes the being of beings. I find myself utterly baffled as to why philosophers seem to have such a difficult time distinguishing these two issues…

As I noted here, I think LS is right about access, since once one asks about the being of that access itself (this is the move of Meillassoux) then the epistemological question “how do you know the real?” moves to the background. There is a conflation of the epistemological and the ontological in the name of an idealism that goes by another name (I think that Hallward is right that there is a slight of hand move in Meillassoux on this, but that’s something I discuss quickly in my Pli article). But the linguistic turn was not wholly concerned with access, and where it was it ended up being a neo-Kantian schematism. In fact, it’s not an accident that the same people getting vapors over SR and the non-human are also likely to be heard railing against discursive systems, linguistic structures, and other marks of the end of what Foucault called “man” (the doublet of thinking being and being). One need not take on Foucault’s account—I don’t—to say that (a) linguistic questions do abound when we talk about questions of power, about articulations of onto-theology, and so on. Nietzsche, to cite one figure mentioned by SR, was clear, since this desire that SR discusses manifested itself in the oppositions of metaphysical language, (b) beyond this political question, this view of language as a wholly human artifact appears rather unsubtle. This, at least, I think is behind some of the work I’ve read at Fractal Ontologies.

 

This is why I tend to read back through SR in terms of Nancy’s work since I think it’s not enough to give a non-human account of the real, but what is truly interesting about work in OOO or OOP is a non-human account of the sense or meaning of being. This is not to say that language is our access to being. Let me repeat that: this is not the new linguistic schematism. (This is why codeFoucault, for those interested, took time out in two lecture courses to argue against “social constructivism.”) But one doesn’t need to believe that universe is one large mechanism for the transfer of information (variations of string theory and even evolutionary biology have this idea), which only shows how we tend to transfer the later technologies to our metaphors for the universe, be it the watch of modern philosophy or the computers of today, to think that language is not a wholly human province. (Which is Heidegger’s argument and Agamben’s in the Open.

So, ok, you might say with that last point: critiquing Agamben and Heidegger, you can expand language to animals, but that still leaves us with philosophy as explaining the being of beings as it is to the living. But if language is an object among others (I mean this not as an artifact, but in the larval sense), then why not think the sense that passes between each object and the object that is language? Why think language as a mere human artifact? It’s not a question of access. But it is a question about the non-human dimension of language, which is one I’ll come back to, filling this out better with quotes from LS and OOP that show this isn’t a lazy insertion of the human back into SR.

Are you down with OOP? … You know me…

(Sorry–I happen to hear that old OPP hip-hop song in my head every time I type out OOP.)

Harman writes:

Stated differently, you can’t say: “I’m not an idealist. I believe the human subject is a passive recipient of the world, not its constitutor,” or “Human and world are co-produced,” or “world produces the human.”

I think this is right. OOP once suggested that I was a phenomenologist, which as far as things one can get called, isn’t bad, especially given the respect OOP has for that tradition. I’m not sure what I wrote in that post that necessitated him responding with the above clarification, though it’s helpful, well-put, and right. I think all manner of bad philosophizing results from making everything a human artifact, and all the work being done in SR, OOP, OOO, ANT, AI, CIA, and whatever other acronyms you can throw out there to think beyond the human in terms of “the animal,” the worldly environment, and more generally in terms of objects is attempting a real thinking beyond the impasses of ontotheology. youthful-idealism

My assumption is that OOP thinks I insert a thinking of passivity here because I want to recuperate something in phenomenology. I wasn’t thinking about that at all in that post, but was instead writing about how I worry about dependence as a means for thinking relationality: dependence, I was simply claiming, just returns us to classical ontologies, the will for power, or what have you. That was a limited point. 

But—why not?—let me go in the direction OOP takes me (excellent example, that, of passivity). Do I think that the telos of phenomenology in the 20th century is a certain passivity that testifies to the object (or world or thing) as it is “beyond” phenomenology? Yes. Husserl’s “life world” is a good example of this: the horizon of all horizons that itself is not amenable to the epoche (since it is the epoche of all epoche), however he tries to tame it. But also the Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the flesh of the world. Levinas’s il y a is another example, since after the 1947 TIme and Existents essay, he really abandons phenomenology for the Other, so this is as far as phenomenology could take him before the leap to theology. And I think the Ereignis in Heidegger and the event in Derrida are also attempts to jump out of the problem of linguistic access, just as the others try to jump over one’s shadow to what is outside (the object) of thought, despite phenomenology’s problem of access. And that’s all that I would say, namely that I think you could read 20th century phenomenology as one failed attempt after another to move beyond the problem of access. One that Meillassoux, despite his critique of phenomenology, himself can’t bypass, and thus he’s not doing OOP or OOO. Or perhaps even SR at this point.

