Nathan Brown reviews Garcia’s Form and Object

In Radical Philosophy. Brown’s review hits on the very problems I had with the book, though it’s also glowing but I’m flummoxed given the damning points raised (it started to read like Garcia was getting, after such a long book, a grade for good rhetoric and effort). First, the metaphysics is by mere assertion, as if no one had written on these topics before and as if it weren’t using a language borrowed from the traditions it scorns:

Form and Object unfortunately sets out from the least tenable premiss of contemporary speculation: it purports to circumvent the problem of conceptual conditions by fiat, resolving to treat objects and things objectively while treating conditions of objectivity as secondary. For many, I fear, this will discourage earnest attention to Garcia’s book. But that would be a shame: despite their methodological shortcomings, Garcia’s conceptually rich investigations deserve to be grappled with.

But why the shame? What could be more devastating for a book than the following?:

‘When things are together’, writes Garcia, ‘they are objects’, but ‘what forms all is not all things together, but each thing separately.’ Again, thingsare always alone in the world, which is the form or ‘negative’ of each thing separately. But how can ‘each thing’ be considered separately in this sense, when even gender or adolescence is a ‘thing’ in Garcia’s system? We have no account of how the boundaries of such amorphous ‘things’ are determined in such a way that their distinction could be coherent – and if this is the case then our formal knowledge of the world (again, working with Garcia’s terms) will be rendered incoherent by the metaphysical system we hoped would help us grasp it.

Garcia’s book takes off from the idea that objects are the difference within (what is in it) and outside themselves, though that would seem to postulate a difference philosophy (or at the least raise a whole question of how other than fiat how to think the difference between these differences such to postulate such beings), not an philosophy of objects, and his account of how objects are “in” the world (as its negative) seems to be clearly grounded in a Cartesian notion of space (read how it is set out in the book and you’ll get this isn’t a post-onto-theology notion of spatiality). Brown specifically takes aim at the second part of the book, which takes up specific topics leading from the first part. He writes about gender:

This is also the case in the chapter on Gender, where Garcia argues that ‘gender is neither purely inscribed in the nature of things nor purely projected by the human mind, but exists as a minimal relation between that which is gender and that which comprehends gender. The problem with this pat reconciliation of naturalist and nominalist theories exemplifies the problem with Book II: the formal model of Book I functions as a deus ex machina purporting to reconcile opposing approaches to gender, while the term ‘gender’ itself is deployed in a question-begging fashion which lands us back at square one, either overlooking or reproducing all the difficulties of the term’s ambiguous reference, which spur such debates in the first place. 

And I would extend this to his chapter on time, class, and so on. But it strikes as something of hubris to treat gender of all things in such an armchair, a priori fashion–you know, as if those fuzzy headed critics before him just didn’t think enough such things. (My hope is that this was the part written in his late teens–see here.) In fact, this was precisely my problem with the first part, which Brown thinks is the one that is rich enough to hint at an important metaphysical system. It is filled with vague equivocation and question-begging prose, and I would not mention such a negative reaction were it not that Brown offers a damning review, while at the same time lauding the book it compared to other recent works in speculative thought (however valid that criticism is), let alone the pre-speculative thought that is Brown’s target in other writings and Garcia. The latter’s book is filled with sentences like this one quoted by Brown:

“Being comes inside a thing and being goes outside it’, Garcia writes; ‘a thing is nothing other than the difference between being-inside [l’être entré] and being-outside [l’être sorti].’ A thing is thus ‘a relation, inscribed in the world, between the being that enters the world and the being that goes outside it, and that enters into another thing.’

So a thing is a difference, a relation, but is somehow prior to relations. There are many passages like this that waft over one, and so I didn’t read part II as some sort of outlier. I guess my question is what kind of decision is involved whereby we are told not to “discourage earnest attention to [this] book” compared to other recent works, when Brown’s point seems to be that Garcia hasn’t paid earnest attention to the metaphysical and regional ontologies that he discusses, or as Brown himself puts it, it’s somehow full of “considerable intellect, erudition, and creativity,” all of which should be “channeled into a more disciplined engagement” with the history of metaphysics and the ontological issues that it parlays. In any case, the introduction to Form and Object is here.