But more broadly, the passivity is as far as phenomenology can go. That’s it: we sit back and “wait” (and all the other metaphors brought to bear in all of these thinkers); the “thing” is a priori and a posteriori. That’s the problem of “access.” And it’s not to be  diminished. (The tour de force that Meillassoux performs in his work is a strenuous attempt to outrun this problem, which he doesn’t.)

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think access is an insuperable problem, not least because I think access itself is a particularly helpful “object” that shows a certain relation that OOP shows between each and every object: this intentional structure, to use his term, is there between me and the computer, and it’s also between the chair and the floor. And I would add, a priori to access is the relation (that would provide for any such “access”), which is the sharing of sense. As for “passivity,” it is the last stubborn attempt by phenomenology (whether in Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, or Levinas) to think the limits of where phenomenology can go. And for that, it’s instructive. But OOP is exactly right, that doesn’t mean that we simply make “access” writ large over being itself, where it is but always structured through the event or the il y a or the flesh of the world, which is another way of saying: it matters because there are people. And that is idealism.

The Harman-Gratton difference

I’m about to head up and give my CRESC paper–nothing major, and I’ll note when it’s published in some form or other. But I caught this from Graham’s blog (and it’s strange to read this while seeing him right across the room):

Before then, I’ll be hearing, among other things, a Gratton paper on Nancy that he says will refer to both me and Meillassoux. Gratton is a blunt enough character that it could well be a frontal attack, so I’d better be listening closely in order to respond.

Well, it’s a 6000 word paper that I’m going to run through quickly, but for those looking for the “frontal attack,” here it is:

First reference, where I quote him to agree…  After a discussion of Heidegger on animals: “Yet, we will in turn sovereignly declare human beings as having the touch, as we say in English. The result is that, as Graham Harman puts it in a different context, “One privileged entity is allowed to form links where others cannot. Against this notion, I propose the more democratic solution of a local occasionalism or vicarious causation, in which every entity that exists must somehow be equipped to serve as a medium of contact between two others” (IO, 8).

Second reference: “The responsibility today, the ‘more democratic approach,’ as Harman puts it, is very much about the public things—and how we accede to them, even if acceding to public things means questioning access itself.” 

And last reference, from the footnotes: “Graham Harman offers a helpful example in terms of what he calls ‘intentional objects': ‘While the real tree is always something more than whatever I see of it, the intentional tree is always something less. That is to say, I always see it much too specifically, encrusted with too much accidental color or from an accidental angle, or in some purely coincidental melancholic mood. Any of these details could be changed without changing the intentional tree, … It is not an empty je ne sais quoi projected onto unformed sense data, because in fact it precedes and shapes any such data. As Merleau-Ponty knew, the black of a pen and the black of an executioner’s hood are different even if their wavelength of light is exactly the same. The qualities are impregnated with the objects to which they are attached.’ Graham Harman, “Intentional Objects for Non Humans,” available, with the author’s permission, at http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/resources/, p. 6. Henceforth cited as IO.

Also, Graham notes that we were “debating” last night. I was actually asking about his account of the distinction between substance and change, that is, Aristotle’s account of potentiality and actuality. He thinks you can’t think things as relational without falling into Aristotle’s critique of Heraclitus. But you also can’t have monism, either, as Aristotle had previously made clear in the previous section of the Metaphysics. And this all requires a rethinking of time, since Aristotle’s notion of substance necessitates a thinking of time found in the Physics (now time…), a point Heidegger makes well. Having read Graham on this, he doesn’t accede to Aristotle’s view of time and so I’d like to hear more from him (and this is genuine question–not a counter-argument) about how objects relate and what modicum of relation they can’t have on his account…without falling into stasis and oblivion. I don’t think I made that clear. The analogy I’ll try is that we can think this through Nancy’s notion of sense, or partage. An example that comes to mind is the way in which languages evolve through it’s self-differences. In other words, there is a real truth that the Brits and the English are two peoples separated by a common language. Without that “partage” of language, there would be no development of it, and yet, there must be some “touch” or such between them for there to be a relation in the first place. But in the end, I don’t think Graham realizes how much I agree with him.

Conclusion from tomorrow’s paper on Speculative Realism

I’m editing my paper to get it down to the time limits for the CRESC objects conference. Since I don’t publish enough philosophy here, here’s my as-yet-unedited conclusion. I suppose it makes better sense in terms of the whole, though to set this up, I take up the problem of what Meillassoux calls “intuition” as the relation between the phenomenal and chaotic noumenal in his work…

Conclusion: Finite Relations Irreducible to Correlationism

            Is, then, “intellectual intuition” the only access to the real? Heidegger famously tells us in his 1929-30 lecture course that the “stone is without world,” that the animals are “poor in world,” and that human Dasein is “world forming.”[1] Nancy begins on territory familiar to Meillassoux’s readers, arguing that there is no sense of the world, as Wittgenstein claimed in the Tractatus, that is given from the outside. This would treat the world as representable, instead of, as Nancy claims, a infinite happening of coming to presence, each time just this once and thus non-representable. But it is also the case, he notes, that the fact that “there is something, there are some things, there is some there—and that itself makes sense,” without a need for a God. But this does not mean that it only makes sense “for, through, or in Dasein”:

[T]he world beyond humanity—animals, plants, and stones, oceans, atmospheres, sidereal spaces and bodies—is quite a bit more than the phenomenal correlative of a human taking-in-hand, taking-into-account, or taking-care-of. … For it is a question of understanding the world not as man’s object or field of action, but as the spatial totality of the sense of existence, a totality that it itself existent, even if it is not in the mode of Dasein. (SW, 55-56).

 

Certainly, Nancy note, one could proffer an exteriority to humanity, but this is not to be thought in terms of the “relation between subject and object” (SW, 56). Nancy is careful, as we’ll see, not to place language simply to one side of this relation. If we take there to be a circulation of sense among things,[2] then there are in a sense (a sense that is not reductive compared to human language) signature and singularities at work, and thus a passing of signs, even if these signatures exscribe their sense elsewhere from us. That is, for Nancy, being a “fragment” of a world means having a signature, having a place and a taking-place that is not simply, on the Heideggerian model, a placing in view of that which has been hidden away (abscondus). And this signature is always underdetermined in the circulation of sense, and thus can be confused with nothing, as the nihil, though in truth it is a “nihil unbound,” to use Ray Brassier’s phrase.

            To take the risk of an anthropomorphism that will quickly recede, this is what we mean when we say that we are touched. Something touches us (and thus is touched by us in turn) and its affectivity passes along the signatures of one and the other with such a gravity—whether the touch is light or not does not matter—that “to be touched” is synonymous with profundity, a depthlessness of meaning being passed along and circulated. And this is why, beyond Meillassoux’s apt discussion of “touching upon the absolute,” each touch (or all touching) is a touch upon the absolute, upon an infinity of sense irreducible to a signification communicated or a bit of information passed along; it is never just a simple touch. Having a sense or sensing of this touch marks a “coming to presence” “just at” (à même) us such it that can never be pinned down as a present thing[3]; it can never be fully felt and thus conceptualized: a touch is always shared, distributed, or it is nothing.

            And yet, we will in turn sovereignly declare human beings as having the touch, as we say in English. The result is that, as Graham Harman puts it in a different context, “One privileged entity is allowed to form links where others cannot. Against this notion, I propose the more democratic solution of a local occasionalism or vicarious causation, in which every entity that exists must somehow be equipped to serve as a medium of contact between two others” (IO, 8). On this matter, as so often, Heidegger takes the less democratic approach:

The stone is lying on the path, for example. We can say that the stone is exerting a certain pressure upon the surface of the Earth. It is “touching” the Earth. But what we call “touching” here is not a form of touching at all in the strongest sense of the word. It is not at all like that relationship which the lizard has to the stone on which it lies basking in the sun. And the touching implied in both cases is above all not the same as that touch which we experience when we our hand upon the head of another human being. …[B]eing a stone it has no possible access to anything else around it, anything that it might … possess as such.(FCM, 196-7; SW, 59)

 

            Before moving further, let me note that everything hinges on how we are inclined towards this passage. If Nancy is right in arguing that the epoch of representation is coming to end (GT, 83) and that “time of modernity is followed by the time of things” (FT, 317), then a “responsible praxis of sense” (FT, 292) must now register for the “test of the real,” even if, on Nancy’s account, “there’s nothing to prove” (FT, 317). This, for Nancy, is the mark of our primordial exposure—an exposure that is not ours alone—to the ruptures of sense in the “movement of a presentation to… which is a rupture of presence itself” (GT, 63). Again, every being-toward is toward another being that is itself toward. Without this circulation and excess of sense, there would be only be signification, that is, “mere indication” and the “denoting of things,” a zero-degree of sense that Heidegger presumes to find in the rocks that do not have a world.[4] And this “test of the real” is not just coming in terms of the “fraying” of things in all their abundance, but also in terms of all of the questions surrounding this notion of “access”—a responsibility of sense practiced in a variety of ecological and movements against the suffering of animals. As is well known, “access” has its root in the Latin accedere, to approach or come near, but nevertheless part of the motto of Roman civic life: accedere ad rem publican, to do one’s civil duty and begin a public life. The responsibility today, the “more democratic approach,” as Harman puts it, is very much about the public things—and how we accede to them, even if acceding to public things means questioning access itself. Nancy writes, responding to Heidegger,

Why, then, is “access” determined [with regard to the stone] a priori as the identification and appropriation of the “other thing”? When I touch another thing, another skin or hide, and when it is a question of this contact or touch and not of an instrumental use, is it a matter of identification and appropriation? … Why does one have to determine “access” a priori as the only way of making-up-a-world and of being-toward-the-world? Why could the world not also a priori consist in being-among, being-between, and being-against? In remoteness and contact without “access”? (SW, 59)

 

As Nancy notes, the scene is all but feudal, if not Platonic, with its hierarchies

of touch as it ascends closer to the sun, wherein “a hieratic and paternal pose fraudulently substitutes a knighting [the placing of the hand on the head] for a touch” (SW, 60). The whole of this antiquated anthropocentrism is “betrayed,” he rightly argues, “by the expression ‘the earth is not given for the stone.” But what, he asks, if this givenness were never “pure”? What if it were preceded by what makes that gift possible in the first place, namely the distribution and sharing out of unassignable gifts “neither to be perceived or received as a ‘gift’”? And what of the networks of stones and animality and—why not?—humanity passing in and through this “contact” of stone, heat, and surfaces of all kinds:

[the stone] is in contact, an absolute difference. … There is not ‘subject’ and ‘object,’ but rather, there are sites and places, distances. … [W]ithout this impalpable reticulation of contiguities and tangential contacts, without the place (interstice, interval, and escape) of a geared down being-toward ….there would be no world. “In itself,” the thing is “toward” the other things that are close, proximate, and also very distant because there are several of them. (SW, 61)

 

In this way, he writes, the stone isn’t simply there as an abstraction, laying in wait for its encounter “by or for a subject” (SW, 62). The stone does not “have,” as Heidegger notes, the world. But are we still naïve enough to think that we things, we res extensae do? The stone, for Nancy, is toward the world or “is the world” as “at least” “areality: extension of the area, spacing…” (SW, 62). The stone has a “liability [passibilité]” to sense, an area of passing through and passing along senses irreducible, Nancy argues, to an “animism” or “panpsychism,” which would figure the sense of the stone, of the things, back through the human. There is in the stone its “concrete” liability, which is also “concrete condition” of its singularity (BSP, 18). This liability is but another word for accede; the stone, too, accedes to the public thing.

            The stone’s “concreteness” is a “real différance” or différance as real and as à mème, circulating materially. The problem has not been, as Meillassoux suggests, too much use of the thinking of relation in modernity, but too little. What is called for is a thinking of a circulation of sense and materiality, that is, a thinking of an excessively real, if I can put it that way, complex of relations. This is the absolute to which we are all, one and other, one as another, liable and acceding, in the public and in common, passing along signs, partes extra partes, in a generalized circulation of exposure and relation. It is this exscription, this real writing of the real in the passage of sense, that is the res ultima. Where speculative realism in Meillassoux begins and then circles back to the correlationist circle by thinking through the absolute contingency of the relation, Nancy offers a generalized and therefore public thing, an ultimate res that refuses to privilege any given relation over any other—a “more democratic solution” of rocks, bodies, fragments, ligaments, and an endless catalogue from there, in touch with and sharing with one another. In this way, the an sich is still, as “à meme and exposure of the “to,” the ultima res. And this means the absolute is not the res abscondus, but rather the abscondus of the res: the secreting and motion away from signification in a way that hopefully makes sense retains a trace of the res along the way. It is time, then, to “learn to think toward the world.”[5] In the last poem of his Collected Poems, “Not Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself,” published a year and half before his death, Stevens writes,

                                                            It was not from the vast ventriloquism

                                                            Of sleep’s faded papier-maché

                                                            The sun was coming from the outside.

                                                            That scrawny cry—It was

                                                            A chorister whose c preceded the choir.

                                                            It was part of the colossal sun,

                                                            Surrounded by its choral rings,

                                                            Still far away. It was like

                                                            A new knowledge of reality…

 


[1] Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 177. Henceforth cited as FCM.

 

[2] This is the locus of Graham Harman’s “object-oriented” philosophy, to think “a

universally given” as a de-localized givenness “withdraw[n] from all

perceptual and causal relations” (Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the

Carprentry of Things (Chicago, Il: Open Court Press, 2005), p. 20.

[3] This is why Nancy argues that “sense,” as touching, is an “untouchable touch,” since it can never grasp the full significance of the sense, the touch, that is open among things (FT, 110).

[4] The “test of the real” does not necessitate a return to ideologies that presume a hold over all sense, reducing the multiple of existence to singular significations (myths of human nature, God, etc.) less for the sake of realism than Reelpolitik. That is to say, we recognize the danger of those who have presaged an access to the real as a means for buttressing power (e.g., the “real” of a sexual or racial difference), though in turn these ideologies—never soon enough, but inexorably nonetheless—face the test of the real, the excess of sense of beyond any signification, which is another way of saying there is a future worthy of the name, unsignifiable by any tyrant of the present.

[5] SW, 191, n. 112.